Saturday, December 3, 2016

Penner No More.

Drive-by picture of the Sam Houston Statue on Interstate 45, just before sunset.
A Weeks Work.
____ I finally ran out of patience with Penner International after 15 months of waiting for the job to reach it's full potential. They had some good customers, plenty of trailers and some good runs but I never got more than one decent trip a month. The miles just never amounted to what I needed to get a decent wage. I had a reliable truck and always made myself available for any job but finally gave up waiting for things to get better.

____ The new job is a couple of cents a mile less but promises to make that up by giving better runs than Wisconsin. Ruby Truck Lines main destination is Texas and I started with a load of peat-moss to Laredo. The reload was from Houston and straight back to the Steinbach yard. Orientation was just a couple of hours on a Friday morning, I loaded my stuff into the new truck and set off for a Monday morning delivery. I was given a Kenworth W900; which is still in production, but mine was manufactured in 1998. It might have done 2.4 million kilometres or it might be 3.4 million.

____ The truck has recently been rebuilt after a roll-over and appears to be in good order; I couldn't fault it. A 500 bhp Detroit Diesel, 13 speed Eaton-Fuller transmission, lots of dials, a brand new mattress and a Jake-brake that could wake the dead. Different in so many ways from the Cummins-engined Volvo; it took most of the week to get used to the forward-set steer axle, high-hood and lack of rearward vision. The reversing geometry will take a lot longer to master after being spoiled by the Volvo's wide cab and set-back steer axle.

____ It was nice to have the shorts on for two days, and to be honest, getting away from the Canadian Winter was a big attraction when it came to applying for the job. Day-time high in Laredo was 28 degrees C while Manitoba had a high of 28 degrees F. I feel a lot more enthusiastic about this job than I ever did about Penners even though I have been given an 18 year old truck to drive. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that I had a 27 year old hobby truck at the interview.
Ruby Truck Lines # 94.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trying To Avoid Wisconsin.

7720 kilometres - 11 days.

____ One of the best trips for a long time. Out of Steinbach on a Tuesday morning with a pre-loaded trailer full of rubber; destined for Lincoln, Alabama. Plenty of time to do the 2600 kilometres in three days. Nights-out at Albert Lee, Minnesota, Mount Vernon, Illinois and at a very convenient Pilot Truckstop; less than ten minutes from the drop. The re-load was already lined-up from Midfield, a suburb of nearby Birmingham. A heavy load of paper going to two places in Montreal, Quebec; booked-in for delivery on Monday. A Weekend to get back to Canada with the not-to-be-missed chance of a Friday night in Music City-Nashville.

____ Four-thirty is a good time to arrive at the Travel Centre of America's city-centre truckstop in Nashville. Still a few parking spots, no queue for the showers, enough time to stroll up to Broadway and get a seat at the bar at Rippy's before the place gets too crowded. The plan comes together; except that Nashville is more crowded than I have ever seen it before. Just walking along is difficult; the amount of people on the street reminds me of Las Vegas on New Years Eve, St.Tropez harbour on Bastille Day and Wembley on Cup Final day. Two reasons could be Veterans Day, it is 11th November, and the fact that the Green Bay Packers are playing the Tennessee Titans in the NFL. Thousands of Cheeseheads have made the trip from Wisconsin to make it a long weekend before the Sunday afternoon game.

____ Rippy's is bursting at the seams at six o'clock in the evening. I get a bar-stool, a Michelob Ultra and order some ribs; upstairs, where a six piece band are knocking out some rocking country tunes that have the whole bar singing along. Star of the show is the tiny young girl playing the fiddle with a big smile on her face. She absolutely nails the Devil Went Down To Georgia; a quick whip round for $100 to put in the jar and she plays it again as if she could be Charlie Daniels' daughter. The green and gold army are friendly enough but I was hoping to avoid Wisconsin on this trip; but it seems like they come to meet me. After a hand-full of Mich-Ultras; I make the walk back to the truck with the everlasting image of a fiddle-player who's the best I've ever seen.

