Flooded, stranded together: truckers and NY community bond

| 9/15/2011

Mike and Dorothy Barker planned to take time off last week after delivering a load in Massachusetts. The couple agreed they’d park the truck and drive a rental car up the coastline.

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Barker

Truck drivers, tourists and townspeople shared supplies, including a truckload of groceries donated by Wegman’s at the Valero truck stop in Lounsberry, NY, on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Anyone near the truck stop was stranded after floodwaters sparked by Hurricane Lee prevented travel on the three routes out of the upstate New York community.

As it turned out, the Barkers would wind up sharing two days off with nearly 50 other truck drivers, some East Coast vacationers, and residents of one upstate New York community.

For nearly two days following floods last week from Hurricane Lee, an estimated 40-50 truck drivers shared food, coffee and even generator power with other travelers and town residents in upstate New York.

Mike and Dorothy Barker, OOIDA members from Cincinnati, OH, said they pulled into the Valero truck stop in Lounsberry, NY, last Wednesday, during a heavy rainstorm. Mike’s hours of service were nearly up, he said, and Hurricane Lee was threatening to take out several highways. Interstate 88 had already been partially shut down due to landslides, he said.

“We knew we were in for a rough couple of days,” Mike said. “No electricity, no bathrooms, no water – the truck stop was closed.”

Mike told Land Line Now in an interview that he awoke Thursday at 5 a.m., and noticed heavy rains had continued to fall. Looking around, something seemed wrong.

“All the lights were off in the truck stop,” Mike said. “So I got on the radio just to see if I-88 was open, and there was another driver there trying to figure out what was going on. We figured out that overnight, I-86 had been flooded and shut down, so we were stranded.”

It was then that people stuck at the truck stop joined forces with others who lived nearby. Dorothy remembered a couple in their 70s bringing a bucket of peanut butter, crackers and pretzels. Another family made sandwiches, and groups of men and families stood and talked.

A nearby golf course shuttled people to clubhouses so they could shower and get a bite to eat, Mike said.

Others stuck included two families with small children, a young couple in an RV, and a rock band from Evansville, IN.

“The kids from Evansville, they were saying, ‘Are all truck drivers like this?’” Mike said.

Drivers and other adults found snacks for children. The Barkers ran an electric line from their gen set to one couple’s RV.

Later that day, a driver hauling a load of Wegman’s groceries was told by his dispatcher to open the trailer and share food and water with the stranded community. National Guard helicopters flew overhead to catch a glimpse of the Susquehanna River, which had risen from its typical 10-12 feet depth to more than 40 feet.

News reports Mike read online expected the river to pass the 50-foot mark.

Drivers representing several races and some Canadian drivers were present, Mike said. Drivers pooled coffee, coffee pots, snacks and wet wipes.

On Friday, Mike awoke and walked to meet a state trooper. The trooper, along with truck drivers, organized a convoy so the stranded could escape the truck stop on Interstate 86 in between storms.

“He said, ‘It’s gonna get worse, and we have a shot of getting you guys out of here,’” Mike recalled. The trucks, cars and RVs convoyed out westbound on I-86, occasionally having to use eastbound lanes at spots that were dangerously close to flood zones.

As the convoy left the worst of the flooding areas, the trucks and cars separated. The Barkers, however, say they believe the group made lasting memories as they huddled together, prepared to endure nearly a week together if necessary.

“It’s what this business could be, used to be, and should be,” Mike said. “It’s amazing. I’ve been doing this since 1978. And at this point of my career, I didn’t have a real good opinion of a lot of my fellow drivers. But it was amazing how everything came together there.”

After leaving New York, the Barkers were able to head to Maine and take two days off driving up the coast. 

The mini-vacation didn’t compare to their time at the Lounsberry truck stop, they agreed.

“Out of the whole trip, that was probably the most memorable part,” Dorothy said. “We met a lot of nice people, and saw a lot of good in people.”

Information for this article was contributed by Land Line Now Staff Reporter Reed Black.