24 Jul Megan: Roadway Manners
Home harvest in Hemingford officially finished last week and after loading all the equipment we began the journey to our next stop: Wyoming. Although the malting barley is still a ways off from being ripe we decided to head to the area to scout out the fields and be prepared for when it is ready. Apparently the “Wild West” did not receive the memo about harvest being two to three weeks early this year.
James stands in clear view as he gives Brandon directions. Roland Harvesting has its own “sign language” when it comes to loading equipment. In this case, since James is touching his chest and pointing that means that the front of the CR needs to go to the left.
Like always, our trip to Wyoming was quite adventurous. We have learned from previous summers that it is very important to call ahead and see where road construction is going on. Too many times we have taken our normal path and ran into some risky situations. This year we spent almost three hours searching the internet and talking to WYDOT and other services on the phone, trying to find the best route for our convoy. We found out we could not take our usual course due to bridge construction and the only alternative route tacked on an extra 120 miles to our voyage. With oversize loads, hot weather and worst of all, in the middle of tourist season in Wyoming, this was not the ideal solution we were hoping for. Nonetheless, Brandon, James, Jose, and I waved goodbye to Mom and Dad (who are catching up with spraying and other projects on the farm for the next few days), hopped into our respective vehicles, and began our expedition.
Luckily, we passed through the WYDOT port with minimal problems this time, which is a rarity for Roland Harvesting. Usually, we spend a couple of quality hours tinkering with things until the port finds our rigs to be just perfect. This year, maneuvering through the city of Casper was where things started to get ugly for us. Since we had to take a different path to avoid the bridge construction that meant we had to venture even farther into Casper to reach the highway we needed for the reroute. Now, I fully understand what it’s like to be in a car following a slow, oversize, and often “obnoxious” vehicle. We’ve all been there before and it certainly tests your patience. However, when you’re the one pulling a massive combine and long grain trailer with several blind spots and traffic everywhere, you definitely have a different view on this situation.
Throughout our journey I played the “pilot car” with the pickup and header, leading our caravan. At one point in Casper, I pulled into the left turn lane with the convoy following in behind me and stopped at a red light, waiting for the light to turn. When the light flashed to green I started to pull out into the intersection to wait for a break in traffic so I could safely make the turn. As I began this move not one, but three, different cars illegally passed Jose (driving the other header and pickup at the rear), both Brandon and James (hauling loaded CR’s and grain trailers), and me on the left hand side to make the left turn before any of our convoy did. Since we all had long and oversize loads, it was impossible for any of these vehicles to see if they were even clear to get around us. Regardless, that was a risk they were willing to take so they would not have to wait an extra minute or two for our rigs to make the turn. Since we all have radios in our vehicles we were able to communicate this situation and were thankfully able to avoid an accident.
While taking our alternative route we encountered a nine percent downgrade, which translates from trucker talk to: a very scary steep hill for oversize loads! Brandon and James kept it in low gear and made a safe, slow decent down the curvy slope.
As we ventured further into Wyoming we had several more “near accident” occurrences out on the open highway. Countless cars passed us going up hills and in “no passing zones,” many times while there was oncoming traffic. Some of our rigs are over seventy feet long so it’s impossible to just zip around us like you could while passing a car. Often times we had to slow down so the vehicle passing could get around us to avoid a head-on collision with the nearing traffic. By the time we reached Wind River Canyon, a very narrow road with several hair-pin corners, we encountered numerous angry cars and trucks as they passed us in a reckless, speedy manic. Perhaps, we just had some bad luck that day but it seemed that we were constantly in defensive driving mode and spent most of the time shouting across the radio to warn the rest of the convoy of a potential accident. We certainly don’t enjoy poking along or taking up a large chunk of the road but that’s the only way we can get to where we’re going.
While traveling through the Wind River Canyon there were three tunnels that we had to pass through. I went ahead early and stopped traffic to allow the oversize loads to safely get through the tunnels. (Photo by James)
It sure was a tight fit! Harvest tip: When we’re taking up majority of the road it is usually for no more than a few minutes. And we do this to block traffic for the safety of other vehicles and to avoid a collision. (Photo by James)
A few friendly tips for fellow drivers on the road: The next time you see a yellow flashing light or an oversize load sign from afar, please slow down and keep a safe distance behind the rig. If you cannot see the semi’s side mirrors, than the driver of the load cannot see you. When you do go to pass please be sure to follow legal signs as well. Just because a convoy is driving 50 mph in a 65 speed limit does not mean you can pass on a double yellow line or pass on the right side on the shoulder or in the ditch (yes, we have seen this happen several times!) And when you do finally move safely around the convoy in a legal passing zone please give us a friendly wave using all of your fingers. I promise we usually smile and wave back!
Just remember, those harvesters, cattle trucks, and other slow, oversize delivery vehicles are providing and delivering food and other essentials to the country. We are all just trying to do our job and if fellow drivers on the road can remain calm, patient, and safe we can hopefully avoid accidents and other unnecessary frustrations. By doing this, the road can remain a peaceful place for all drivers to enjoy along the way to their destinations.
All Aboard Harvest is sponsored by High Plains Journal and Syngenta. Megan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.