Rock slide on I-40, North Carolina – 10th segment.

I was driving West, through North Carolina, on I-40, toward eastern Tennessee, about 40 miles from the gig at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, at 6:30 in the morning. The call for load-in was 8:oo am, and we were going to arrive about 30 minutes early; Howard was riding with in the truck with me, snoozing in the sleeper. Arriving a little early would give us time for a little bite to eat before we started work.

All of a sudden the traffic in front of us was coming to a stop and I noticed that there was no eastbound traffic. I woke Howard up, told him the traffic had stopped, and probably an accident up ahead but really could not tell what was actually going on, as we were on the north end of The Great Smokey Mountains. The interstate had a lot of curves and the side of the mountain was real steep on our side of the road.

After about an hour, words finally made it back to us that there was a landslide and the rock was all  the way across the road, twenty-five to thirty feet high on our side.

By this time traffic was backed up behind us as far as we could see. There were cement barriers between the west bound and eastbound traffic, making it impossible to turn around.

Again, this was just before cell phones, we were already late for load-in and had no way to inform the crew of our situation. I guess one could say we were caught between a rock and a hard spot.

The slide was about thirty five to forty miles east of Ashville, N.C., and just a few miles from the Tennessee line. The heavy equipment did not arrive on the scene till around the lunch hour. A crane removed three sections of the concrete median so west bound traffic could turn around and head back east and find another route. that took an hour.

There were two lanes of traffic a mile long ahead of us and it took us close to twenty-five minutes to reach the crossover and turn the semi around.

I back tracked twelve miles and picked up highway 209 north as our alternate route.We stopped the first opportunity to make a phone call to relay what had happened and our expected time of arrival. By now the time was close to 4:00 pm. The show was to start at 7:00 pm and we had ninety miles to travel through mountains and winding roads. The show was moved back to 8: pm.

We arrived at 7:00 pm to a cheering crowd of college students and they were determined to make the 8:oo o’clock show time. The trailer was unloaded, the equipment was set up, and the Pure Prairie league came on at 8:30, and we even had a short sound check that the crowd really enjoyed.

Absolutely amazing. The crowd got to see how a show comes together, the sound check. and then the show

I was told the band put on a real good show, as I was ten toes up in the sleeper recovering from one of the most stressful days since I started driving big trucks. Luckily, the rest of the shows on this part of the tour were uneventful.

We had a break in the tour a couple of weeks later and everyone needed it. Jack  Mcormac rode with me to Chillicothe, Ohio. Jack could drive a semi so he helped drive along the way and was driving when we got to where the band stored their equipment. I was in the sleeper and felt a shift in the trailer that woke me up. Jack went to speaking in tounges. I said what happened? I clipped a light pole turning into the alley. I said holy****, and went to speaking in tounges.

Sure enough the light pole was ruined, Jack was not certified to drive a big truck, so I had to take the blame, real quick . The equipment warehouse was on one side of the alley and right across from the side door to the cop shop. Big bummer. Yes, no? It took a few months of phone calls then it went away.

In the last conversations with a city official, he spoke along the line that prior to the clipping of the light pole, the city was pondering the very fact the pole was cramping the entrance to the alley and were considering removing and relocating it, where it would not cramp the entrance to the alley and police station. The official said he would keep me posted. Never heard another word.

Jack and I made it back to Houston and unloaded the lights system for some changes that needed to be made before doing a few shows with Willie. I drove the truck to Austin and left the trailer backed up to the loading dock, as a little tinkering needed to be done on the sound system before going back out with Pure Prairie League in a few weeks.

I was able to spend a few days in Austin, doing my routine of good eats and good music. I ran into one of my long time friends I had known since the sixth grade at Club Foot, a roadhouse for up and coming bands (U-2), and bands that had peaked (Leslie West). Come to thank of it I believe it was U-2  playing that night (1977). I had not heard of them so I didn’t pay much attention.

My friend’s name was Carl Alex Steele, AKA, Cozmic Carl, one of the cosmic cowboys Michael Martin Murphy gave credit to on the back of the Cosmic Cowboy album. Cozmic didn’t have a lot going for him at the time. Over a couple of adult beverages and conversation, Cozmic looked me in the eye and said Michael D. (my middle name is Douglas) I need a job and I’m ready to get serious.

Coz you see, had been doing the High-ola Polka on the couch circuit for years, and had done a little work with local musicians. I looked Cozmic in the eye and said I would see what I could do. I told Coz to order up a couple of beers, I need to make a phone call to Houston, as I dropped a twenty on the table.

Jack had gone out on the road with another band so there was an opening. I called my boss Howard, to tell him about Cozmic Carl. He asked me if he had the right stuff, I said I believe he did, and he said bring him on down and we’ll see how he catches on in the shop doing prep for Willie.

I returned to tell Cozmic I had something for him. Telling Carl the good news gave me such a good feeling. I wanted so badly to be able to share my blessing of being in the music bid’ness with one of my close friends, and now it was happening. I saw Cozmic change before my very eyes, oh happy days.

I told him that we had a few shows to do with Willie, and we had part of a tour to finish  with Pure Prairie League and we needed to leave for Houston on Monday to do the prep for Willie, so get yourself ready.

