62nd Highway Patrol (MP)
 Germany      1948 - 1958

Stories of the Highway Patrol



Houdini of the Tractor-Trailer

by  Lawson Stevens





It was a warm. sunny afternoon in the summer of 1954, when my partner and I received a radio call requesting we return to the Bamberg Military Police Station.  There, we were informed that a tractor-trailer driver needed to get his rig to Wurzburg, but was not sure whether he could navigate it through the town and on highway 22-the shortest route.  The alternative would have been a long detour in the direction of Nurnburg.  The driver,  a senior NCO, asked if' we could drive him through the town in our Highway Patrol sedan to assess the route himself.  We had our doubts about the advisability of the route, given the size of the five ton behemoth, but we were happy to oblige


Now, Bamberg is an ancient town, a jewel of perfectly preserved medieval and renaissance architecture, with ever expanding modern residential and commercial areas.  The old town, with its narrow, winding streets straddles the River Regnitz, then climbs up the hillsides to present its citizenry with a panorama unchanged for centuries.  The town had evolved when only horses, oxen, and wagons were the means of transportation, and the narrow cobblestones were more than adequate.  But modern transportation had required the creation of a one-way pattern, with a policeman in a box at the foot of the hill to control and direct traffic in and out of town.  And because of the close proximity of the buildings, and the blind corners which obscured his view, he was aided by an assortment of permanently mounted mirrors.  No problem said the rig driver, if you will provide me an escort.


Needless to say, there is a considerable difference between a horse and cart, and a tractor-trailer designed to transport the heaviest military vehicles, such as tanks.  We were skeptical to say the least, but the driver was very experienced, very confident, and quite persuasive.  He was also in a hurry to get to his home station, and whether it affected his Judgment we’ll never know, but it was no excuse for our failure to realize the risks it entailed.  And, our agreement created what was probably the biggest traffic jam in the town’s thousand year history.


We led the way from the MP Station in our sedan, with the huge rig right behind us, slowly navigating' through the traffic of the new town with no problem.  But once we crossed the river into the old town, our progress slowed to a walking pace as the: tractor-trailer consumed all of the available space between the buildings, and encroached upon the sidewalks.  It was akin to an elephant trying to squeeze out of its cage, and we were getting more nervous by the minute.  Then, the inevitable happened as we came to an almost ninety degree turn at the foot of the hill.  The swiveling trailer became stuck against the Sides of the buildings at the left front and right rear.  It was obvious then that we had a major problem on our hands


But. the driver didn't seem too concerned; he got out to examine the situation, and explained that he had dealt with similar problems before.  At that point, except for notifying the Military Police desk sergeant and the German police, there was little we could do but keep the accumulating spectators out of the way, while he worked his magic.  For in no time at all, crowds had started to gather, people were hanging out of windows, and the old town was taking on a carnival like atmosphere.


The rig driver proved that he knew how to handle the situation, although it took the best part of an hour, with the skill of Houdini, to shed the fetters of the constraining buildings.  He maneuvered gradually back and forth; he used blocks and chains, and he used oil to reduce friction - cajoling the monster inch by inch around the corner until it was free.  It was a performance worthy of an escape artist, and he deserved the cheers of the crowd as he wended his way behind us, up to the police box, and up the hill out of town.


We heard afterwards that traffic had been tied up all over town, and had to be re-routed in different directions.  It had been a nightmare for the German police, a major embarrassment for us, and an appalling lack of judgment.  Having said that, in those days, when autobahns were few and far between, and secondary roads weaved their way through towns and villages, some mishaps were inevitable, for it was also a time when US Military vehicles of every size and shape from jeeps to tanks, singly and in convoys were a common sight.  For it was the height of the Cold War, and we were there in great numbers, and always training and preparing for an expected confrontation with the Soviet Union.



This story previously appeared in Volume # 5, Issue # 6, November-December 2002 edition of "The White Mice"


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