Monday, June 21, 2010

From The Book: Roadtrip Ramatuelle.

Part of 1986 Trip to Spain.

Mickey Salmon, another Frederick Archer driver, on his first trip to Spain, had the misfortune to come up against the nightmare of Spanish red tape. His load of sports goods was imported with the paperwork marked “Made in Britain” but on inspection, it turned out that most of the golf clubs were made in Taiwan. The load, the truck and the trailer were promptly impounded, with Mickey only escaping incarceration by the skin of his teeth. Archie’s driver was spending his seventh day at the Zona Franca in Barcelona, waiting for the duty, taxes and fines to be paid, when I arrived. Mickey was flat broke, not due so much to his Customs delay, but mainly because he visited the Ramblas every night where he had something going on with an Argentinean bar girl. All the spare cash I had on me was in Italian lira, but Mickey had no hesitation in relieving me of 250,000 and ordering a taxi to take us downtown.

In the Ramblas bar, I had no trouble picking out Mickey’s girl. As we came through the door, she turned towards us, as if holding an imaginary machine gun:

“Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh!” went the Argentinean in a hoarse staccato laugh.

Mickey did the same, then they shouted out in turn,





Slowly, they closed in on each other, still shouting, circling in the space in front of the bar, before embracing passionately - much to the amusement of all the other patrons.

Mickey introduced me to Suzannah, as a good friend who had just given him a quarter of a million lira. I do not know if the hostess made a mistake in her exchange rate calculations, but she got straight on the telephone to her sister and told her to come over for a drink. Suzannah was certainly the most stunning Argentinean girl I had ever met – even if she was the first Argentinean girl I had met. With her long black hair and long brown legs, if Mickey had told me she was a former Miss Beuno Aires, I would not have disputed it. Suzannah was about three inches taller than Mickey. When Maria, the sister, turned up, she was three inches shorter than Mickey. As I was three inches taller than Suzannah, I thought things should have been the other way around, but as the machine gunners got on so well, I did not mention it.

In fact, Mickey got on well with everybody, with his ready smile and cheery “hello”, he soon made friends, even without the slightest command of any language except English. The stocky north Londoner, with his happy-go-lucky attitude seemed to handle himself well in all foreign situations, without having to think about it. A welcome change from many hard drinking Brit lorry drivers who could be a real embarrassment when they had sunk a few beers.

Size did not matter when the four of us sat on our bar stools. While Mickey and I drank San Miguel, the girls were served with the Hostess Special, which was expensive, but probably not very potent. Maria sat close with her hand on my knee, as we talked about the price of land in various parts of Argentina. The younger sister wore a black mini skirt and pink lambswool vee-nick sweater with no blouse underneath. With a bit more meat on her than the pencil slim Suzannah, it was difficult not to keep looking down Maria’s top and at the little crucifix that hung in her cleavage. I was just thinking what a sure thing I was onto and wondering how much it was going to cost, when this guy in a cream suit came in. He shook my hand before whispering something Spanish in Maria’s ear. Then, with a quick squeeze of my leg and a kiss on the cheek, Maria left the bar with the cream suited guy. Mickey and Suzannah were so wrapped up in each other that they did not see Maria leave. Without interrupting them, I finished my beer and got a taxi back to the lorry, leaving Mickey to pick up the tab. I had done from just south of Limoges to Barcelona in one day, so I was looking forward to my bed with or without a sexy little Argentinean for company.

Having spent a week hanging around the Zona Franca, Mickey was a great help the next morning when it came to getting my paperwork through Customs. Almost everyone called him by his first name as they shook hands, but they all shrugged their shoulders when Mickey asked how long it would be before he finally got going again. For a change of scene, the stranded driver came for the short ride across town so that he could help me tip my part load for Barcelona.

“Maria was a bit upset that you left before she got back last night,” said Mickey, as we stripped out the side of the tilt.

“She didn’t say she was coming back, how was I to know? Anyway, I’d had a long day, I was knackered,” I replied.

“They’ll both be down there again tonight. I told ‘em we’d be back,” continued Mickey.

“Yeah, but I’ll be tipped here by 1.00 o’clock. I should be getting down to Valencia so I can get this other stuff off,” I protested.

“Don’t you fancy yours or summat?” queried Mickey.

“It’s not that. I just can’t afford it. How much did you spend last night?” I asked.