____ Saturday night is a quiet affair at Lodi in Ohio and Sunday is spent at Lancaster, in Ontario, after crossing back into Canada over the Thousand Island Bridge; always a pleasure to look down on the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. The two deliveries are done by 9 o'clock after battling traffic, roadworks and "No-entry for trucks" signs. The next leg of the journey quickly comes over the satellite receiver; five pick-ups with the first at Drummondville, an hours drive along Autoroute 20 towards Quebec City. Just a couple of pallets before I lock horns again with the Montreal drivers as I cross the city to very near to where I made my first drop of the morning.

____ By Tuesday evening, I have done pick-ups 3,4 and 5. Two in Toronto and the final one in Chatham. The trailer is full but the weight is only about 10,00lbs. There are 40 pages of customs papers to fax, thankfully, the shipper at the last pick-up volunteers to send them all; it would have cost $80 at a truckstop. I thought I had sent the paperwork early enough to have it sorted by Tuesday night but they didn't even look at it until the next day. A long delay and then the customer asks for delivery at the soonest possible. Minneapolis is the destination and there is a pre-loaded trailer waiting across town ready to get me back to Manitoba.

____ I leave the Twin Cities before dawn with the thermometer reading Plus 10 degrees C; but after breakfast at Sauk Centre, it is Minus 1 and snowing. Not an un-expected Winter storm, the first of the season, but no-one told the snow-plough drivers. Tricky conditions, with the Volvo and trailer getting out of line in an alarming fashion. Eventually, everything comes to a halt and we sit for an hour while the trucks struggle up a previously un-noticed up-hill section. Diff-locks engaged and I get over the top with-out holding up the queue when it's my turn. By Fargo the roads are dry and bare. I drop the trailer at a customer in Winnipeg before bob-tailing home on the evening of day 11.

Probably the last bear I will see this year before they all go into hibernation.

Appllo rocket at the Rest Area on the Tennessee/Alabama state line.

Side window view from the Thousand Island Bridge.

First snow storm of the Winter on Interstate 94 in Minnesota.

A new bridge being built across the St. Lawrence River at Montreal.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Double Wisconsin

Three Days Work.
____ Leaving on a Saturday; you sacrifice your weekend in the hope of getting good miles with at least a two-day run. But it was just another Wisconsin. Empty to Dryden; switch trailers and head down to the border. A papermill that I had done before; having done so much Wisconsin, they are all coming round again. Delivering in Green Bay on a Sunday afternoon and praying that the Packers are playing away as I'm going straight past Lambeau Field just when the tail gating would be in full swing. The Cheeseheads are at Detroit.

____ Next trailer switch is at Arcadia; another regular Penner destination. In and out in half-an-hour with enough time to get up to Loves Truckstop at Menomonie; not yet out of Wisconsin but close enough to Winnipeg for another switch on Monday night. Three days driving is not enough for a weeks work so I go again. Dryden again, Wisconsin papermill again. Rothschild, delivered Tuesday at Noon before running across state for a load of glass from Spring Green. Then to Mississauga for a delivery and reload in the city. Driving hours are now getting short for work in the USA. 70  hours in 8 days. But Canada's regulations [70 hours in 7 days] give me enough time to get across Ontario; on to Winnipeg and do two drops on Sunday before going home after nine days on the road.

6 Days-4683km. + 3 Days-2636km. = 9 days-7319km.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Esterhazy Flax.

3123 kilometres - Five days.
____ I have been at Penner International for just over a year now and with a kilometre count of 207,207; you would think I might have good idea of how things worked. But the office never ceases to surprise me with new illogical ways of working. Last weeks job finished with me dropping a trailer in Winnipeg and bob-tailing home. This week, I get to finish the job; although from the instructions I receive; it seems the office doesn't know it's arse from it's elbow. So after a two and a half day break, I leave Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon for a Monday morning tip in Regina and the Calgary drop on Tuesday.

