Monday, December 2, 2013

ROAD TERROR –Highlights from My Recollections

Traffic moves through steady snow along the Highway 61 Expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors on Monday afternoon, Dec. 2, 2013. (Bob King /
Read the article: Evening weather update: Northland still in line for a foot - or more - of snow

ROAD TERROR –Highlights from My Recollections
By John M. Grimsrud ©2013
While I was going to school I took a job working for a clever fellow named Sam Popkin.  These two and an half years proved to be every bit as much education as I got from school.
I was left to develop my own routes and clients and for most of the year this was a lark.
While nearly everyone I knew was shuttered up in offices and behind desks, I traveled scenic highways in upper Michigan, the resort areas of Wisconsin, the north shore of Lake Superior, the Iron Range of Minnesota. and more.
I made business friends and it was great fun…but not a get rich quick enterprise.
As I started my last year of school, Sam Popkin dumped me.
He left a copy of my account at my father’s drug store and stated that if it was not paid by return mail that he would sue.
I was shocked and asked my dad’s advice. Dad told me to take thirty days, deduct 2% and pay by registered mail.
As my dad always used to say, “You never know when someone is doing you a favor.”
Coincidentally, a week before a representative from a company whose products I was selling through Sam Popkin had come by and pitched me to take on their line of merchandise. They said that I was doing a better job with it than Sam.
At the time, I had declined their offer because my life had taken on the complication of a divorce.
Again, I asked my dad for advice, and he said: “Give that company a call.” I did and five days later I was in business for myself.
My dad extended me credit. Though it doesn’t seem like much now, that $2,500 infusion of capital enabled me to get a start. I repaid every penny within six months of finishing school.
These were austere times for me. My neighbor used to shop for me at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store to keep my wardrobe together. I learned how to mend my own clothes including replacing pockets and zippers. I learned to cut my own hair, and then gave haircuts to others…something that has served me well my entire lifetime.
This poverty portion of my life proved to be a rewarding learning experience that altered my life’s course and strengthened my mindset in a positive way.
Diligent efforts saw my business grow. Eventually I had eleven different factory lines of merchandise I warehoused and shipped, plus I was a factory representative for pharmaceutical supplies. I landed a contact to supply a large cost-plus grocery wholesaler that had over two-hundred and fifty supermarkets with a direct billing arrangement.
If I didn’t get out of my first supermarket before eight in the morning I wouldn’t make the last store by closing time at night. I was like the one-man-band. Many nights my wife Jane worked in my warehouse until eleven at night to pack the day’s orders that went out the next morning by UPS.
This all sounds too good to be true;
There were some downside detractors in this paradise. Driving an average of two hundred and fifty miles a day in my business was acceptable in good weather.
Let me tell you about some incidents that helped me bail out of this lucrative business.
Early one morning as I drove north up Highway 53 to the Iron Range cities of Minnesota in late winter I followed a huge industrially sized flat bed tractor trailer truck pressing the upper limits of speed over jolting frost heaves.
The truck was carrying one gigantic mounted wheel that overhung the trailer substantially. These wheels were used on monster dump trucks in the open pit iron ore mines.
What happened next seemed to take place in slow motion.
The truck hit a giant frost heave, the wheel unshackled itself, bounced high up in the air and came bounding down directly in front of my car and then went airborne again as I passed under it.
That split second seemed to drag on in my mind. If the sequential timing had been off by a split second that might have been the end of me. I would have been squashed like a bug hitting the windshield.
Another Northern Minnesota incident took place on an extremely cold day. The roadway was glazed with glare ice and dusted with powder snow. Tire traction in these conditions is a nebulous thing easily broken by a very slight alteration in velocity. Once traction is broken you must steer into the skid and gently bring the wheels back into traction. This maneuver takes training and lots of time and space. There is a point of no return when the vehicle skids into a spin…control is lost and where you stop is not your option.
I got my driving on ice experience on a frozen lake where there is lots of room to learn. On the frozen lake it was a lot of fun to go as fast as possible and then put the car into a power-on spin…something that only juveniles seem to enjoy.
Back to my story: As I came over the precipice of a high hill with a commanding view I saw off in the distance two double tractor trailer tank trucks speeding over the white landscape and heading my way. They were out of control on the glare ice. Their high speed sent huge clouds of powder snow wafting up in clouds as they fish-tailed along.
We would meet on this two lane road, and the trailers undulating motion caused them to sweep the entire road surface.
Meeting them was like playing Russian roulette with two bullets in the revolver.
Anxiety and anguish sent my heart throbbing like an air-hammer while muscle tension had me gripping the wheel with white knuckles as I slid between the two trucks.
These types of incidents were happening much too often. A number of over-the-road sales people, friends of mine, had become casualties to these driving conditions.
Yet one more icy road story:
One winter evening I was returning from the Iron Range of Minnesota and entering Duluth.  “Lake Effect” snow had drifted in and blanketed this city perched on a hill.  
The road surface became glazed with ice and large drifts of snow were swept by an arctic blast of wind.  
It was treacherous going especially at the point where I joined the city traffic.
I was descending the Duluth hill. Ahead the road made a long sweeping curve. To make this situation even more perilous and terrifying the paved road had a half foot drop-off to the shoulder. If my wheel should slip over it with this ice condition, the probability of controlling the car was slim to none.
The car directly ahead of me lost control and spun violently like a top with its horn blasting and an oncoming car smashed into it with a deadly thud. Both cars were still in motion as I approached and tried to maneuver around the impact zone.
My car spun violently out of control when my wheel left the pavement and I braced for the eminent impact.
My nerves were completely shattered and I trembled with fright.  The last mental image I had was of my car spinning out of control into the two impacted vehicles ahead of me.
As I gained some prospective of my condition I realized that I had missed the collision and was facing in the opposite direction from where I had been coming and I was on the other side of the road slammed into a snow drift and stopped dead.
I was trembling and my nerves were so shaken I couldn’t release my seat belt. 
Roads too slick to stand on, I drove on…but not for long.
I got a gold key from my insurance company for a meritorious driving record.
Ironically, one day as I drove my route my radio quit. My mind didn’t and, lo and behold,  an inspiration struck me that altered the rest of my life.
It was time to quit this insanity and move on. I would rather take my chances on the high seas.
That is another adventure story that I relate in my book, Sailing Beyond Lake Superior.

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