Big rig driver training and snake handling

By: J.A. Bolton - Contributing columnist

Being raised on a farm, I started driving tractors when I was five years old. As I reached my early teens, I was driving every truck and vehicle around except an 18-wheeler.

As I got older, I drove a school bus for two years. When I went to work at a public job, I drove all types of trucks and heavy equipment — but not an 18-wheeler. Why, I carried a “B” driving license around for years but never tried to get my “A” C.D.L.

So happened in my 40s, I thought I wanted a job with the N.C. Forestry Department. I would be running a bulldozer and was required to have an “A” C.D.L. (which I didn’t have).

I happened to read in the local paper that a truck driving school was being offered at Troy. The school would be offered three evenings a week and on weekends. I figured I could handle this schedule and keep my present job. I talked it over with my wife and it wasn’t long before I was signed up for the school, which would last about eight weeks.

I found out that a friend of mine at work had also signed up to take the same truck driving school. It worked out well and we could take turns driving back and forth to Troy.

With the new bypass around Ellerbe not yet built, we usually went the back way to Troy on 1005. This route carried us though Ex-way and Pekin and on to Troy. Seems when you travel the same roads day after day and night after night, you notice things you wouldn’t ordinarily see.

One of the strangest things we noticed on the hilly and curvy road between Pekin and Troy, was a rattlesnake crossing. Yes-sir-re, I said a rattlesnake crossing. I have heard old folks say that snakes like the warmth of a hard-top road and usually cross about the same place every time. Sure enough, about every night or so we would spot a rattlesnake crossing the road at the same spot.

My friend heard that someone was paying $100 apiece for a live rattlesnake. So what the heck, he might as well cash in on all those snakes we were seeing.

Sure enough, on the very next trip he had placed a forked stick and a toe sack in the bed of his pick-up truck, hoping to catch a snake or two. I had my doubts, but what did I know?

After school, as we were coming home that night, we slowed down as we got close to the snake crossing. Sure enough, there was one crossing the road and he didn’t seem to be in any hurry.

Before we go any farther with this here story, I want you folks to know, I ain’t one of them snake-handling preachers, not by a long shot. Why, I wouldn’t even get out of the truck when he stopped. With the headlights shining directly on the snake, my friend gets out, grabs the toe sack and the forked stick from the back of the truck. With no backup from me, he slowly eases toward the rattlesnake. All a sudden, even over the sound of the motor, I could hear a loud rattling sound. The sound seemed to be coming from all around us. Was there more than one snake?

I saw my friend back away from the snake and with only one jump, my friend landed in the bed of the truck. Somehow, he managed to get back in the driver’s seat without ever touching the ground. Seems one little rattlesnake won’t worth $100.

As our truck driving school wound down, our last assignment was to drive on an interstate highway. In my case, it was Interstate 95 around Lumberton.

All went well until I turned west on U.S. Highway 74 headed toward Laurinburg. With my trainer riding shotgun and two trainees in the sleeper, we slowly made our way up the road. 74 was still a two-lane road, and it wasn’t long before traffic started to back up behind us.

As I looked in my side mirror, I saw a white Cadillac sedan pull out to pass about five cars that were close behind me. I glanced back to look at oncoming traffic; why, I was meeting three cars in the opposite lane. I told my trainer, “we are about to see a big wreck.” His reply was, “Keep going and don’t stop.”

As I looked again in my side mirror, I saw the Cadillac as it veered off the road into a cotton field. The last I ever saw of that car was him plowing through the cotton rows under a cloud of heavy dust.

Never did find out what happened to that white Cadillac, but my friend and I finished the driver’s school. I applied for and received my “A” C.D.L. and even got motorcycle and bus license endorsements. My friend got himself a job driving a feed truck and me, well, I didn’t get a job at the Forestry Department but stayed at my old job. Alas, I decided driving a big rig and snake handling weren’t quite my cup of tea.

J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, the Anson County Writer’s Club and the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies, and the author of his new book, “Just Passing Time”.

J.A. Bolton

Contributing columnist