____ When empty; there is a trailer swap in the Calgary terminal and I'm off to Saskatoon with some Christmas decorations. Thick fog across the Prairies and thick fog again on Wednesday morning as I get up early to meet a 5 o'clock unloading appointment. I have serious doubts if any one is going to arrive in the middle of the night to unload paper chains and baubles; but seven shop workers do turn-up on time to hand-ball half a trailer. Then to Prince Albert; to another store in the Arts and Craft chain and another couple of hours waiting for the gang to do their stuff.

____ The next link in my chain; a five hour run across country to Esterhazy where the nice lady in the office says that they work until mid-night and I will loaded as soon as I arrive. I get to the remote seed-farm just before dark after following directions to a remote weigh-bridge to scale the truck. It is only when I arrive, I realize that I have been there before; about five years ago with Flying Eagle. Then it was with snow on the ground; this time the place is knee-deep in mud. I make a return visit to the scale when loaded. With little time left in a sixteen hour day; I stay at  weigh-bridge and am treated to a show from the Northern Lights. Very little light pollution in the Rural Municipality of Spy Hill.

____ Eight hours after park-up; fire-up the engine and back on the road. Back to Steinbach in six hours and drop the trailer in the yard. The load of flax seed is destined for Ohio and is something I could have carried on with; if asked. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. You never can tell.

29 kilometres from scale to farm then another 29 kilometres back to the scale. All done for no extra pay. Taking the piss.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Strait Detroit and Wedding Steak.

Five Days On The Road.
____ The first morning where the ice-scraper had to come out of the trunk since the early months of the year. But by sundown on Sunday the temperature is up to 17 degrees C and a comfortable night at the Kwik Trip on Interstate 94 in Mauston, Wisconsin. The second night at Dexter is even warmer at +20. The delivery is for 6 a.m. and to park on the doorstep would be nice but Downtown Detroit has a reputation. It might have been OK but if anything had happened; I could imagine the verbal flak. "How could you be so stupid as to park overnight in a Detroit side-street with a high value load?" The TA Truck-stop at Dexter was the best option at just one hour away.

____ After unloading; I would have put big money on a reload in Canada; it was only yards away. But instructions came for a load out of Mount Hope in Ohio; four hours away. I arrived at Midday and was told it would take three hours to load. Time to wander into town for in search of lunch in the heartland of Ohio's Amish Country. Mrs Yoder's Family Restaurant looks favorite but there is a twenty minute wait for a table. A party of one taking a table for four is not what they need so I'm offered a seat at the community table. I opt for the buffet and immediately dis-grace myself my not saying a short prayer before I tuck-in.
Mid-week lunch-time transport for October.

____ The place is not a tourist-trap but is a destination. Somewhere to go for lunch in a classic car. It is good food, nothing fancy except for the strangely named "Wedding Steak." It gets the conversation started at the community table and once they notice my English accent then there is no stopping them. They guess correctly that I'm a truck-driver loading at the garage-door factory and we all try the wedding steak; which turns out to be a rather good meat-loaf with a white savoury glaze or icing. The place is very busy for a mid-October Tuesday lunchtime and the place to eat in Mount Hope. They do play the Amish card but no more than a British Fish and Chip Shop, an Irish Pub or a Chinese Restaurant. Fascinating old photographs of barns with an outstanding picture of fifty straw-hatted, hammer-wielding carpenters clambering all over a recently-raised timber frame. A memorable meal with no-one in the whole place playing with there phone.

____ Before the loading is finished; there is time to take some photos of the numerous horse-drawn buggies trotting up and down the road beside the truck. Various styles but all black and going briskly about there business. Then I get the call that the trailer is loaded and I'm soon away from quaint life-style of the Amish. Their religious beliefs are similar to the those of the Mennonites, the Hutterites and Mormons. I have worked for three \Mennonite transport companies and there seems to be an alliance between them because Big Freight, Flying Eagle and Penners have all done a lot of their work.

