The Ghostly True Story Behind Red Sovine’s Country Hit “Phantom 309″
In 1967 artist Red Sovine narrated the story of a hitchhiker who crosses paths with the ghost of a trucker who died in a horrible fiery crash. Most folks who enjoyed the number one hit that year were not aware that it was based on a true story. When I play it periodically on WKDQ's "Country Classics" I mention a few of the true events that fueled the story. Here's the whole story.
A trucker named Pete Trudelle had just left a bulk gas terminal on the north side of Boston, Massachusetts, on January 29, 1963. His tanker truck was fully loaded with 4,600 gallons of fuel. He was headed North on route 1.
There was a dangerous intersection at the town of Saugus, Massachusetts, where Route 1 crossed under Highway 129 (Walnut Street). It looks much different today. There's even an Applebees and a Bed Bath & Beyond at that spot.
Back in 1963, there was a little dip under the overpass that made it dangerous for truckers. There was a car stopped in the road behind a school bus that was waiting to pick up children. Six kids and a bus driver were onboard. Pete realized he would not be able to stop. He quickly saw his choices--plow into the stopped car and bus in front of him or veer to the left and hit the overpass abutment.
With just a couple of seconds to make the decision, Pete turned the wheel of his big 18 wheeler and hit the side of the bridge opposite the bus. The tanker ruptured and Pete was burned to death in the blaze. The driver of the parked car did not make it out in time, but the bus driver and all the children escaped without injury,
At that intersection today, a stone tablet stands with an inscription that proclaims Pete Trudell a hero and says in part
Greater love hath no man than this … To lay down one’s life for his fellow man
The legend in the cafes and truck stops in that part of the northeast US is that sometimes on a lonely stretch of highway on a foggy night, you may see Pete's truck and maybe even meet "Phantom 309."
In this 1967 recitation by Red Sovine, he tells the story of a hitchhiker's meeting with the ghost of "309". Pete's name has been changed to "Big Joe" but you know who he's talking about....