Thursday, March 15, 2018

The New Truckstops Trip.

11 Day Trip.
____ Day time temperatures are warmer but it is still pretty cold at night. This leads to early Sunday morning trouble when I find the trailer is frozen to the ground and the drive tyres are spinning on a sheet of ice. With a little fore-thought, I should have put on a couple of snow-chains before backing under the trailer. Luckily another Ruby driver is also leaving at the same time; he pulls the Kenworth out of the puddle of frozen snow-melt. A snow storm is forecast for later in the day but I manage to stay ahead of any bad weather; even with the bad luck of being selected for a DoT vehicle inspection at the Sisseton scale in South Dakota.

____ From the Coffee Cup Travel Plaza at Vermillion to the Choctaw Travel Stop at Thackerville is an uneventful second day; followed by more of the same as I reach Hidalgo on Wednesday morning. A quick cross-docking of the peat-moss onto a Mexican Dub'ya Nine and I am away to Laredo for a trailer switch at the new yard. Stopping for fuel at the new Pilot Truckstop at Falfurrias; mid way between Hidalgo and Laredo. After a few years of stagnation, there seems to be an explosion of new travel plazas at the moment. Love's open a new site every month and Pilot/Flying'J are expanding too. Big investments in what must be considered secondary positions as all the prime Interstate locations have long gone. But good news for truck-drivers as more parking spots and facilities help ease the burden of ELDs.

____ For the third time on the trot, the destination of the triangle's second leg is Calgary, Alberta. Shop fittings of only three and a half tons which helps enormously with the journey; as I am expected to make a Monday morning delivery and get back into Canada in less than 70 hours of driving time. Another brand new Pilot Truckstop is the over-night halt at Lamar in Colorado but not before I have re-fueled at the Rip Griffin Travel Centre, Tulia. Rip Griffin started building truckstops in 1962, sold eleven sites to TA in 2004 but kept nine in the Lubbock area of West Texas. Mr. Griffin died in 2017, aged 87. Old style service and new only a few hours apart.

____ Northbound and onto higher ground, the wind picks-up and leans on the lightly loaded trailer. Interstate 25 in Wyoming is notorious for the gales from the West but I make it through to Sheridan; just keeping out of cruise-control and easing back on the exposed bridge-decks. At the third brand new truckstop of the trip, I wake up to heavy snow on a Saturday morning. Common Cents is the name of the truckstop and common-sense tells me to sit-tight until the weather front blows through. I'm away just after Noon; five hundred miles to the Canadian border and on to Lethbridge, Alberta, with a couple of hours left of my weekly 70 allowance.

____ Sunday is a day of rest and round to the new Calgary supermarket on Monday morning. Unloaded and the re-load is something I have done before; Acheson, near Edmonton, to Niverville, near Steinbach. But it might of helped if I had read the message correctly! I get up to Acheson only to find that I should have been loading at the companies other packing plant at Prince Albert in Saskatchewan. My mistake adds about a hundred miles to the empty dead-head but the wood-chip people give me a load from Acheson to help me on my way. The punishment load is to Fort Saskatchewan; which would have been nice if it was in Saskatchewan but it is only the other side of Edmonton.

____ It is frightening that I can still make such stupid mistakes after being a truck-driver for over forty years. Crack-on; I'm sure the office will have noticed but as they never say anything when I do a good job then I don't think they will much about a faut-pas. Eventually loaded in PA and on to Niverville for a quick unloading before running back to the yard. Eleven days for the trip; the longest of the trio after an 8 and a ten.

Brand new Pilot at Falfurrias, Texas, where the manager said I was the Canadian customer.

The peat-moss went from one Kenworth W900 to another at Hidalgo.

The Rip Griffin name still lives on at West Texas truckstops.

76 different barbed wires on display at Coopers BBQ, Junction, Texas.

Oil-field heavy-haul did well to find a big enough parking spot at the Calgary Flying'J.

