By jet? By car? What you need to know
Advice for driving in ice in snow? It's simple, slow down.
Seattle Times staff reporter
As the bus driver for the Seattle Thunderbirds hockey team, Elijah Johnson thinks nothing of driving nine hours straight through Canadian ice and snow in places like Moose Jaw, Chilliwack and Saskatoon. Before that, he drove tanks in the Army, cutting his teeth on winters in Baumholder, Germany.
Even with his winter-driving skills, Johnson spent Tuesday navigating icy Seattle streets at 25 mph. At speed bumps he dropped it to 5 mph.
As the region braces for more snow and icy conditions today, Johnson's advice to drivers is simple: Slow down.
"You need to control your speed at all times," he said. "If the road is slick, you don't want to brake on it."
Johnson watched for ice and snow Tuesday as he crept along Delridge Way Southwest in his 1994 Cadillac El Dorado at 25 mph. He explained that driving in difficult conditions requires equal parts concentration and preparation.
"It's a continual thought process," said Johnson, 66, who has driven the Thunderbirds' team bus for the past 12 years.
Johnson gauges the shady spots, the grade of the slope, the curve of the road and the testiness of the drivers around him. He doesn't listen to music. He wears a cellphone headset to answer questions from the team, but avoids getting into conversation.
"You can't be clowning," he said. "You're going from one situation to another."
Johnson came to the Northwest when he was stationed at Fort Lawton in 1961. His first year here, he hot-rodded his '55 Chevy and was ticketed 22 times. In the past five years, he figures he's had one ticket — and the law is far stricter with commercial licenses.
He believes he's driven every vehicle in the Army's arsenal, from tanks to assault vehicles. He served in Vietnam. He taught safe-driving classes while stationed in Greece, Italy and Turkey.
Now, Johnson drives the hockey team to 32 road games each year, from Spokane to Brandon, Manitoba. His shift starts when the games end at 10:30 p.m. and he pulls the Gray Line bus out with 24 players on board.
If they lose, they sleep. If they win, they're rowdier.
He drives until he hits the legal maximum of 10 hours.
Driving well in a blizzard "is not accelerating hard and staying away from brakes. I really don't know any other secrets."
He can slip tire chains on in five minutes. In his free time, he runs shuttle buses up to Crystal Mountain and Snoqualmie.
"He's quick, he's good, he's safe," said Ian Henry, director of public relations for the team. The worst snowstorm Johnson ever drove through hit the team in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, two years ago. Johnson stopped the bus several times to get out and look for the road.
"There are 33 people on board. I'm responsible for their lives," he said. "I don't want anything to happen. You know at any moment, something could."
When the snows flies in Seattle, Johnson keeps watch for vehicles with four-wheel drive.
"Most crazy stuff you see is with people in four-wheel drives," he said. "They don't realize that yes, they can go fast, but they can't stop no better than anyone else."
More than once, a speeding truck or SUV passing him on a snowy mountain road ended up flipped over a few miles farther ahead. Even Johnson isn't immune to accidents. His worst one with the Thunderbirds was when he sideswiped a team owner's car.
He can laugh about it now.
"It wasn't funny then," he said.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times staff reporters Charles E. Brown and Susan Gilmore contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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