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Lines on the Bitumen
I drive a lot of kilometres.
So I see a lot of bitumen. Usually between 2 and 7 thousand k's a week. That's a lot of bitumen.
As you can see from the photo, it generally is not "blacktop". The reason for this is, that the stone used for bitumen roads here in Western Australia is crushed granite, which in this part of the world is mostly grey.
You may also notice that there are four lines on the bitumen. Well maybe not, however, there are always four lines. One at each edge of the road called the "fog line" and two lines in the middle which are traffic separation lines. Two solid lines means "DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE" which equals, no passing here. Where it is safe to pass (another vehicle travelling in the same direction) there will be a broken line closest to the vehicle with a solid line on the other side.
The fog line is the line of safety at the outside of the bitumen. Some times the bitumen will extend beyond the fog line by half a metre or so. Truck drivers train their brains to run the outside of their trucks down the fog line so as to give the maximum clearance in the middle of the road.
This is easily done in a Kenworth. Each make of truck is different, however the driver's seat in a Kenworth is positioned so that by lining up the fog line with the centre of the bonnet from the driver's seat, the left hand side (in our case here in Australia) of the vehicle will run down the fog line. That is the place of safety when facing an oncoming wide load or the third trailer on a road train that has started to wander a bit.
The other lines I see are black lines.
The black lines come in two types. Just the black of rubber left by tyres braking hard, or a line of hotmix pured over a gouge in the road surface. Or both.
The most inocuous black lines come from the tyres of a semi trailer where the bakes have locked on by their own accord, which happens sometimes. This, in one sense, is good. The reason it is good, is because it is a disaster that has been prevented. Heavy trucks, be they rigid or semi trailers use a breaking device which becomes a parking brake when the vehicle is stopped. Called a maxi-brake, they are organised so that when no air pressure is present, like when the vehicle is stopped, the loaded heavy springs clamp the brakes on. When the truck is started and ready to roll, an air supply at the right pressure is applied to the braking system, those heavy springs are compressed by the air pressure and the brakes are released.
So, if for any reason while the vehicle is in motion that supply of air is interupted, the brakes come on automatically. Like, if an air hose breaks or a fitting comes loose or whatever. So, it is a safety device. You might see on the road a long black mark of tyres that starts suddenly and then veers to the side of the road. Obviously the driver has pulled over when he's noticed the problem and rectified it. If not, his boss won't be happy, because there are going to be a lot of tyres with a flat spot on them!
Any other type of black line on the road is going to have anxiety associated with it. If a driver has had to hit the brakes and leave thousands of dollars worth of rubber on the road there must have been a reason. Here in W.A. the most likely reason comes on the form of cattle. There are many unfenced roads here and cattle move about at will day and night.
No one wants to hit a beast. It is going to cost money, busted bull bar, broken lights, radiators pushed back into fans, busted bonnets, not good. The worst time of day is evening with an oncoming vehicle. Headlights are down, vision is about 3 metres in front with the glare of oncoming lights in your eyes and no ability to see. Dark brown or black cattle reflect absolutely no light back and are basically impossible to see. So, there is a bit of anxiety there in those types of black lines.
The other type of black line in the bitumen I see is the crazy black lines of hard braking, and the gouges of metal in the road surface. That means there has been a rollover, or a collision. I always look and never hope to see. but often I do.
A single white cross, maybe multiple crosses. Flowers, sometimes memorials, always with names.
There is hurt and pain, grief, sorrow and saddness in those black lines.
I often hear truckies offer each other a prayer when signing off from talking to each other on the UHF. One will say to the other "keep it safe". To these hard bitten men, any suggestion that they might be soft and spritual would be denied and probably result in a punch being thrown. However, what I hear is not just words that are thrown away for the sake of it. There is a sense of injunction, a plea to the other to do his part and for the Almighty to do His. A hope. A sense of, "I want to see your truck and hear your voice next week when our paths cross again for a few minutes".
For those of us that drive those trucks around this big country. We all know there is meaning in THOSE black lines in the bitumen.
Dags the Drover 2011