Runaway Truck Ramps

We’ve all been to wonderful places that bring memories flooding back to us. Places of awesome beauty, like the Canadian Rockies. Places of great excitement like the Grand Ole Opry. Even a quiet spot under a tree at Grandma’s house. Here’s one of the places I remember from my own past.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about going to Capulin Mountain, a volcano between Clayton and Raton, New Mexico, and going down into the crater. That was just the beginning of that vacation.

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The year was 1951, and I was only eight years old—an age at which small things made great impressions on me. When we left there, we drove to Raton, stopping at a Safeway to buy groceries for a picnic. That was a win-win, since it was cheaper for the parents than a restaurant would have been, and we kids were excited at the idea of eating outdoors in an strange new place.

The only thing I remember about the picnic itself was that either Judy or Louise Truelson bought a can of sardines. I’d never heard of them before, so I had to get a close-up look, practically sticking my nose into the can. I was so grossed out by seeing and smelling those things I didn’t need to taste one. I’ve never wanted one in the 60 years since then, either.

After we finished our picnic, we got back into our cars. Most of the time John and I rode together in one car, while Judith Ann and my sister Barb rode in the other, but I remember being in our car this particular time, because my mother was telling us about her experiences going over Raton Pass as a little girl.

She said it was a much more exciting—read dangerous—deal back then than at this time. I remember thinking the narrow, steep road ahead of us was exciting enough.

As we climbed toward the pass, I noticed something strange over on the other side of the road, where vehicles were descending from the pass. It was a strip of unpaved road that led nowhere.

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I asked what that was for. I don’t know whether I saw the sign and read it or not. I’m sure at that age I could have read it, but that wouldn’t have explained its function.

As my dad explained that if a truck going down the mountain wore out its brakes and couldn’t stop, the driver could go straight up the ramp instead of taking the curve in the road. The ramp was designed to stop the truck so it wouldn’t cause an accident.

That sent my eight year-old imagination into all sorts of fantasies. I wanted to see a truck use it—or one of the many other such ramps we saw later on the trip. Thank God we didn’t see such a thing, and I’ve never seen one actually used in all the years since, but I had great visions of it at the time.

Ø What are some of the places you remember from childhood—or maybe from last year?

Ø What strange or unusual sights did you encounter?

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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15 Responses to Runaway Truck Ramps

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  4. Carol Walker says:

    I stumbled across your blog when I was looking for information on runaway truck traps to use in a short story I’ve been working on… I grew up in Denver and during the summers in the 1950’s my family would make the annual trek to Texarkana to see the relatives. My father loved to travel — anywhere! — and instilled that love of adventure in me that exists just as strongly today. My mother and sister were not good travelers, but Pop and I were forever bonded by the excitement of a road trip. We were true Road Warriors.

    I was incessantly curious about everything, and if I happened to fall asleep, his instructions were to wake me for every town, (no interstates in those days — the highway meandered through every small town), and for anything else that seemed exciting — like the runaway truck trap on Raton Pass. I never got tired of seeing that, and still wonder what it would be like to have to use it in an emergency. I also never saw any trucks actually using it, but you could tell from the tracks in the gravel that it had been used, and I always wondered just exactly how it all worked. Pop would explain it to me, but I could never get my head wrapped around it. The possibility that the truck would not be able to stop by the time it reached the top was a very scary thought for me, or, that it would roll backwards and come crashing back onto the highway again, and then how would he stop?! Pop would always chuckle at this line of thinking and reassure me that the brakes would have cooled off by the time he reached the top, so I shouldn’t worry. That explanation was helpful when I was 10, but not so much these days!

    During the past several years I’ve traveled through mountainous areas in the northeast (traveling from NJ to KY or TN), and have noticed truck ramps along those roads as well, but again, I’ve never actually seen a truck using one, in spite of the fact that they have clearly been used. I’ve not been back to the Raton area since leaving Denver permanently in 1963, so I decided to take a virtual tour of I-25 (to me, it was always US-85-87) by using Street View on Google Maps. Interesting ride! But — I could not find the runaway truck trap. I’m wondering if, when they built the interstate, they also leveled out the road to such a degree that the trap was no longer necessary.

    So I decided to write to you, even though your initial post has been around for awhile…. IS the runaway truck trap still there?

    Thanks for your time.
    Carol Walker
    Denville, NJ

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    • Thank you for commenting, Carol. Glad I managed to evoke some childhood memories for you. If I’m not mistaken, the photo in this post is of the current I-25 route. If you read this reply, I wish you would contact me @davidnwalkertx,

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  5. I remember thinking the same thing about those runaway truck ramps on our countless trips through and around the Rockies!

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  6. Cari says:

    Very interesting memories, David! Thank you for sharing! It’s always amazing how it’s those seemingly little things that we look back & remember so clearly years later, isn’t it? Sardines… *shudders* I agree with you there!

