Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Road Tale #2

Again, for Jack:

Like in National Lampoon's Vacation, we were all sleeping. Perhaps not the driver. It was a university motor pool station wagon filled with expensive equipment and cheap student luggage. We slept the uncomfortable sleep of travel. Sitting, slouching, heads lolled back stiffly, feet jambed under the seat in a desparate attempt to straighten the knees. Snoring. "Shit!" Our slumber was broken. Awakening to the sound of a silent car rolling to a stop on the gritty interstate shoulder, we didn't know where we were nor what was happening. We were northwest of the Twin Cities on our way to St. Cloud under the stars in the semi-tundra of Minnesota - out of gas. Somehow we got back on the road or maybe I just went back to sleep.

At Michigan State University, I worked in the Shock and Vibration Laboratory at the School of Packaging. I broke things for a living. One fall, we got to go on a field trip. Two or three of us students, the Grad Student we worked for and the Professor she worked for, did a research project for a large trucking company.

We wired up a trailer with accelorometers to measure the 'g' force of impacts and vibrations. Accelorometers were affixed to the frame of a semi trailer, and to the floor, and to three layers of the chest freezers loaded in the trailer. A big long pigtail of wire brought the data up to the passenger seat of the tractor.

I sat in the tractor, with a big tray in my lap filled with tape recorders. Most of them recorded the measurements from the trailer. One of them also recorded my voice. I narrated the route so that the data could be correlated with what happened to the trailer.

Two days straight.

"We are approaching a curve to the left."

"We are approaching a stop sign."

"We are approaching a double set of railroad track."

Chugga Chugga Chugga Chugga.

As we went around corners, I also had to pay out some slack for the pigtail to reach around. And then ease it back aboard, making sure that wires weren't pulled out of connectors or got tangled with the trailer.

The Trucking Company had an older couple who retreived wrecked trailers. They were recruited to haul the research team around. Actually, the husband drove me around. The wife sat in a lawn chair back at the terminal entertaining her dog and our boss.

I couldn't talk to the driver much, being busy narrating, but I remember riding around in his old Cab-Over. There was dog hair everywhere and one of the cupholders on the "doghouse" engine cover was filled with dog food. Now that I've driven "slip seat" the last few months, in a different grab bag tractor nearly every week, I have a new appreciation for how neat and tidy that dog was.

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