List of new Pilot/Flying'J Truckstops with a new one, quite close, at Ste Agathe in Manitoba. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Elrose Rounder

10 Day Trip.
4881 Miles.
____ After the Bank Holiday Monday, the truck was in the workshop on Tuesday morning for an oil change and service. Away just after Midday with peat-moss for Laredo; getting down to Vermillion, where the weather wasn't any warmer than Manitoba. Winter still gripping the Prairies with cold winds across Kansas and freezing rain in Oklahoma. The big TV screens in the restaurant at the Cowboy Travel Plaza show chaos on Interstate 35 as I eat my brisket sandwich. The weather is the news and I decide to stay-put even though I have driving hours and day-light hours left.

____ The ice rain has stopped by early morning but every surface that has not been sanded is covered with sheet ice. A couple of gritters swing by the travel plaza for coffee and two bull-haulers take advantage of the sanding to pull-out. I follow. The Interstate is driveable but the shoulder is littered with big-rigs, all the way to the Texas stateline. The shut-down of the previous evening left many truck-drivers with no driving hours to move on when things got better. One of the consequences of the new electronic logs that would never have been seen before.

____ San Antonio is as far as I get on Day Three and again an item from the Severe Weather Menu has something in store for me. A thunderstorm at 03.00 hours is still circling at six o'clock; drenching drivers as they go for coffee and aqua-planing muscle-cars into water-filled ditches before dawn. By Laredo, the roads are dry. Into Ruby Truck Line's new trailer yard for a quick switch; a load of fruit drinks for Calgary. Highway 83 to Sweetwater, 84 to Amarillo, 87 to Raton, New Mexico. The same trip as the week before, so to change the scenery, I choose the volcanic black-rock Grande Sierra. But this gives problems at the end of the day; not many truck-stops on the Interstate 25, south of Denver. I reject the tatty Tomahawk; the Love's destination turns out to be "Cars and RV's only." The only Rest Area is closed and I am left with the prospect of a night on an on-ramp. Luckily, the Castle Rock Park and Ride is at my last exit as the clock ticks down to less than 10 minutes.

____ A quiet night with four other trucks and a few visitors for which Park and Ride has a completely different meaning on a Saturday night. North and into colder weather; the liquid cargo is liable to freeze and break the glass bottles. An icy blast greets me in Wyoming and reminds me to start the "Hot Box," a diesel-engined heater that sits at the front of the trailer. Set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it cuts in and out for the rest of the journey to Calgary.

____ Drinks delivered and unlike the last trip, there is a reload to go back to Winnipeg. Lentils from a farm, deep in the heart of Saskatchewan. An early morning appointment, seven miles East of Elrose, where the the lentils are augered from a grain bin, into the bagging shed, along the conveyor belt and into the trailer. All 680 of them and it takes all morning. A heavy load with not enough time to deliver into Winnipeg before morning. Luckily, it's a trailer-drop and I can bob-tail back to the yard.

Ruby trailer line-up in the new yard at Laredo, Texas.

Thermo-King Hot Box and control box on the front of a dry-freight box-van.

The bob-tail Western Star seemed to have been abandoned.

Lentil loading system at a farm near Elrose in Saskatchewan.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Broken Spoke.

Eight Days - 4728 Miles.
Average of just under 600 miles a day in 9 hours 45 minutes.
____ Leaving on a Saturday has the advantage that the trailer is loaded and the paperwork is all prepared on Friday afternoon. I get to choose at what time I leave on the 1720 mile run to Laredo in Texas; aiming for a Tuesday morning delivery. I get going early; maximizing all available daylight and hoping to get far enough South to enjoy warmer temperatures. It's disappointing to reach Percival, Iowa, in a snow-storm and minus 16 C. After a hard days work of cruise control at 66 mph on the Interstate 29; the Detroit Diesel idles all night at 800 rpm. It is another full driving shift before the motor gets switched off for the night at Hillsboro, Texas, where it is finally warmer than zero.