    Having been married to a truck driver since I was 19 years old (& had been dating him since I was 16 years old), I’ve known about those Runaway Truck Ramps for quite some time. Not sure what I would’ve thought of one at age 8, though. Believe me, the idea of a trucker having to use one is quite scary. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been allowed to tag along in the jump seat several times on hubby’s regular run at his previous job, which was from the Detroit metro area of Michigan down to Jellico, Tennessee–spend the night while the truck was unloaded & head on back & then do it again the next day. Those were like treasured little mini-vacations for me! Seeing the world from a big-rig is quite a different experience on so many levels when it comes to road trips! It does give one quite a different perspective, appreciation, & respect for what good truck drivers do (& put up with) each & every day. There were several of those Runaway Truck Ramp signs along the way, also. A lot of truckers also use the jake brake (engine brake) to slow down on hills & curves in order to save money on brake shoes/pads, but this is illegal within some city limits. It does have quite the distinctive sound, though. Whenever I’ve been on a road trip & stayed at a hotel close to a freeway, I can lay in bed at night & count big-rigs by listening to all the truckers using their jake brakes on the exit ramp. It’s rather amusing when minutia like that becomes so ingrained into you at such a young age that you never forget it. Well, that’s the memory your Runaway Truck Ramp sign triggered for me! Good times! The company he drives for now absolutely does not allow passengers, so those great little mini-vacations from that big-truck perspective I was privileged to experience before are now history for me.

    So many great childhood memories, I’m hesitant to pick just one. Mammoth Cave in Cave City, Kentucky is one of my all time favorite awe inspiring places I’ve ever been, though. I’ve been there several times–twice with my parents, once with my hubby, & once with our roommate. I just felt I needed to share that amazing place with everyone I could in my life once my parents had introduced me to it when I was young. That place literally speaks to me. Feeling the cool air coming up out of the cave entrance on a sultry summer day, seeing the huge stalagmite & stalactite formations that took millenia to form from minute drops of mineral-filled water, or when the National Park Rangers take you down deep enough & then turn off the trail lighting systems so you can experience what complete total darkness feels like are just a few of the memories that flood back & make me smile when I think of my trips to Mammoth Cave. The first time my parents took me (I’m not sure how old I was, but I was relatively young), I was so inquisitive that the Rangers apparently really took a liking to me & even let me hold a cave cricket (that’s illegal these days) & help pull up a net/basket from the river that runs far below ground through the cave system to see if there were any blind cave fish or cave crayfish to show everyone & there were! I remember being so giddy to be ‘helping’ the Rangers & to be learning about all these strange & wondrous looking creatures! I’m very glad my parents gave me that opportunity for so many reasons, but primarily because tours of the river–I believe it’s called Echo River, if memory serves–were discontinued sometime in the ’90s because the boats were possibly harming the aquatic creatures (which I wouldn’t ever want), so it’s something that I’ve been blessed to have done that no member of the general public nor I will ever be able to do again.

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  7. Catie Rhodes says:

    I remember the first time I saw a runaway truck ramp. We were in Colorado, and my daddy was driving. Not being a member of my family, you cannot understand the fear these words conjure. Daddy doesn’t drive well, and he likes to show off. We didn’t have to use the runaway truck ramp, but I did get in the floorboard of the car. I am not sure how I thought this would help, but it was my solution. 😉

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  8. I’ve seen many of these on the interstate in North Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky as a kid traveling. It never seemed to amaze me with how sharply they appeared to climb away from the road. I know now that it was just due to the fact that were were going downhill while the runaway was at a slight incline. I always thought they were unfinished off ramps until I finally asked.

    Seeing terrain elevation was always a trill to a flat marshland kid like me (South Louisiana). Driving along and seeing a road cut through a hill, seeing the solid rock just feet away as you looked out the car window. Driving down I-77, through the mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Eastern Tennessee and into North-east Alabama was always a thrill, and a bit scarey for me. I don’t like heights, and there are some wicked looking drop offs, but also some beautiful scenery. Driving along at the same height as the cloud bases is a bit unusual. So is driving into a tunnel in West Virginia, and coming out on the other end in a different state.

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  9. Barb Estinson says:

    You amaze me, dear Brother. Of course I remember the runaway truck ramp … but have no other memories of the Safeway, eating in Raton, who rode in what car, or any other of the details which your mind captured so well. I do recall that I was fascinated by the truck ramp too. They are commonplace in the mountains in our area …. but we flat land kids had no experience with that way back then. Nice tale.

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    • Barb, you probably don’t even remember that we saw our first jumbo pack of Wrigleys gum at that Safeway. We’d never seen anything but the little five-stick packs until then.

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