TRUCKERS BIDE THEIR TIME, WAITING FOR ROADS TO THAW
By Eileen Bailey
The coffee and conversation flowed Tuesday at Belden Truck Stop as truck drivers – some who have been stranded in Tupelo since Friday – waited for icy roads to clear.
The parking lot of the truck stop, located next to U.S. Highway 78, was packed with 18-wheelers and overflow truckers parked their rigs along McCullough Boulevard.
“I am floating in coffee,” said trucker Billy Tisdale of Thibodaux, La., who has been forced to stay in Tupelo since Friday when he delivered a load to Ace Hardware. Once the load was delivered, his empty truck was left floundering on ice. An Ace employee, who had a four-wheel-drive vehicle, towed Tisdale to the truck stop Friday and he’s been stuck there since.
Tisdale said he visits with other truckers during the day, passing the time and downing numerous cups of coffee. He and the other stranded truckers spend nights in their rigs.
Tisdale said he’s been driving a big rig since he was 18, but this past weekend was the first time he had ever had to drive on ice.
Clyde Fultz of Russellville, Ala., has been stranded at the truck stop since Monday. Fultz was first stranded in Red Banks, just south of Memphis in Marshall County. He slowly made his way down U.S. 78, watching other drivers slip and slide along the way.
“It was slow driving,” he said. “I saw several trucks jackknife.”
Tisdale said he has not only heard the horror stories about the driving conditions but also has seen them firsthand from the hill overlooking U.S. 78.
“I have seen several trucks that have jackknifed and that just could not roll,” he said.
Both men said they probably won’t get paid for the layover. Tisdale, who had planned to leave Tupelo Tuesday, said he is getting paid only $75 for the weekend. Fultz said he has spent more than $100 on food and supplies during the last several days and probably will not get paid for his time away from home.
Belden Truck Stop employee Jim Fondren said since Thursday between 35 and 40 trucks have been in the parking lot as truckers try to wait out the winter storm conditions that coated many of the roads and highways with several inches of ice.
“I have never seen it this bad,” Fondren said. “We have been open 24 hours and not had any problems.”
There was one close call when the restaurant almost ran out of coffee, he said, but they were able to restock.
Kim Whitten of Tupelo started her first day of work at the truck stop on Thursday. She has been stranded there ever since. She left one night when a friend of the family came and picked her up in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. After that, she decided to stay in a nearby hotel and just walk to work.
“The truckers have been so patient, even when we were really crowded,” she said.