Line One
What's your altitude, driver?
It's wild and woolly and leaves a trucker with a lifetime's memories of beautiful scenes and white-knuckle incidents

By Jim Mathews
OOIDA life member


I have been driving over, around and through the Rocky Mountains and other western mountain ranges since I was a kid.

You get a spectacular view out the windshield, but driving mountains is not for leadfoots or chicken livers.

I have been on passes where you really had to pay attention, especially on icy roads with no shoulders. It's better than it used to be. In the old days, it was two-lane driving through Glenwood Canyon. Sometimes the rock formations stuck out so far, you had to slow down to 20-25 mph to get around the corners. Anyone remember those days?

Remember when Gay Johnson's at Cameo had the map with pins all over it – where guys would mark where they were from? It used to be on the wall and must have had 10,000 pins. I always stopped there because if you were running to Grand Junction, there was no place else to stop. Incidentally, did you know Cameo was named after a local rock formation?

Over a lifetime of driving, I have a theory on how to avoid hitting wild animals. I run with low beams. I have been mostly lucky. Have you ever hit an elk? Once a cow elk strolled out on U.S. 160 as I was driving across southern Colorado. She came out of the left ditch about 10:30 p.m. like she owned the place, and I hit her like a brick wall, costing me a week of downtime to fix the truck.

Wildlife isn't the only peril you have to watch out for when you drive the Rockies. You have to beware when you drive over Wolf Creek Pass as there are tourists right out there taking pictures. Yep, right out there in the road. It's a regular occurrence up there because of the amazing scenery. And, on Loveland Pass, you know who will come shooting down the mountain? Snowboarders! You've got to watch out for them.

I started out at 13 helping neighbors in my hometown in Colorado. Most of the farmers had old four-speed, six-cylinder Chevys or GMCs from the 1950s with two-speed axles. At 15, I went to work for a dairy farmer. His feed truck was a 1941 Ford.

The first semi that I drove was a 1962 Peterbilt cabover with a 270 Cummins with a 10-speed with 4th and 10th gears reversed. The hopper trailer we pulled had slider doors on the bottom that you had to pull out with a knocker rod. The cattle trailer was steel and probably 38 to 40 feet long.

Do you remember when you had to stop at the top of the mountain and let your equipment cool down? In the old days, when you pulled a long mountain, you'd let your transmission, your rear ends and all cool down and then you'd head down the mountain. You learned real early how to keep your brakes from catching fire.

Driving the Rockies teaches you how to drive in all kinds of weather and how to listen to old-timers who are full of tips (like go down one gear or two gears lower than you pulled the mountain).

I have hauled corn silage, sugar beets, grain, cattle, milk, reefer and dry box freight.

Over the years I have seen all of the 48 states, the Gulf of Mexico and both oceans. The most beautiful place I'd have to say is Flathead Lake in Montana. If I won the lottery, I'd live there.

The loneliest place? Nevada. Going across Nevada on Highway 50, when the sign says the "loneliest highway in the world" they aren't kidding. Anybody who has been to Empire, NV, for sheetrock can say that you haven't been to the end of the world until you've been there.

Trucking has sure changed. I don't miss the "armstrong" steering or burning up in the summer or wearing coveralls to stay warm.

I do miss things like guys stopping to help or moving over instead of trying to see how close they can come. I miss guys giving you the lights instead of lifting their bright lights in your mirror about the time you look to see if you're clear. I miss guys parking like they had some pride. Guys can't even park inside of the lines, let alone lining up neat.

All in all, through the years God has been good to me. I've had a lot of fun. I have made lots of friends and can say I am blessed. LL

Jim Mathews is an OOIDA life member from Greeley, CO. He has been an OOIDA member since 1990.