Two Letters Re: Big Rig Survival

Mr. Rawles,   
I enjoyed reading R.E.V.’s letter on preparedness for truckers. My husband and I are truckers as well, and we have done a lot of thinking about what we would do in a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation. Being 500 to 1000 miles away from home means a whole different set of requirements for a “Get Home Bag”. R.E.V. did a great job, but I feel there are a few more points that should be touched on.

The first is how quickly diesel can become scarce. Having seen how rapidly truck stops in a given area can be drained of fuel if a delivery is delayed, or if demand becomes higher than normal (such as during a snow storm, especially when a large number of trucks have been shut down by a storm – once the roads open again all the truck stops in the area very quickly run out of fuel due to increased demand), we are very aware that we might not be able to drive our rig home in the event of a large disruption of the fuel supply. We have to be ready for the possibility that we will have to abandon our rig and our load and try to make it home on foot.  This brings up the question of when it is appropriate to abandon the rig. There is a major ethical question involved for us because we are company drivers, and the truck doesn’t belong to us. We are responsible for an expensive piece of equipment and a valuable load, and if there is any chance things will return to normal after a period of time we will have to account to our company for that equipment, and may find ourselves on the hook for the cost of tractor, trailer, and load if we abandon it when we could have stayed with it and “waited out the storm” or perhaps gotten it to one of our company’s secured yards. So the first question we have to ask ourselves is “Is this a short term event, or a long term TEOTWAWKI event?” We also have to ask ourselves if we can safely deliver our load before we head for home, or if things are dire enough for us to abandon that responsibility – not a choice we would make lightly, people somewhere my be depending on the food we are carrying. We have to look at the situation: How quickly are things deteriorating? If we deliver will we have the fuel to get home? Will delivering the load cause us to risk our lives or loose our chance of making it back home? Should we take the load home with us? The food in our trailer might mean the slim difference between life and death for our family and neighbors.

Once we do start heading home every mile we can push this rig is one more mile we don’t have to walk. We can improve our fuel mileage and maneuverability by dropping our trailer and bobtailing, but if we’re in snow and ice, or very cold temperatures we may want to keep the trailer for the extra weight and traction. We haul a refrigerated (“reefer”) trailer, and if the temperature is cold enough to kill batteries, and we think we might have to stop, we might want to hang onto the trailer – the reefer unit uses less fuel that idling the engine. We can hook jumper cables between the reefer battery and the truck batteries to keep them charged, and run our inverter and an electric blanket to keep us warm. If we do decide to drop the trailer to conserve fuel, we keep a siphon hose on hand so we can siphon out the [dyed] diesel from the reefer tank [or some purchased home heating oil] and add it to our truck tanks. Some states dye reefer fuel red because, just like “off-road” or agricultural diesel, it isn’t taxed at the same rate as on-road or commercial diesel, and the DOT has been known to check tanks for red dye, so we can only do this if we a sure things have broken down to the point that the DOT is the least of our worries.   

The last few gallons in our saddle tanks are unusable, the intake is above about the 10% mark to allow debris to settle to the bottom of the tanks where it won’t foul the filters. Most trucks have this same feature, and there will be plenty of other drivers in the same boat you are in. You may be able to make a deal with another stranded driver by trading a ride in exchange for the last few gallons of diesel in his tanks. Siphon out the diesel and run it through a cloth to filter it before adding it to your tank. Use your best judgement when offing a ride, though. There are a lot of untrustworthy people out here.   As a last resort, gasoline can be run in a diesel engine, just make sure you add a an appropriate amount of 10 weight motor oil to your tanks to thicken it and to duplicate the lubrication you should be getting from diesel. Your engine will run hotter than it should, but it will get you a few miles further down the road. Every 15 miles you get closer to home will knock off a full day of walking.      For a driver, the cab of your truck is your home away from home. Our cab tends to fill up with all sorts of things we will not be able to carry with us when we finally do have to abandon the rig and walk. We keep well stocked bug-out bags under the bunk, and there have been plenty of articles on how to stock a BOB so I won’t go into that. But we do keep an extra plastic storage tub, a couple of heavy duty garbage bags, and duct tape handy so that we can pack up and cache anything we can’t take with us, but might want to come back for later. That empty rig just sitting there in the truck stop lot, or on the side of the road will be a target for looters, thieves, and opportunists – you can’t expect anything you leave behind to still be there later unless you hide it well. Bury it inside the wood line and take note of landmarks, but bear in mind that you may never see it again in any case – don’t take anything irreplaceable out on the truck with you unless you are sure you can carry it home again.   Some of the items in your cab might help other stranded motorists to survive. For example: If you have a separate sleeping bag in your BOB, then perhaps you can roll up your bunk sheets and blankets as a bedroll to give away to that unprepared fellow shivering in his out-of-gas car in the truck stop parking lot, or to trade for something you might need.

Finally, when trying to decide what route to take to get home, keep in mind that people may be abandoning larger cities in droves and the interstates may be parking lots for many miles around any large population center. US highways may be better than interstates, and you may have to go miles out of your way to get around a major city. Go ahead and plan routes and try shortcuts now while things are good so you have an idea which roads you can take to get home when things go bad.  – Truckergirl


Today’s post about big rig survival was interesting, but contained this statement about self defense:

“Non-firearm protection for a trucker can be a tire thumper, ball peen hammer, side handle baton (PR-24), straight baton or numerous incarnations thereof.”

In many jurisdictions, it is illegal for anyone other than a badge-carrying police officer to own any sort of baton.  In California, for instance, it is a crime to own a baton [or was last I checked], even if you keep it in your house, and even if you have a CCW permit.  Yes, this is the stupidest sort of law. Yes, you may own and carry a tire thumper or ball peen hammer or baseball bat in California, so long as you do so without criminal intent. Other jurisdictions have no such prohibition.

Also: while many jurisdictions recognize the carry permits issued by other jurisdictions, one must obey the carry rules of the place where you find yourself and carry rules are different everywhere. For instance, Oklahoma is a carry-friendly state, but prohibits carry of pistols larger than .45 caliber. On the other hand, Oklahoma allows transport in your truck cab–only with a permit–of a rifle with a loaded magazine and an empty chamber.  Carry of pistols larger than .45 is allowed in many jurisdictions, but a rifle with a loaded magazine and empty chamber will get you arrested in some places.  

My point is that the author overstated the meaning of reciprocity–one jurisdiction recognizing another’s permit. You must know the law of the place you find yourself or risk the consequences.- J.E.J.

JWR Replies: In additional federal laws, America has a patchwork of city, county, and state laws. The good news is that this means that you can “vote with your feet” and move to a jurisdiction that has the liberty that you desire. But the bad news is that travelers must research these laws before they travel, or travel unarmed. Please don’t contact me with legal questions. I’m not an attorney. Do your own homework, and if need be, consult a knowledgeable attorney in your state.