By David Tanner
Like many truckers, Bob Heans misses his family while he is out on the road. When he's at home in Fergus, Ontario, he enjoys as much family time as he can.
Most of his miles are stateside, hauling LTL for Transport N Service out of Guelph, Ontario. So when he's away, Heans, aka "Snakebite," stays in touch and calls home often.
Long days don't have to mean lonely miles. For Heans and others in his network of friends, they've got a place to meet up that's also just a phone call away.
Heans is a cofounder of a call-in phone line for truckers. Heans and Rusty "Yoda" Wade, and Rusty's wife, Mary, have dubbed it the "Bozo Lounge." It's kind of like a call-in version of "Cheers," the place where everybody knows your name.
"You can go into that chat room seven days a week, for 21 hours a day, and you can find somebody in there," Heans says.
The three hours in which the room is essentially empty occur when Dale "Truckin' Bozo" Sommers takes to the airwaves on the Sirius XM Road Dog Channel. That's when the moderators, who are Bozo fans, take a hiatus from the phones to catch the show.
The idea of a call-in line occurred to Heans and Wade, both OOIDA members and two of the line's moderators, after observing and experimenting with other chat lines. They chose freeconferencing.com as the host.
The Bozo Lounge, named after Sommers and advertised on thebozo.com, typically has half a dozen up to about 30 callers on the line shooting the breeze. Heans says it sure beats the days of trying to set up conference calls with others.
"Up until we did that, we used to do three-way phone lines," said Heans. "But the trouble with that was, if you lost your cell signal in the middle, the whole call would come apart and we'd have to spend 20 minutes getting it up and running again."
An early attempt at a call-in line was basically a free-for-all, Wade said.
"It grew to where there were 30 people in there and nobody could get a word in edgewise, so one group of them went off and started their own. I understand there are now seven lines," he said.
A call-in number and code provide access. But a word to those entering the Bozo Lounge for the first time … Wade or another moderator will usually break off and administer an (un)official greeting, something like:
"The straitjackets are on the left, the open whiskey bar is on the right, whatever makes you feel comfortable, talk when you feel like it and watch out. We sling barbs at each other; just ask Bullwinkle."
As one can guess, the community has a lot of character – and characters – and the topics range from seriousness to rabble. The moderators try to limit the politics, but the occasional tangent is inevitable.
A remarkable thing happened …
One October evening, Heans was in his sleeper at a rest area near Pittsburgh, talking casually on the chat line per his usual routine. All of a sudden, he heard a terrible crash outside and quickly scrambled to get to the scene to see if he could help. It was there he found two young men who were badly injured.
"I heard the accident go off and I said, I gotta go," recalled Heans. But by a stroke of fate, Heans had not disconnected himself from the phone line.
"I basically didn't hit the 'end' button on my phone, so everybody in the room was listening to me hold this kid's hand, telling him he wasn't going to die."
Wade was moderating the line at the time, and recorded the next few remarkable minutes. A portion later aired on Land Line Now, drawing a lot of response.
The young men survived the crash. The mother of one of the men later called the chat line to thank the anonymous trucker who kept her son calm until help arrived, and to tell them her son had broken bones in his back and was undergoing surgeries, but was going to make it.
Had Heans not kept him calm and still, the young man might have become paralyzed. Heans' safety training – he owns his own racing team – had paid off.
"The doctors said it was a miracle. One, for him to be alive, and two, for him not to have paralysis," said Heans.
Since the incident, Heans has become acquainted with the family and stays in touch.
"I've sat back and done an inventory. And I firmly believe that somebody put me in that exact spot at that exact time," Heans said.
Whether it's a roadside hero, trucker, race team owner, chat-line moderator or just good ol' Snakebite, Bob Heans considers himself a family man first.
"As a highway driver, time with our families is so short," he said. "So when I'm home I make the most of it."
Good call, Bob.LL