Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Steinbach/Carrot River/Glaslyn/Winnipeg.2156kms.

Trip VII.

____DAY 1. Most Memorable Sunrise: Febuary 1998, Mt. Sinai, Egypt. Waiting for dawn at the summit after climbing up in the moonlight. Looking eastwards in the chill air as the full moon sets in the west. Climbing down again before the sun gets too high and bakes the desert.
____Most Memorable Sunset: July 2005, Finsterra, Galicia. Sitting on the most western beach in Europe after cycling across northern Spain on "El Camino". Just as the sun dipped to kiss the sea, a school of dolphins chased a shoal of fish into the shallow waters of the bay. Golden flashes off silver.
____Longest Sunsets: Heading westwards at sixty miles per hour on the flat prairie landscape sunsets last seemingly forever. I don't know what speed you need to travel to keep the sun up in the sky. The Trans-Canada Highway and the Yellowhead Route are the backdrop to an ever-changing display of purples, reds, pinks, yellows and golds.
I roll into Carrot River long after sunset, finding a place on the forecourt of my delivery point.
____DAY 2. Carrot River is a lot livelier than I expect, a constant stream of B-train grain trucks trundle in and out of town. The Crossroads Family Restaurant is busy from day-break, the guys from the Viterra grain -handling terminal say they have sold eighty grain bins this year. I have 17 for them today. Farmers are buying grain bins so that they can store grain on the farm and sell it as and when they think they will get the best price. Before, they shipped the grain straight to the local elevator as soon as it was harvested and just got the going rate from the people like Viterra. From Carrot River reload instructions send me to Glaslyn, also in Saskatchewan, but 300 kilometres to the west, lumber back to Winnipeg. This is going to be a short'un. The lumber yard is a regular reload address and it's a surprise to find "Mr. Grumpy", the regular forklift-driver is no longer there. His replacement is a much more pleasant person but he lacks the forklift skills of his predessor, pushing the load straight on one side results in it going skew-whiff on the other. I leave with it looking far from perfect after telling him it was "great".
____DAY 3. From Saskatoon to Winnipeg is a regular days work, but with radio reports talking of temperatures dropping to --26 degrees C, I push on to Steinbach and a night in my own bed, plus I can plug the trucks engine oil heater into the electric and be assured of the motor starting in the morning.
____DAY 4. Lumber delivered and a reload of trellis for Ohio. When the full assignment comes through I find it's a tarp load, the load is scheduled for delivery on Friday but with tarping and customs to do, not to mention over 1000 miles, I can't see it happening and send in an ETA for Monday morning. A two day break, now thats something I don't see very often.

Grain Elevators, Old Style, New Style

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Yellowhead Route

Trip VI.

