Finn Murphy’s “The Long Haul — A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road” is a hoot. The author will appear June 20 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.
“The Long Haul — A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road”
by Finn Murphy
W.W. Norton, 229 pp., $26.95
As his first book opens, mover Finn Murphy crests Colorado’s Loveland Pass at 11,991 feet where the road vanishes into fog, wind and snow even though it’s July. A sign warns him the first runaway-truck ramp is 1.5 miles away. Too far. His rig weighs 70,000 pounds. Although the speed limit for vehicles exceeding 26,000 pounds is 35, he plans to stick to the 20s if his brakes don’t lock or fail.
Another sign asks if his brakes are cool and adjusted. Cool: yes. Adjusted? He hopes so. Yet another sign reminds him he’s required to carry chains Sept. 1-May 31. But they’re in his equipment compartment. He decides the “practical aspects of putting on chains in a snowstorm, with no pullover spot, in pitch dark, at 12,000 feet, in a gale, and wearing only a T-shirt, is a prospect Dante never considered in enumerating his circles of hell.”
Sweating, shaking, a sour taste in his mouth from his latest greasy burger, he starts down, “one blown air hose away from oblivion.” Whenever his speed edges toward 30, he caresses the brakes, praying he’s not on ice, which could cause the tractor and trailer to jackknife.
The author will discuss “The Long Haul — A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 20, at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or thirdplacebooks.com).
On the CB radio, other “freighthauling cowboys” taunt him, blowing past near the bottom. No matter. He’s almost to Aspen. Working for a boutique van line and specializing in “high-end executive relocation,” he can make $250,000 a year.
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How he got here since dropping out of Colby College and being hired the day in May 1976 when he turned 18 and applied at Callahan Bros. in Connecticut is a veteran driver’s informative, humorous and beautifully detailed memoir.
Anyone who’s trailered horses or towed a car on a flatbed behind a do-it-yourself moving van will have the tiniest introduction to Murphy’s millions of miles on routes from wide-open interstates to traffic-clogged city streets.
He’s learned to maneuver a 53-foot-long trailer into spaces with only inches to spare. And, having earned the appropriate trucker handle U-turn, he’s also learned from firsthand experience when not to even try.
His clients, called shippers, run the gamut from friendly folks who feed and tip the crew to clueless executives who leave their dirty dishes in the sink for the movers to wash.
On a full-service pack and load, in which the shipper does nothing, Murphy’s responsible for “legal documents, inventory, packing cartons, loading, claim prevention, unpacking, unloading, diplomacy, human resources, and customer service.” Tact, stamina and an imperturbable, meticulous approach help.
His first outing included lugging 45 400-pound file cabinets down a narrow, winding staircase. A less-successful adventure saw the demise of a baby grand piano. In a case of concealed revenge, Murphy and his crew once set up eight $85,000 Chinese gravestones — in Aspen again, where the shipper, who was angry before they even broke anything, directed them to use a porta-potty across the road. From his Colby College days, Murphy had learned enough Chinese to install the trophy art upside-down.
It’s a hoot to ride along with Murphy, who advises us four-wheelers to trust maps not auto GPS systems and, whenever passing a big rig, “pass it fast and get ahead of it.”