“Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”

It’s been two weeks to the day since I struck out on my own with my first solo trip out of Lewiston (Idaho). Since then, during my five trips so far, I’ve hauled, among other things, 12,000 lbs. of cardboard for Boise Cascade, 45,000 lbs of various wines to two different distributors in Boise, as well as hay for a Monteview, Idaho farmer. That’s right, hay! More than 41,000 lbs of it to be exact in large 1900-2000 lb. bales destined for a Kingsburg, California dairy farm, some 930 miles away. When I first read the assignment I thought to myself, “I’ve never heard of either one of these towns!”

This job can sure get awful dirty at times and that dairy was as dusty as it gets! Not only that, I had a crew of local flies in side my cab that decided to hitch a ride. It was a couple of days before I finally showed the last one out my opened passenger window, somewhere near Wheeler Ridge, CA.

Right now I have a trailer load of unknown product I picked up this afternoon from our Swift terminal in Troutdale, Oregon. The load is due anytime tomorrow for delivery to a Wal-Mart distribution center near Hermiston, Oregon. It’s been a nice drive the last couple of hours eastbound along I-84 and the Columbia River Gorge. Tonight I’ll sleep at Biggs Junction with my home state of Washington in sight, just across the Columbia River.

Just a few days ago I delivered a load of Proctor & Gamble products loaded at an Oxnard, California warehouse to another Wal-Mart DC a few miles outside Sparks, Nevada. After running out of hours, per the D.O.T.’s “70-hour rule,” I sat most of Sunday and all day Monday for a “34 hour reset” of “off duty” time at a Sparks, Nevada truck stop. Surprisingly I never visited neighboring Reno, one of my all-time favorite towns. It’s just not as fun when you’re by yourself. 😦

Now with a little time on the road I’m beginning to create some habits and routines to stay organized and to be as efficient as I can. One things for certain: the limited space I have is much more noticeable as a solo driver than it ever was when I was with my instructor during those 6 weeks. With Dennis we weren’t really living in the truck, but just using it mostly as a tool for our work. There’s a big difference. With me this is my “home.” Not only do I use it to accomplish my work, but I “live” in it’s confined space as best I can. It’s a good thing I can count on it moving as the constant change in scenery makes it all worthwhile. And thanks to whoever invented Velcro. It sure comes in handy for keeping things in their place! You’d be surprised what a guy with a little time can do with some “hook and loop” tape and his tools of the trade and other essentials.

Twice in the last week I’ve had the opportunity to cross over California’s 7,000 foot Donner Pass near the Nevada border. Named after the ill-fated Donner Party of pioneers that struggled nearby for survival during the winter storms of 1846-1847. Of the 83 people who were trapped east of the pass, only 45 survived to reach California, some of them resorting to cannibalism to stay alive. Despite it’s history it is unquestionably among the most beautiful stretches of mountain pass in the states as it traverses the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. I only wish someone had been with me to share in it’s grandeur.

In this work I seem to lose track of days as they turn into nights and nights again evolve into days. I often forget what day it is and have to write things down or I find myself at a loss to remember where I was … just yesterday.

I had expected to post to this blog more often. There are so many things I could write about, my experiences along the road and things I’ve seen or thought, but there are three things one needs in order to maintain this commentary. Time, energy and the Internet. Without all three the job just doesn’t get done.

I’ve been pretty busy since going “solo,” logging more than 4400 miles so far, and time is limited allowing me it seems just enough to rest and recover for my next leg of the journey. When I do have some time to spare I often lack the energy to do much writing. (This is a lot of work, believe me!) Then, of course, one needs access to the Internet in order to post. But the stars have once again aligned over Henrietta and the opportunity has presented itself, so here’s a little story I’d like to share.

On my second day out, Saturday June 30th, I found myself in a sleepy (and I do mean sleepy) little town called “Rome.” In the middle of nowhere in the southeast corner of Oregon, it’s not far from the borders of two other states. This little commune lies along a stretch of “no man’s land” on highway 95 between Nampa, Idaho and Winnemucca, Nevada. (I don’t make these names up!)

Apparently the town was named for some peculiar geologic formations that suggested the ruined temples of Rome, Italy. (I know what you’re thinking. Where’s he come up with this stuff?) Not found on any map I wouldn’t have known the place existed were it not for the road sign indicating it was up ahead. “Good,” I thought, I needed to take a quick bathroom break and pick me up a little thirst quencher with the temperature well into the 90s.

