Nazareth's "Expect No Mercy" tour
in the winter of early 1978 was aptly named. While the tour was in
support of their latest album, "Expect No Mercy", the title also
predicted the grinding punishment the tour became. We pulled off 28 gigs in 38
days, with many of the shows happening in the Snow Belt of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The last trailer was loaded at the Morris Auditorium in South Bend, Indiana, early AM, January 26. Because we had several days to travel the 150 miles to Columbus, Ohio, the drivers went back to the motel. The plan was to leave the next morning. There was no hurry.
By the time we had gotten our act together the next morning the snow
had accumulated to over ten inches and was blowing and drifting like
crazy. Before we even hit the Ohio Turnpike, we had white out
conditions. It became worse once we hit the open spaces of the super
slab. The landscape had become a kind of Siberian wilderness totally inhospitable to anything alive.
The planned convoy fell apart at that point
with each driver deciding how much to push themselves and their trucks.
Two drivers pulled over and parked. I ribbed them some as I passed them,
but said good luck, I'll save you a stool at the hotel bar in Columbus, Ohio. I
don't know why, but I was sure I would make it before dark. It was
less than 150 miles ferchrisakes. Slow and steady, just don't let up.
In conditions like this it's a good idea to
keep the CB turned on and the mic handy. Everyone in a thirty mile radius it
seemed was trying to talk at the same time. I punched up Channel 19 and
kept my mouth shut. I wanted to know what was ahead, but didn't think I
had anything to add. All I could do was react to what the truck in front of me
did. The snow was drifting, blowing and at some point we lost tangible
contact with the turnpike and were relegated to driving blind with only the
flickering tail lights of the vehicle in front of us to show the way.
Trucks and cars in our group began to bail by either pulling onto the shoulder
or if they were lucky, onto an off ramp presenting itself in the few moments of visibility
that broke the constant waves of blowing white.
At some point the CB chatter almost died out.
The truck I had been following pulled over into a snowdrift. He said his
goodbyes and good lucks and he was gone. Suddenly I was in the lead of an unknown number of vehicles trying to continue east on the Ohio Turnpike.
I hesitated to key the mic as it seemed
reckless to remove a hand from the steering wheel at that moment. But I
did. I also slowed to about 15 mph as I began a running commentary over
the air regarding the obstacles, any cars and trucks following me might be
interested in missing. The road was littered with stuck and stalled
Like some Twilight Zone Pied Piper, I
navigated through and around more than a few jack knifed trucks, too many cars
to count and one oversized rig with a double wide house trailer tipped over in
the ditch. That is when my headlights lit up Mile Stick 32.
The road was completely blocked. Three tractor trailers had tangled up
together and had become one ugly mess of trucks and truck
I found out later no one was seriously hurt.
I remember one aggressive driver was whining over the radio about the pace I
was keeping. I told him he was welcome to pass the convoy and take his
chances. He passed us like we were standing still, all the while hooting
and hollering on the radio about his mythical legacy in the annals of truck
lore. And when he passed us, I took note of the long nosed Kenworth
hauling a black reefer with shiny diamond embossed stainless steel doors.
As it turned out, he had caused that accident that stopped me. I had to smile when I saw the damage he had done to that beautiful
rig. Mythical legacy, yeah right. Driving too fast for the
conditions, he plowed into a stopped rig at the tail end of a six mile back up.
At this point, I want to relate some thoughts
from the journal I was keeping back then.
“Here I sit at mile marker 32 1/2
behind 6 miles of backed up traffic. The states of Indiana and Ohio are
completely shut down. The CB has gone crazy. A CB voice from a base
station comes in louder and stronger. The voice tells us his handle is "Black
Bird" and that he can see the highway when it isn't snowing. He is located
at mile stick 32 about a quarter mile off the highway. Blackbird then
informs us the only way out is by
So there I was stuck in a truck with an
idling engine and snow drifting up the windshield. At first the CB was
full of voices, some calm and others frantic. The folks stuck in cars and some of the
truckers needed/wanted to be evacuated. I remember Black Bird informing us he
had talked to local emergency honchos and they asked if any of us drivers would
be willing to camp out in our trucks and keep the other trucks running by
siphoning fuel from one to another. In my immediate area, a Roadway
driver and I agreed to fill in. The Big R driver said as long as he stuck with his truck, his hourly rate kept ticking. And besides, he was sure hanging in his truck was no worse than some high school gym with collapsible cots under the back board.
Almost immediately after agreeing to stay, I
decided to get out of the truck to check the tanks of the trucks near me. I
called on the CB for a weather check. Black Bird came back with a report
of -18'F windchill. I pulled on an extra pair of jeans and four tee shirts
and then my jacket before I jumped out.
Damn it was cold. The scene was out of
some horror story that transpired in the harshest moments of a winter
night. The vehicles in the immediate area had become scattered ghostly
lumps upon which snow would continue to build for the next 14 hours. My
windshield was almost covered by a drift nine feet tall. And yet, it was actually
passable by foot as the snow had been blown off the road surface between the
The Big R driver and I took turns over the
next few hours siphoning diesel from one truck to another. I ended up
smelling like a fuel jockey. The big R driver managed to stay
immaculate. I actually had a great time feeling useful. Drinking Jack
Daniels and smoking a couple of doobs between moments of duty out in the elements kept everything mellow. A huge bonus was feasting on bodaciously good sandwiches and coffee delivered to us by Buckeye State eskimos on snowmobiles.
They fed us three times before the tow trucks found us in the massive traffic
jam. And it helped that we kept those twelve trucks running. It made the clean up on our stretch go faster.
This kind of storm is not unusual in that
region what with the Great Lakes nearby and all. But this storm was
definitely one of the "once a century" storms. One truck driver
ten miles south of us on a two lane highway drove off the road and tipped
over. His rig was completely covered by snow and he was not found for
three days. It was that kind of storm.
Keep it "tween the ditches .....................................