By Dave Mendenhall
Artwork provided by Pam Johnson. You can see more of her artwork on Facebook.
I had been snow skiing with friends across the border in New Brunswick, Canada. It was 1968, I had Rossignals strapped to the ski rack of my 1963 TR4, and I had a 150-mile trip in a monster of a Northeaster snowstorm to get home in northern Maine. The next morning I was scheduled to work in the Emergency Room. I was in the Air Force and stationed in my hometown in Bangor at Dow A.F.B.
I had been watching an “iffy” snap on top of the passenger’s side windscreen for a few months. Crossing paths with a northbound eighteen-wheeler, his back draft blew the canvas convertible top completely off. I knew what was happening as it happened. I reached up and grabbed for it with my right hand as it attempted to jettison out onto the snow-covered roadway.
I pulled into Irving’s Truck Stop with the top flapping behind me and beelined it to the shelter of the huge gasoline pump canopy. My mind raced for a plan. I asked for weather reports as people looked at me with a fair amount of pity. I heard “big drifts,” “heavy snow” and “strong winds.”
I dug deep in the fully packed trunk for my tonneau cover, snapped it on and went inside for coffee and a bite. I had no choice but to keep going, and decided to suit up in my ski clothes, knit hat, insulated gloves and goggles. I phoned Mom and Dad and alerted them to clear a space in the garage.
This is how hard it was snowing: the safety officials were setting up convoys. A huge plow with his dump box full of salt and sand was followed closely by a Maine State Trooper with emergency lights, then fifty vehicles and another trooper bringing up the rear. With the wind and snow just as foul as you could imagine, those boys never saw me slip in with the top down.
We commenced and I remember thinking, “this decision is questionable. Little baby Triumphs were not designed to attack a storm like this.” The wipers were useless in the wet snow. Underway, I reached over the windscreen with a snowbrush to clear my view. I was busy!
I was running a set of snow tires on the rear and two homemade sandbags over each rear wheel tucked in the boot. The Lucas head lamps did stay lit and functioned as well as a couple of two dollar flashlights.
I was behind an 18-wheeler and as the convoy stretched out I decided to put him behind me; I had zero visibility. He was blowing snow into a whiteout. I signaled truck driver code with my lights that I was going to pass him. I flashed headlamps three times and put on the turn signal.
I had driven trucks summer vacations for a beer company and had a good teacher for safe signals. I pulled out to pass and was accelerating the four-cylinder power plant in absolute stupid scary conditions…when…he put his left turn signal on. He never saw me. I had to jam the brakes as those rear wheels on his trailer headed left to crush my bonnet! That was too close.
We pulled off at the next convoy hook up. I was pretty crusted up with snow when the trooper walked up to me. He had a sermon to deliver on what I had just done. I heard his tone soften during his chewing out as he looked my Triumph over. It purred at idle in that protection of the truck stop fuel canopy. Coffee break and we’re off again. I asked the good officer if I might slide in behind him as tractor trailers weren’t helping visibility.
The storm never abated and I was knackered when I slipped the TR4 into Dad’s garage. It was one snap and some fancy tailor work from Mom and I was back on the road. I guess if there’s a moral of the story it’s this: Don’t ever go drive an old classic roadster without a tonnueau cover. You never know.