Monday, January 9, 2017

Dirt : Both Ways.

Seven Days,
____ Another week; another Winter storm. Highways closed after overnight snow but with a forecast better weather in the afternoon. I plan to leave at mid-day and take the old scale-dodgers' back-road route to the border. This should bring me out at Highway 75; twenty truck lengths from the 49th parallel and save a repeat of last weeks delay. With a full load of peat-moss; I am confident that the W 900 will woof-through the powdered snow that has drifted across the side-roads to the village of Emerson. I am surprised to find that Highway 75 is still closed when I get there; but not as surprised as the US Customs officer at a completely deserted border post. Instead of the usual, "Where are you going?" she asks "Where did you come from?"

____ The North Dakota roads are a lot better than those in Manitoba. The ND DoT website map has "No Travel Advised" all over it but I make good headway. South and the temperature should rise but all the way to Norfolk in Nebraska it is bitterly cold with a strong North wind. The Detroit runs all night. A full days driving gets me to Thackerville at the Oklahoma/Texas state line; still freezing but warm enough to sleep with the engine switched off. Only at Encinal, at the end of the third day does the warmth of the Sun make it pleasant to be outside.

____ Unloaded in Laredo on the Friday morning; the reload is in Gonzales, four hours away. A load of clay for Winnipeg; an ingredient for chicken food that helps make strong egg-shells. Loaded by 3 o'clock; the only problem is customs clearance. It is one of those blind loads where the shipper does not know the customer; only the importer. There are no customs invoices and the importer is in Quebec. The 1 hour Time-Zone difference makes it impossible to get all the paperwork to the customs broker before Monday morning so a six day trip becomes 7 and after flying out of the starting blocks; the trip stalls at the last hurdle.

Snow covered back road into Emerson, Manitoba.

Sun dogs and blowing snow in North Dakota

Light dusting of snow on the hills of Oklahoma.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year Laredo.

Six days at an average of over 900 kilometres per day.
____ After a foot of snow on Christmas Night; Boxing Day was spent shoveling and working-off the excesses of the previous days. So when the  US border re-opened on the Tuesday, there were enormous queues of trucks and cars. All heading South when US Customs didn't think they were going to be busy and were not fully staffed. To make matters worse; I needed a new I94 visa Waiver which added another hour onto the crossing time. It was dark by the time I came to an icy stretch of the Interstate 29 between Grand Forks and Fargo. Three delays within half a day makes me think I'm wasting my time; so I gave up and put into the Petro Truckstop at Fargo for some of Popeye's chicken tenders.

Waiting in line at a snowy 49th Parallel.

____Turned out to be the best thing that I could have done as freezing rain hit the Interstate in South Dakota during the evening. Heavy ice coated everything as it glistened in the low morning sun but the road had been treated wasn't too bad for driving. By Watertown, it was all bare and dry down Salina for the second night-out, although not yet above freezing point. Plus temps came in Oklahoma on Day Three as a busy Interstate 35 rolled into Texas. Saturated traffic through Fort Worth, Waco, Temple, Austin and the over-night halt at San Antonio.

Palm trees of Southern Texas.

____ A couple of hours to do before dropping the bonded load of furniture frames at a customs broker's yard from where it would be taken into Mexico. Five miles along the road in another yard was a trailer loaded with upholstered furniture frames waiting to go back to Winnipeg. Another bonded load with the paperwork already processed; so within an hour, I was northbound, heading for for the Winstar Casino on the Texas/Oklahoma state line. I thought I might be there on New Years Eve but arrived a full day a head of schedule, such was the quick turn-round. Good fish and chips from the restaurant in the "London" section of the city-themed casino calling itself the World's Largest.

Old School-New age : Ruby #94 and Ruby #101

____ From the bottom of Oklahoma, it is two long days' driving back to Steinbach. Not always possible with the Winter weather of the Prairies but I gave myself every chance by getting up to York in Nebraska. On the way, by pure chance, I found myself fueling-up next to Ruby 101 at Tonkawa. Driven by Bob, fellow Brit and ex-Big Freight, and while we chatted, in came Ruby 113; piloted by Neil, also British and an ex-Big Freight driver. They were both headed to Hidalgo, Texas. The last day was a long one but the light load, dry roads and the W900 wound up to 109 on cruise made it easy. Mostly deserted roads and at the border before dark; back to the yard with time to spare.

Dawn : New Year's Day 2017.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hidalgo and US Highway 281.

6908 kilometres in 8 days.
____ A Winter storm called Decima is scheduled to cross my path somewhere between the Canadian border and the Mexican border as I head south from Steinbach to Hidalgo in Texas. The Friday run down to Vermillion is under clear skies but with a bitterly cold north wind chilling temperatures down to minus 27 C. Only when I park does the snow start; drifting across the front of the idling trucks as they huddle together for warmth. Daylight hours are short as I leave at the crack of dawn; taking the Interstate 35 option where I hope the snowploughs have done their job. Blowing snow mixed with a few flurries; through Omaha, Kansas City and down to Joplin where freezing rain brings everything to a standstill. The Petro Truckstop at Junction 4 on the 44 is an hours crawl from Junction 10. The parking area fills to bursting point as drivers give up on the job and  go to work on the BBQ Buffet in the Iron Skillet restaurant.
Nice new quilted Winter front gets tested by Winter Storm Decima.

