Stuck in traffic

Semi trucks park on Sixth St. in The Dalles following closure of I-84 earlier this week.

Helping motorists

This photo of a woman helping out stranded motorists on Interstate 84 was taken by Dallesport truck driver Dennis Miller, who spent 18½ hours stuck in a monster traffic jam earlier this week. The photo was widely shared and got Miller featured on a Portland TV station.

Dennis Miller had time to kill while he was stuck for 18 ½ hours in the epic Interstate 84 westbound shutdown Tuesday and Wednesday by Cascade Locks.

But the Dallesport resident made the most of it, making a new friend who is now listed in his phone as “snowstorm Eddie,” and taking a widely-shared photo of a generous woman who went from car to car, offering food and water.

His photo of the woman, which he posted on Facebook, got him featured on KGW TV Thursday. And as for Eddie? They bonded over their Grateful Dead tattoos. Miller even made a point of wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt when he was interviewed by KGW.

Miller, who drives a fuel truck for Hattenhauer Fuel, wasn’t carrying a load at the time, but there’s always a bit of fuel left in the tank, so he offered gas to people nearby so they could keep their cars running for heat. One took him up on it and he gave him six gallons of fuel.

The unidentified generous woman first came to Miller’s attention when he was on the phone with his co-worker, fellow fuel hauler Roger Rose, who was four truck lengths ahead of him. He heard Rose talking to someone else, accepting water and a granola bar and thanking them.

Miller assumed the person was also stranded and had extra food in their car, but then he saw a woman coming into view with bags of food.

Miller hollered to the car in front of him — where a man and wife and their breastfed infant baby were stuck — that a woman with food was up ahead. The man went up to talk to the woman, and she came all the way back to their vehicle and started handing bananas, granola bars and waters through the window.

“I was touched,” Miller said, and took a photo of the moment. Miller was also offered food but declined. A state trooper was also taking pictures of the woman’s generosity, “with a big smile on his face,” Miller said.

Miller asked the Good Samaritan where she was stranded at, “and she said, ‘Oh, we’re not stranded, we’re from Cascade Locks. We came down here to help out!’”

Miller was stuck three miles before Cascade Locks. “The cool thing was, two hours later when we were finally able to move I went into Cascade Locks and turned around to get to The Dalles and I saw them again and they were about four miles west of where I was and they just kept driving and handing out food and they had big bags of food. It was the coolest thing.”

He said, “I like to share myself, and for them to do that, it made me smile inside.”

Miller, whose previous record for getting stuck in the Gorge was 17 hours, had packed a “survival lunch.” He had a big thermos of soup and a thermos of boiling water for some Cup ‘O Noodles he kept on hand for emergencies. “They’re probably two years old. I don’t know if they go bad or not.”

He also had a huge salad “with everything in it,” two yogurts, a granola bar, a Payday candy bar and extra water. “I had a whole bunch of food, I was actually having to ration it out because I didn’t know how long I was gong to be there. But I came back with one yogurt.”

As the hours wore on, practical matters came up. He could hear the woman in the car ahead of him telling her husband she “really had to go” to the bathroom. “They might’ve gone in the nighttime, like I did.”

Miller’s truck doesn’t have a sleeper cab, so he took two naps, totaling three hours, just hunkered in his seat. He also talked on the phone with his girlfriend and other friends, and called his daughter.

“There were so many good people outside their trucks and throwing snowballs and making the best of it,” he said.

He also listened to some Grateful Dead, his favorite band, which led to his connection with “snowstorm Eddie,” who is from The Dalles.

The two were talking a bit, and Miller started leaving, but Eddie started playing “Brokedown Palace” by the Grateful Dead. “I said, ‘I can’t walk away from Brokedown Palace.’”

They began showing each other their Dead tattoos and finally exchanged phone numbers.

The whole traffic shutdown started because truckers didn’t chain up, Miller said — even though chains had been required 15 miles earlier — and they got stuck on the incline a few miles before Cascade Locks. Chatter on the CB radio about the problem eventually grew heated.

Miller had to get out and help one trucker chain up. The man didn’t have the needed equipment, and after he laid the chains out, he just got in his rig. Miller did all the work for him as the man sat in his cab.

“My idea was to get anybody around me chained up so they didn’t foul me up once I got going,” Miller said.

During the stoppage, traffic would sporadically inch forward – sometimes a half mile, sometimes an eighth of a mile – as one truck would get freed and then another would quickly spin out in its place.

But each time the road opened up, there’d be some truck sitting there, not moving.

“They must’ve gone to sleep. I had to knock on about a half dozen trucks to say, ‘We’re moving, get going.’”

When it came Miller’s turn to finally tackle the incline, he said, “I was fully chained like professional drivers should be and I motored up it — at 3 mph. It was so bumpy. And people were talking about [Oregon Department of Transportation] and bashing ODOT. It wasn’t ODOT’s fault. If these trucks wouldn’t have spun out, the plows would’ve been able to get through.”

Miller also learned that his type of super tanker vehicle had a nickname from other truckers. “They’d say, ‘Watch out for that pipe bomb. There’s a pipe bomb, give them room.’ I’ve been with Hatt for 23 years now. I never heard that, I got kind of a kick out of it.”

Miller noted that in those 23 years, he’s logged 2.46 million accident-free and ticket-free miles.

His rig can hold 11,250 gallons of fuel.

He and Rose left The Dalles bound for Portland at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. They saw traffic slowing by Mosier because truckers were chaining up “right in the right-hand lane,” Miller said. They stopped in Hood River to chain up. They headed out and got stopped at about milepost 55.

They didn’t know trucks were spinning out at the grade at milepost 46. But another friend, who’d left earlier in the day for Salem and was already on his way home, let Miller know that he saw two jack-knifed semis at the head of the stoppage. The friend offered him some leftover Red Lobster food, but Miller decided to pass on it.

In all, the gridlock stretched for 13 miles. “I’ve never seen one that long, oh, never,” Miller said. “When you’re going against the traffic and you see four miles, that seems like an eternity of nonstop cars. But 13 miles of it? They were all the way back to Hood River hill, from Cascade Locks.”

He was stuck so long that he ran out of work hours, so he was told to just turn around at Cascade Locks and head back to The Dalles. The 70-mile round trip took 21 hours and 15 minutes.

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