From the Archives: On Runaway Truck Ramps

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: Honoring runaway truck ramps.


If you've ever taken I-70 through the Rockies, you've probably seen those steep gravel turnoffs leading up from the road, then abruptly dead-ending, as well as all the signs advertising them.

A Fields Inspection

Those are runaway truck ramps, and they're for semis whose brakes have blown.

The idea is pretty simple: an out-of-control truck can't stop, so the driver keeps his foot off the gas, waits for a truck ramp, then expends all the truck’s momentum going up it.

In practice, though, these ramps are pretty complicated.

First off, you've got to make sure the truck won't roll back down. One way to do that is to have a long flat stretch after an initial rise (though this obviously doesn't work in the Rockies).

Another version uses sand to absorb all the momentum: semi tires are big, but not big enough to take a semi through sand. The problem with sand ramps is that the semis have a tendency to flip on them.

A Glass of McCoy

Finally, there are the ones made of loose, ungraded gravel. They work great but rip up tires and undercarriages.

Steep gravel ramps—like the ones on I-70 are the most common. Moderate damage is better than overturning or rolling back onto the road. It's not an overly complicated issue, but the sheer force of a fast-moving semi complicates the solution, especially since they're nowhere near as durable as they are in movies.

All of that said: never, ever drive a non-semi vehicle up there. It will not survive.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: New Angles on Leasing Ramps

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy emphasizes a simple⏤and often vital⏤way for your business to keep cash on hand. Especially in these troubled and troubling times.

Click HERE to read all about it.

From the Archives: Those Star Ramps

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. Back again to ramps, one of my favorite inventions...


I never really watched much science fiction as a kid, but my boys loved it. Dragged me to all those Star Wars movies, always had Star Trek and all those other space shows on the TV. I can't say as I'm a huge fan now, but I can definitely see the appeal. (Except for robots. We've already lost enough jobs to them; manufacturing lines hardly even need people anymore.)

Something always bothered me about a lot of those movies, though, and I only recently figured out what.

In Star Wars, when they want to travel between ships they climb the ramp into a shuttle, raise the ramp, fly over, lower the ramp. When they're delivering cargo, same thing. It makes sense.

In Star Trek, though, they have teleporters, and they use them all the time. I don't know if that stuff is possible, but it just nagged at me until I realized: they're basically like lifts.

When you're loading or unloading something, a ramp is almost always going to be cheaper, easier, and faster. Not always by much, but it will be. Less upkeep, too. I don't know how much power teleporters use, but I feel like it can't be cheap to run one. Plus, the teleporters come out in those nice, carpeted rooms. They can't possibly load all their stuff from there. There'd be marks all over the carpet.

Since they have imitation gravity on those things, why don't they just lower the gravity there and push them up ramps like they're full of feathers? Heck, you'll be saving on power this way.

I know I'm being nitpicky here, but it kinda feels like the writers on the show assumed that technology would get rid of the need for logistics. You're always going to need to load and unload things, no matter how many years in the future you are and, if you ask me, teleporters aren't going to replace ramps anytime soon.

The Yard Ramp Guy®: New Forklift Ramp Q&A

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy answers three essential questions that I'm predicting will have you seeking a new forklift ramp from him in record time.

Click HERE to read all about it.

About Those Sickness Behaviors

Or: Get Better Soon

Best Wishes, McCoy Fields

Feel Better

Quick question for you: Why does being sick give us unpleasant symptoms? Believe it or not, usually it's not the specific illness causing all those symptoms (though they certainly cause some.) 

Fever would be the classic example here. Infections don't actually cause fevers. Instead, fevers are a defensive mechanism used by the body—most pathogens can only survive in fairly specific temperature ranges. Raising body temperatures is a good way to kill them off.

There's a more interesting series of reactions to infectious illness, however, known as “sickness behavior.” Fatigue, aches, chills, depression, irritability, nausea, and disinterest in socializing, among other symptoms, are all counted as sickness behavior. These symptoms show up again and again across countless diseases, and they're very seldom caused by the disease itself. (And they're not just in your head. The symptoms are physiologically very real.)

It turns out that there might actually be an evolutionary advantage to these symptoms. While they don't help kill invading pathogens directly, they do serve a specific purpose: they keep you away from other people.

If you're not interested in being around other people, you're less likely to spread illnesses to others, including those in your family group. Early humans or human ancestor species who lacked sickness behavior symptoms likely would have just wandered around and hung out with other, non-sick people, infecting them more frequently. Even if those individuals who lacked sickness behavior symptoms were better able to survive disease themselves (which there is no indication that they would’ve been), they'd still be less likely to pass on their genes.

This relates back to an idea known as evolutionary altruism—namely, that evolutionary survival and adaptation doesn't just happen on a personal level but also on a community level. Many behaviors that don't advantage the individual, or often even their family at all, end up being incredibly evolutionarily advantageous for the species. So, in the case of getting sick, the extra suffering is there to help others.

