Caption for the landscape image:

How science outwitted black magic in towing ‘ghost’ truck

Scroll down to read the article

Mr Christopher Buni during the interview in his office in Kampala on June 24, 2024. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI

This came up in April when someone on X [formerly Twitter], asked why the government had failed to take the truck off the road. I responded and gave specifications of what was needed. I said once these were provided, the truck could be driven away in six hours.

I then received a phone call in early May from the Unra enforcement team, asking if I was serious and if I could pull it off.
What were the results of your assessment?

We discovered that critical components needed to get the truck drivable had been stolen.

The engine control unit (ECU), the transmission control unit (TCU), the gear lever, the odometer cluster, also called the dashboard, and the brake discs were rusty. The brakes were also degraded due to exposure to heat over time.

We also found out that the entire back of the truck had sunk into the earth, the reason the vehicle was failing to move.

I am into engines, automobility and mechatronics, robotics, and kinetics, so it was easy for me to assess why the machine was not moving and I communicated my findings to Unra.
Could you take us through your preparation?
 We had a plan to follow and the team suited up at 9am and we began. We wanted to remove all the tyres and service the calipers and brake boosters to free the wheels, so they could spin. We tried four-wheel spanners, but the nuts were not opening. At this point, the crowd was gathering and some had started saying, ‘we told you so!’

I even sent for brand new wheel spanners and WD-40 fluid for anti-rust to break down the rust so that things could move, but still, they failed because the wheel nuts were rusted. So we couldn’t remove the tyres. Immediately, we realised our Plan One had failed.

So, I told them the way forward was to access the critical components that we needed to free from under the truck and jack it up one wheel at a time.

From the inside backwards, we were able to release the nipples for the calipers, usually trucks use drums but this particular truck model uses brake discs, so we got in there and freed the nipples but the brake pads were degraded.

Brakes swell when degraded due to heat. So they were tight in there and we needed to mechanically heat them for all that powder to crumble and free them. Among the components that were stolen was the main brake valve, which distributes and controls pressure to the brake boosters.

So we had brake boosters that were jammed in a tight position, the truck was parked with the hand brake engaged, so everything was locked and in a tight position and there were no levers, so we manually disengaged the brake lever and also manually opened the brake boosters to relieve the pressure inside.

All these are being done from beneath the truck and shortly after, the wheels begin to spin.  Soon, the Unra team and police, who were to help with safety and crowd control, then joined us.

So we freed up the wheels and moved to the front, there was so much soil we couldn’t even fit a jack, so we had to dig in with two jacks on one wheel to lift it. I asked my mechanic to move away from the axle just in case the truck collapsed but we also knew that the only way to get it to what we wanted was to jack at an angle, and then jack it back up straight.

The crowd kept growing. And as we jacked, the truck slipped and landed as the crowd started their stories and theories about the truck’s refusal to move. They made so much noise that my team began to pull back but I had to get them back into the game.

After about an hour of work, and a growing crowd, we had some motion on the driver’s side so the passenger’s side was very easy. So, we moved back to the main centre pin, which holds the trailer. We didn’t want to do it in one go; both the hauler and the trailer, because that is why police were failing previously.

The rear trailer unit uses air suspension, which had collapsed, so the truck was seated on the rear hydraulic shocks which are just a buffer for emergencies at the back. So all the weight was in the ground, that’s why every time they would try to pull the front truck, the rear would sink deeper.

We moved on to the pins, which are quite difficult, the centre pin is very crucial, in helicopters it’s called the Jesus pin because it is key, and if it becomes loose in the helicopter, it doesn’t matter how good a pilot you are, no one will survive.

I had two boys under the truck and given the ongoing work we expected another collapse, so for safety, I asked them to draw back, and give the truck space to collapse. He was grateful for me asking him to move out a bit because the truck collapsed in the exact spot he had been.

So, at this point, it was time for the towing truck to just come and drive it away. I called my tow-truck person who was hesitant the moment I mentioned what I was calling him for. I assured him I would not give him a job that would endanger his life.

He agreed to come and I explained why we needed to separate the hauler first, so as he towed the hauler away.  We began working on the trailer.

We used the same mechanism for the trailer as we did for the front truck because all the tyres were nearly submerged in the soil, but we managed to have the tow truck come back and take the second one.

We had to employ the winch to pull the trailer out of the soil, we made a slow steady pull moving 1cm per second, it’s slow but the truck was moving.

There were so many people and we didn’t want to risk cables snapping and if it landed on anyone they would die, that’s why the operator of the winch is seated behind a steel plate, cables can snap and it leads to death. It was hard to explain to people that it was for their safety.
Were you able to complete the task in six hours as promised?

We did the job in five and a half hours yet we had planned for six hours.  We started at 9am; the truck was towed away at exactly 2.27pm.
Who were the people on your team?

Four mechanics, plus me, five. However, they do not want their names mentioned for personal reasons.
What was it like in the hours leading to this task?

I had phone calls from all over the country. People telling me, why are you risking your family? Why are you risking your life?

I had phone calls from as far as Mbarara, Arua, and Mbale, telling me it’s a dangerous task. So I just muted my phone the previous night and throughout the whole day when I was working. They were coming from a point of care.
Has anything happened to you or your team since the completion of the task?

Nothing and I can guarantee you there will be nothing.
What do you think about the superstition surrounding the truck?

Superstition has affected so many things in our country and it is so embarrassing when it comes from educated people.  So the success of doing this job actually was not about the truck being pulled out, but to dispel the fears of the educated that one can put to good use the knowledge one has acquired.

It is so wrong for one to be a graduate and still be trapped in superstition; it’s embarrassing.

Who is Buni?
Mr Christopher Buni started his early life in Jinja attending St James Nursery School, Victoria Nile Primary School, and later, Mugwanya Preparatory School, Kabojja.

Mr Buni then joined Kiira College Butiiki for his Ordinary Level and St Mary’s College Kisubi for Advanced Level.

He graduated from Kyambogo University in 2012 with a Bachelor of Computer Science.

He proceeded to attain a Master of Business Administration from Lingnan College, Sun Yat-Sen University, China, in 2015.

Mr Buni also holds an International Master of Business Administration (IMBA) from the Sloan School of Massachusetts.

He is currently pursuing a Bachelors in Engineering at the International School of Applied Sciences in Germany.

He is also enrolled at the University of Malawi for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Finance. He is an Oracle Certified Associate and an Oracle Certified Professional from Oracle University as well as a structured query language (SQL) expert.

He started as an IT technician with Balton Rwanda, he then joined Fusion Media Uganda as an IT officer. He was a Pre-sales technician for pro-AV Africa in 2014, before going back to Fusion Media as a brand manager from 2014 to 2015

In 2018, he joined National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) as the senior commercial officer, a position he has held to date.