The Emergency Hydraulic Brake That Could Save Your Life

HST-brake-sequencing1The following story appears as it was sent to me by long-time ‘Planet Brendan’ inhabitant Rick Sosnowski, Boston Bar, BC Canada:

Your troubleshooting method has saved two lives!

Years ago in one of your letters you said ‘check the simple things first and you may find the cause of the problem quickly.’ In my case my life depended on it. My story starts like this.

I’m sitting in one of our local grease pits eating lunch and this young man about 25 years old walks up to me and says, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ I had no idea what he was talking about so he reminded me of a story I told him a year before in the same restaurant when he was passing through our town.

To get a break from reality every few years I would hang up my tools and drive my logging truck or operate equipment for one of our local contractors. And in this case we had a nice job of rebuilding a logging road. Our mission was to flatten out most of the hills because they were too steep for our wimpy generation of logging truck drivers. The hills were 28% grade and they wanted about 20%.

I was driving an off highway Volvo 6×6 articulated rock truck and the hill was 28% or a little more. I was grossly overloaded in a truck that was due for a brake job. And then one of the brake systems failed at the top of the hill. At the bottom was a ridge with a sheer rock cliff on both sides and a corner. Nowhere to ditch the damn thing and flop it over.

I’m in low gear holding it with the engine and what little brakes I have left, watching the revs creep up knowing full well that when they hit a certain point the transmission will shift up even with the lever in first. Then both me and the truck will get a moment of silence before hitting the bottom hundreds of feet below.

So with my ass grabbing the seat like a suction cup I’m checking out my options. And then your statement came to me, “Check the simple things first”!!

Problem: The truck won’t slow down. What’s causing the problem: Truck is overloaded. How do I fix that? Get rid of the cause. So I gently pulled the lever to lift the box and the truck slowed right down without even dumping it. The hydraulics lifting such a heavy load on the 28% angle took enough energy to slow the truck down and that’s how I made it down the hill without crashing.

I shared my story with many young equipment operators just in case they got into trouble like I did, and sure enough, it saved that young man’s life also. Check the simple things first. BTW, your troubleshooting methods work well for other things too. LOL.”

Ahem….the first thing that ought to be said here is don’t try to drive an overloaded rock truck with dodgy brakes down a 28% grade. It’s not recommended. At all.

Nevertheless this story is a great illustration of the power of principles. While it could be said that it was mainly Rick’s cool head and quick thinking that saved his life, it was his recall and reliance on a principle that focused his mind and guided him to a just-in-time, life or death solution to a problem when he needed it most.

Without the principle to fall back on as a starting point, it’s possible he wouldn’t have got to the solution in time. And that certainly the way Rick sees it.

We already have the ‘Jake Brake’ (Jacob’s Engine Brake). Now we have the ‘Rick Brake’ (Rick’s Emergency Hydraulic Brake for Off-Road Trucks). I expect the Rick Brake will save more lives in the future. That’s a good thing. And in part at least, this can be attributed to the power of troubleshooting principles.

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