Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blue Augers Travel Ready Made.

Trip XXIV.

____DAY 1: The only other time that I went to Morden, Mb. was on a blind date. We went to Assiniboia Downs, Winnipeg's local race track, one Saturday night. When I got the lady home, she turned out to be as fast as any racehorse. Out the car, down the garden path and through her front door before I could shift from drive to park. Out of eight races that night, I picked four winners; you win some, you lose some. This time I'm in Morden for a trailer load of augers, the contraptions that put the grain in grain bins. A damn awkward load that has to have a strap over every single item. Then on to Weyburn,Sk. for a night at the Main Track Cafe, good food and cold beer.
____DAY 2: A 940 mile trip to Linden, Ab. 12,000 lbs and flat terrain, the only problem is the load keeps shifting and the straps come loose. The dunnage is of so poor a quality that the more I tighten the straps, the more it disintegrates; like pieces of over-cooked Canadian bacon. It's a legal requirement that a driver checks a flatdeck load every 3 hours; I'm stopping and messing about every ninety minutes. Linden cannot come soon enough for my liking. I park at the customers premises; ready for an early start to the busy day ahead.
____DAY 3: Breakfast at the Country Cousins Restaurant is a good start, but the three augers are unloaded one piece at a time and laid out ready for assembly; it takes two and a half hours. On the way to the first reload pick-up, the trailer brakes start to hang-on; probably a faulty valve, a problem I know that will quickly worsen. But I have a trick up my sleeve; dump the air in the trailer and apply the spring loaded trailer brakes; then re-apply the air so that the springs release the brake shoes from the drums. This is a separate set of valves and air pipes from the foot brake which has the faulty valve. I am then free to go; until the next time I apply the foot brake. I travel the 50 kilometres down to the BFS drop-yard in Calgary with three dump/re-apply episodes; one on the shoulder and two at red lights. A quick trailer change and the job is back on track. Pick-up 1: 13 pallets of bagged sand and cement. Pick-up 2: a 20 foot long pack of decking; all to be tarped. Just when I'm ready to leave BEEP. Can I preload a trailer for another driver who is running late? I agree, as I often have preloads done for me and it's only 5 miles away. Unfortunately the pick-up reference number I have been given means nothing to the shipper and when I telephone the office, they have all gone home, being one hour ahead on Manitoba time. I leave empty handed, back to my load at the drop yard. Finally when I do get going; the air-conditioning has packed up. I reach Redcliff, where I go and clean up. A young Asian driver tells me to fetch some more paper towel; in the mirror I see a tired, dirty, scruffy, unshaven, old man wearing trainers with coveralls tucked into his socks. I know I should have decked him; but I DID look like a loo cleaner. It had been a long hard day.
____DAY 4: Redcliff, Ab. to Steinbach is as far as I ever do in one day on what is the most boring bit of the Trans-Canada Highway. But I have never had a problem with steering a truck for 11 hours a day. 50,000 lbs and only 3 or 4 down-changes all the way. Back in the yard, I un-tarp, un-strap and put the trailer in the tarp shed to keep dry. A day-cab, local truck will deliver the load to Winnipeg on Monday; I have a load for BC.
____Overall Distance: 2957 kms.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunrise and Sunset.