____DAY 1: 1725 miles, 15 drops and a long weekend looming equals a job that must be done by Friday. That will only happen if he can persuade Robinson Crusoe to drive "team". With my lumber delivered, I returned to the yard to find a step-deck trailer loaded with 24 ATVs waiting for me to check, strap and smoke-tarp. The first drop was 500 kilometers away, so with no-hope of getting anything delivered on the Monday; I looked up the addresses on electronic maps, phoned the customers and made a plan of where everything was on the trailer. Good preparation before setting off for Red Lake in northwest Ontario.
____DAY 2: I rolled into Red Lake just before dawn and straight past the group of ramshackle buildings on the lakeside that I did not reconize as my first delivery point. When it came to turning around, I found myself trying to steer on a sheet of ice and the truck sliding downhill into a snowbank. At the last second I decided to gun-it; hoping to bulldoze through and turn in a wider arc. But this was no light and fluffy snowdrift, it was compacted and frozen solid. I was proper stuck with snow half way up the hood. Twice as stuck as any normal, sane preson would be stuck. The only thing I had with which to dig myself out was a orange plastic corner protector. After five minutes of scrapping about on my knees, a John Deere loading shovel appeared, probably the same big tool that built my heap of snow. The driver obviously felt guilty about putting his scrapings just where 75 foot vehicles want to turn around because, without a word being said, he came in from the side, his shovel slicing into the mound one inch away from my bumper. Another two scoops and I was free to go.Delivery done, I left for Thunder Bay wondering how many thousands of dollars worth of damage I would have done to a flimsy fronted Volvo. The next two drops were in adjacent streets but that was all I was going to deliver on Tuesday; next was Sault Ste. Marie, over 7 hours drive away. All I could do was get as close as possible in the driving time I had left. I like to be positive about my work; now I was positive I would be spending the long weekend at the Flying J at Vaudreuil, Qc. I got as far as Wawa with two fingertips still numb from playing in the snow.
____DAY 3: Gitche Gumee was still shrouded in darkness when I continued along Superior's north shore towards The Soo [Sault Ste. Marie]. I don't often take the once a week option of an 8 hour overnight break but with losing an hour to the time zone and the threat of not getting a reload plus customers working shortened winter hours, I felt I had to. From The Soo, it was onto Sudbury and a clump of four deliveries, two in Sturgeon Falls and North Bay. With these done, it was then on to Petawawa, some 200 kilometers away, ready for the next morning. Eight down, 7 to go.
____DAY4: The Petawawa dealer didn't open until nine but I was driving away, ATV delivered at five past. Then across one of the few bridges crossing the Ottawa river and into the Province of Quebec for deux drops. Chapeau and Davidson done with out any fuss and onto Arnproir where the forklift driver is waiting behind me before the straps are off his machine. 12 down, three to go. As a reward, I pop into the nearby Antrim Truckstop with it's excellent in-house bakery. I'm on a roll, ham and swiss cheese plus cookies and a coffee. Next, Merrickville, a town centered around a lock on the Rideau Canal, finished in 1832, linking Kingston to Ottawa, one of the few navigation canals in Canada. It's here I have my first delay of the day, the forklift truck is frozen to the ground; the dealer goes to fetch salt, I go and drag two snowchains off the truck, together we get it moving. The ATV is off the trailer before I have rehung the chains on their rack. Metcalfe provides no problems and so to Cornwall; which closes at 5 o'clock. It is ten-to when I pull up but the dealer is quite willing to unload me. He probably knows what sort of mood I would be in if he made me come back in the morning. All off and still time to run to Napanee for the night. In the words of the late, great Sir Edmund Hillary, " We knocked the bastard off."
____DAY 5: A reload had come through the previous afternoon, preloaded trailer at Oakville to Alberta; so there was never any danger of me "sitting" the weekend. With hindsight, I don't think I would have done anything different, except I would have been more relaxed. A load of steel floor channel for Rockyview, Calgary and six packs of siding for Edmonton; an innocent looking load not three foot high. But steel can slide and needs straps between each layer before tarping. On a busy Friday afternoon, I make it to North Bay for the night.
____DAY 6: A lot of the westbound trucks that were with me at the Bay Truckstop, North Bay on Friday night are parked with me at Nipigon Husky on Saturday night. The same trucks that stopped for coffee at New Liskeard, Cochrane, Kapuskasing, Hearst and Longlac. Permutate any three from five.
____DAY 7: It's four-thirty on a Sunday morning at the coffee machine in Nipigon's Husky Truckstop; an old white truckdriver is arguing with a young asian truckdriver about rear axle differential ratios. 3.73 versus 3.90; they look to me for input. I mumble something in a made-up Russian sounding language; grab a 20 ounce coffee and go. It is early but I'm going to be home for a night and early afternoon is better than early evening.
____DAY 8: Holiday Monday, but you wouldn't know it from the traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway, as light as ever on the four-lane across Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Ontario it is called "Family Day", in Manitoba they call it: "Louis Riel Day. The man was executed in 1885 and to sum him up in one word: "Troublecauser". If Britain had an equivalent day; "Arthur Scargill Day."
____DAY 9: From Swift Current to Rockyview and a chance to use part of the new Calgary by-pass, the Stoney Trail. Then on to Edmonton for the delivery of the rest of the load. Reload is sent shortly afterwards; lumber to Winnipeg from Lodgepole, Alberta. Not many people get the chance to visit Lodgepole but I'll leave it until the morning and settle for Acheson's Husky.
____DAY 10: The Tallpine Timber company is very much an old-style sawmill with open-sided sheds showing well worn machinery. The drying kiln is the most modern piece of equipment there and gives a smoky atmosphere to the snow falling out of a windless sky. But the quality of the lumber in my load leaves a lot to be desired. It looks like it has been standing in the wood yard longer than it stood in the forest. Down the road, suspicions are confirmed, the staples holding the wrapping are so rusty that they soon give way and the flapping starts. Saskatoon, to end the day.
____DAY 11: I "Yellowhead It" all the way from Saskatoon to Winnipeg. Highway 16 called the Yellowhead Route after a fair-haired Iroquois guide. There was no Iroquois word for "blonde" but yellowhead has to be better than whitehead.
____DAY 12: Unloaded and back in the yard by ten o'clock. I wash the salt off C596 and a load of grain bins for Carrot River is next.
____Overall distance: 8664 kms.

