I’m always alert for research opportunities, and this week I was rewarded beyond my wildest dreams.
As you may know, I’m redoing my book covers. I’ve hired a professional photographer to do the main images but I’m filling in the backgrounds myself, so I needed a tractor/trailer unit for Book 8: SPY NOW, PAY LATER. John R., one of the true Knights of the Road who’s been trucking for 48 years, generously agreed to let me photograph his truck.
Little did I know what was about to happen…
When we arrived at the depot, John offered to move the truck to where I could get a good shot. Then he asked if I wanted to get in the cab while he moved it.
Well, hell, yeah! I clambered eagerly into the passenger seat and peppered him with questions about the gauges and the engine and the air brakes and the jake-brake (engine retarder brake) and everything else, while he patiently explained it all.
I’ve always loved the roar and snort of the big diesels and the bone-rattling growl of the jake-brake, but I’ve never had a chance to get up-close-and-personal with them. Perched in the passenger seat grinning from ear to ear, I basked in the auditory delight while he drove across the yard.
I had finished my pictures and was turning away when John asked, “Do you want to go for a ride?”
Do I? Are you kidding? I was up into that passenger seat so fast I don’t think my feet even touched the steps.
When we reached the Trans-Canada Highway he turned left, which surprised me. I thought it would have been easier to turn right instead of crossing the median with the big rig, but whatever. I was in my glory, and John even indulged me by using the jake a couple of times even though it was completely unnecessary (we were out in the middle of nowhere so it wasn’t prohibited).
At the next small town he turned around to head back, but after crossing the median again to get us on the right side of the highway, he pulled over onto the shoulder and stopped.
Then he said, “Now you’re going to drive us back.” (John has trained lots of drivers for their Class 1 license so this wasn’t as reckless as it might sound, but I’m convinced he has nerves of steel nonetheless.)
After a moment of paralyzed disbelief, I jumped at the chance. My heart pounded so hard I thought I might have a heart attack and I’m pretty sure John’s steering wheel still bears the imprints of my white-knuckled grip, but I drove an 18-wheeler! How cool is that?!?
I certainly didn’t perform any great feats of driving skill – John shifted the gears from the passenger’s seat because I couldn’t figure out the split-shift and keep my eyes on the road at the same time. But I kept it between the lines and I made the two turns off the highway and onto the yard without dropping the trailer into the ditch, so I’m going to call it a success overall. And it was a giant thrill!
Have I mentioned lately that I love being a fiction writer?
I really, really do!
Many thanks to John for my big adventure, and to his wife Nellie for documenting it with photos!