I found the wide spot in the road with a few buildings encompassing an “R-V Park” and a little road-side store with a sign on top reading “Rome Station.” I was fortunate enough to find on the Internet the picture at the top of this post of the actual structure, thanks to the Salem, Oregon Public Library. Who woulda thought! Although the photo was taken in 1963, let me tell ya, the building looks nearly the same! After securing the truck I approached and noticed a handwritten sign in one of the windows, “Customer Appreciation Day” it read. “Go around back for free food and refreshments. Music provided by the Sage Creek Band.” “Wow!” I thought, “My lucky day. Free food and musical entertainment!”

As I walked around to the back of the building I noticed, among three large shade trees, a small group of people, some seated while others milled about and visited. I guessed there must have been about 40 people in all, men, women and children. Some were seated at an assortment of picnic tables and nearby were a couple of tables full of food. There was a large bar-b-que as well, manned by what could have been your typical truck driver, watching over a huge side of beef as it turned slowly and glistened from the sauce that had been applied. While I was looking at three large Igloo coolers of refreshment, in an effort to figure out what was inside, a young college-aged girl walked up and described what was contained in each, “Lemonade, iced tea and some kind of fruit punch.” I chose the lemonade and, as I’m often apt to do, struck up a conversation. She was from Rome (Oregon, not Italy) but going to school in Sacramento where her mom lives. Her dad owns the little store and she was visiting for “a week or so.” She said she loved coming home as it was so quiet at night. I asked her “how many people live in Rome?” to which she replied “Oh, probably about 30.” From the look of things I wasn’t the only “outsider.”

Looking around most of the men appeared to be the hard working rancher or farmer types I’ve come to know and appreciate since moving to Yakima (Washington). You could tell I wasn’t far off in my assumptions by not only the attire they wore, but by the conversations I overheard. “Lost one of my cattle yesterday” one said to another. Believe me when I say, these guys weren’t just dressing up cowboy, they were cowboy! The women, mothers of their children, helpmates and dutiful companions, were engaged in their own conversations about cooking, family and home. “Salt of the earth” some would say.

After eating two helpings of food, along with several cups of lemonade, I returned to my table with yet another plate containing a mix of salads, (garden, potato and macaroni). Sitting down again I finally struck up a conversation with the older couple who had been sitting across from me. Their teenaged grandson it turns out was sitting to my left. We were the only ones at the table. I wish I had a camera as this 60ish gentleman who sat across from me had the kind of rugged and chiseled good-looks you’d expect to see in a character from an old-west movie, right down to the hat he wore with the silver hair underneath. One of those “good guys” who’d probably end up dead mid-way through the second act. It turns out I was right when I thought to myself, I bet this guy could tell some interesting stories.

After some chit-chat I learn his name is Glenn. He tells me he was born and raised right there in Rome. He spoke of his grandfather who came from “Missoura” in 1898 and built the first road in the area, just “a mile or so up the highway… back when there was nothing and nobody here.” “And now there’s Rome!” he explained. I responded, “And Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it?” He replied, with a chuckle “No, it took two days!”

Glenn went on to tell me (just a little) about the 25-years he spent in ”the Alaskan bush“ roping and corralling wild cattle “left there by Russians.” He said there were years that would go by when he wouldn’t see a single human being, “not a soul.” After a few stints at other activities, including one on an Alaskan crab fishing boat, he’s been back home in Rome for the last five years or so. He now spends his time teaching his grandson the rapidly fading art of making arrowheads, which he sells to neighbors and passersby. As we parted and shook hands he mentioned that I should look for the ”Arrowheads“ sign up the road heading toward Jordan Valley and “stop in sometime.“

Glenn’s writing a book about his experiences in the Alaskan wild using a computer and speech recognition software that he says works well. Good thing ‘cause he “sure as heck can’t type.” He relies not only on memory but his “25 years of notes” he kept during those solitary times. Mainly he says he’s writing his story for his posterity, so he won’t be forgotten. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance again to see Glenn, but I sure hope so. And if I do, I’ll be sure and ask if I can take his picture.

By-the-way the Sage Creek Band? They weren’t bad at all. Lots of good old classic country music. Don Gibson, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline. You know the kind.

As always thanks to all those who take the time to visit and especially for the compliments. We’ll ”talk“ again soon!

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