Opinion

A Last Tribute to My Best Friend

Paul Nizamian with one of his rigs he drove over his career.

AshevilleI told you of the loss of my cousin in last week’s commentary, and I want to thank you for the notes and emails of sympathy I received. Now, as a last tribute to my cousin, Paul Nizamian, I would like to submit this humorous article he wrote back in the ‘90s that I first published in May of 1995 in my first newspaper. 

Track Star Trucker On The Chisolm Trail

I suppose, like most of my fellow truckers, I will never attain that elite membership to the Truckers Hall Of Fame. It was never in the stars for me, although I have secured my two million miles over the big road in all forty-eight states and Canada. By the whims and wishes of the “trucking gods,” they must have decreed that this child of the road shall be born unto trouble. For his birthright shall be the era of deregulation and D.O.T, and he shall endure the knowledge of the ancient ones who trucked before him, of the Golden Age of Trucking in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s that he just missed. Yea, that his misery might be increased.

Thus was I launched on my continental odyssey in the first week of January 1980. But I’m not bitter in the least. On the contrary, I am grateful, for the good Lord has allowed me to earn a decent and honest living and the opportunity to experience and appreciate the diverse beauty of our country and its people. So I take my place beside my brother and sister truckers because after you have trucked long enough, you will always be a member of that great fraternity. It may not be two million miles, but a driver will know when they have trucked long enough to always be a trucker.

So I tip my hat to the Hall of Fame Trucker. After years of paying my “road dues” and “road blues,” I know what an extraordinary amount of knowledge, skill, good judgement and good fortune this requires. It is an honor not to be taken lightly, as many perspective Over the Road driver of considerable experience knows without a doubt. I’m afraid that honor was not meant for me, but let me entertain you with this thrilling, true tale of the road. It is my only claim to fame so read it well, for it is absolutely true:

On a gloomy, overcast day in March 1986, I had dropped my loaded trailer at the consignee’s warehouse in Goddard, Kansas. I hooked to an empty trailer early that morning and deadheaded on down US Hwy 81 into south-central Kansas on my way to the company terminal in Oklahoma City. As I rambled across the range, punching gears, I noticed a historical marker sign indicating this was the very route of the old Chisolm Cattle Trail. This set me to longing for the bygone days when a man’s fate and fortune depended on his skills with a horse and lariat, rifle and six-gun, not some tricky dispatcher on a satellite computer bouncing messages at me off a piece of tinfoil in space—days when men were wary of getting bushwacked by real desperadoes, instead of a D.O.T. officer with clipboard and citation book.

As I eased unto the little Kansas town of South Haven, I somehow managed to miss the one and only hard right turn to remain on US 81 South. Looking for a place to run the rig around and get back on the trail, I was not far along when I turned left onto a hardpacked, oiled dirt road. To my dismay, there was no place to turn around so I continued along until very shortly it dead-ended into the muddy school bus yard of the South Haven High School. No problem, I told myself, plenty of room for a U-turn. But doubt set in before I started the turn when I noticed the school bus yard was several inches thick in mud as gooshy as a  brick mason’s mortar. Realizing my empty trailer would provide little traction, I locked the power divider in and hit the mud, hoping I would complete the clockwise U-turn without becoming stuck—no such luck. Three-quarters of the way through the U-turn, with my drive tires far out from beneath the empty trailer and my steer tires cut to the right, I lost headway.

I sat there rocking the wheels gently in a forward and reverse motion and found the only way I could move was to straighten my steer tires and proceed straight toward a small, grassy bank at the bottom of which was the school football field, complete with bleachers and muddy running track encircling the field. In desperation now, I eased down the back and tried to turn around in a grassy area adjacent to the football field, but to no avail. The only direction I could still move was dead ahead, with the wheels squarely under my trailer, pointed due south straight down the soupy track leading around the playing field.

“Lordy! Lordy! How did I ever get myself into such a muddy mess?” I thought. “How am I gonna explain to dispatch that I’m stuck on the football field at the South Haven Kansas High School? Never live this one down.”

Noticing movement in my rearview mirror, I looked to see the school groundskeeper chugging towards me on his little John Deere tractor. And to my horror, behind him, I could see dozens of young students streaming out of their classrooms with looks of absolute joy and disbelief to see a full-grown conventional Freightliner complete with forty-eight-foot trailer, sitting on the athletic field. There must have been a hundred of those kids whose classes I had disrupted, or whose break time it was, perhaps both; I’ll never know.

The groundskeeper stopped his tractor next to my door as I rolled the window down. Looking at me suspiciously, he asked, “Just what are you going to do next, hoss?” I paused, sizing his little tractor up. I thought to myself that he would never be able to pull me up that slick bank. “Well,” I said, with a cowpie-eating grin on my face, “I guess I’ll have to take a lap around the track to get out of school, coach.” He looked down the track and back at me with a little disgust and disbelief as I eased out the clutch, heading down the track with my eyes on the distant goalpost.

The mud was flying as I picked up speed on the straightway, and as I rounded the far curve of the track, I glanced out the driver’s door window to where I had come out of the chute, a hundred yards away now. The groundskeeper still sat on his tractor, and the crowd of students had gone wild, cheering and screaming ecstatically, as if the high school track star had just broken the state record. A group of half dozen or so lettermen, whose school letter jackets were red and white, the same colors of my rig, were indicating their fierce approval with upraised fists and whoops and warcries as if this was a very good omen for future athletic conquests on their home field. They would roll over their opponents, crushing them, like the big truck displaying their school colors.

What the heck, I thought, might as well make their day complete as I laid on the air horns all the way down through the bleachers. As I approached the bank leading back up to the bus lot, they seemed to realize that I needed plenty of room as they moved out of the way, and I continued to sound the horns more in warning than in team spirit now. Seeing them all safely out of the way, I gunned the Cummins, and up the bank I went, angling through the muddy lot, waving my cap to the alumni who were still cheering wildly as I rolled onto the road back to town.

Well, folks, I never dreamed I’d be a high school track star cheered on to glory. My face was still flushed with embarrassment as I eased out of town, expecting the sheriff to pull me over any moment now. Then I hammered down the old Chisolm Trail and didn’t breathe easy till I got a good ways across that state line into Oklahoma. By that time, I was feeling a little unprofessional, but very relieved at untangling myself from this embarrassing predicament and a little amused that those kids will never forget the day the big truck ran the track!

P.S. My sincere apologies are extended to the South Haven Kansas High School faculty for any problems I might have caused by this ridiculous occurrence and most of all to the groundskeeper, who must have done some extra grading thereafter. I would be deeply honored if I were to receive an honorary track letter from your fine institution, which I would proudly sew onto one of my many red and white company safety jackets. Yes, honestly, safety jackets!

Paul Nizamian was a lifelong truck driver with more than forty years over the road. He was killed in Douglas, Wyoming on October 22, 2020 coming back from a hunting trip (see obituary on page 6).