I had no doubt that Carl would work out. He knew the Willie bunch already, was good friends with Poodie, Willie’s stage manager, and as I mentioned earlier, he had floated around the music scene in Austin for quite a while. As it turned out Cozmic had the right stuff and fit right in.

Cozmic Carl Joins The Adventure-11th segment

The show that stood out on the mini Willie tour was the show in San Antonio, at the municipal auditorium, with Dolly Parton opening. The afternoon of the show, Dolly came in to do a sound check, as she was walking across the stage to the microphone,  center stage, she would introduce herself to members of the crew as she approached them. She was being polite and wanted everyone to be comfortable, but I think everyone knew who she was.

I was standing at the monitor board, stage left, enjoying the opportunity to see her in person at such a close distance. After the sound check, she thanked everyone for making her feel so comfortable.

She turned and started walking toward me. I was thinking, oh my, she’s coming over here. I must say, at the time I was a recovering shy person and was a little nervous. Sure enough, she walked up to me, stuck out her hand and said, I believe that I have met everyone but you. I surprised myself, I remembered my name, introduced myself, shook her hand and gave her a light hug, thanked her for coming over and she headed off to the dressing room.

We finished up the few shows, all in Texas, and headed back to Houston to prep for another tour with Pure Prairie League.

The dates for the tour were out west, and the first show was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Cozmic was riding with me to help drive the truck, as I had been teaching him how to drive and handle a big rig, and the long drive would give him an opportunity to gain more experience.

We were in Colorado and exited I-25 at Fort Collins and on to highway 287 that would take us into Wyoming. At one point the highway ran alongside  a small river as we entered the edge of Roosevelt National Forest. Cozmic noticed over to our left was a Bald Eagle that was keeping pace with us and as we gained altitude, the eagle stayed right with us.

Daylight had come about an hour earlier and the morning was bright, the air cool and fresh. Seeing the eagle was a great way to start the day, and we both agreed it was a sign of good luck. Eventually the highway turned away from the river and the eagle, but the excitement stayed with us.

Approaching the top of the mountain, we picked up a skip on the C. B. radio that was in Spanish. A skip is when the receiver picks up a signal that originates from a location that is way out of the radios range. Neither one of us knew much Spanish, yet we did recognize the words Key West, Florida. We were both surprised that we could pick up a transmission from Key West. Cozmic wondered out loud something about Jimmy Buffett, as Key West and Jimmy Buffett are synonymous with each other and it’s hard to think of one without the other.

The temperature in Jackson Hole was pretty cold when we arrived, and it seemed like every cricket in Jackson Hole was wintering in the auditorium, They were everywhere. I had never seen anythang like it. A crew of college students had a big time gathering them up and were eventually successful

As the day wore on the temperature kept dropping and by the time the show was over it was in the low teens. We finished loading about 1:30 or 2:00 am, and the temperature had dropped to single didgets. I got into the truck and started to drive away, and I noticed that the truck had no power. I made it down the hill into town, and the truck just would not go.

I pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the crew bus to catch up. The bus stopped to see what was going on, and as I explained to the bus driver that the truck had no power, he asked if I had put any anti-gel into the fuel tanks. I said no and he said that the cold temperature was causing the fuel to gel in the fuel lines. Sure enough, while we were talking the engine stopped running.

I contacted a mobile mechanic, and he said it would be after 7:00 am before he could show up, as he was on another call. The next show was Salt Lake City, about 250 miles away, a good six hours drive on a good day, but it was mountainous, cold , and snowy, so it would probably take longer.

The load-in was to be at 8:00 am. If the mechanic does get here by 7:30, take an hour and a half to blow out the fuel lines, reconnect the lines, put a good load of anti-gel in the fuel tanks and reprime the fuel pump, I will most likely arrive in Salt Lake City between 3:00 and 4:00 pm. That was not good, as this was all on me.

The mechanic arrived at 7:15 and had another mechanic with him that I had not expected to see. The two of them got the job done and I was rolling by 9:00 am.

The crew was at the venue by 9:00 am, so I called them to let’em know that I was up and running so they could make the adjustments with the stagehands.

I pulled in about 3:30, the show came off on time, and I had learned all I needed to know about cold weather and the anti-gel fuel additive.

There were a few more shows out west and the tour ended. When we finished loading the truck after the last show, Howard came over to brief us on the work ahead. He said we were going to do the southern and western leg of the Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, (Margaritaville) tour.

Cozmic and I looked at each other, flashing back to seeing the Eagle, and picking up the skip from Key West, did the high five, and told Howard of our experience.

The three of us agreed that the synchronicity had cozmic overtones, (pun intended), that gave us all goosebumps, left us excited, and looking forward to going to Florida.

We returned to Houston, set up the light system for the Buffett tour,  Coz and I headed to Austin for a few days off before starting back up.

Welcome to my blog

Drove big rigs in the music bid-ness, 1975-1995, transporting production equipment and staging for some of the most popular bands in the music industry, while working for Upstaging, and Stage Call. Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffet, Styx, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Guns-N-Roses/Metallica, and The Rolling Stones. I have written a manuscript, The Happy Texan, adventures of a rock-n-roll truck driver, I plan to post segments of it here.