“Oh, about half of them lira. The way I see it, our boys went down the Falklands in ’82 and fucked them Argies. Now we’ve got a chance to fuck two for ourselves. With that Suzannah, I give it to her as hard and as fast as I can. She loves it,” bragged Mickey.

“What sort of war is that? When she loves it” Do you expect somebody to give you a medal when you get back to the UK? I’ll tell you, when Fred finds out what you’ve been spending his running money on, you’ll be facing a firing squad,” I warned.

For the rest of the time we were unloading, Mickey carried on trying to persuade me to go down the Ramblas that night. I was tempted by the thought of seeing Maria’s tight-fitting woolly top come off over her head, but in the end I drove Mickey back to his lorry and went straight down to Valencia.

Trip XVII.

____DAY 1: It's now four years since I flew into Winnipeg Airport on a sadly now defunct Zoom jet and pitched up at the BFS yard for the first time. A lot has changed, the fleet was then over 160 trucks, now it's just over a hundred. Some things are the same, you can still be despatched to anywhere in North America at any time; which is one of the major attractions of the job for me. After unloading last weeks load of resin, I load a load of lumber that came from a West Fraser mill; by coincidence, the same as my first ever load down into the States, 4 years ago. Through to Sauk Centre at the end of the first day.
____DAY 2: The Truckers Inn at Sauk Center is a BP franchised fuel stop but seems as busy as ever, even with the bad publicity of the Gulf oil spill, no one is boycotting. A hot day on Interstates 94, 39 and 8o; finishing at Princeton, Il. The first night of the summer when it's too hot sleep. Just before midnight I resort to running the engine for an hour; chilling the interior down to freezing point. Only then can I sleep.
____DAY 3: The lumber yard say they have more wood in stock than they have sold in the last five years; but they unload me with good humour. Back at the Road Ranger Truckstop on the 80, it's not along wait before reload details. A steel frame from Batavia, just west of Chicago, to Saskatchewan; quickly loaded from the Massey-Ferguson spare parts warehouse. Light-weight, a strong tail wind and I'm up to the Minnesota/Wisconsin border for the night.
____DAY 4: Tornados touched down in Minnesota during the night, at breakfast in Hasty, Mn. I watch TV pictures of devestation just 1 hours drive away. At lunchtime, I'm the only one watching England/Algeria at Fargo's Stamart Truckstop. Maybe they knew something I didn't; 1-1, was totally boring. By 8 o'clock, I'm back in the yard at Steinbach; Saturday off, 5 hours on Sunday to get to Whitewood, Saskatchewan.
____Overall Distance:-2973 kms.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Trip XVI.