____ A short third day gives me time to relax in the warm afternoon sunshine of Laredo before unloading the next day. Then, after a quick trailer switch, pedal to the metal once again with a load that has come out of Mexico and needs to be in Calgary on Friday morning. The up and coming Holiday Weekend makes me think the sooner I am in Alberta the better. Amarillo is the first night's stop on the north-bound leg; a with a late arrival at the Travelcenter of America. The second night's destination is Casper, Wyoming, but strong winds from the West start buffeting the trailer before I have reached Denver. By the Colorado/Wyoming border at Cheyenne, the overhead signs are warning of 60 mph gusts and restrictions for lightly-loaded high-sided vehicles.

____ 25,000 lbs is not a light load but not as heavy as I would have liked. The truckstops are jammed with parked-up trucks not willing to tackle the exposed high-ground that Interstate 25 crosses as it heads North to Wheatland. High winds are a regular problem in this area; I've run this road in a blow before and decide to give it a go. I keep it below 50 mph and the back of the trailer sits out of line by about a foot. The tricky places are where the high bluffs on west side of the highway shelter the rig before the wind blasts the trailer when rocky outcrops end. Slow down when the wind drops because it is going to come back stronger. But does a faster truck get blown over easier than a slow one? I don't know. Maybe the five drivers of the blown-over vehicles that I passed could have given me the answer but they were all abandoned and awaiting recovery when the winds abated.

____ As darkness fell, so did the wind-speed. Driving-hours didn't allow me to reach Casper as planned. The Broken Spoke Truckstop at Douglas was an adequate substitute with it's popular restaurant but with a parking area that resembled a nearly dried-up riverbed. Broken Spoke could have easily been Broken Wheel, Broken Axle or Broken Chassis-rail. Day Three and the trip resumed in windy conditions, this time with enough snowfall to make it a blizzard. At Buffalo, Interstate 90 was closed for the section to Sheridan. Everyone descended on to the streets of Buffalo for two hours before blue skies and sunshine appeared as the weather front blew through.

____ Then it was Wacky Races as we all hit the road again. The heavy and the light, the high-powered and the slow, the timid and the brave, all jockeying for position on the rolling hills. All on a surface of hard-packed snow with drifting and dusting cutting the visibility. By Sheridan, an evenly spaced order had been established but the scale at the Port of Entry concertina-ed the convoy back into chaos. The flat land around the Little Bighorn Battle site in Montana eased the congestion before the snow-covered streets of Billings ground everything to a halt. The two-lane cross-country short-cut to Great Falls was a daunting prospect but the wind had dropped, along with the temperature. It was turning into a long day of high-concentration driving with speed and distance of minor importance. The day's final destination of Shelby had been quickly amended to Great Falls.

____ The Pilot Truckstop sits on the high ground up by the airport, overlooking the town of Great Falls in the Missouri Valley. Exposed to the bitter cold northerly wind, I had idled the engine all night to keep the cab warm and avoid problems with gelling in the diesel filters. Surprisingly, the temperatures rose during the night to only minus 4. By the time I had crossed the border and done the final 300 miles into Calgary, it was +1 and thawing. Trailers swapped at a home improvement RDC by 10 o'clock local time; but a puncture in one of the drive tyres needs repairing. The re-load for the final leg of the triangle had always been the weak link of the trip. No news after the tyre is repaired, nothing after I've showered at the Flying'J. A long weekend is imminent; at 3 o'clock I get the instructions to return home empty.

____There is enough time to get to Redcliff, Alberta, on the 870 mile un-freighted un-profitable run. Nice of the company to get me back for the Bank Holiday without me asking but I can't help thinking that this sort of empty running will further delay a much needed pay rise. An early start from Redcliff with a tail-wind helping the fuel consumption. Bare and dry roads for the nearly seven hundred miles that has to be done in just over 11 hours. A big stamp done with 12 minutes to spare. The finish of an eight day trip with the driving-hours rolled-over to maximum effect, just the failure of the office to find that final piece of the jigsaw that spoiled a good trip.

Satellite view of the section of Interstate 90 that was closed between Buffalo and Sheridan in Wyoming.

$250 fine for doing a U-turn in the delivery yard at Laredo. Too small for me to even contemplate it.

Coopers B-B-Q. Junction, Texas. Yet another Brisket sandwich for lunch. 

Metal spike in a drive tyre. Luckily noticed before it became un-repairable.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Today In The Mountains, Tomorrow, The World.

