Many freeways in Texas are wide open roads where high speeds can be great fun. The 80 mph speed limit, with its unwritten 10 mph grace zone above that, is a temptation for many. We prefer to jog along at 60 mph in the right lane when we’re towing our house around, but our slow speeds put us in the minority in this part of the country.
Last Friday, a nasty winter storm swept through the Dallas/Fort Worth area, sending trucks and cars careening off of the freeways on a virtual skating rink. We first heard of the chaos in the small town of Marathon where we saw frightening images on TV at a gas station and listened to scary tales from motorists seeking safe haven on their way from Dallas to Big Bend.
We had hightailed it out of Big Bend National Park after enduring below freezing temps for 48 hours. When we got onto I-20 about 100 miles west of Fort Worth, we began to see the remains of the ice storm from two nights before. The trees were filled with ice, and mist hung heavy in the air. A Winter Weather Warning was in effect for another incoming storm due to arrive the next day.
I began snapping pics as we drove, just to keep myself occupied, and a small Beer sign in the wintry woods made me smile.
This stretch of freeway is basically a truck route, with the occasional car or RV filling in around the fringes. Trucks were everywhere, ahead of us and behind us.
These guys don’t mess around, and they seem to view the high speed limit as an open invitation. And why not, when you have a tight delivery schedule to keep? We were passed by one semi-tractor trailer truck after another until we felt like the old grannies of the road.
When an “Oversize Load” truck passed us like we were standing still, and remained in the left lane until it vanished from sight ahead of us, all I could think was that we were experiencing the modern day Wild West of Texas out here on the freeway.
But what unfolded next took us both by surprise. The ice on the trees and mist in the air had been just an introduction to the pandemonium and mayhem that had taken place here on that fateful Friday two days prior on I-20. While scoping out my next pic, Mark suddenly said, “Look at that!”
It was an overturned semi-tractor trailer that had obviously been one of the victims that slid off the road on the ice. A few minutes later a Fed Ex truck facing the wrong way in the median caught our eye.
The front end appeared to be smashed. Mark whipped his head around as we passed it and noticed a huge hole in the windshield on the driver’s side.
A mile further on we saw more.
Now our eyes were popping out of our heads. We rarely see wrecks on the highway, and especially not abandoned, mangled trucks.
Signs ahead made us slow down. There was a 6% descent and the word “SLOW” was painted right on the freeway.
But it probably wasn’t possible to heed these signs on the fearful night of the ice storm. More wrecks lay ahead.
At the last moment Mark spotted a second Fed Ex truck stranded by the side of I-20. He leaned back as I snapped a pic out his window.
By now I was perched on the edge of my seat, my mind racing as I tried to imagine what the scene had been like in the dark with snow falling and black ice everywhere. Now I understood why those people back in Marathon had been so rattled as they talked about what they’d experienced on the road that night.
Suddenly there were lots of brake lights ahead of us. We slowed to a crawl and were herded off the highway for a detour.
As we climbed a frontage road and looked down at the empty freeway next to us, we saw a semi-tractor trailer that had just been raised up from its side. Its cab was jacked to one side as if it had a broken neck. There were three wreckers and countless people in vivid orange working to get it removed.
In the end, we counted ten abandoned truck wrecks and countless stomach-turning skid marks in the dirt going into the ditches by the side of the freeway. Looking for info later, we thought for sure we’d find dozens of news stories about the bedlam on I-20 around Eastland from that terrifying night, but this area had been a secondary story. The scenes on I-35 and I-75 around Dallas had dominated the news for that storm instead!
Eventually, the wrecks subsided and I sat back in my seat, rather stunned by what we had seen. Just then, as if to break our mood and make us smile again, an antique hot rod appeared, headed in the opposite direction.
And so it goes, driving the wilds of Texas. It’s a jungle out there!
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