SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Keep on (big) Truckin
By Dave Kiffer


December 10, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - My wife and I have both have a problem with big trucks, but for different reasons.

My wife is a cautious driver. She would prefer to be able to toodle from one end of town to the other without seeing large trucks bearing down upon her or filling up her rearview mirrors. And it's not just all the dump trucks and semis, it's also the seeming endless number of big SUVs and big pick up trucks that disturb her vehicular reveries.

I can understand that, but since this is a small island in Alaska with limited road space it is the imperative of every red blooded Ketchikan male to someday own a truck that is so large that its front bumper touches Beaver Falls at the same time the rear bumper is a couple of inches past Settlers Cove. In other words, Ketchikan is the wrong place to be if your idea of a "road hog" is a Yugo station wagon.

I am less worried about large trucks rolling over me, (it's quick, it's painless, it's a quintessential Alaskan way to go) than I am about how much these lorry leviathans take up parking and driving space in Ketchikan.

For example, I usually come and go from downtown via Bawden Street. Now Bawden is probably a little narrower than many streets in Ketchikan as it is hemmed in by houses on one side and a cliff on the other. It should be wider, but it isn't now and it ain't gonna ever be.

Fine, I can live with that. But not if every resident on the street buys a big honking truck with a super-duper cab and a bed long enough to comfortably sleep the Seattle Seahawks and their cheerleaders. And a freaking snowplow.

You've seen these trucks, They have names relating to gross tonnage and more tires than a Greyhound bus. Invariably they are bought because they are needed "to tow the family boat."

The family boat, of course, has been on blocks in the driveway for so long that no one is aware that it was not originally green, but that's another story. Anyway, these 10.5 tonners are now used to haul the groceries and the kids around. And in this day of "enhanced" gasoline prices, it costs just about two times the gross national product of Zimbabwe to fill them up each week.

In reality, I don't care whether the big trucks are a waste of precious declining worldwide resources. If I did I would sell my medium-sized SUV and buy a Fiat, which would save on resources because it would never leave the garage (Fix It Again, Tony!).

On the other hand, for months there was a big white mondo truck on Bawden Street with a pretty danged ironic "Live Green" bumper sticker, but I digress.

The real problem is that the size of these mammoth motoring mechanisms is beginning to impinge on my freedom of transit.

Let's toodle on back to Bawden Street. Frankly, it would barely be wide enough to allow two cars to pass if the perpendicularly parked cars were all LeCars, but when they are 20 foot long El Queso Grande Camions, well, suddenly you are faced with either scraping against the parked vehicle or the one you are passing. Either option does not please my insurance agent. When you add a little snow and ice like lately, well, then you might as well just drive head on into the parked car because there isn't enough room left on Bawden to pass gas.

Of course, Bawden is not the only place that is becoming harder to navigate due to the mondo trucks. If you are parked in just about any parking lot in the city, you better hope that one of the biggie truckies is not opposite you and/or next to you. First of all, it becomes difficult to see whether there is any cross traffic when you back out because they have blocked out the sun.

Second, if the big truck is opposite you, you may find that when you back out, you impact the big truck's bumper long before you move far enough to actually exit your parking space. Since there is likely a big truck next you, the exiting distance has been increased anyway, so you may as well settle in and open up the emergency rations and the space blanket because you are not going anywhere soon anyway.

 Since I am always interested in finding out whether there are anecdotal statistics to back up the anecdotal evidence, I decided to do a little research, in order to prove my contention that the cars are getting bigger and the roadway is getting smaller.

In talking to the city public works department, I learned that parking spaces are generally designed for 14 foot long vehicles. Fourteen feet seems like a pretty long space, after all it is just about twice the length of average NBA basketball player (not including ego). Fourteen feet is also roughly twice the distance between the bows of the cruise ships tied up at the docks in the summer. Also, if you were to fall from a 14 foot high ladder, you would hurt yourself. That's how I measure significant distance,. Significant is the distance it takes to get a big boo-boo!

But 14 feet is woefully on the short side when you are comparing it to the average size of a modern American truck, which is generally in the range of 15 to 17 feet. So already, there is a wee bit of hang over into the roadway.

But we are not talking about average trucks are we? No one in their right mind would settle for an "average" truck. No, we need to have big trucks. Really big trucks. Really, really, really, really big trucks with command seating and more gauges than a nuclear power plant because our potential status demands it.

So how big is big?

How about 220 inches long? Maybe 230 inches or even 240 inches?

If you check the specs of some of the new big SUVs or the crew (Motley?) cabs, you find lengths in that range.

For those of you playing along with your calculators at home that is 20 feet (not including ego) . So they are overhanging six feet into the road way. This - of course - does not include the snow plows or the home remodel debris hanging out the back of the bed.

So naturally, here is proof that the modern mondo truck has outstripped the modern world's ability to safely park it!

Alas, my research also turned up a very disappointing fact in regards to my theory.

Just out of curiosity I decided to Google some comparison information on the first four-wheeled vehicle that I owned, the 1967 Chevy half-ton truck that I inherited from my father.

It was a lovely old time truck, red with a camper shell perfectly designed for adolescent merry-making. I was the only member in my social group with a portable party platform, so I was a pretty popular guy until I burned up the engine because I was too stupid - and too busy partying - to change the oil.

It was a great truck (except when the manual transmission stalled out on hills) and so much smaller than those junior semis on steroids that you see today. Right?

Wrong. It had an overall length of 226 inches, just a hair under 19 feet..

So indeed, trucks were as big, if not bigger, in the old days. I'm sure that will be a comfort to my wife.



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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