Share 1 Tweet

The Night I Chained Up on Donner Pass

November 22, 2010
No Diet 4 Me
Several years ago, my wife and I became team over-the-road drivers for Schneider National Carriers. We were excited about our new career, full of adventure, and, by nature, people who perform our assigned tasks to the best of our abilities.

That's how I wound up putting tire chains on my truck and trailer and driving across Donner Pass in a blinding snowstorm.

We were westbound on I-80, approaching Reno when we first began to get word that Donner was being hit pretty hard.

We discussed stopping, but, being who we were, decided that we would go ahead and try to make it through the pass before it got shut down. As we got closer to Reno, and began the climb to the pass on the west side of Reno, we saw more and more big trucks tucked in wherever the drivers had been able to park.

All the chatter on the CB was from truck drivers saying that it was "pretty bad up there" and that they weren't paid enough to risk it.

By then, we were having second thoughts, but, at that point, there weren't really any obvious places to park left, and we were still so new that we didn't know how to find or make one.

So, we pushed on.

As we climbed, the sun went down and the snow came down heavier, until we figured it was at least a "snowstorm", if not a full scale blizzard.

Hey! She's from Arizona and I'm from Florida. What do we know about this stuff?

We gradually slowed to a crawl, but we reached an area with a wide pull-off where several drivers were putting on their tire chains as required by law.

We began to do the same.

At one point, my wife climbed back into the cab to warm her frozen hands and to fix me a hot cup of coffee.

I was at the back of the trailer when I saw the truck coming at me.

There was a curve just before the pull-off area and it was slick with ice and snow. A driver had hit the curve too fast and lost traction. His truck and trailer were sliding towards where I was parked.

I sprinted towards the cab along the right side of the trailer, hoping to get my wife out before his truck hit ours as there was a major drop-off to the right of us. It was hard, because of the snow and the vegetation in my way and, to tell the truth, because as I ran, I was trying to watch under my trailer to see how close he was.

There was probably just some fascination with the unfolding, potentially fatal event in which my wife and I had become participants.

Fortunately, as luck would have it, he finally got some traction shortly before hitting us and was able to move on down the road.

After the shaking stopped, we eventually managed to get the chains on and crossed Donner in that blinding snowstorm in the middle of the night.

I did not see another truck crossing at the same time as we did.

As we came down out of the mountains on the California side, things calmed down, the snow stopped, and it actually turned into a pretty nice day.

Some story, huh.

Real dedicated people doing what had to be done.

Well, to tell the truth, it was probably one of the dumbest acts of my life!

Guess what our precious load was.

Paper towels.

That's right, we risked life and limb to deliver a load of paper towels to the great state of California.

Now, we were new at the career of truck driving, and, in all honesty, did not really know what to expect when we decided to cross Donner Pass in a snow storm.

I think that somewhere next to the thought that we really needed to show that we were team players and good employees was the thought that "they", whoever they are, would not really let us do something genuinely dangerous.

YOU would think that 20+ years in the military would have deleted that one from my brain, at least, huh?

The fact is that every day many of us face all sorts of decisions which could have a wide range of consequences ranging from the barely noticeable to the life-altering.

Often, many of us rely on some sort of preconceived notion about what is expected of us and what "everybody else" would do.

Well, sometimes we have to think things out for ourselves and figure out that a load of paper towels, metaphorically speaking, is worth the risk to life and limb...or love, honor, or self-respect.

Sometimes, we just need to pull over, assess the situation, and make the decision which, though quite possibly the "right" one is the one that is most difficult to make at the moment.

Years later, I became an in-truck and classroom instructor for Schneider National. One of my tasks was to prepare people who were new to truck driving for some of the unfamiliar realities they might have to face, and some of the decisions they might have to make.

I drew heavily on my own experiences, including that night up on Donner Pass when I asked myself several times, "what the hell am I doing here?" Bottom line is, you will wind up having to reach your own conclusions and sometimes the choice of what to do will be difficult. Sometimes you just can't stick with the "this is who I am", and "this is what I do" answers.

Sometimes you, and I, will have to pull out all the factors, including the bill of lading that says "it's only paper towels, stupid!", and make the difficult decision...just because it's the right thing to do.

Chaining up that night was the wrong decision. At least I learned from it and passed some of that learning on to others.

Maybe I went across Donner that night because I figured "that's what truck drivers do". That truly was not a good enough reason although it seemed so at the time. In retrospect, the smart thing would have been to wait out the snowstorm and let California do without their one little truckload of paper towels for a few more hours.


Donovan Baldwin is a 65-year-old accountant, amateur bodybuilder, freelance writer, certified optician, and Internet marketer currently living in the Atlanta, Gerogia area. A University Of West Florida alumnus (1973) with a BA in accounting, he has been a member of Mensa and has been a Program Accountant for the Florida State Department of Education, the Business Manager of a community mental health center, and a multi-county Fiscal Consultant for an educational field office. He has also been a trainer for a major international corporation, and has managed various small businesses, including his own. After retiring from the U. S. Army in 1995, with 21 years of service, he became interested in Internet marketing and developed various online businesses. He has been writing poetry, articles, and essays for over 40 years, and now frequently publishes original articles on his own websites and for use by other webmasters. He has posted a series of articles on The Law of Attraction , and other self-improvement issues at .
2,384 - 6 - 0 - US

Donovan Baldwin is a freelance writer currently living in the Dallas - Fort Worth area. He is a University Of West Florida alumnus (1973) with a BA in accounting. He is a past member of Mensa and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and has held several managerial positions while in the military and in civilian life. After retiring from the U. S. Army in 1995, he became interested in Internet marketing and developed various online businesses. He has been writing poetry, articles, and essays for over 40 years, and now frequently publishes articles on his own websites and for use by other webmasters. He has a website on health, fitness, diet, and weight loss at .

Donovan is a Fan of

Popular Today

Other Articles