We arrived on the scene just moments after the wreck. Rookie and I were riding together because his jeep was in the shop. Our convoy was running behind another instructor team's group on a stretch in the hills on the eastern edge of Fort Ord where two of the Drivers' Training Routes shared a few miles of the road. The convoy ahead of us stopped. We were already ahead of our group, doing our "outrider" chore, sort of being advance scouts looking for problems ahead...like a stopped convoy.
Rookie suggested we go back to our own convoy to let them know. I decided that they would find out soon enough, I wanted to move ahead to see what the hold-up was.
We didn't have to go far to find the problem. On this piece of gravel road, only as wide as one narrow lane, there was very little shoulder so we had to wiggle around the stopped trucks to get to the stoppage. Not only was the road narrow with hardly any shoulder, there was a steep uphill on the left and a steep drop off on the right. One of the student drivers had allowed his right wheels to drift off the edge. The panic-stricken student jerked the steering wheel back to the left and the truck slid off the road and rolled down the hill to the bottom...about 80 feet or so. It landed on its wheels, with various parts and pieces spread all over the hill. Fortunately, the driver and his shotgun rider were not seriously hurt; I don't remember the extent of their injuries since one of the instructors from their group loaded them into his jeep and tore off to the hospital with them. At the time that we arrived, the main activity seemed tobe standing around, looking down the hill at the wreck, and wondering what to do next.
We didn't have radio communication (no cell phones, either! 1975!) so the instructor who went to the hospital said he would call the motor pool and arrange to have the wreck recovered. I suggested that what was left of the instructor team get their convoy back on the road and clear the route for the rest of us. They seemed reluctant to leave their dead truck behind. My boss arrived, and being the senior guy on site, he started giving directions to the other team about how to get going again.
While all that was going on, the major issue for the other guys was what to do about the truck. When I suggested that one of them go down to it and drive it back up the hill, I was met with derisive comments and laughter. So Rookie and I and a couple of our other instructors walked down to the wreck and checked out the damage. Military trucks don't have hard cabs. The canvas top and the support pieces were broken off or flattened. The same was true for the bows and canvas over the cargo bed. We spent a few minutes rounding up the bits and pieces that had come off on its trip down the hill and the canvas and bows and threw it all in the bed of the truck. I got in and started the engine. It sputtered some at first but then smoothed out. The Army 800 series 5-ton trucks had a Cummins 250 hp engine, a very strong little motor with lots of torque. I put the truck in gear and moved it around a little bit. It sounded okayand it moved. I looked up the hill and thought I could make it; Rookie and Willie (another of our instructors) whistled and shouted encouragement and told me to go for it...so I did. I backed up as far as I could and took a run at the hill. I could see the folks up on the road start to scatter as I hit the bottom of the hill and started up.
This truck, the 800 series, has a two-speed transfer case and when you put it in the low range, it engages the front wheel drive. Of course, it also reduces your gear ratios so you can't go as fast. But I didn't think I was gonna get going too fast up that hill anyway. So for several glorious seconds, the 5-ton roared up the hill like a champ. About halfway up the back axles started to slip a little, causing the bed to bounce. That reduced traction and threw dirt and rocks and tore up that hill. But the front wheels were getting a pretty good grip. The hill got a little steeper at the top and I thought for a few seconds that I wouldn't get all the way up...but I stayed in it and slowly it inched over the edge, roaring and throwing landscape materials every which way. When I got the truck lined up on the road and stopped, I turned it over to the reluctant instructor. My boss was not happy with me, and he let me know about it, butnot until we had all the students back at the motor pool and on their way to the barracks.
It didn't make me very popular with the other team; their boss said I made their guys look bad. I told him that they had done that without any assistance from me. More bad feelings, I guess.
We all had to make statements for the accident report. Most of the school leadership agreed that I should have let the wrecker pull the wreck up onto the road. There was a lot more hoopla over my statement because I said that if the student had reacted correctly the truck would not have rolled. I was called in to explain that. I told the course chief that if the student had been taught to steer the truck down the hill instead of trying to turn back onto the road, the truck wouldn't have rolled; it would have been a heck of a ride to the bottom of the hill, but it wouldn't have rolled over.
This caused a furor among the instructors of both teams. Big argument. At one point I offered to take the same truck out to that spot and reproduce the wreck only with a better outcome. They wouldn't allow it; they claimed it wouldn't be safe, but I always thought they would be embarassed by the outcome.
Anyway, I have always loved trucks. It is unbelievable what trucks can do. I get a kick out of watching the faces of student drivers when you show them what they can do...hmm...seems like a few more of these stories are queueing up.
This is about what it looked like, but he cab was flat, the windshield broken off and the stack was missing.