____ From Lake Station, it is an easy two-day run back to Winnipeg with the first of three deliveries on the trailer. The other drops are in Regina and Calgary but I leave the trailer in Winnipeg and bob-tail home to finish the trip inside of five days. An average of 500 miles a day; as they say in Canada, "Could be better, could be worse."

Classic Amish buggy at speed.

Light-weight sports model.
Open top.
Open top with box.

The Pick-Up with tonneau cover.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

So Much Wasted Time

10 Days Away.
____ This trip's first destination is just one page away from the last trip. With a British type atlas, that would be sending me somewhere near North Carolina; but North American atlases are alphabetical and following N.C is North Dakota. A whole lot less miles as N.D is adjacent to Manitoba. This, however, keeps me out of the path of Hurricane Matthew; God's greatest gifts are un-answered prayers. Just four hours of cross-prairie driving to Valley City with a heavy load of flax seed. Then back into Canada; not home but to Winkler for an early morning loading appointment.

____ Better miles this time; Burlington, Iowa, with a light load of strangely shaped plastic diesel tanks. My bet is they are for combine harvesters. A quick tip at a "Just-in-time" warehouse before running north to Muscatine for a load of tomato ketchup. This time, not the quickest, waiting for a pallet to go on the trailer was like waiting for a drop of sauce to drop from the bottle. They needed a good shake-up. Eventually, up to Iowa 80 at Walcott for the night; where the World's Biggest Truckstop had taken delivery of a large selection of truck fridges. I bought the one I wanted for the Mack; then struggled to get the massive box in the cab and realized I was going to be living with it in the truck for nearly a week.

____ The ketchup went to a distribution centre in Leamington, Ontario, with an unloading time of 6 o'clock on a Friday evening. Promptly unloaded but with little chance of a reload. The Penner terminal at Mississauga also failed to come up with a pre-loaded trailer. I was stuck for the Weekend and stuck with a load of cardboard from Scarborough that could be loaded on Monday morning at 10 o'clock. Two waste days, but it could have been worse as the Monday was Thanksgiving Day and not many places were working. I split my time between the Flying'Js of London and Pickering. The highlight was a Sunday afternoon stroll along the shore of Lake Ontario and a pint in the Black Bear pub.

____ After loading, the run on the Highway 401 across the Greater Toronto Area was the easiest I have ever experienced due to the Bank Holiday. Truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge was also light and from Detroit, I made it to Lake Station for a night in Indiana. This was the third time I had delivered to the Chicago suburb of Carol Stream and the reload was in nearby West Chicago. Only problem: yet another brake chamber decided to start letting the air show through. Clamp the pipe, cage the brake and poodle over to the Petro Stopping Centre at Rochelle; once I had got the reload.

____ The day was finished by the time the truck was fit to roll, effectively putting another day on the trip. Kieth Urban's Wasted Time playing in my head and a fridge getting in my way; I made it as far as Fargo and finished off the trip on Thursday morning. That is six brake chamber in just over a year. Four on trailers and two on the unit. I suggested to the boss that the others on the tractor unit might soon be going the same way. At $150, it is not an expensive repair but it is a lot of wasted time.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Passport to Carolina.

Six days on the road.
____ A horror story about a Canadian-based British truck-driver waiting three months for a new passport to arrive from Ottawa had me flying across the Atlantic when my ten years expired. A midday appointment at the Peterborough Passport Office and I was walking out with a new one; three hours later. A three day stay-over would have been enough but I went for three weeks; caught up with old friends and did some touristy stuff. Westjet's direct flight from Winnipeg to London Gatwick made it all possible with no hassle and little expense: $700 return.

____ First trip back was a heavy load to Fayetteville, North Carolina. Out of Canada at Roseau, Minnesota, and straight into the arms of an awaiting DoT officer; parked inside the customs post. A delay, but nothing to worry about as the truck had been given it's yearly safety test while I was away. Over 2,700 kilometres to go; so three big days of driving with Thursday's crossing of the Appalachian Mountains slowing the progress. A night at Maxton before the run into Fayetteville for a 6o'clock delivery. I was there at half-five and out by six; heading for the reload.