The old Roman Catholic Church at Longlac, Ontario.

The correct use of orange plastic corner protectors when stuck in snow.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Into the Oilsands of Northern Alberta

Trip V

____DAY 1: A trailer of grain bins in kit form is always an ugly load; with many pieces of different lengths, widths and heights. An ever present problem is when a pallet of cardboard boxes is loaded next to a stack of metal sheets; the tension needed in a strap that will hold the metal securely invaribly crushes the cardboard. What will hold down cardboard boxes doesn't do much for the steel. I do what I can and set off at noon, Sunday. At Oak Bluff, I turn off Winnipeg ring road and take Highway 2, westbound; a route commonly used by trucks wishing to avoid the DoT scales at Headingley and Moosomin. But it is the legitimate way to Assiniboia, 400 miles west in Saskatchewan. A road through pure prairie landscape, straight and level. It seems you will eventually come to a downslope but it is just the surface of the planet curving around the world.
____DAY 2: I'm awoken by the bitter cold, earlier than I would have wanted. --21 degrees centigrade. I cruise around the town in the truck, in the dark, looking for a bunch of pick-up trucks idling outside a restaurant, diner or cafe. Inside I know the "Good Ol' Boys" will be drinking the best and cheapest coffee in town, I'll get a good breakfast and the names of every farmer waiting for a grain bin. Just after first light, I'm unloaded and instructed to head for Regina, Sk. North of Asssiniboia, two jet airplanes are performing aerobatics and formation flying in the skies above the prairies. Snowbirds, part of the Canadian Air Force Display Team stationed at 15 Wing Moose Jaw. Unexpected entertainment.
Worse than sitting, empty, in Regina, is getting the dreaded "Fleury Street" in a pick-up address; building supplies deliveries with more drops than a bottle of Optrex. Only 3, Moosomin, Russell and Ste. Rose. But it's the usual ugly load; various packs of lumber with packs of fibre glass insulation stacked on top. I'm parked up at Moosomin at the end of a long day without a lot of mileage.
____DAY 3: Back in the UK, the 6 pallets of tongue and groove laminate would have surely been pinched overnight. Somewhere, deep in the British countryside, deep in a rubbish strewn field, a group of double axle, chrome-trimmed travel trailers would be treated to new flooring. But in Canada, they stood on the back of the trailer, untarped and untouched. I love this country. All the deliveries are to Co-op Home Building Depots, a thriving part of the Co-op Societies that are a major part of the rural canadian economy. Gas stations, commercial fuel depots, convienence stores, farm supplies and the building supplies are all well patronised enterprises; such a contrast to the dwindling influence of the Co-op back in the UK.
By 1 o'clock I'm unloaded and headed towards Brandon, Mb; a pre-loaded trailer is waiting with a load of steel building parts, destined to Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. At over 900 miles, this trip is three times the length of the last, things are looking up. This could have been the third ugly load in a row, but at 4800 lbs, there is not much strap and tarp; truck should go well too.
____DAY 4: The delivery is booked in for Friday morning, so I have two days to get there. Fort McMurray is in the area known as the "Oilsands", it is the boom town of Canada. Diesel fuel was produced from oilsand during the Second World War but it is only in the last decade that oil companies have really concentrated on production in this region. "Syncrude" sounds like it should be a pornographic website but is the oldest of the enterprises at Fort McMurray, being the first to produce a billion barrels and having just sent the 2 billionth down the pipeline. They are waiting for my little load, probably to repair or alter a building previously supplied by Brandon. I reach Lloydminster at the Albertan border at the end of an easy day.
____DAY 5: The reload question plays on my mind as I make my way diagonally north towards Fort McMurray. There are very few flatdeck reloads from the area and very many unloaded trucks chasing what loads there are. Before, I have had to run down to Edmonton for a reload; but it`s four and a half hours away and on a Friday it could be difficult to get loaded and keep running over the weekend. An hours reset in an Edmonton truckstop looks on the cards, there is, of course, the West Edmonton Mall, the largest indoor shopping centre in the worBEEP. What`s this. Someone in the office has done well; a reload of lumber from Fort McMurray and it`s going to Winnipeg! Time to relax as I reach Fort Mack before dark and squeeze in at the Petro-Canada truckpark; amongst a whole fleet of snow covered tippers that don`t look like they have worked since Christmas.
____DAY 6: At 8 o`clock I am at the Syncrude north gate waiting for my escort into the plant; as arranged. An hour and a half later they come for me, I make up for lost time when 5 guys help untarp and fold`em. Then they go and spoil it all by going for there mid-morning break before they unload me. As the sawmill is on the way back south into town, it is not crucial. The packs of lumber proudly proclaim:- Albertas Sustainable Resource. Fourteen packs of 10 x 2 inch in various lengths, 50,000 lbs, ten times the weight I was carrying when I arrived. If I want to be home for a Steinbach Saturday night I will need to reach Saskatoon by the end of the day. Eight and a half hours later, late in the evening with snow flurries all the way, I pull into the Husky truckstop on the northern edge of town.
____DAY 7: The mpg for the 4,800 lbs was a very good 7.4, now for 50,000 lbs it sips down to 5.4. But it could be worse, the flat landscape helps. Saskatchewan is so flat that it is said when a farmers dog runs away from home; he can sit on his front porch and watch it for two days; such is the level terrain. From Yorkton back to Steinbach there is a steady snowfall with the radio predicting up to 5 centimetres on Saturday and another 5 on Sunday. I am back in the yard just after dark and am invited to dine with a driver returning from across the Atlantic. Welcome back Ross.
____Overall Distance:-4668 kms.

