Chained to Hood River Truckers bide time waiting for I-84 to open

January 10

All chained up with nowhere to go.

Hood River became one big truck stop Tuesday when the worst storm in years closed every possible route from Hood River to Portland, leaving countless westbound drivers stranded wherever they could find to park.

By Wednesday at least 50 trucks were arranged in Wal-Mart’s parking lot, even outnumbering the passenger cars parked there. As it became clear that the freeway would not be opening anytime Wednesday, overflow parking was directed to the area surrounding the Expo Center.

But, while the stranded drivers in the Wal-Mart parking lot at least had access to restaurants and stores in the area, no such amenities were available to those parked at the Expo Center. By mid-day Wednesday the American Red Cross had set up a warming station inside the Expo building to provide coffee and other beverages, hot food, and restrooms.

Stranded drivers and motorists could also get the latest information about road conditions or just have a warm place to sit and play cards or watch TV.

And wait.

“This is the first time I’ve been stranded in a long time,” said James Copus, of Lubbock, Tex., who is trying to deliver a load of salsa to Albertons’s in Portland. He is only 60 miles from his destination, but it may as well be 10 times that.

“It’s even worse for me,” said Bob DeChenne of Ontario. “I just need to get to Cascade Locks!” He came up Tuesday afternoon out of Warm Springs with a load of lumber.

“I chained up on (Highway) 26 and then came down 35 to here,” he added.

Jim Barry and Tom Davis had a similar story — they were just trying to return empty tandem trucks to Univar in Portland.

“We just pulled up here to chain up, and then they closed I-84. So we planned to go over to 14, but they closed that too,” lamented Barry. “This is the last thing I wanted to be doing today.”

Engines must be kept idling on most of the trucks in order to keep the diesel flowing in the lines; frigid temperatures otherwise cause the fuel to gel up. Also, some of the freight being transported requires controlled temperature — just as the trucks are refrigerated in the summer, they are heated in the winter so freight that shouldn’t freeze, such as eggs, is kept warm enough. Many of the drivers are able to sleep and stay warm in their sleeping compartments but after several days, other things become important.

“I’ve been on the road since Sunday morning,” said Don Taylor, who lives in Portland and drives twice a week to points in Idaho or to Spokane. “I just want to take a shower and get some clean clothes.”

Taylor had more to worry about than boredom or frustration. When he hit town Tuesday afternoon his alternator wasn’t working, and his truck was “pretty much running on the battery.” He called his company’s dispatch but they couldn’t get anyone to help him. He had to keep the truck running to keep the fuel warm but it finally died about midnight. He ultimately had to call around for a part, hitch a ride to the parts store (“The taxis weren’t even running,”) and install it himself in the bitter weather.

“That steel gets pretty cold, but I got it changed and it started back up,” he said. Taylor has been driving for 26 years and said prolonged delays like this are unusual. In his experience it’s usually more like a 12-hour delay and even that only happens once every four years or so.

Keeping the truckers company in the Wal-Mart parking lot were some other stranded motorists, the news crew from KATU in Portland. Reporter Bob Heye, photographer Sean Broderick and the truck operator, Jim Green, who were here for the station’s special extended storm coverage, have been keeping warm in the van and truck, breaking occasionally to do a live spot for the news.

“We are stuck here not so much by snow but by circumstance,” Heye said, adding, “Hood River is not a bad place to be stranded.”

Truck driver Wallace Johnson, left his home in Augusta, Ga., on Saturday and first hit snow in Kansas City.

“And it’s been snowing all the way,” he said. The long layover hasn’t affected his spirits, however. “I keep my morale up — I get out here and laugh and talk. I’m just trying to wait it out.”

And until the weather let up and the freeway was opened, that’s all any of them could do.

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