18 Days For The Whole Trip.

3 Day Run From The West Coast.
____ A rainy weekend spread into a wet Monday as I loaded on Annacis Island for Winnipeg. Fourteen tonne in the trailer as I set out East; tackling a slushy Coquihalla with more confidence than the west-bound crossing. Trying to get as much done in daylight as dirt sprayed the truck and turned to ice on impact. From Revelstoke, over the Rogers Pass and onto Golden, the headlights became dimmer, the mirrors and windows filthier despite frequent stops for cleaning. The Husky at Golden seemed an attractive overnight stop even though I still had driving hours available.

____ Dawn on a new day and I'm away; Ten Mile Hill and the Kicking Horse Pass climbing into the clouds. Then the Continental Divide; from British Columbia into Alberta and bright sunshine. Downhill to Calgary with the weather influence from the Arctic; to Redcliff for fuel and the fitting of the Winter front. Minus twenties with ice on the inside of the north-facing drivers-side window. A late finish at Whitewood, Saskatchewan, 747 miles for the day. An eight hour break before cracking-on; getting the trip finished on the eighteenth day when it should have been done inside a fortnight.

Heading for the brightness of Alberta on the Trans-Canada Highway.

Colder Temperatures on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.

Grain silo on made to measure trailer.

Ice on the inside.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Flin Flon And On and On.

The first part of the trip; up to the first log-hours reset at Oakley, Kansas.

From Oakley, Kansas, to Delta, BC, via Victoria and the second reset of the trip.
____ From Steinbach, early on a Sunday morning; around the Winnipeg ring-road before heading North on Highway 6. Bitterly cold with snow forecast; it arrives at Devil's Lake and the Highway 60, across to The Pas, is on a carpet of un-ploughed and drifting snow. North of The Pas, the road is better but the day-light is finished well before I finish the five hundred miles to Flin Flon. I have a vague address of Hwy 10A and hope to park in the car-park of an un-finished supermarket; which is easily found beside the Walmart Superstore. However, after consulting with a friendly snow-plough driver about overnight parking at Walmart; he informs me that I have the wrong supermarket. Walmart's neighbour with the papered-over windows is the recently closed IGA super-store and the new Co-op is 200 yards down the road. We discuss the absurdity of one super-store closing while another is being built before the absurdity of discussing such things in temperatures of -30C sends us back to our vehicles.

____ Flin Flon was named after Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin who was a character in a book called "The Sunless City." It is a hard-rock mining town that started in the 1920's, but I don't get a chance to explore before I am quickly unloaded and despatched to The Pas. The paper mill has a load going to Laredo; a good find by the office from the load-data boards on the Web. A heavy load with a long way to go, but good traction on the hard-packed snow that extends south of the border and through the Dakotas. Still freezing at Percival, Iowa, the third night-out; but by Oklahoma and into Texas, things are looking up for the Friday morning drop in Laredo.

____ From Laredo, across to Waller for a trailer switch; buoyed by the prospect of a visit to Vancouver Island. Two drops, Calgary, Alberta, and Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The two extra days at the start of the trip mean that a 36 hour driving-hours break is inevitable. After a lot of checking of maps, temperatures and truckstops; I select Mittens. The Oakley, Kansas, truckstop in the TA Truckstop group; clean, friendly, comfortable and wonderful showers. All these things and now calling itself "The Western Kansas Wildlife Travel Center." The word "Life" is a bit misleading because all the wild animals are dead and stuffed.

____ Out of Oakley northwards, across country with just 20,000 lbs of cargo; up to Ogallala, then US Highway 26, north-west into Wyoming. On to Sheridan, for the night; setting up the long haul into Calgary. But even a Level 2 DoT inspection at Interstate 15 scale doesn't stop me getting to the Calgary Flying'J before dark. The positive temperatures of the evening plummet to -15C by dawn. Half the trailer delivered and into the mountains with snow-flurries and trepidation; a little more weight and a little more tread on the drive tyres would ease the tension in my neck muscles. But after the Continental Divide at the BC/Alberta border, the wind drops, the temperature rises and the filth from the road sprays the truck relentlessly. About 50 mpg for screenwash. By Revelstoke to Kamloops, the road is bare and dry. I push on in the darkness and hope it is the same for the Coquihalla Pass. The summit is down to one lane of ice and slush, grip is not good, I tuck in behind a slow-coach letting the brave fly by. Coming down is no better, but when the flurries turn to rain then my worries turn to finding a parking spot in the Flying'J at Hope. Another long day.