____ I wake to find Interstate 44 is moving again and Sunday is an easier day with the strong north winds helping with fuel consumption. It is still freezing but by the time I get to the Flying J at George West; it is only -3. Into the border town of Hidalgo bright and early with the peat-moss, ready for transshipment onto a Mexican trailer pulled by a fellow member of the W900 club. A Kenworth of similar age to #94 but with an overdose of tacky religious bling. I'm just a few hundred yards away from the Rio Grande in an area specializing in the transfer of cross-border goods; my fourth visit to such a town. after El Paso, Eagle Pass and Laredo.
Petro 44 Truckstop, Joplin, in the snow.

____ The reload is from Mansfield, a suburb of Fort Worth, nearly a days run from the southernmost tip of Texas, along Highway 281 and Interstate 35. Synthetic oil and grease for a distribution centre in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. A three day run that sees me on the Highway 281 again in North Dakota. Very windy from the West but an easier run. I am back in Canada by lunchtime on Thursday. A phonecall to the customer assures me that they will take delivery that afternoon. The depot manager stays on the line to talk me into the delivery point; very useful in avoiding weight restrictions and finding an old brewery tucked away behind the vast Moose Jaw goods yard. By the time I go to re-fuel, 70 hours in seven days have elapsed since I set off. An enforced early finish but that enables an early start that sees me running empty back to Steinbach and a reasonable finish on the day before Christmas Eve.

Straight from the Blue Beacon Truckwash at York, Nebraska.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Taber Sugar.

Three Days on the Snowy Prairies.
____ Six axles in Canada can be loaded to 100,000 lbs and the out-bound load to Swift Current wasn't far from max. At least the blowing snow from the North didn't have much effect on the W900 as we followed a ice-patched Trans-Canada Highway for 800 kilometres of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The first delivery was to an agricultural machinery place directly opposite the truckstop where I stayed overnight. It was good to eat a breakfast and drink from an bottomless cup of coffee as I waited for the lights to come on over the road. Twenty pallets of various oils and greases unloaded off the back and into the yard in a biting wind and a temperature of minus 25 Centigrade.

____ Six pallets left for drop number two at Maple Creek, 108 kilometres further West on the same TCH and selling the same brand of tractor. Then, empty to Taber for a reload of sugar. A time-zone crossing gives me an extra hour as I cross from Saskatchewan to Alberta. Sask don't change their clocks; in Winter they are the same as Manitoba, in Summer they're with Alberta. The sugar is heavier than the oil, good job they had a scale at the beet-factory; the Detroit Diesel needs all of it's 500 horses all the way back to Swift Current for another night-out. For a second night, the truck engine runs all night at a fast idle. The Kenworth doesn't have an "Outside Temperature" gauge but when the exhaust stacks of every truck are leaving huge vapour trails in the twilight then I know that it is below minus 20 and time to keep the motor running. The sunshine of day three fails to make a difference to the mercury; all the way back to Steinbach.

____ Six loads now for the 1998 KW and all of them have been within a couple of ton of the legal maximum. But the old iron doesn't complain; just gulps down another gallon and roars. Fuel consumption seems to be at about 10 to the gallon; ten kilometres to an American, 3.5 litre, gallon. That would be 8 mpg in old money. Not as good as something like a 13 litre Volvo but quite acceptable for a truck that is never going to show you a check-engine light or require a parked-re-gen. I am impressed by some of the Kenworth's attributes, a comfortable driving position, a nice double-sleeper, the excellent eight air-bag rear suspension and plenty of power. But some things leave a lot to be desired; the engine noise in the cab is thunderous and the exhaust stacks block a lot of rearward vision when reversing. They don't have to run up by the cab doors and it seems they are just there to complete the "American Class 8 Iconic Truck" look. When it comes to taking the last vacant spot at a busy truckstop, in the dark, in the rain; I can see myself falling out of love with chrome as I try to reverse in a tight spot. The backing-up will get easier with practice but I do find myself thinking more about where and when I'm going to stop; just to avoid a pain-in-the-arse end to the day. But three trips done now for Ruby Truck Line and just time for one more long one before Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Beeville-Pasadena: Texas.

Another Weeks Work.
____ A fretful start to the trip as I take ice-covered Highway 12 out of Steinbach to Vassar for a load of peat-moss. I am booked in for an 8 o'clock appointment and loaded by nine-thirty. A big Winter -storm is on it's way to south-east Manitoba with a foot of snow forecast; I'm anxious to get on my way before it's afternoon arrival. But it is stock-taking day at the dirt -packing plant and orders dictate that no paperwork can be printed before mid-day. A dozen un-happy drivers are left champing at the bit. Then there is a two hour delay while I wait for customs clearance and can finally head south of the border in an attempt to outrun the snow-flakes.

Cabover Bullrack

____ The going gets tricky around about Hillsboro, between Grand Forks and Fargo, but I'm just ahead of things and south enough to get bare and dry roads by the time I reach South Dakota. After a night at Watertown, the Arctic-blast follows me down Highway 81 and Interstate 35. The destination is the small Texan town of Beeville and the Bonnie Plant Farm. Unloaded and across to Pasadena; for the same re-load as last week, plastic granules back to Winnipeg.

While I was away!

____ The Dub'ya 900 takes it all in it's stride. Two heavy loads but the truck cruises along at 65 mph although the North-South route doesn't have any big climbs. My biggest concern is the quality of the diesel. Texas and Oklahoma have cheap Summer diesel that gels-up in the filters; temperatures are down to minus 25 degrees C in Manitoba and even South Dakota is down to a troublesome minus teens. I need good Number One Diesel from as far south as possible; Stone's Truckstop at Watertown fills the tanks and gets me home without problems. A six-day trip with some bad weather but as reports come through of drivers stranded for days in their cabs, I was lucky I didn't get held-up.

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.