POWELL Along the Lochsa River, it´s not the corners
that get you, it´s what´s on the other side of
Around any one of those corners there could be something
you don´t expect to see, Idaho State Police trooper
Stan Wiggins said. You´ll see a moose or an elk
or kayaker or a snowmobiler.
Wiggins, 51, patrols U.S. 12 near Powell Ranger Station.
The road is a dizzying stretch of blacktop that´s the
shortest route between Lewiston and Missoula, Mont.
a distance of 220 miles.
There are plenty of caution signs warning motorists who follow
the Clearwater River to its origin at Lowell, where the Selway
and Lochsa rivers meet.
But the sign east of town only warns travelers what not to
expect: Next gas 64 miles.
The sign doesn´t mention that for the next 76 miles
the road climbs from an elevation of 1,585 feet to 5,235 at
Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana state line. It doesn´t
mention there are few turnouts and in late winter, snow piles
sit higher than most pickup truck cabs on both sides of the
During hunting season, when there´s no place
to park, some guys park by the edge of the snow berm and leave
their vehicles to go hunting, said Wiggins, shaking
The ravens that pick at carcasses of elk and deer on the
roadside should be a sobering sign to motorists. But there´s
not much to prepare truckers from flat, sunny, southern states
for Lolo Pass.
Last Thanksgiving, we had 17 trucks spun out on that
hill, said Wiggins.
Wiggins, who is stationed 162 miles from the Lewiston headquarters,
said he´s most miserable when he has to leave his warm,
4-wheel-drive patrol rig and crawl around in driving wind
and snow to keep trucks moving. He had helped chain up 35
trucks by the end of December.
Bad weather surprises people, said Wiggins, who
has worked this stretch since January of last year. I
assist the truck drivers who don´t know how to chain
He said some trucking companies do a poor job of training
drivers to install chains once the truck is already stuck.
The only way to stay safe on a road like U.S. 12 is to stay
slow. That´s where Wiggins makes a real impression.
He lives in a double-wide mobile home near Powell and sets
his own schedule, so he is patrolling during peak travel times.
I make a lot of stops, he said. I hate
to say it, but I write a lot of tickets.
The speed limit is 50 mph from Lolo Pass to Lowell. Most
citations go to motorists who speed or travel left of center.
Wiggins, who is working the area where most of the truck crashes
occur on the highway, thinks he is making a difference. And
the statistics back his claim.
In 2002, there were 25 truck wrecks on U.S. 12. In 2003,
there were only 17. The Idaho Department of Transportation
has not yet published last year´s accident statistics,
but state police are tracking accidents with big rigs because
of a federal grant geared toward reducing truck accidents.
Wiggins´ efforts at slowing down trucks complement
an increase in trooper numbers on the more populous west end
of the highway. Along with stopping speeders, Wiggins investigates
accidents and does what he can as the only trooper assigned
to the area.
Having Stan here is absolutely critical, said
Joni Packard, ranger for the Powell Ranger District of the
The ranger station is the heart of the Powell community,
which has about 50 winter residents, because that´s
where the mail arrives. The Lochsa Lodge is where people meet
for dinner or a drink. In both places, Wiggins is greeted
Troopers usually only stay in the Powell area no more than
three years. However, Wiggins, who is single, said he hopes
to impress his bosses so he can stay longer. After nearly
20 years of service with the state police, he took the posting
because his six children had grown up. He wanted a change
Now, life on the Lochsa suits him just fine. Wiggins is enthusiastic
about the 17 elk he recently saw near Devoto Memorial Cedar
Grove, eight miles east of Powell.
He´s genuinely happy for elk and drivers both
that no elk have been hit this winter on Lolo Grade.