____ Out of Hope with the number 17 on my mind. Turn-off the Trans-Canada Highway onto 17 and it takes you straight to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen. From Schwartz Bay on Vancouver Island, Highway 17 to the Trans-Canada Highway and the delivery is at the junction of the two. Just a half hour wait before departure on the half-full Coastal Renaissance at 9 o'clock. Ninety minutes of calm water and a bit of jinking about through the Gulf Islands and I'm pulling off the boat after my first ferry crossing in a truck for about eight years. Thirty minutes down to the northern outskirts of Victoria for a quick tip and back at the ferry terminal to line up for the 1 o'clock crossing back to the mainland.

____ Reload is for Regina, Saskatchewan, from Port Coquitlam; load Friday, tip Monday. But after I get there, they discover it is a hazardous load and Ruby Truck Line doesn't have insurance for it. Eventually, I get told what I was fearing; no reload until Monday. By that time, I'm in Chilliwack, consoling myself with all-you-can-eat fish and chips at C-Lovers Seafood Restaurant. On Sunday morning, I run back to Delta, ready for the reload from Annacis Island and with the Super Bowl on the big-screen at the Tidewater Pub.

At Devil's Lake, Manitoba.

Snowed over rear lights again and again.

Tribute Wrap.

First seven days of the trip.

Chimney Rock in Western Nebraska.

Slippery conditions through out the trip.

Double trailer load of round bales in Montana.

Threatening skies above the Banff National Park.

Well-sanded section of the Trans-Canada Highway in the Rocky Mountains.

Waiting at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.

Passing another of BC Ferries Push-Me-Pull-You boats among the Gulf Islands.

Five pieces of cod to start with at C-Lovers All You Can Eat Plaice at Chilliwack, BC.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Those That Can't Do, Teach.

Seven Day Trip.
____ The truck had been standing out in the bitter cold for three nights and although it started, it would not rev-out due to frozen filters. I got it into the workshop and aimed the space-heater at the tanks and put some additive in. While I was sitting about for two hours; I got to thinking why are there people living in the barren, ice-covered tundra that is Central Canada? How did it all start? Years ago, the First Nations followed the buffalo herds and moved South in the Winter. The first white pioneers were self-sufficient; trappers, hunters, miners and loggers, all looked after themselves. Farmers and ranchers didn't have much need for the towns and cities that have sprung up in the desolate area between Vancouver and Toronto. So how did they get here?

____ "School teachers" is the answer. They are to blame and the reason that thousands of truckers have to service a country that should not have a population living in a totally inhospitable environment. When some do-gooder noticed that farmers had children, they thought it was a good idea to set up schools in all the remote parts of Canada. They sent in school teachers who are the most useless bunch in the World and can't look after themselves any better than a three-year-old. Teachers need a care-taker for the school, a house keeper for their lodgings, a local shop to supply their needs and all the other services to help them live an easy life.

____ Suddenly, a whole community had sprung up just because of the introduction of a school and a teacher who needed looking after. Of course, that meant more kids in the village and, after a while, more fucking teachers. Villages became towns, towns grew into cities, roads joined the cities and the whole lot needed supplying with everything all year round. This situation would never have happened if useless school teachers had been kept off the Prairies. But now we have a school teacher as Prime Minister and nothing is going to change.

____ Teachers have no practical skills but they are not stupid. They have engineered an excellent pampered life-style. Short working hours, no weekends, long holidays and good pay while making themselves seem invaluable to the community. In truth, they are brain-washing generations with bull-shit when the only good education is experience and travel. I know what teachers are like; I dated a Latin teacher for a short while. She was not only useless but totally pointless; but I got to do to her what the Prime Minister/Teacher is doing to Canada.

