Runaway Truck!

As seen in Overdrive Magazine

Don Christner|January 21, 2016



In the Summer of 2013, Mike McGinty and I were hauling loads out of Utah to Denver, Colo., on I-70. Our placarded hazmat tanker loads can not be taken through the Eisenhower tunnel, so we would leave I-70 and take the hazmat route on U.S. highway 6 over Loveland Pass. The sun shone brightly and my 13-year-old son and I were enjoying the grandeur of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Cresting over the Continental Divide summit of Loveland Pass at 11,990 feet, we started down the east side. I placed the truck’s autoshift transmission in Manual and turned on the engine brake. The truck’s speed was good to use the brakes little or none. It was shaping up to be a good trip down.

But things were about to change. All the gauges in the 2011 Kenworth went to zero like I’d turned off the key. Warning lights and beeping went off all over the dash, and, most alarming, the Paccar’s engine brake stopped working. It would be OK, I thought, the truck was still in gear and my brakes were cool. I could use the truck’s brakes to keep my speed down while trying to sort out the problems.

Over the CB I let Mike know about the trouble. At some length, the lights and gauges went back to normal. I thought I was out of trouble. Then the truck’s autoshift transmission shifted itself into neutral and revved the engine to 2,100 RPMs and just held there for maybe 15 seconds, then the engine fell to an idle. The accelerator pedal was dead and the transmission light was flashing again on the console.

Now I was freewheeling down the mountain in neutral! That was unexpected, to say the least. What’s more, the brakes had heated. Now I was in trouble!

There are no runaway truck ramps, no gaurdrails, no shoulders and no do-overs on Loveland Pass! I let Mike know that my situation had worsened. Time and distance traveled became indiscernible as adrenaline sped up my thinking. Many thoughts went through my mind. At first I thought I’d turn off the key and re-boot the truck’s computer but quickly dismissed that idea. What if the computer wouldn’t reboot and the engine failed to restart? I’d lose power steering on a curvy road and the air compressor would stop also, leaving me without air for the truck’s brakes. Another thought was that I’d use the brakes as hard as I could to see if the truck would come to a stop, then jump when it slowed as much as possible.

I looked over at my son in the passenger seat and knew that was not an option. He seemed unconcerned — dad just handles these things. I wasn’t so sure. A sense of anger and determination came over me. My son and I were going to find a way down this mountain, and I was never going to drive this truck again! I prayed silently, “Lord help me!”

Looking in the mirror I saw Mike McGinty coming up behind me in truck #169. He said he was going to pass me and see if we could use both trucks to get stopped! This was going to get even more real! Then, as suddenly as it had all began, all the lights went out and the engine RPMs sped up and matched the transmission, and the auto shift went into gear. The engine brake started working again.

Mike got his speed shut back and we got off that mountain. It felt so good to get home to my wife and family that night! The next day in Cheyenne, Wyo., when I came to work the terminal manager said, “You’re coming in kind of late aren’t you?”

“I don’t want to drive truck anymore, so I was checking the Help Wanted ads in the newspaper,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Well, there is a Kenworth out in the yard I want you to take a look at, see if you can drive it. It has a manual 18-speed transmission in it.” he said.

I have been driving that truck ever since. After 30 years of driving my arm has never failed to put the transmission in gear. I can’t figure out how you are going to improve on a record like that.

Three days later we went back over Loveland Pass. I’ll never look at it the same way again! I will never forget Mike coming for me in truck #169! Thank you Lord for getting us off that mountain!

The Test

Story and photos by Don Christner as seen In Overdrive Magazine.

Original story see here:

Todd Dills

One bull hauler’s mid-1980s test

|February 02, 2015

Don Christner cow hauler

The 1979 Kenworth W900 — pictured above hooked to a 1976 Barrett cattle trailer — is the truck Don Christner was running as a company driver in 1985 when the story below took place.

The Test
It was 10 o’clock, I was right on time at the T-Junction Truck Stop in Imperial, Neb.  I’d been sent there to meet two other cow truck drivers. I didn’t know the name of the ranch where we were headed to load cattle. “Just follow them out,” my boss had said.

Don Christner

However, the parking lot was empty.

The cashier inside told me that those two guys had been there and she saw them heading out to the north. Back out in the truck, I sized up my situation. I’d been ditched! This was the days before cellphones, and I knew my boss was away from the phone. Should I just go back to the yard, park the truck, and go home? No, I’d be done trucking if I did that. Well, I was young, only 19. I talked too much, didn’t know what I was talking about, and drove too fast. The drivers I was to meet up with were well seasoned and highly experienced.

They’d ditched me and I kind of had it coming. Still, if I couldn’t solve this it would be fatal for me, they knew that too!

The Kenworth seemed to grow much larger as I slowly pulled out. I had nothing to go on except to head north on Nebraska Highway 61 following in the direction the cashier said the other trucks had headed. My heart was up in my throat and my senses were at full attention.

I must not fail!

Slowing at every intersection I looked hard for signs of truck traffic.  After about seven miles I thought I saw the tracks of semis turning wide in the dust. I turned off too, heading east on the gravel. The road curved around and after several miles I saw the tracks of semis turning north again. This time I was sure I was right! Several more miles north cresting a hill I saw cattle pens with a herd of cattle, cowboys with horses, and two familiar cattle trucks that had ditched me back in Imperial.

