Jackknifes Cut Down Thanks to Trucker’s Invention


Source: This is an excerpt from an article on FleetOwner.com. The entire post and all images can be found by clicking on this sentence.

CHICAGO – Bob Allen – inventor of the Brake Releaser – grew up extremely comfortable around cars and trucks — his youth spent covered in grease rebuilding motors and early adulthood hauling freight out of Chicago’s McCormick Place. However, heading out during those brutal Midwest blizzards of the 1980s, leaving behind a worried wife in the Windy City, Allen was anything but comfortable.

“It was treacherous out there,” Allen recalled. “There were nights I was out there at two or three in the morning praying to God I make it to my next stop.”

Lake Michigan winters have a way of making any time of day treacherous, as Allen found out. Enough so that his time on the wintery roads inspired him to create an intermediary reservoir that hooks up to a tractor and trailer to inject the fluid into the brake system to prevent the brakes from freezing or locking. It’s called the Brake Releaser, and manufacturer Milton Industries made the tool available for sale in late November. 

Not many have had the same motivation as Allen, which came one morning while he was heading back home, northbound on Interstate 65 from Indianapolis. A whiteout blanketed the sky and shrouded Allen’s GMC General truck’s mirror. What he could make out in the flaky haze was a jackknifing trailer coming his way.

The then 28-year-old thought he was going to get hit by this out-of-control truck and accelerated to avoid collision.

“When I sped up, the trailer straightened out and I figured out it was me jackknifing,” Allen said.

Next, the still-askew trailer was barreling towards a state trooper on the side of the road directing traffic from the closed-down highway. That officer now was the one taking evasive action, jumping into the adjacent field to avoid getting hit by the trailer.

“I just missed him,” Allen recounted. While the trucker was freeing the frozen trailer brakes with a blowtorch and hammer to get it to the side of the road, that same trooper stationed himself farther up the road to warn people of the downed truck. 

This was about 30 years ago, though the moment is still frozen in time to Allen. He thought often of the near-disaster and ways it could have been avoided.

Jackknifing — when the trailer swings out from the tractor — is basically the cart trying to put itself before the horse. Icy or slick roads, and improper or failing brakes (because the trailer tires are moving faster than the braking tractor’s) are usually the culprit. The brake failure occurs when moisture enters the brake lines and freezes, preventing the air that activates the brakes from reaching its destination.

This can happen when a truck is coming from a southern terminal or warehouse to a cold region, causing condensation in the line to crystalize. Allen said his truck’s ill-performing air dryer most likely led to the excess condensation in his trailer’s line, causing his jackknife.

About Author

Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Senior Editor for The BRAKE Report. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.