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Wayward Wheel & No Brakes At The Beach

(a true story of circumstance)

Sandy Beach, Poor Bend, Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas

About this time forty years ago I was working for an outfit called Argo Barge on Possum Kingdom Lake as a weldor. Our crew was tasked with repairing a boat ramp or dock walkway or something, I can't recall exactly, at a residence out near Poor Bend. There were three of us in the old tool truck heading to the worksite. I was driving and we had just topped the hill at Frontier Unit Road when I tapped the brakes to slow the truck down a bit for the downhill stretch.

Nothing. I tried them again. Nothing again. Uh oh.

The hill we were rolling down now wasn't extremely steep but it was steep enough to be worrisome for three guys in a heavy tool truck rolling on asphalt pavement with no brakes. Glancing out the rearview mirrors I saw out the passenger side that the right rear wheel of the truck had emerged from its normal spot inside the wheel well and was now sticking out about a foot from it. I let the other two fellows in the truck with me know what was going on.

Jabbing a thumb to the right rear, I said matter-of-factly "Hey guys, the rear axle has broken and brakes are gone. We're on glide until I can figure out a good place to crash this thing without killing us all."

They looked out the right rearview and saw the rear wheel creeping out of place too, then gasped as one. Jesus (pronounced haysoos) muttered something in Spanish that included the word chinga. John said "Oh shit!" Then the both of them fell silent, understanding the situation completely, knowing full well that as the man at the wheel only I could deal with it, and what I needed most right at that moment was lots of silence to think it through. We were moving too fast for anyone to jump out and that option didn't even occur to me–as the driver–at the time, although my workmates admitted later that they did consider it.

No one said a word as I concentrated hard on what to do to save us. We were rolling too fast downhill to make any turns. Most roadways to the right declined steeply to the rocky lakeshore. I might have managed to pull into an empty plot of fairly level land on the left back at the Frontier Unit Road intersection but we were now way past that point with no way to get back to it. This was bad. Very bad. Maybe there will be a spot to ease left past Sand Bar Road, I thought, but then saw too many hefty mesquite trees scattered about there we would only bang into very hard.

Trying to remember what was up ahead that I might use instead I recalled how deep the sand at Sandy Beach was and decided that was our only hope.

"Going for Sandy Beach, boys!" I said with calm determination. The right rear wheel was now sticking out about two feet from the wheel well. If the axle snapped we might roll and the truck had no roll bar. I shifted into low to let the engine slow us down as much as possible. With the busted rear axle, it helped none at all as we approached Sandy Beach at the tip of the little peninsula at Poor Bend. A low steel cable surrounded the beach with one drive-through gap in the middle where emergency vehicles could get out onto the beach when necessary for the occasional drowned swimmer. I aimed for the gap and wondered if I should turn the steering wheel hard left if the rear axle gave way and decided that might not be best. The truck's rear right corner would drop and drag. Turning left might only encourage rollover. Or would turning right make it worse? No time to think that through. We were coming up to the beach now.

There wasn't a whole lot of sand between the end of Road 2951 at the beach and the water and I didn't really want to hit the water head on if I could avoid it, but it would be better than hitting anything more solid. Both windows were already rolled down, so I didn't have to worry my workmates more than they already were by asking them to roll the passenger window down in case we had to go into the drink. I hoped no one was on the beach. I tapped the horn just in case I had to sound a warning for beachgoers. It worked. Good.

"Okay, get ready," I warned them as the entrance gap into Sandy Beach came into view. Gratefully, no one was on the beach. Not a soul. So I put all my attention to steering smartly.

"I'm going to ease to the right as soon as we get on the sand to try to keep us from going into the lake, but if that doesn't work, get ready to get out fast and swim back to shore if we go in deep. Brace yourselves!"

We had no seatbelts in that truck. My workmates nodded vigorously but stayed silent as they straight-arm braced themselves against the dash. The rear wheel was sticking out about two and a half feet now. "Damn!" I thought. "It's sure to snap!" but it didn't, and as I started into as wide a turn as I could manage to the right without rolling over it still held in place even as the old truck leaned hard to the left. I killed the engine. We quickly rolled to a stop with plenty of room to spare.

Piling out of the old tool truck we all gazed at the right rear wheel sticking out at least three feet from the wheel well, then we looked at each other and began laughing like hell at our good fortune to have survived without a scratch. John and Jesus congratulated me on some damn fine driving and for thinking of the deep sand. John went off to find a house nearby where he could call the office for someone to come get us and the truck. Jesus and I walked around and around the truck marveling at what had just happened before taking a walk along the shoreline to enjoy a little morning time beauty of the lake, and to calm our still-quaking nerves.

Our boss, Bob, arrived about twenty minutes later and surveyed the scene with bottom lip hanging open beneath his furry mustache, thanked me for saving us and the truck and invited us all to have lunch on him as the sheriff arrived, began recording information and taking statements.

The red line indicates the 1.1 mile path of our brake-free glide from Frontier Unit Road to Sandy Beach

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