They gave each other a surprised glance as I drove up. They never said anything, quiet and hauled up — I never said a word either. We went to work each taking a turn backed into the chute loading the cattle.

The cowboys were unaware of the conversation not taking place. Most importantly I had passed the test! At least that day. That was near on to 30 years ago.

There have been many more tests of all different sorts since then, some I didn’t get through quite so gracefully. “There but for the grace of God go I!” –Don Christner, Cheyenne, Wyo.

Driver dispatch from a series of wintry hazmat loads over Loveland Pass

The editor at Overdrive Trucking Magazine was kind enough to publish this story on the web site and in the Feb 2015 printed magazine.  WooHoo!

|January 06, 2015

See story on Overdrive Trucking Magazine site:

Don Christner rig at Loveland Pass edit (800x466)

While the city of Buffalo and the New York Thruway in the greater area surrounding the city were grabbing all the November early-winter headlines, Reed Hurst Trucking driver Don Christner and his running partner were quietly but heroically hauling hazmat on a series of loads over Loveland Pass in Colorado, where November was quite wintry indeed.

My running partner, Mike McGinty, and I ran a series of loads through the Mountains in Colorado through the month of November.  It was a month of winter weather in the Rockies, great for the ski areas but a challenge for trucks!

Tires chained edit (800x603)Running our trucks together we were more productive than running alone. Mike and I would just keep working to get through the problems no matter what they were. If you are running with someone who wants to work it makes a huge difference, and Mike is just such a driver!

Every time we stopped to chain up we were celebrities. Two or three drivers would come up to our trucks to watch us chain:

“I’ve never chained before.”

“Where are the guys that you pay to chain your truck? Will you chain my truck?”

“I don’t have any chains, do you have any I can borrow?” (Colorado requires you to have chains in your possession in the mountainous areas from Sept. 1 through May 1.)

Late one night we came up I-70 to find our hazmat route, Highway 6 over Loveland Pass, was closed. The DOT shut down I-70 at Eisenhower Tunnel in both directions and held all traffic so Mike and I could drive our hazmat loads through by ourselves. We were still chained up through there rattling like crawler tractors!

We’ve got that series of loads complete now, a terrible lot of work. An incredible adventure! Amazing grandeur!  Hmmm. My paycheck doesn’t  really reflect the whole thing.Nonetheless, thanks to Mike for having my back on these runs! And hats off to the drivers that run loads through the mountains of Colorado year round! –Don Christner, Wyoming

Critical Load Makes for a Trucking Adventure!

Sept 20, 2013

Also seen on Overdrive Trucking Magazine

One driver and one emergency load — to flooded Boulder, Colo.

Photos and Story by Don Christner

Author of this piece, Don Christner, drives the Kenworth pictured for Reed Hurst Trucking.

What an incredible opportunity and challenge! If you have been listening to or watching the news  in the past week, you know the recent floods in Colorado have been very destructive. People have lost their lives, homes, businesses, roads, and bridges. Hard-hit Boulder, Colo., was in danger of losing its ability to process drinking water, and the water treatment facility needed the product that I carry — the problem was most of the roads were simply gone! Ordinarily, I’d just come up I-25 and go through Boulder.

Christner's route to Boulder took the Highway 119 alternate Sugarloaf Rd.

However, this time the Cummins motor in the 2009 Kenworth pulled up Floyd Hill going west on I-70 out of Denver into the Rocky Mountains, then to Clear Creek Canyon on Highway 6. I then traveled past the casino towns of Black Hawk and Central City, Colo., and up the Peak to Peak highway into Nederland, Colo. Earlier in the day they had called me and the voice on the other end of the phone said the “Colorado DOT won’t give you clearance on Highway 119. The only other road to get here is Sugarloaf Road.It’s a high mountain gravel road, very steep grades and sharp switchbacks. If you don’t want to drive on that road, I’ll understand, but if we don’t get your load, there will not be any drinking water in Boulder. It is an extremely critical load.”

Being an old cow hauler who’s seen many challenging roads and situations, I looked forward to the challenge of Sugarloaf Road.

After traveling about half a mile down Sugarloaf, red lights from a Sheriff’s Deputy appeared in the mirror. With a dark scowl on his face, he said, “Now just where are you planning on taking this thing?”

“City of Boulder,” I said.

The scowl drained out of his face, and he said, “Oh, you’re the one they’ve been talking about all day — follow me and I’ll take you up there.”

Don Christner, Colorado flood

A City of Boulder pickup appeared and the man connected to the voice on the phone was there looking for me, too. It’s good when they want your load this bad! A utility vehicle joined on, and the four of us, with red flashing lights leading, went on. On ahead they cleared the road and I railed around the corners and drove down the middle of the road.

Don Christner, Colorado flood 4

It was a grand and beautiful drive. I was having a blast, the twists, turns and climbs of Sugarloaf were a pleasure. Cresting a very steep pull,  Boulder and the front range came into view.  There was a lot of floodwater damage along the road, but I pulled into the water treatment plant and delivered the much needed product!  It was a good day and a grand adventure!

Don Christner, Colorado flood 2


Chariot Racing 2012 Saratoga, WY

Held annually, Presidents Day weekend, in Saratoga, WY.  This is a very exciting event to attend!!   The Snowy Range Mountains in the background, the sound of the horses, the horse racing, and the local western flavor make for a good opportunity to shoot photos!!