Somewhere on Columbia Boulevard I missed the turn for St. John’s Bridge. I was loaded with 24 tons of screen sand, with the three pushers and Maxle arm down on the road. I lugged up a hill into a residential neighborhood and knew I was wrong. I pulled to the side of the road and put my flashers on. I had no map. I knew almost nothing of Portland. At trucking school they said to get out of the truck. They said not to panic. They said not to turn onto a street you can’t get it out of. I hadn’t done that yet but I was starting to panic. The fool I was to not have a good map of the city.

I climbed down and walked around the truck and took a deep breath. A truck this big and loaded was certainly prohibited in this area. If a cop saw me I was certain to be fined. This was bad, bad, bad. Still I hadn’t hit anything. It wasn’t yet lost. If only I could turn it around and get back to Columbia Boulevard I could try again for the bridge.

I got back into the cab, released the brake, and started the turn down another street. Because of the parked cars I couldn’t make it. I lifted the Maxle arm and backed up slowly, then pulled forward and put the arm down and made the turn. The low air warning buzzer went off blaring. I had dumped too much air pressure operating the Maxle. Stopped in the intersection I pushed down the throttle to get the air compressor going and to rebuild air pressure. Two little girls stopped playing and watched me. Three blocks ahead there was a busy street. I saw a cement truck pass. If only I could get to it.

At 70 psi the buzzer turned off. I started slowly down the street between the parked cars. I passed between them in first gear passing them within inches. A tree branch banged against the mirror. I took a deep breath. I came to the stop sign at Lombard and edged out into the heavy traffic, careful not to drive the trailing Maxle arm over the curb. I needed to go left and a sign indicated trucks heavier than 20,000 lbs were prohibited. I was well over that at 80,000 lbs. I didn’t see a cop and made the turn.

I hit Columbia Boulevard and joined the procession of trucks. I threw on the 4 cycle jake. I felt better now. Certainly the trucks knew where they were going. Certainly they would take me to the bridge. I was late for delivering the sand but that didn’t matter now.

But there was no sign for the bridge. The truck ahead went onto an overpass and I followed it into an industrial district. I was still lost and I would have to turn around again. I turned right into a cul de sac but the truck was too big to get around it. I lifted the Maxle, backed up, and put it down and started forward. The low air warning light and buzzer went off and the instrument panel lit up with red lights. In the mirror I saw there was something very wrong with the Maxle wheels. I jumped out of the truck and saw the Maxle tires folded under the metal arm. The wheels were twisted to the side and wedged between the pavement and the metal support of the arm. It looked ruined. Now I have destroyed it, I thought. And now it is lost. Everything is lost. I had only been driving for two weeks and everything was already in ruins.

I got back into the cab but there wasn’t air pressure to lift the Maxle arm. I sat there with the low air warning buzzer blaring and waited for the compressor to rebuild air pressure. When the gauge reached 100 psi I flipped the PTO and raised the Maxle. I got out and took a look at it. I saw it didn’t look damaged. I saw no cracks in the rods or along the important welds in the arm support. Perhaps I could put it down again. It was illegal to drive 24 tons without it down. Perhaps I could get it down and then I could find the bridge.

I climbed into the cab and lowered the Maxle. It watched it hit the ground in the mirror but I saw the mudflaps on the pavement. The secondary motion of the Maxle that extended the wheels out was not functioning. Then the low air warning buzzer went off again. I waited to air up to 100 psi and tried to lower the Maxle. But the same thing happened. The wheels of the Maxle were not extending out beyond the metal support. The low air warning buzzer went off again and I saw that the needle on the air pressure gauge was not rising beyond 105 psi. There was something wrong with the air going to the Maxle. I was dumping too much air to lower it.

I aired up and lowered it and stopped with the wheels just above the pavement. As I sat and watched the air pressure building on the gauge I heard a release of air and in the mirror I saw that the wheels had extended out. It was a miracle. I lowered the wheels to the pavement. Now I could move the load.

I started back down Lombard and went up the overpass. In this direction there was as a small sign for the truck route that I knew would lead me to the bridge. I followed the trucks ahead of me through the city streets and then over the bridge and into the industrial area on the other side of the river.

I was hours late when I made the dump at the cement plant in Linnton. I called Lenny the mechanic and explained the problem with the Maxle arm. Lenny told me to bring it up to Scappoose.

I turned in to the dusty, potholed yard jammed with banged up old Superdumps, transfer trailers, and piles of rusted truck parts and tires. In front of the garage Lenny was smashing at something with a tire iron. I got out and walked over. He ignored me. The tall bald man pounded on the tire rim and cursed. Lenny was furious. A purple faced guy with no teeth stood by and watched him.

Then Lenny turned to me, “Lemme look at it.”

I lowered the Maxle arm to just above the ground and turned off the truck. I explained the problem to Lenny.

“I’m gonna fucking fix it, alright?” he said. The man was very angry.

I stood back and watched him cut the air hose. The purple faced man mumbled something to Lenny. Lenny spit in the dust. Lenny removed a small metal box from the Maxle and walked back to the garage with the purple faced man.

They were gone a long time. I remembered what the old man had told me about getting on Lenny’s good side. I remembered the liquor store just before the yard and walked to it. I bought a fifth of whisky from the old woman inside and went back to the yard. Lenny and the purple faced man were doing something to the Maxle.

“Build air pressure and raise it,” Lenny told me. “Then lower it.”

I throttled it up to run the compressor and watched the needle on the gauge rise faster than I had ever seen it. I flipped the PTO and lowered the Maxle. It lowered properly and the wheels extended out. Hardly any air pressure was lost. Whatever Lenny had done had worked.

I got down and gave Lenny the brown bag with the bottle. He took the bottle out and smiled and I saw his rotten teeth. The purple faced man was smiling too. We were friends now.

“You’ll be here every week with that truck. That’s dump trucks,” said Lenny. “I’ve run dumps all my life and that’s what dumps do. Something breaks on ‘em every week.”

“Every week,” said the purple faced man.

“You can’t haul that kind of weight without something breaking every day,” said Lenny.

“Every day,” said the purple faced man.

“They just have a lifetime of breaking down.” Lenny spit in the dust. “You’ll just get used to it.”


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