Spot the Crane

Monday, February 1, 2010

THE ROW [continued]
BFS were reluctant to phone the police but did send round a guy from the Winnipeg office in his car. I spoke to the Steinbach office on his cellphone and they wanted an amicable settlement for the sake of customer relations. After thinking about it for a bit, I said that if the two guys apologised I would let the matter rest. They came out and said "sorry" and we all shook hands. It is a frequently used tactic; threatening to have a driver dismissed and/or the his company doesn't get any more work. It felt good to turn it around and have some one else see how it feels to have there job on the line.
As it was a matter of safety, I couldn't back down. When loading and securing a trailer the number one priority is always: nothing falls off and hurts somebody. A forklift driver's priority is: did I put the right stuff on the right trailer. Very few know anything about weight distibution requirements or how there shoddy handiwork finishes up at the other end of it's journey. they think that if the load is not sticking out over the edge of the trailer then they have done a good job. In four decades I have had more grief from forking idiots than the customs, the police and the DoT all put together. The first political party that pledges: "Forklift-drivers, first against the wall come the revolution." will get my vote. The only forklift-drivers that I fully respect are those ex-truck-drivers, who for various reasons, have descended the employment ladder. Although there are exceptions; the forklift drivers at BFS are the most helpful, freindly and talented I have ever met. Well I don't want to come back from a trip and find my car on top of the tarp shed roof. Do I?
So my advice to anyone in a similar situation: get your complaint in early, to your company and the shipper. The best form of defence is attack and if you are going to be sarcastic, mocking and bluntly tell an operative about his many short comings then make sure you are carrying your snipe bar at the time.