The first thing Doug Josler had to do on his way to this morning's rolled-over tractor-trailer on I-89 in Lebanon was stop and borrow a 53-foot trailer. The Lebanon police had called him at 4:51 am to let him know that a truck hauling office paper had overturned. He was going to need something to put all that cargo in before he and his crew could right the truck.
Josler and his brother, Wayne, run Sabil & Sons, the all-purpose trucking service founded by their father, Bill, in 1980. Sabil (the name comes from Bill and his wife, Sally... and their sons) mostly earns its keep fixing trucks, either in their shop or on the road. But they're also called out regularly to clean up after big, messy, or complicated wrecks. Just the day before, they'd been in South Royalton dealing with a truck that had collided with a pickup and then caught on fire, and in Woodstock helping rescue the fire department's rescue truck.
Doug Josler hooks the borrowed trailer onto Sabil & Sons' new Kenmore T500 tractor -- on its maiden wreck voyage.
This morning's wreck wasn't nearly as complicated as, say, pulling a fully loaded tractor-trailer off a snowmobile trail after it had been led astray by GPS, or getting a grain truck out of a 50-foot ravine down a farm road when you have to get out of the way every so often for the milk truck to get by (because, as Doug Josler says, "You can't shut off cows.") Still, it had its challenges.
The truck, which belongs to Lindenmyr Munroe of Londonderry, NH, had been hauling 32,000 pounds of paper -- some of it in boxes, some of it in sheets piled on pallets -- up to Williston, VT. Coming around a slight bend just north of Exit 16 in heavy rain early this morning, it began to hydroplane. The trailer slid around and the truck slid sideways up the highway perhaps 200 feet before overturning in the median -- facing southbound by the northbound lanes.
Adam Clark gets ready to transfer fuel from the truck's tank into 55-gallon drums. "Fuel tanks are lightweight aluminum. They're glorified tin cans," said his colleague, Tim Keenan. A puncture while righting the truck could be catastrophic.
When the crew first got a look inside the trailer, they told Doug Josler that it appeared to be lightly loaded. And at first, unloading went easily -- boxes of paper piled on pallets, balletically placed in the borrowed trailer by Wayne Josler maneuvering a 4-wheel-drive forklift.
But then, as the crew got farther toward the front of the downed trailer, they found pallets with large sheets of glossy printing paper, tentatively held together. They winched the first one to the door, then did their best to shrink-wrap it. (Shrink-wrap turns out to be a truck-retrieval crew's best friend--they went through more than a mile of it this morning). With the forklift's help, they painstakingly maneuvered it out the door and onto the ground, then tried to upright it...
Nicolas Willey and Doug Josler help Wayne Josler get ready to haul out a pallet of sheets of paper.
The crew shifts the paper load upright, but...
"Well," says Wayne Josler. "You can't win 'em all."
It turned out there were 12 more pallets of slippery digital printing stock. Doug Josler estimated each weighed 1450 pounds, too much to manhandle. They quickly decided they were going to have to hand-carry armloads of paper up to the mouth of the trailer, stack it carefully onto pallets, wrap it, and then transfer it to Sabil's waiting tractor-trailer. "Oh man, this is not good. Not good at all," said Zach Josler, Wayne's son. "This is going to take a while. I really, really hate paper. There's nothing worse than paper." Though right then, he remembered the time Sabil was called out to a truck that was hauling 60,000 live chickens. "That's what I want to do at 2 in the morning--is chase chickens down the road,” he commented.
Right about then, the NH DOT crew that had also been on the scene helping direct traffic, joined in. Pretty soon, a rotating line of workers was carrying paper -- "Any paper cuts yet?" one of them yelled -- out to the waiting pallets. "New Hampshire really goes above and beyond," Doug Josler commented, gesturing at the DOT crew. "This doesn’t happen other places."
"It's like trying to carry wax paper," says Robert Gioia, who'd been called in to help Sabil & Sons. "You just can't get hold of it."
Robert Gioia, Zach Josler, Nicolas Willey and Doug Josler shrink-wrap a small load.
Eventually, enough of the paper was offloaded and transferred that the Sabil crew felt comfortable trying to right the overturned truck. Its fuel had already been pumped out, the rear end of its drive shaft unhooked, its emergency brake set so that when the truck was first righted it didn't start to roll, which could pull the tow truck they were using over. The state police briefly stopped the traffic that had been siphoning by all morning to let Sabil's 25-ton and 35-ton wreckers get in place, and then the Sabil crew began setting chains at the front and rear of the tractor-trailer. Because of the way the highway sloped at that point, they weren't certain they'd be able to get the right angle to pull the truck over without shimming it, but there was only one way to find out. The police stopped traffic again, the tow-truck winches got hooked up, and, straining against the weight, the wreckers went to work.
Here's what that looked like -- in stop-motion:
By a bit after 10, the truck was hooked up and ready for an escorted tow down to the DOT facility at Exit 16, and the rest of the Sabil crew was ready to head back to their place on Route 14 northwest of Hartford Village, where they would recondition their equipment to get it ready for next time, and Doug would start the laborious process of documenting everything they'd done for the various insurance companies that each had a piece of the shipment--the truck, the trailer, and the load.
"10:20," Zach Josler muttered. "We'd have been a lot better off if it wasn't for the paper."