____DAY 1: With the BC lumber delivered, the truck goes in for a service at the right moment; just before 10,000 DOT vehicle inspectors and qualified police officers embark on three days of non-stop checking of the North American transport industries trucks. The main reason for this is so the inspectorate can rack up huge amounts of overtime that will appear in their pay packets just in time for their summer vacations. After washing the truck, I select a good trailer from the fleet; ready to load lumber at Kenora in the morning; going to Murrysville, a few miles east of Pittsburg, Pa.
____DAY 2: All weigh scales are likely to be open and the one at the Manitoba/Ontario border nearly always is. The West Hawk scale sits on the Trans-Canada Highway at a point where the TCH is the only road linking east and west Canada; all trucks pass this way. A terrorist bomb in the scale house would paralize the country's road network at a stroke. In fact, the site had a near miss several years ago when a meteorite caused a 300 foot deep crater that is now the West Hawk Lake. The inspectors are busy with other trucks when I pass. Loaded, I cross into the US and onto Nemadji in Wisconsin without any problems.
____DAY 3: Today is the day with the biggest risk of being checked and Risk is the name of the department at BFS that deals with drivers' fines, violations, accidents and issues of non-compliance. You get a $25 reward for a "clean" inspection notice, but still no driver wants anything to do with Risk. Shit happens; but they tend to rub your nose in it. Although I don't believe the story of there being a big box of voodoo dolls with truck numbers stamped on their foreheads. All the scales that I pass have trucks pulled over for checks; I'm fortunate to get to La Porte, Indiana trouble-free.
____DAY 4: Toll-roads all the way to the delivery point, which have the advantage of being free from weigh-scales. There is a chance of encountering a roaming check-point but I'm more relaxed today. My main concern is the reload; details have arrived; West Virginia to Winnipeg, loading Friday. It's another 200 miles further east, I really need to get this lumber unloaded today and make tracks to WV; I'll try the nonchalant approach. Roll-up mid-afternoon, wander over to the office, tell them I'm tomorrows 08.00 booking and casually ask about overnight parking in the road outside: they will volunteer to unload me and the jobs a good'un.
The plan fails and I'm left sitting outside with five more hours of hot sun beating into a sweltering cab. Only one thing left to do: go down the pub. Even if it means enduring endless hours of televised baseball games.
____DAY 5: The early shift quickly dump off all my lumber, saying they will sort it out later: why aren't all forklift operators like that? Off to Falling Waters, WV on a busy Interstate 70 with numerous areas of roadworks. It's the same load of smelly resin that I did a couple of months back, so no trouble finding the place and the load is ready. Tarped and away to the nearby Pilot Truckstop to scale and shower by 2 o'clock. Thinking I could be home by Sunday night, I push on back into Ohio and a Turnpike service area on the west-side of Cleveland.
____DAY 6: The World Cup in South Africa has started so all trips now have to be planned with that in mind. Chicago shopping traffic stops me getting to South Beloit,Il. before England's fourth minute goal but there are plenty of empty chairs in drivers lounge at the Flying J Truckstop; where I find myself as the only one watching who has English as a their first language. England-USA :1-1, so no need to go round and plug the shitters with loo-roll.
____DAY 7: Getting to Black River Falls in Wisconsin leaves a Manitoba-bound driver with a good day of driving to get home. An overcast but dry Sunday with light traffic, Interstates 94 and 29, a stop-off at Fargo, ND for some of my favorite chicken tenders and potato wedges with dipping sauce. I'm back in the yard before dark; well ahead of schedule, the load's not booked in to unload until Tuesday morning, so an hours reset on Monday then away we go again.
____Footnote: No inspections this year during the blitz. The DOT inspectors could rake in some handy pressie money by having a three day blitz just before Christmas. But then it would be cold and damp, who wants to go crawling around under mucky trucks in the dark?
____Overall Distance: 4846 kms.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Buried Alive and Left for Dead : from the book Roadtrip Ramatuelle.

When I was on my first trip to Rumania, I had gone to a town called Piatra Neamt, up in Transylvanian mountains, to load knitwear for London. The stuff wasn’t ready, so I drove to this lake outside of town, where I parked the truck beside the water. When I woke up in the morning, this old Volkswagen camper was parked beside me. It had German registration plates that began with the letter ‘B’ so I knew it came from Berlin. During the morning, I got talking with the owner, who said his name was Ziggy. The guy was in his fifties and a real old hippie: long hair, goatee beard, the lot. We drank coffee and talked all day. He had excellent English and told stories of his travels.
In the evening, Ziggy said he would let me in on a secret, because he thought he could trust me. He told me a story about his parents. He said his father had been an officer in the German army during the second world war. Ziggy’s old man had died some years ago, but his mother had only recently passed away. Before she died, she gave her son a map that her husband had given to her, years before. It was a treasure map. It contained details of treasure looted by the German army during their occupation of Rumania in the war. The map showed part of the Transylvanian Alps and Ziggy pointed out the lake where we were parked.
He said that if I helped him find the treasure and get it out of the country in the lorry, he would go halves. We shook hands on it. In the morning, we went off in his VW to find the spot marked with an ‘X’. The map showed four churches and when a line was drawn to the opposite church, the crossing point was the site we were looking for. It was rugged terrain which was impassable to vehicles, so we had to explore on foot. But on the second day of our search, we found a cave, close to the summit of a mountain, from which we could see all four church towers. The cave was not particularly well hidden and showed signs of recent occupation, probably by local children, out camping. With our torches, Ziggy and I explored every inch, but found nothing, in a place that would have been visited many times in the last 40 odd years.
Ziggy was sure his father would not have chosen such an obvious hiding place, so we combed the surrounding area for more clues. But we had to return to the cave when a thunder storm caught us in the open. While we sat on the dusty floor, waiting for the rain to stop, Ziggy kicked at the ground with his heel and unearthed a large metal ring, the size of a dinner plate. The ring was linked to another, which was set in the rock floor. As we scraped away at the loose dust, it became apparent that a block was set into the cave floor and it could be pulled out, using the ring. The combined strength of Ziggy and me could not budge the block, so we went back to the nearest village to borrow a six foot long scaffold pole from a building site. Using a convenient rock as a fulcrum and the pole as a lever, Ziggy and I then managed to lift out the block.
It revealed the entrance to an underground chamber, ten foot square and ten foot high. Leading down to the bottom, through the two foot square hole, was a wooden ladder. From the top, we shone in our torches and could see stacks of old ammunition boxed, overflowing with jewel encrusted alter plates and gold chalices. We both climbed down the rickety ladder to inspect our new found wealth. It was beyond our wildest dreams, with jewels, gold and silver, plus a huge pile of old rolled-up paintings laying in one corner. Ziggy went back up the ladder and I built up a pile of boxes so that I could have something to stand on, as I passed up the treasure. It was heavy work, but I didn’t mind sweating when the rewards were so great. Soon, all that was left was the pile of stuff that I was standing on and the paintings, which we decided to leave. By balancing each box on my head and climbing the decaying ladder, I managed to get all the boxes up to Ziggy.
I had just gone back down to pick up my torch and was climbing the ladder for the last time, when Ziggy somehow managed to drop the block back into its tight fitting hole. It missed my head by less than an inch, but it made me drop my torch and my right foot broke the step that it was on. The torch bulb broke as it hit the stone floor. In the pitch darkness, I tried to regain my footing, only to find that one side of the bottom half of the ladder had fallen away. All my weight was on my left foot, as I clung on desperately, while I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
They never did, as there was no light source to help them. Shouting for help didn’t help either, as the only person who might have heard was Ziggy and he knew of my predicament anyway. I tried thought transfer, by thinking things such as “Come on Ziggy, there’s enough here for both of us” and “OK, but let me out of here and you can have it all.” It seemed like hours, as I clung on, anxious not to fall down, in case the hole opened up again so that I could climb to freedom. I said nothing in the darkness, as my thoughts ricocheted from past, to present, to future. It was then I noticed that the trouser of my hanging right limb had gone taut. In the inky blackness, something had attached itself to the material and there was definitely a weight of some sort clinging to me. When I had my torch, and now in the darkness, I had not seen nor heard anything, but I was in no doubt that there was something pulling my leg like I’m pulling yours.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Trip XV.