____ Three and a half hours of empty running to the quaintly named town of Rural Retreat gave the motor an easy time. But soon I had 20 tonnes of plastic film in the trailer and was once again in among the valleys and ridges of  the Virginias. One long drag had the engine oil boiling; forcing me to pull over. The fluid levels were good and no leaks; just a 10 year old truck with cooling arteries restricted after over a million miles. So, on with the cab heater and the sleeper heater, full pelt; down with the windows and on with the job. The extra heat dispensation was enough to get the temperature down with the help of a permanently engaged radiator fan. It was a hot and humid day in the mountains, late September and still 30 degrees C in the mid-afternoon. The out-bound trip on the same gradients and with the same weight had been done in a rain-storm; so it shows just how easily the Cummins can feel the difference.

____ The rest of the trip was pretty plain sailing, early starts and max-ing out the driving hours. Back into Canada on Sunday afternoon; dropping the trailer in Winnipeg and bob-tailing home to Steinbach with just an hour and a half to spare of my 70 hour weekly working allowance. A daily average of over 900 kilometres and just the sort of trip to give the pay-packet a boost after three weeks of spending. The next three months, up until Christmas, are usually a good time to knuckle down and get some good miles. Road conditions are good, work is plentiful, tourist season finished, roadworks winding down, no bugs on the bumper and a new passport just raring to go. It runs out in November 2026, when I will be 73. Maybe the last passport I will ever need!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Retro Truck Show Pictures from Gaydon.

Mack R 600 with sleeper.

Astran Scania 143 

British registered Peterbilts

T-Cab Scania Topline.

Scania with murals from the movie "Convoy"

Scania 124 T-Cab with living quarters in the trailer.

Two Scanias with Saudi Arabian transit plates.

Smart paint job on a Mercedes-Benz.

Pat Seal's Volvo F88 in the livery of Richard Ford and now with personalized number-plate.

Delaware for the first time in a long time.

Eight Day Trip.
____ For the first time at Penner International; I asked to be back on a specific date because of my up-coming holiday. Three separate satellite messages told them well in advance and during the trip. But they still managed to mess it up. It was a good job that I gave myself a couple of extra days just in case. The outbound load from Steinbach to Reading, Pennsylvania, was the best miles for a long time but I knew as soon as I accepted the load that time was going to be tight.

____ After tipping on the Monday morning, the reload was an hour and a half further up the road. A warehouse on the banks of the Delaware River had a load of furniture for Mississauga with a delivery appointment for 6 o'clock on Tuesday evening. From there, it was a bobtail run down to Windsor for an empty trailer. Then North to Sarnia for a load of carbon-black from the cleanest carbon-black factory that I have ever loaded from. The grass was green and I never tramped soot into the cab; amazing. Also amazing; transiting the US. Into the States at Port Huron with the load in-bond and back out again at Pembina, North Dakota. The eventual destination of the load was Alberta but I just took it to Steinbach and cleared my cab of all my personal stuff.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Seven Drops in Iowa.

Freightliner Flat-deck
Nine day trip.
____ A Tuesday afternoon departure with a load of the big cardboard tubes; a load I had not done for several years. A multi-drop run starting at Des Moines, running down to Ottumwa and finishing-up just outside Cedar Rapids on Thursday afternoon. The reload was less than 20 miles away and I made it through to  Iowa 80, the World's Biggest Truckstop, for an evening of browsing chrome. Onto Mississauga for a trailer switch; then back to Iowa with four drops of agricultural machinery parts. All delivered on Monday morning before hacking through to the centre of Chicago for a load of plastic. Back to Winnipeg whilst rolling over the driving hours and getting home on Wednesday lunchtime.

Sunset at Pelican Lake.

Full-size Float-Plane in Cabela's at Rogers, Minnesota.