SLOW-MOTION PICKUP ROLL-OVER
By Steve Moreland, December 16, 2016
My cousin Ken Moreland writes for the Sheridan County Journal Star. In his December 14, 2016 TALES FROM THE TRAIL column, he writes a story entitled “The Night of the Christmas Program Jeep Wreck.” His description of his slow-motion jeep turn-over reminds me of a similar situation that happened to me.
Back in 1985, the Nebraska Sandhills experienced a severe drought. In trying to get machinery ready to put up what hay was available that summer, I discovered that parts were needed for our Kosch mower. Ed Wallingford had somewhat of a salvage yard a few miles south of Tuthill, South Dakota. On this particular day it was actually raining, so I thought it would be a perfect day to go get the parts.
My wife, Carol, and our almost three-year-old son Will decided to ride along with me. Our conveyance was a 1980 F150 Ford pickup. It was just about our only vehicle at the time, although we also had an old 1966 Dodge Dart. We used the pickup for everything on the ranch and for our main going-to-town outfit, so we tried to take good care of it. The pickup was red in color with a white stripe down the side, and it also had some fancy aluminum wheels. Dale Cady told me once that if I ever traded off that pickup, he wanted to buy those nice-looking aluminum wheels.
At the time, Carol, Will, and I were living south of Merriman, Nebraska about nineteen miles. To get to the Ed Wallingford place, we drove to Merriman, and then ten miles east on Highway 20 to the Eli turn-off. Eli is a couple miles north of Highway 20, and Tuthill is several more miles north. An oil road in Nebraska turns into a dirt road on the South Dakota side of the line. It always tickles me that each state tries to infer that they have the best deal. Just before leaving Nebraska, a sign proclaims: “Pavement Ends.” Going the other way, after driving on a wide dirt road for many miles through South Dakota, just before leaving that state, a sign announces: “Road Narrows.” Neither state has too much to brag about when it comes to this particular road.
The rain was coming down quite steadily as we traveled north from Eli on the rough oil strip. The dirt road going north had turned to slimy mud. It had been so long since there had been any rain, that I must have forgotten how to drive in muddy conditions. We even had to lock in the hubs to get through that gumbo. We were sailing along, cheerfully admiring the moisture, with little Will strapped into his car-seat between us. I was probably driving at about 40 miles per hour, but should have only been going 35. We had topped the big hill by Gary Hines’ place, and were getting close to the turn-off to John Christensen’s ranch. All of a sudden the back end of the pickup started to pass the front end. I tried my best to maintain control, but we headed for the ditch. As we weren’t travelling terribly fast, the pickup teetered on two wheels for a brief instant. Carol and I looked at each other, and I said, “Is it going over or isn’t it?” Before my question was completed, it did tip over, with the driver’s side on the bottom.
The whole tip-over happened in slow motion, and none of us were hurt at all. The car-seat was still in position in the middle. I shut off the engine of the still running pickup, and our next order of business was to get out. The rain was pouring down, but we had no choice but to get out and get wet. Using the car-seat as a step stool, I opened the passenger door which was now on top. In that position, it was quite heavy, but I held it up so Carol could unbuckle Will and push him up and out. We all emerged into the pouring rain. The pickup was on its side in the ditch, but remarkably came through looking unscathed. It was resting on the grill guard in front and the back of the box. The ditch was concave enough that the side mirror didn’t even get bent in.
We were about half a mile from the Christensen residence, so that was my destination using Shank’s mare (an old term for being a pedestrian). Carol and our little two-year-old boy hunkered down in the lee of the tipped over pickup to try to stay as much out of the rain as possible. I ran a little and walked a little, and soon arrived at the house. I rang their doorbell, and John came to let me in. He had long been hard of hearing, but his wife Annabelle said, “We didn’t hear you drive up.” I mentioned that I didn’t drive in, but had walked, and then explained my dilemma.
John and I got into his pickup and drove to our wreck. After getting Carol and Will into his pickup and out of the rain, we surveyed the situation. It looked like we should maybe get another vehicle to pull in the other direction, to keep from having my pickup fall back down too fast. We drove back to John’s ranch, where I got on a tractor to drive it to the location of our accident. We hooked John’s pickup to pull my pickup back down, and I kept another chain tight with the tractor. In spite of all our efforts, my red pickup fell down rather rapidly back onto its own wheels. We checked everything out, and there didn’t seem to be much wrong. About a quart of oil had dripped out of the sideways oil dipstick opening, and a little gas had seeped out of the gas tank. The only dents were quite minor, and they were near the passenger side door, where we stepped on the side of the pickup to get out. All was well, so we expressed our gratitude to John and continued on with our mission.
John Christensen kind of got a kick out of the whole situation. It livened up his rainy day doldrums, and he seemed to enjoy coming to our rescue. Nearly every time I saw him on several occasions after that, he would smile and say, “Who would think you could tip a pickup over on our little country road?” I proved to him that it could be done and that I could do it, but all was well that ended well.