____ The destination is Pharr, Texas. Peat-moss to be trans-shipped for onward delivery to Mexico. A three day run away from the bitter cold with nights-out at Percival and Hillsboro on the way South. Unloaded on Tuesday morning and the reload is in Laredo; to the north-west of Pharr, but the cold weather has followed me south. Freezing rain makes for a tricky cross-country trip as everything gets covered in ice. I am late for the pick-up appointment but plenty of others have not turned up at all. Quickly loaded and the rain stops; up to San Antonio for the night, where the roads have recovered.

____ Two big days, first to Joplin, then to Watertown, leave me with an easy run back to the yard on Friday. My only concern is the quality of the diesel left in the tanks when I get back to Canada. By careful management and regular checks of the weather app on my phone, I reach Morris in Manitoba and put in 750 litres of good Canadian diesel. Essential because I will continue with this load next week. A Monday morning delivery in Flin Flon, five hundred miles north of Winnipeg on the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border.

Still Smokin BBQ on the Interstate 35 south of Hillsboro, Texas.

It looks like an old cabover is sitting on the concrete beam.

Freightliner Classic on heavy-haul in Oklahoma.

R-Series Mack at The Husky Truckstop in Morris, Manitoba.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bobtail To Tigertown.

Nine Day Trip.
____ The Dakotas, North and South, are good for pheasant shooting. Southbound on Interstate 29 and it's a shiny night; full moon and freshly fallen snow. The classic poacher/ gamekeeper scenario but at minus 28 degrees Centigrade; I would be beside the fire, warm in-doors and cleaning the folding 410. No need for high-beam as I drive late into the night after an afternoon of waiting. The trailer load of peat-moss for Hidalgo never arrived; so at 6 o'clock I was given a load of paper to Laredo. A trailer that had stood in the yard all day. I hate it when that happens.

____ Into Stone's Truckstop at Watertown after mid-night and pulling out ten hours later. Pedal to the metal, aiming for the Cowboy Travel Plaza with just the minimum break; hoping to get the trip back on track. Running past the mid-night hour is certainly easier with electronic logs than it was with the paper logs but there is now no time saving from reduced breaks. A long hard slog gets me to Pearsall at the end of the third shift, less than two hours away from the trailer drop. But then it all goes pear-shaped.

____ Trailer dropped, paperwork signed and a short bobtail across Laredo for a bonded load going to Bolton, Ontario. An hour up the road and the trip is cancelled; take trailer to the Ruby Truck Line drop-yard. Take an empty trailer to Waller and swap for loaded one going to Edmonton, Alberta. Only problem; no empty trailers. Ok, bobtail to Tigertown and pick-up an empty from there. Over 500 miles to the Texas/Oklahoma border before heading for Pasadena and a Monday afternoon collection. About nine hundred miles of messing about after I had been loaded-up and trucking North on Friday before Noon.

____ Now I am sitting in the Flying'J at New Caney, having an unnecessary log-hours re-set before driving the last hour on Monday. I would have blown a fuse but for the fact that it was +20 C in southern Texas and -20 C in Manitoba. After enduring bitter cold from Christmas to New Year, it was good to spend the Sunday in shirt-sleeves with the windows open. Warm weather again on Monday but by the time I reach Big Cabin, it's a frosty start to Tuesday.

____ "Hunter" is the name of the Winter storm heading from the North-West and scheduled to cross my path in North Dakota. Winter Storms only started getting names in 2012, before that it was just Winter weather. Is it any worse when it has a name? I just get on with the driving, thankful for a heavy load of plastic granules as the wind and blowing snow lays up against the trailer. Minus 28 by the time I get back to the yard just before dark.

Versatile, Made in Canada, Tractor.

Coronado with big tank on low-loader.

Work-camp accommodation on trombone four-axle trailers.

10 axle heavy-haul rig with smart blue and black paint.

Heavy-hauler in the Flying'J at New Caney, Texas.

The new Summit Racing Equipment store at Arlington, Texas.

Always a pleasure to swing by Soulman's Bar-B-Que at Van.