Friday, March 4, 2011

Romanian Winter Roads 1985.

____ I was laying awake, wondering how long I could last before having to get up and go for a leak when there was a crash of metal on metal as the cab rocked violently. I jumped up, pulled the curtains and found that a Russian truck had driven into the offside of my cab. The driver was trying to back away, but was only spinning his wheels on the ice, as the two vehicles rubbed together. Because of the cold, I had been sleeping with my clothes on, so after pulling on my boots and grabbing my jacket, I climbed out of the passenger door to inspect the damage. As I went round the front, the Russian driver finally found some grip and the two truck cabs parted company. My Scania had a broken indicator, a cracked mirror lens and the mirror arm, which seemed to have taken the blunt of the impact, was badly bent. The Russian Kaz had similar damage; the driver was tall, young and not in the least bit apologetic.

____I rubbed my thumb and forefinger together to indicate to the Russian that I wanted some money for the damage he had done. The Kaz driver scoffed at my demands and started gesticulating that it was all my fault because if I had not parked so close to his truck he would not have hit my cab. It was then that I elected to hit him; deciding to use my head and nut the Russian. He had shown no remorse or respect, which made me angry. As I had pulled my head back, ready to thrust it forwards into his face, I realised I was standing on a sheet of ice. The small movement had transferred too much weight to the rear of my body, causing my feet to shoot out from underneath me. As I fell to the ground, I inadvertently drop kicked the Russian in the shins; he came down on top of me, with his nose colliding painfully with my knee.

____All this was witnessed by the two other Russian drivers, who had been drinking coffee in their cabs. The first time I noticed them was when they got out of their trucks and slammed the doors. A quick glance at the registration plates made me think I was in big trouble but, luckily, they failed to recognise my rearward head movement as an act of aggression. The Russians just came over to help us back onto our feet, even seeing the funny side of the situation. After making a cup of coffee for me and the guy with the nosebleed, the Russians advised him to give me some money. The Kaz driver came out with 200 Romanian Lei and we shook hands on it.

____My traveling companions, John and George, got up about an hour later, by which time all three Russians had gone off in the direction of Bulgaria.

    “What have you done to your mirror arm?” inquired George.

    “Is that blood on the snow down there?” asked John, as we sat in my cab, drinking coffee.

    “Where were you two when I needed you?” I said, continuing the interrogation line of conversation.

____The thick, freezing fog of that morning was like no fog I had ever seen before; instead of being a calm, still day, the wind was blowing at gale force. As the trucks headed north into the blast, they became encrusted, all over, in ice more than an inch thick. With my heater fans on full speed and all the air directed at the windscreen, it just about remained free from ice. Up ahead, John’s Volvo was struggling with an oil leak in the air compressor, which meant that the engine had to be run at high revs to stop the brakes from coming on. However, George in the Foden was in real trouble: his heater and fan lost the battle against the ice. The only two areas of clear windscreen on the Foden were two half circles, the size of a dinner plate, at the bottom of the glass, close to the air vents. To cope with this problem we all had to stop and chip away at the ice every few miles.

    "Break that windscreen and you'll find yourself driving a Foden; a fucking freezing Foden!" warned George when I became a bit too aggressive with my ice clearing.

____By mid-afternoon, we had only covered a 150 kilometres which had brought us onto the wide open plain north of Bucharest. As the relentless onslaught of the freezing fog showed no sign of easing, John was anxious that we should find some shelter before nightfall and the inevitable fall in temperature. In the limited visibility, all we could see were the big flat fields of the communal farms. The only cover that we came across was a group of haystacks in one of the fields. John took a chance by driving onto the frozen dirt, but after he managed to get some shelter from the wind, George and I followed.

____For the distance travelled and the trouble we had; it was hardly worth it, especially as next day turned out clear and bright. Just after the town of Roman, we stopped at a lay-by in order to fill our water containers from a nearby well that John had discovered on a previous trip. As the turn off for Iasi [ Yash ] was only a couple of miles up the road, I said goodbye to John and George and carried on alone, hoping to reach Radauti that night.

____Running on the hard packed snow and ice was not a problem for the Scania. In the flat countryside, the only problem I had was when I encountered a low bridge, just before reaching my destination. Normally, low bridges were only a couple of inches lower than the front of the trailer, but this one only came up to the bottom of my windscreen. It was a wide, flat road, with several car tracks in the snow. I could not understand why the bridge had been built so low or what it carried over the road. When I got out to have a look, I soon figured out what was going on: it was a road bridge over a river and I was driving on top of the frozen water. When I reversed back along the river in the dark, it was not easy, but I did not dare try a U-turn as I would have surely lost all traction. All the water must have been frozen solid as I did not hear any cracking in the still night air. In the limited light of my hazard warning flashers, I retraced my tyre tracks to the slight slope where I had left the road, before charging off the ice covered river-bed and back onto ice covered ashphalt.

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