A 5 ton tractor trailer in RVN

The Demon Kingpin Lever

I'm Jim Engel. I was a "US - Draftee" from '66-'68. In 'Nam ('67-'68) I was with the 24th Trans Co based in Tuy Hoa, RVN. My MOS was 64C10, a gear jam'in, clutch mash'in driver of the deuce. When the 670th Trans Co sent a platoon up from Cam Ranh Bay I drove a 5T S & P, semi-truck, for a time and that's what this tale is about.

Recall that on all those trucks: deuce - 5T - 5T S&P, there was a handle operated parking brake that was located on the floor immediately to the left of the drivers seat? And how many times did you forget to release it and driving along thought, "Gawd, this thing sure is gutless today..." before the smell of the burning brake lining got your attention?? After which that brake was more or less worthless.

As the base was right by the ocean the "ground" in our area was that coarse sand mix that was a chore to drive in if you left the packed roadway. One hot miserable afternoon I'd loaded a trailer in preparation for a convoy. At the last minute the whole affair was called off so I was directed to take the trailer to an enclosed area at the edge of the Tuy Hoa main gate that convoys used for "overnighters." That's when the fun began.

Being late in the afternoon I was the last & only driver in there. "Hey, no problem," I thought," Just drop the trailer & call it a day." I positioned the trailer, set what I thought was a good parking brake & went about to work the lever to release the fifth wheel's death grip on the kingpin. I won't even get into the fact that the trailers were notorious for having nonworking brakes and certainly didn't have a means to set the brakes as more modern commercial trailers have now. Other than the "jake brake" lever that would slip outta position. So the trailer was free to move, jiggle back & forth and just not be at all co-operative to make releasing the kingpin an easy matter.

True to my luck that day I was in for the kingpin lever from hell. I cussed, I yelled to the heavens, I blasphemed the draft board, I cried for my E.T.S. date! I'd dig in the drive wheels in hopes to set the tractor still! I dug out behind the duals of the trailer to make a pit in a futile effort to hold the trailer still! I sweated & cussed & pulled on that kingpin lever till I turned the color of my fatigue pants. More than once I'd get things set just so, c-a-r-e-fully get out of the cab so as to not move anything, then with an air of indifference approach the demon lever so as not to give my intentions away, and GRAB IT! "Aw sheeeet!" the damn tractor would move ahead just that fraction of an inch enough to put pressure back on the jaws of that lever & thwart my efforts!!

Needless to say, it was getting towards dark when what ever I was or wasn't doing/saying came together and I finally broke free. We won't even get into stories of failing to "set" the king pin & dropping a trailer. Or setting the trailer in that sand, pulling out, turn back to watch the trailer pause still for a moment before the landing gear sank into that sand!!

Awww, my E.T.S. was one very sweet moment indeed... Jimmer