____Prologue: I unloaded the load from Oregon and came back to claim my expenses for the ferry crossings. A four-drop load for Quebec Province is my next assignment and I tarp it whilst waiting for the cheque. It's only Thursday, I'll leave Saturday for a first delivery on Tuesday: 1800 miles through to Riviere Du Loup.
____DAY 1: C596 and I first went out together on November 5th 2007, now thirty-one months later, we celebrate our 500,000 kms ; 181862----682862. I've done half-a-million kilometres for several companies but this is the first time that I've put on so much in one truck; with just a few kms done by the fitters and Lenny from the washbay. At Nipigon, I meet Russell, who announces that he stopped at Ignace and bought a 1972 Ford Cortina from a guy who has five acres of restoration projects for sale. Another project for Russell; to go with the fleet of aging Ford Econoline vans. How come I hardly have time to take the Mustang through the carwash betweeen trips?
____DAY 2: From Nipigon to Val d'Or in Quebec Province. Valley of Gold and quite a few Hard Rock Gold mines still operating along the road east of Kirkland Lake. Once the stomping ground of Sir Harry Oakes, who between 1911 and 1934, amassed a $20 million fortune; when he decamped to the Bahamas to avoid paying income tax. He was shot dead in 1943, nobody was ever convicted of his murder. His old house in Kirkland Lake is now a museum.
____DAY 3: South along Hwy117 into the topside of Montreal by way of the route known to all truck-drivers as "Through the Park". Verendrye National Park, named after the 18th century explorer and map-maker who was responsible for opening up canoe routes west of Lake Superior and into the Prairies. I finish the day, lazing on my bunk in the warm evening sunshine at the Ange-Gardien Truckstop. Then, I have an almighty row with two morons on a quad-bike who did donuts in the dust, right under my open cab window. They soon pack-up and bugger off when the snipe bar comes out to tighten some straps.
____DAY 4: At 36.2 degrees C it was the hottest day in May that had ever been recorded in Quebec. Luckily, I had my first Quonset building delivered at St. Alexandre before 10 o'clock. The next was for another dairy farm, 500 kms away, near Riviere du Loup; much nearer the ocean and a lot cooler. Too far for another tuesday delivery, so I stop at St.Jean-Port-Joli and the Petro-Canada truckstop, small and unremarkable except for the influence of the Bourgault brothers. Talented woodcarvers who started a tradition in the town during the 1960's that still exists today.
____DAY 5: The three Quonset buildings for 3 different farms around Riviere Du Loup are all being erected by the same construction company. They send Jacques and their small crane truck to unload me. I follow him from farm to farm and by the third drop on the banks of the St. Lawrence, we are working well as a team; we finish with a handshake and some vague directions on where to find my peat-moss reload address. Load peat-moss, Riviere Du Loup, Qc, deliver peat-moss, Montreal, Qc. I'm sure its not allowed, if not, there should be a law against it!
____DAY 6: I wake-up at Ste.Julie still waiting to be advised of a delivery appointment time for the peat-moss at Reno Market-Centrale. Eventually I'm told to take it round and see what I can do. Great! Amazingly they a really casual and start unloading straight away, then another truck-load of peat-moss arrives and the driver comes over saying what a hard time he had finding the place. Then it all falls into place; he's the 11 o'clock delivery arriving late, Reno thought I was him. To keep him away from the fork-lift driver, I suggest we go and pull off his straps. I'm signed up and out of there pretty sharpish. From small acorns doth mighty oaks grow. A load of jet-skis from Valcourt all the way to Prince George, BC. 2780 miles. Changing my 48 foot trailer for a 53 footer in the Montreal yard, I meet Lee Atkinson; its great to chat in english again.
____DAY 7: For the fifth morning on the trot, I breakfast in the Province of Quebec. One egg will be OK. Un oeuf is enough. But I'm soon loaded and underway, back into Ontario with hail-stones battering away on the roof of the cab so hard that I fear they may break through the canvas covered crates of my load. I check at North Bay and they're still intact.
____DAY 8: Highway 11 has had characters along it's route over the years; one was Archie Belaney a.k.a. Grey Owl. From Hastings, England, he fought in the First World War and came to Northern Ontario to dig for gold but went native with the local Ojibwa. He learned their ways, becoming one of the world's first conservationists; writing books and going on lecture tours around the globe. Archie, who liked a drink and did a lot of two-timing, burnt himself out and died in 1938, aged 50.
____DAY 9: Rainstorms across the breadth of Canada have left ditches filled and fields flooded. From Ignace, it's a shortish day back to base at Steinbach; there is not enough time for a log -book reset of 36 hours but enough for laundry and a visit to the bank's ATM.