____DAY 1: Saturday morning and I go to strap, tarp, sort out the customs paperwork for a load of lumber. Afternoon; and on to the 40th birthday party of Carl Strangeway, ex-BFS and ex-Astran owner-driver. One of a handful of truck-drivers who have driven to both Ankara and Anchorage. He proudly displays an 07 Alaska plate on a shelf between his two Saudi Arabian transit plates. A remarkable achievement for someone to have done so much before the big four-O. He does a lot of Turkeys these days, live haul collections of the feathered variety in a daycab. But if you saw the very pretty girlfriend you'd know why he wants to be home every night.
____DAY 2: Noon start and the sugarbeet harvest has started in North Dakota, earlier than the UK because it all needs to be out of the fields before the ground freezes. Stored in huge heated piles and shuttled down to the factories beside the Interstate 29 from now until next spring. Probably America's most boring driving job ever. From Grand Forks, ND. east on Highway 2 to Bemidji, then Grand Rapids and south to Aitkin; crossing the same unremarkable river several times, only the name is remarkable: Mississippi. Flowing less than 100 miles from the Canadian border down to the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.
____DAY 3: The truckpark beside McDonalds seems familiar, I'm sure I've done this drop before but can't think where it is. Leave it to the GPS, and sure enough, I'm down the same dead-end as before, confirmed be the same old boy coming out of his bungalow, shaking his fist and pointing down the railroad tracks. It then all comes back to me, the tracks cut the road but the name stays the same, a common problem. A quick unload compensates for all the messing about; then more following of the Mississippi River, south to the St. Paul suburb of Roseville. A reload of steel coils going to Winkler, Mb. Four coils and I only have 2 pairs of coil bunks, the metal cradles that hold the lumber that holds the coil; so they all need to be squashed-up tight and I use all the chains to hold'em down. Minneapolis rush-hour slows things up but I still make it to Grand Forks, ND before my time is up.
____DAY 4: The steel is for grain bins, 4 coils because the factory doesn't have anything capable of lifting big stuff. Then back into the US, empty, to Thief River Falls, Mn. All this border crossing; it's easy to forget which country you are in. The language is the same, the traffic, the terrain, the music on the radio, all the same. I don't know why there cannot be a "United States Of North America." Just sprinkle some maple leaves on the Stars and Stripes. The annoying mistake that I continue to make is when I try and pay for food and drink with the wrong currency. I have a wallet for each kind of dollar, which is a good idea, it would also be a goood idea to remember which one to take to the shops. A load of ATVs going to Steinbach for Distribution in Canada; there are plenty of the BFS fleet doing the same run which gives hope there is plenty of work about. Home for the night, not a high mileage trip and I should be away again tomorrow.
____Overall Distance: 1958 Kms.

From The Book : Roadtrip Ramatuelle.

Maid In Romania.

____In Radauti, by chance, I came across my collection address without having to ask for directions and the night-watchman helped see me back into the factory yard. It was no surprise when the factory manager came along the next morning and told me the load would not be ready for a couple of days. Optimistically, I thought the delay might give the weather a chance to warm up – but it did not. The goods I was taking to Britain were barbecues – the cheap, circular tin type that only last for one summer if you leave them out in the rain. The old metal work factory made other things as well, there was even a blacksmith department for shoeing horses, but all production seemed to be directed towards my barbecues and was held up by the spray shop where the cold weather refused to let the spray paint dry.

____Half way through my first morning, one of the factory girls came up and asked for a cigarette. I offered her a packet of 20 if she would go off and get me some bread. It was a job to make her understand English, so I tried “brot” and “pain” before she got the message – the Romanian for bread sounded like “ping”. As the boiler-suited worker went down the road with a pack of Kent king sized, I wondered if I would see her again; but I need not have worried, for she soon re-appeared with six large loaves. Her name was Marina, she looked about 17 and was shorter and chunkier than the average Rumanian girl. I told her to keep half of the bread, because I would never have eaten all of it before it went mouldy. We chatted away, using sign language with some German words. I asked Marina to dine with me that evening at the Scania Cab Motel. The message must have got across pretty well because she turned up at just after 7.00.

____Marina had a great sense of occasion which showed by the amount of effort she had put into her appearance. Under her long black Crombie-style overcoat and silver fox fur hat she wore what seemed to be the Romanian national costume. Elegant, lace-up black leather ankle boots, embroidery trimmed, calf length black skirt over a slight longer lace trimmed petticoat; frilly long sleeved white blouse, done up at the neck with a blue, red and yellow choker; a black satin waistcoat, trimmed with the same national flag colours and a matching headband pulling back her long black, wavy hair. Whether her mother had told Marina to get dressed up, or whether her get-up was standard eveningwear for Rumanian girls dining out with foreigners, I do not know. Maybe it was worn as an excuse to get out of doing the washing up. Whatever it was, Marina looked great. After seeing her in army boots and dark blue overalls, I thought she looked alright. Now seeing her in all the old fashioned gear, I fancied Marina like mad.

____With such fine company, I should have done better than camion stew. The meatballs, new potatoes and baked beans were well received, also the pineapple rings for dessert were a new taste for Marina, but all through dinner, I was thinking I should have been serving roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. To finish the meal, I made some proper coffee. As we sat back to relax, Marina sorted through my tape collection. She selected Dire Straits, “Brothers in Arms” which came on just at the start of the title track. Somehow, it complimented the moment perfectly. At the end of the evening, I caught Marina’s eye and glanced at the bunk, tapping my hand on the sleeping bag as her eyes followed mine. But, as they say in the Sunday papers, she made her excuses and left. Later, as I lay alone in my bed, I reflected that it was good to know that not every Romanian girl was available for a few marks, a packet of smokes or a jar of coffee.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pipes and Trailers

Trip XXII.

____DAY 1: Humidex: a new word for me; the opposite to wind-chill. I strap and smoke-tarp a load of green plastic sewer pipes and am wringing wet with sweat. The temperature is 30 degrees C, with the humidity, the day has a Humidex rating of 40. It's a relief to get out on the road in a refreshing air-conned truck cab. The pipes have come from Langley, BC. I have them for the 1300 miles from Steinbach to Etobicoke, Ontario. Eastbound and into the cool of the night, a long days drive to Marathon, On.
____DAY 2: A misty start to the day; which is good; no wind and with a high load a shade taller than the legal maximum of 13'6'', that's good for the fuel consumption. In the afternoon, the reload instructions arrive: load Thursday at noon, Haileybury, On going to Questa, New Mexico. Nice one, 2098 miles and somewhere different. Plenty of time to get the pipes unloaded on Wednesday, so the Rest Area at Parry Sound with the Tim Hortons seems a good plce to finish for the day.
____DAY 3: I wait till the early morning rush into Toronto has subsided before I run the centre lane of Highway 400 south through Barrie and round to the eastern side of the Lester Pearson Airport. The right lane of the 400 used to be the shoulder and the bridges are a shade lower than 13' 6''. The pipes are off quicker than I can roll up the straps as airliners take off overhead at one a minute. Then along to the BFS drop yard to change a flatdeck for a stepdeck; which is on the western perimeter of Toronto's major airport where now shadows of incoming jets are now shading the truck. North to North Bay and onto New Liskeard for the night; ten minutes from Haileybury.
____DAY 4: The load is mining equipment; a 20 foot container outfitted as a workshop, tools and all, plus some other pieces. Not long to load or secure, it takes longer to get a confirmation out of the fax machine after sending 28 pages of customs invoices to the broker! Down to the border at Sault Ste. Marie; I'll wait until morning before I cross.
____DAY 5: A long line of cross-border traffic waits on the long bridge linking the two Sault Ste. Maries and when I do get to the booth I'm told I have been selected for a search: code-named " Intrusive." I back the truck onto Bay 2 and retire to the lobby wondering if "Intrusive" includes body cavities. There is a three hour wait and all I can think about is the truck-driver who was told by a customs officer that it was normal to have an erection during a body cavity search.

" But I don't have an erection," says the truck-driver.

" No, but I do," replies the customs officer.

Eventually I am told that they have found something and are debating between "seizure" or "IE", which stands for immediate export. In the container is a $10.03 corn broom, labelled "Made in Mexico", on the manifest it is listed as canadian. Having put that much time and effort into the search, they are not going to let it go. Another two hours and it's decided: IE, ie: everything is being sent back to Canada. By then it is too late on Friday afternoon to do anything about it.
____DAY 6: The office sends me to the BFS yard in Mississauga with the trailer; I can leave it there for someone else to take when things are sorted out. Shame. Three step-deck trailers are waiting, topped-up, to go back to Steinbach. Only they arn't there; but I am assured by the office that they are somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area and could I look for them? It's a hot sticky night with little sleep at the Mississauga Husky Truckstop.
____DAY 7: Sunday morning and the Fifth Wheel Truckstop at Milton with it's breakfast buffet and free internet is the destination. If I was asked to top-up trailers in the GTA, I would take them to Milton's Truck Town Terminal; so I'll swing by there on the way. And there they are! Eight straps later and they come with me for breakfast. A bit of surfing on the web and back to the Soo for the night.
____DAY 8: Steel grey clouds loom large over Gitche Gumee as the wind and rain lash down on Highway 17. My head is filled by the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot's haunting masterpiece "The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald" as I head westwards along Superior's north shore.
"Superior," they said, "never gives up it's dead, when the gales of November come early."
Squalls, all day, all the way to Thunder Bay.
____DAY 9: Back to the yard in Steinbach with the three trailers and the corn broom! At the moment the broom is part of the running equipment of the truck, a tool of the trade. Bizarrely it can now travel, as many times as it likes, in and out of the US without any problem. The next time I'm in the Haileybury area, I'll take it back to the shipper.
____Overall Distance:- 5883 kms.

The Load To New Mexico

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trip XXI.

____DAY 1: Loads of steel love to slip and slide about. One of the best ways to stop it is to thread straps through the layers and hold it down piece by piece. A trailer of steel siding and roofing has come back to Steinbach and is ready to go; strapped and tarped. I know it has nothing through the different packs: it has been strapped over the tarps! Two and a half hours later, on a sweltering Saturday morning, I have it stripped off and redone: my way. Another delay follows, after a shower and change of clothes: the time-consuming ritual of sitting about in the drivers lounge, gossiping with work-mates. Eventually followed by four and a half hours driving to Ignace, On.
____DAY 2: 1489 miles to Uxbridge, On. and three days to get there, so no hurry on a long holiday weekend. Highway 17 along the north shore of Lake Superior with my sights set on Sault Ste. Marie for day-ending fuel and a shower. But my attention is drawn to the low fuel warning light; the level drops dramatically, as if the tank is holed. On inspection; I have plenty of diesel, but is all in the large left side tank which is not the tank from which the supply to the engine is pumped. The pipe linking the tanks must have a blockage; all I can do is park-up and hope it is only a partial restriction and that the levels will even out overnight.
____DAY 3: The Scenic Overlook parking at Anola Bay gave me a quiet nights rest but no scenery in the morning. Mist and rain drift in off of Superior as I limp into the Soo; an airline into big tank hopefully shifts the muck from the link pipe. Just enough pressure to push through a good flow of fuel; just a low enough pressure not to split the tanks! The problem seems to be cured when I inspect things at Uxbridge; arriving just before sunset.
____DAY 4: Two of the 3 trucks with the new showroom for Viking Trailers are unloaded onto probably the worst laid-out building site I have ever seen. The third drives up when I'm breakfasting at the nearby Esso station. The reload arrives at noon; 200 miles away at Sarnia. Two guys are working overtime at the steel fabrication shop; as it is just one big vessel, loading takes less than twenty minutes and it's only 22,000 lbs. If I'm going to get unloaded on Friday I'll need a few miles today, so i push on to Parry Sound.
____DAY 5: Sarnia to Regina: transiting the USA is 2400 kms. Staying on Canadian soil clocks up 2940 kms. Before 9-11-2001, going through the States would have been allowed but since the fall of the Twin Towers, trucks have had to go the long way round. A thousand kay day on the north shores of Huron and Superior, around to Nipigon.
____DAY 6: Another thousand kilometres to Brandon and the job is looking good. Four hours left in the morning; get unloaded; too late for a reload; they wont want to pay me for sitting about all weekend; run home empty. It pays to think things through on this job and the Esso at Brandon has free internet and a Tim Hortons next door.
____DAY 7: The parking lot is jammed solid; more than it's fair share of ice cream loaded trailers with fridges revving their bollocks off; livestock haulers having their cages rattled while farm yarding-up the atmosphere and the usual paranoids who fear their engines wont start in the morning. It takes some seriously precise manoeuvring to wriggle 70 foot of truck and trailer out onto the Trans Canada Highway; all before I've washed the sleep from my eyes. Unloaded at just before noon at the Co-op Oil refinery on the outskirts of Regina and BEEP. No, not a reload at the dreaded Fleury Street? Yep and collect 50 empty Polaris crates as well. Half a trailer of crates and three drops of building materials that are scheduled for Saturday morning delivery. Loaded and with nothing to lose; I crack on for Esterhazy. They are still open and I get unloaded; letting me doorstep the second drop at Shoal Lake, back into the province of Manitoba.
____DAY 8: Two packs of decking lumber delivered and onto Neepawa; two more packs of decking and just the crates to go back to the Steinbach yard. Rolling up at two in the afternoon wasn't what I expected but you can never figure out this job with any degree of certainty. Plus side: the yard is stacked out with loaded trailers. My next load is to Etobicoke in Ontario, a town named after Nigeria's second choice goalkeeper at the 1994 World Cup.
____Overall Distance:- 5936 kms.