Moral of the story? Anyone who tries to claim that survival of the fittest means they don't have to be charitable and help others is full of it. Also, they don't understand natural selection. Survival of the fittest is actually a misinterpretation of Darwin's theory, but that's a story for another day.

The Yard Ramp Guy®: Yard Ramps & Structural Integrity

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy defines "integrity" and combines it with international shipping routes in a way that pleases my roundabout sensibilities.

Check out his mighty fine blog HERE.

Balancing History

Let’s Not Do the Time WARPF

In this space, I delve into history often. Aside from my grandkids, it’s pretty much my favorite thing to talk about. (And I do love to talk.)

On a few entries, I’ve mentioned my problems with the standard views on history taught in school. And I figure that now is as good a time as any to lay out my objections. McCoy’s Theory of History, if you will. I think I can largely sum it up in a single phrase:

History focuses too much on the flashy stuff.

History: The Unflashy Version

Wars, assassinations, revolutions, plagues, famines. Let’s call all that WARPF. I certainly don’t think we should ignore that stuff, but WARPF makes for an extremely incomplete view of history. Much of the time, WARPF fails to recognize the importance of the conditions around those events.

Even within the flashy stuff, history often gets its priorities wrong. We usually treat wars with greater importance than plagues, despite the fact that plagues are almost always more devastating.

In McCoy’s Theory of History, we need to focus more on history’s logistical issues. There’s an old saying that’s been rephrased a thousand times by military men: “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” Understanding how a society was able to accomplish something is as important as knowing what it accomplished.

While many would also consider the infrastructural questions—i.e., what civilizations built and how they built it—to be a part of the logistical category (and they wouldn't be wrong), I would put them into another category, simply for their disproportionate importance.

Food as Anthropology: Delicious

I’m not the only one who has noticed these problems. Many serious historians are taking steps to deal with them. Environmental History is a brand new field (well, about 20 years old now, but that’s pretty new for history). It deals with how civilizations affect and are affected by nature. Culinary History is another new one that deals with how humans eat. While not as momentous as environmental history, the culinary angle is far more fundamental to being human.

History needs to be seen not as a list of events but as an ongoing story, each part changing every other. With this approach, we get a better—more linear, more connected—picture that’s also considerably more interesting to students.

Of course, it’s entirely likely that all of this is just me getting a swelled head. I’ve never been short on ego. Maggie will confirm that one if you ask. Probably even if you don't ask.

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Quotable

Okay, Yard Ramp Guy — U decide who has the better quotation this week:

“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.”

— Oscar Wilde

Inclined Toward Ramps

Working out the Angles

A gazillion people out there refuse to learn math after a certain age. Just absolutely refuse. In my experience, many of them frequently refuse math as much as possible. I can't say I get this, but enough people do it that, well, it's definitely a thing.

This causes a lot of problems for those of us who don't mind math—especially when we need to explain a concept that relies on that math.

As an example, let's look at describing ramp angles. Specifically, why do ramps have particular angles?

First off, we’ll choose the type of ramp. Wheelchair ramps, for instance, have an allowed ratio of 1:12. This means it's allowed to increase one inch in height for every 12 inches in length, which means about 3.58 degrees.

By comparison, the steepest road in the world has a 19-degree slope, a 35% grade (using the US system for determining road slopes). We figure this using a pretty simple equation called “rise over run.” (You just divide the rise, or the increase in height, by the run, or distance, then multiply it by 100. We're failing in our effort to avoid math, though.)

Why is the angle so much lower on wheelchair ramps? Well, we need to delve into some more math—in this case, the basic principle behind ramps:

Lifting an object always takes the same amount of work, no matter what method is used. An elevator works just as hard as you do to lift something; it's just capable of lifting more. A ramp lets you spread that work out over more time. You're still working hard, just not all at once.

So, the reason wheelchair ramps have such an angle is to minimize the work necessary for someone to get into a building. Many yard and loading ramps have steeper angles because we often have more limited room to fit the ramp, and we’re willing to make our workers do a bit more to earn their pay. (I understand that Jeff Mann, “The” Yard Ramp Guy, has chosen to explore his own ramp angle related to mine in his blog this week. Bully for you, Jeff, and don’t hurt yourself.)

Take a look at how I described road grade and wheelchair ramps, and then see how I described the general principle behind ramps. One has more numbers than the other, but both contain essentially the exact same amount of math. I simply used words to describe it more heavily in the latter and provided examples in the former.

This really leads me to believe the problem isn't with math itself, but the way we learn it in schools. Using more real-world problems instead of pure math might really help make it more interesting. That, and actually providing the schools with enough support to do their jobs.

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Quotable

Top this, other Yard Ramp Guy:

There has always been a tendency to classify children almost as a distinct species.

— Hugh Lofting