That Big Truck Blog

An American Car Hauler's Blog

LOCKED IN A TRUNK – Car Hauler Tales

You just can’t make this stuff up.

One of the very interesting stories I encountered during my 33-plus years of auto transport involves a young man from eastern Tennessee. “Stevie” was a car hauler for many years…raised in the biz much like I was, taught by his father whom I knew to be one of the top-shelf car haulers in the country. My father, Claude (i.e Baltimore Kid, Kentucky CatFish, Gold Digger for you that only remember folks by their CB handles), was simply the best and Stevie’s dad worked along side my own father for many years. Both eventually would train many new recruits to the business, teaching them “old school” ways of making this difficult job successful. They were owner/operators in addition to the tough job of hauling automobiles so there was much to be attentive to if they were to survive the tests of many years down the road.

There was a time when Stevie became a driver/operator for one of the independent owners that had a truck leased to an enterprise of mine, Carl’s Car Carriers, many years ago. At the time, southern California was a route that we serviced from several of the northeast U.S. automobile auctions. Stevie was dispatched on a load from the Newburgh, New York area destined for El Monte, California. Back in that day, early 90’s Ford Thunderbirds & Mercury Cougars were a favorite model for this particular buyer. These cars also had the dreadful trait of trunk lids mysteriously popping open during transport when loaded in a “back on” position. (This eventful personal discovery was not a pleasant one for this author, I might add.) To be sure, I don’t think the engineers and designers at FoMoCo in Michigan had planned for these cars to go down the road at 65 miles per hour…backwards! Not all of these cars had this problem…seems like every now and then one would just open but when it happened, it was usually a costly problem as the wind forced it up and back, bending hinges and sometimes breaking that cute little rounded rear window, spraying shards of safety glass all down the following cars on the trailer.

This mixed load of used cars headed into the Los Angeles basin just happened to contain one of these particular model cars and Stevie chose to load it first…which meant it went on the top, front position out over the cab/hood of the shiny red Peterbilt car carrier he was driving. This placed the trunk facing forward, catching all the turbulence of some 2500 miles cross country. It was a cold night, as told to us the next day, when Stevie pulled out of Newburgh, NY and began his journey south. It wasn’t far down the road and he received a CB call from a passing truck driver advising him that “the trunk on that first car is open!” Stevie pulls into a rest area to check things out and sure enough, the trunk lid is popped and now sticking straight up, hinges bent and fortunately the rear glass had not been broken.

There is no way to access this one position on a car hauler from the front…obviously it is resting some 13 feet off the ground with nothing to stand on. The only way to access it is to climb the ladders and carefully “hug” the car as you inch along the side of the car, holding onto door handles, windshield wipers or anything you can grab onto for support. Stevie accomplishes this task and sees that the hinges have been bent and the trunk will not close back completely without some force. Hanging from his precarious position and attempting to slam the trunk lid down proved to be difficult but he did get it to latch…only to have it pop back open again. Stevie decides he needs a few tools to check out why the latch mechanism is not working and holding the trunk lock securely. After gathering a few tools, he climbs back into position but is unable to reach the locking mechanism from the side of the rack. His next move placed his head, arms and upper body over the edge of the open trunk as his legs slid in behind him. Inside the open trunk, now he had good “safe” access to the lock mechanism and he began his investigation and adjusting. Are you still with me here? Do you have this picture in your head? It is cold…dark…frost is covering the car surfaces…a man is sitting cross-legged inside an open trunk on top of a car carrier 13 feet in the air in a rest area parking lot at some early wee hour in the morning…holding a flashlight in his mouth while he tries to repair the lock so the trunk lid will stay latched as he makes his way to California.

Stevie felt he had found the problem and made a simple adjustment to the catch by bending it so the lock would hold. Before he got out of the trunk, he wanted to check it to make sure it would line up. Yeah…you are ahead of me here…I can tell. Stevie decides to lie sideways and pull the trunk lid down while observing with his flashlight from the INSIDE of the trunk. His words were…”I knew I was in trouble when I heard the trunk latch click on the first attempt.” Yeah, when I heard this story, I gasped too at that moment. It is one of those impossible to make up stories. I did not discuss with Stevie about his claustrophobic nature…I was laughing too hard at the time. Scary, for sure, but at the telling of the incident, I was aware the man had survived the ordeal. He could have been locked in that trunk for days until the truck was located and even then, I don’t even want to imagine what would have led an investigator’s K-9 companion to the trunk of a car loaded backwards on top of this car hauler.

The good ending to this story is that Stevie kept his head and was eventually able to bend the latch assembly with the small screwdriver to get the trunk to pop open once again. He said he spent some very scary, uncomfortable time inside that cold, dark trunk that night. I can only imagine.

A few years ago, car manufacturers began installing pull tabs on the inside of trunk cargo areas so this kind of problem could be avoided. I’m certain they were brought about by a rash of car-jackings and somebody said “there outta be law” or something as simple as that. I’m pretty sure the engineers at the Big 3 automakers didn’t create this pull tab inside the trunk area due to errant car haulers finding themselves prostrate and locked in a cold, dark place never intended for human occupation…unless you were on the bad side of Tony Soprano. But in the latter instance…you probably wouldn’t be able to reach the pull release tab anyway. 😉

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January 4, 2010 Posted by | Auto Auctions, Auto Manufacturers, General Auto Transport, Manheim Auto Auctions | , , , | 2 Comments