____DAY 10: First drop on this load is Regina, a regular delivery point as the shipper fills up the west-bound trailers with units for this big-selling dealer. He takes four jet-skis and says he has orders for 37. Next drop is in Alberta but I finish at Saskatoon, at the Husky Truckstop, probably the best in the Route Commander chain.
____DAY 11:-West across country to Wetaskiwin, south of Edmonton, then north to St.Albert and the dealer sends me out to his warehouse on a farm. I'd been there before, two years ago and am amazed how the town has grown, with new houses now nearly all the way to the farm. Next, Acheson, 4 units and I'm left with the three for Prince George; they are stacked -up and it would be better if they were all on the deck. But on watching the forklift drivers performance, I decide not to ask him to move them; what if he drops it? Anyhow, it's a tail-wind out to the days end at Hinton, Ab.
____DAY 12:Across the Rocky Mountains by the route known to all truck-drivers as "Through the park". Jasper National Park and the animals are not hunted so are a bit less wary of humans; even so I am amazed that they are all out and about as I pass by with my camera clicking. Elk, then the Big-Horn Sheeep that are always hanging around, Caribou with their huge antler spread, a Moose which is quick, but not quick enough to escape unphotographed. I'm thinking; "All I need now is a bear". When, there he is! A magic hour, seventy kilometres like nothing before. Unloaded at Grand Prairie, the reload comes through on the satellite; Hixon, BC. lumber to Winnipeg, Mb. An hour south on Hwy 97 and an hour to load, back-tracking to Prince George, I end the day at McBride, BC. looking forward to another early morning pass through the Jasper National Park.
____DAY 13: A load of lumber all the way ,1878 miles, from BC to Winnipeg doesn't make sense; don't they have trees in Manitoba? Yes, but not many big enough to cut into size:-12 inches x 2 inches. Twenty foot lengths as well; not many sawmills in North America cater for that market. Rain-storms are still lashing the continent as make I it through to North Battleford in Saskatchewan.
____DAY 14: The last day available before a compulsory break due to log hour regulations; so I need to get home tonight. With 11 hours driving, I make it back. The load is booked in for
unloading on Monday morning; the truck is booked in for a service on Monday midday.
____Overall Distance: 10073 kms.

Wood Carvings at Petro-Canada Truckstop, St.Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec.