Friday, October 29, 2010

Trip XXXI.

____DAY 1: It wasn't quite the birthday date from hell; but it's all I can think about as I drive from Steinbach across the Prairies to Lintlaw in Saskatchewan on  Sunday afternoon. I wasn't expecting a voucher for birthday sex, but nor was I expecting a confrontation with someone pretending to be harder than Vinnie Jones; who could build a brick wall better and quicker than Jimmy Nail. Her system works well for the lady; chauffeured from door to door, wined and dined, plus a $460 win on the slot machines. But for me, Convoy on DVD and a couple of bottles of Bud at home alone now seem so much more attractive.
____DAY 2: The first two of three drops, at Lintlaw and North Battleford are done and I fire up the "Sat-nav" to see my arrival time at Meadow Lake: 18.04, too late. Then it all clicks into place: why I can't get this damn woman out of my mind. The person in my Garmin Gps navigation system is her! The same matter of fact, she who must be obeyed, tone of voice. When she says "Recalculating", I know darn well what she means is: "You've messed it up! Now I have to do all that work again. Idiot!"
____DAY 3: The patch of mud, next door to the A & W Restaurant seemed a good idea last night; but with overnight temperatures going down to -8, I wake up to find the truck frozen to the ground. Some sharp jerks are needed from the jerk at the wheel to break free. Last of the snowmobiles are delivered, exactly one week after being loaded, 2440 miles away. The reload is chipboard, from the nearby Tolko OSB plant; a 609 mile run down to North Dakota. Loaded ,tarped and away by lunchtime, but soon snow starts falling and blowing. Tricky conditions and after nightfall they become impossible; whiteout and the speed I can do is so slow, I risk being hit from the rear. The big parking area at Chamberlain is filling up quickly as I arrive with the same idea as many others.

 ____DAY 4: Highway 11 is hard packed snow, polished to a shine; nobody leaves before dawn. I have 300 miles to go until Williston,ND. I can be the slowest truck on the road and still deliver Thursday morning on schedule. The 4-lane to Regina is bad, two jack-knifed semis and scores of cars in the ditches, but there's not much out there and given the room; I plod down to the border at Portal. North Dakota is no better; nobody has cleared any snow. Williston is chaos; it's a boom town with plenty of oil and gas exploration going on, but not a snow plough in sight. I'm lucky to find a spot at the OK Truckstop and spend several minutes rolling back and forth; setting up a launch pad, ready for the morning.

  ____DAY 5: What did we do before the introduction of the four wheel drive, four wheel steer zoom-boom telescopic fork-lift truck? The construction site where I am delivering is a snowy wasteland and I cannot even get near the kerb but I am unloaded in no time by a machine that couldn't get within 10 feet of the trailer. Next is a trailer swap at Brandon, back in Manitoba, 300 miles empty along US Highway 2; through Minot to Rugby, then north, back into Canada at Boisevain. The roads are now bare and dry, mainly cleared by the blowing wind and at Brandon, there has been no snow at all. Not quite the tarp load from hell; but bad enough, although with 1550 miles to Quebec Province and a delivery time of Tuesday, midday, I'll have time to recover. Back to Steinbach for a rest and reset as winter kicks in with a sharp shock.
____Overall Distance: 2891 kms.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trip XXX.

____DAY 1: Brandon, Mb to Edmonton, Alberta, only 719 miles but with 170 miles empty from Steinbach; plus tarping equals two days work. The truck carries 7 tarps, two big tarps with end flaps and one big centre tarp which cover high loads such as lumber and insulation products; a smoke tarp that keeps exhaust smuts off the front of high loads; a 17x12 footer for small jobs and two steel tarps for loads such as the metal siding going to Edmonton. But even with carpet protection on the sharp edges, the steel tarps are slowly getting torn to shreds. Onto Regina for the first night of the trip.
____DAY 2: Coming up to the scale at Lloydminster; I start to chant for it to be closed, "Big Word- Big Word- Big Word." But it's Small Word. Open, with more inspectors on duty than I thought the Province of Saskatchewan possessed. I concentrate on thought transfer and change the chant to, "Let the green Kenworth pass unhindered- Let the green Kenworth pass unhindered- Let the green.." and I'm through and away, as per usual.
My first ever chant was in 1985 on a beach near St. Tropez, where I was part of a seated circle of linked pinkies that called for the miraculous repair of the automatic transmission in a "G" reg Mark 2 Ford Cortina. But somehow, after two minutes of "Gear-Box-Gear-Box-Gear-Box" it had changed to "Blow-Job-Blow-Job-Blow-Job" and the chronic fluid leak at the rear oil-seal on the main shaft wasn't cured. However, later that night I did receive oral and have been a fan of chanting ever since.
____DAY 3: The delivery in Edmonton is for a steel fabricators who seem to make anything and everything for the oil industry, from small sections of pipework to the largest of pre-fabricated buildings; for which my siding is for. The reload is for North Dakota, lumber from Drayton Valley; an hour and a half south-west, towards the Rockies. Loaded and back to Saskatoon for the night.
____DAY 4: A shower and a shave at Regina before presenting myself at the US border post of Portal. You shouldn't need to smarten yourself up, but it does help.When I remember my younger days, with a beard and long sun-bleached hair; the trouble I used to have in Eastern Europe, especially the old DDR. Now I try for the distinguished look. A night at the Stamart Oasis, Bismarck and an all you can eat buffet that includes ribs for $10: that'll be all you can eat ribs for $10, excellent.
____DAY 5: After unloading at Mandan, South Dakota; its seems that sewer green Kenworths are a bit thin on the ground in the lower Mid-west. The reload is from Valley, Nebraska, 609 miles away near Omaha. A preloaded trailer of lampposts for Ste Julie, Qc. A full day of empty running but I'm not to reason why. South-east through the Dakotas and Nebraska where the harvesting of maize and soya beans is going ahead in the most glorious weather. All the old farm trucks are out at work; double bottom-dropper bulkers with two axle pups being pulled by GMC Generals, Whites, round headlight Kenworths and old Internationals, the original Cornfield Cadillacs. It's dark by the time I reach Valley where a dozen straps quickly tie  down the  tapered poles.

  ____DAY 6: East on Interstate 80 and Iowa 80, the biggest truckstop in the world; a place I always stop. They deserve the patronage; it's use it or loose it as I see it. Times are difficult with the recession; more and more drivers are self catering in their cabs, leaving truckstops with full parking lots and empty restaurants. Flying'J are suffering in the US, the same as Les Routiers in France where East Europeans, cooking at their trailer boxes, have replaced the hard-drinking tables of Brits; knocking back the Calvados until the early hours. Through to Indiana and the Flying'J at Lake Station.
____DAY 7: Still dark and I'm filling out the log book when the cab sways; someone's up at the window, all I see is eyes and teeth. It's a choky hooker, head to toe in camo gear, wanting to keep me company.
"Sorry luv, just booked on, gotta go. Anyway what time do you call this? You had a busy night, or what?"
Back into Canada at Sarnia's Blue Water Bridge; Toronto is busy as usual but the Petro truckstop at Highway 401, Exit 611, is quiet and empty, just right for a good nights rest after a long day.
____DAY 8 : Four hours driving to Ste.Julie, crossing Montreal at the tail end of rush hour. The second load here this year and at 1340 miles, good earnings over the weekend. The reload is snowmobiles out of Valcourt, but not until Tuesday morning. Three drops ,2452 miles, finishing at Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. I give the job considerable consideration; go for it and get'em off by Friday? Or poodle back to the yard for a log hours reset and be empty Tuesday morning. I choose the latter.
____DAY 9: There are four BFS trucks loading snowmobiles first thing in the morning; Steve in C517 has 3 drops  and 2540 miles to Colorado and Utah which he is very confident will all be delivered by Friday afternoon. We leave together with him thinking I'm hell bent for Saskatoon. Then I peel off at the Vaudreuil Flying'J for a shower , a slice of pizza and a nice cup of tea. Highway 11 as far as New Liskeard, leaving two reasonably easy days to get home.
____DAY 10: Highway 11 and the radio goes off the air, gives you time to think. All the driver talk just lately is about CSA 2010 [ Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 ], an initiative by the US and Canadian Departments of Transport designed to improve safety on the roads. A data base is being set up to record penalty points awarded to truck-drivers for all incidents of violation and non-compliance. As it is in the name of safety, no one can complain about that. But databases can easily be adapted to store other information; is this the thin end of the wedge that will eventually award penalty points for such things as drivers age, blood pressure, weight to height ratio and even shirt collar size? Will the extra stress and worry about incuring points become a safety hazard in itself?
____DAY 11: If the DoTs of the US and Canada want to improve safety and compliance it just needs one new law. Ban companies from having a "Dangling Carrot" pay structure; outlaw "Cents per Mile" and make it law that drivers must be paid by the hour. That way; safety checks would be done properly, log books would be accurate and speed limits would be adhered to. A legal minimum rate would also make a level playing field for all companies. The road transport industry would be in turmoil for months but as it is all in the name of safety, no one can complain about that. Can they?
Back in the yard late Thursday afternoon. Carrying on with this load on Sunday. Birthday Saturday.
____Overall Distance: 8722 kms.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Photographs of the Week.

October Sunset on the Ab/Sk Border, Canada.

Indian Summer Sunshine.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Trip XXIX.

____DAY 1: An early start on a frosty Saturday morning; 1800 miles lie ahead with 50,000 lbs of steel building to be carted across the Canadian Shield. Three shifts at the wheel and all two-lane highway after the first  two hours. As Mary Chapin Carpenter would say,
"We'll drink our coffee on the run, climb that ladder rung by rung."
Highway 11 to Hearst for the first night halt.
____DAY 2: Turn left at Matheson, out of Ontario and into Quebec. More Shield, rocky outcrops amongst mixed woodland, criss-crossed with streams running from beaver-dammed lakes; the road twisting and turning, rising and falling, like a roller-coaster. Diesel from Val d'Or, then looping north on the isolated Highway 113 towards Chibourgamau. Another tank re-fill needed at the end of the day at the Chambord Petro Truckstop.

 ____DAY 3: Darkness and mist as I run down to the shores of the St. Lawrence, along the cliff-tops rising out of the Saguenay Fiord. The coastal road is no better, with short sharp climbs and swooping descents into sharp corners. I arrive at Sept-Iles' Pointe Noir docks 30 minutes ahead of my 1500 hours booking time. As I'm the fourth truck to be unloaded that day; the workers have a system worked out. In and out in less than an hour. A reload arrives quickly too; peat moss from just down the road at Port Cartier to 150 miles further down the road at Columbier. Booked to load that evening at 1800 hours at the Sungro packing plant.
Three kilometres along Shelter Bay Road, I come to the Nirom peat moss yard, maybe they pack for Sungro or can tell me where to go. But the place is deserted, closed for the night, obviously not my shipper as I'm booked to load at six and it's only just gone five. I'll drive farther along the road until I find Sungro. Soon I'm out of peat moss territory, into the Shield on a narrow logging track. After 25 kilometres, I have still not found a place to turn around a 75 foot rig and it's getting dark! At 28 kilometres, there is a narrow snowmobile trail joining on the left, it maybe my only chance. I jack-knife the 53 foot flat-deck back into the undergrowth as far as possible; drop the trailer. Turning the tractor-unit around on the widest bit of track that I can find; I then squeeze past the front of the trailer and hook up to it from the other side. Slowly and gently, I then drag the rig out of the scenery and head back to civilisation. Halfway along there is a fantastic waterfall beside the road; a classic cascade, 20 feet wide, thirty feet high and in full flow. But I'm too stressed to stop and take a picture.
____DAY 4: An early morning phone call tells me the shipper is the Nirom outfit that I first visited. Loaded with 22 of the big 135 cubic foot peat moss packs, I am then told the destination is not three hours away at Columbier but at St. Mathieu, southwest of Montreal. Not one single detail of the load information I was given was correct! A short sharp satellite message is sent to the office pointing out my displeasure. I now have a full days slog with a high and swaying load along a torturous route; the only relief being the ferry trip across the Saguenay Fiord at Tadoussac. I finish the day at the Irving Big Stop, St. Liboire, a favorite feeding trough of many Brit truckers, driving for companies based in the Maritimes.

 ____DAY 5: Peat moss delivered and off to Valcourt for a load of snowmobiles, destined for Winnipeg. Thirty machines, another high load but only a third of the weight of the peat moss. I just clear the Pont de Champlain at Montreal before the southbound buses start using a northbound lane to cross the St. Lawrence. This screws up the whole of the rush hour for the whole city; giving proirity to buses and delaying cars must be someone's idea of persuading drivers to use the bus. But it will never have an effect and does nothing for trucks. As darkness falls, so does the rain, but tonight I'm on ashphalt and onto the Irving at Pembroke, Ontario.
____DAY 6: The long driving hours earlier in the week have now caught up with me. Only 15 hours available for the next two days. I decide to start late, take a long lunch, an afternoon nap and finish early. Amazing how a day can pass so quickly. Pembroke to the baby Flying'J at Kapuskasing. If it had been summertime, I would have bought a ticket for the Polar Bear Express; a train that runs out of Cochrane north to the shores of Hudson Bay and the town of Moosonee. A brilliant day trip, but only available in July and August.
____DAY 7: Highway 11 is at it's busiest this time of the year. Thanksgiving Long Weekend and the start of the hunting season mean that thousands of heavily laden pick-up trucks pulling trailer loads of quad-bikes swarm onto the northern Ontario wilderness. An annual mission to seek out and destroy poor helpless creatures whilst drinking lots of beer. "Hunters Welcome" say the signs at motels, filling stations and bottle shops; it should say, "Hunters Money Welcome." Another short mileage day: Kapuskasing to another long "K" named place. Kaministiquia, just west of Thunder Bay.
____DAY 8: As day breaks, betweeen Ignace and Dryden, I spot a big bull moose, knee deep in a lake, eating the underwater vegetation. I stop and shoot it. More pictures for the folder marked: " Blurred Animals Disappearing Into Bushes." Back in the Steinbach yard at noon, I unstrap the snowmobiles and leave them for a city truck to deliver on Tuesday; I'm out again on Monday, going to Alberta.
____Overall Distance:- 6511 kms.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Saluting:- from the book "Roadtrip Ramatuelle"

A Fred Archer Scania 112 climbing in the Transylvanian Alps, Romania,1985.

  ____The speed limit for trucks displaying a TIR plate was 50 kph on all roads in Romania. That day I had been trying out the “salute” method of speeding fine avoidance. This technique involved saluting the police officer as he stood in the road, trying to wave you down. With his ingrained military training, the policeman’s response to seeing someone salute him was to stand to attention and return the gesture, hopefully standing aside as he did so. By the time the truck had passed, it was too late for the officer to pull his revolver and do any damage. Romanian police rarely gave chase as they usually only had enough petrol in the car to get them back to the station; having syphoned off and sold most of that day's tankfull as soon as they came on duty.
____During the day, this routine had worked 100%, but on the third occasion, I came unstuck. It was late, I was tired, he was quick and I was slow. My speed had dropped as darkness had fallen, I was still speeding, but when I saluted, the engine was in the wrong gear. I tried a quick down change, but missed it. The policeman did not see my hurried touch of my head as a salute; when he did not see me slowing down, he went for his gun. I anchored up just as he pulled the automatic from its holster.
____All this happened about 20 kilometres before Bucharest,at the start of the only piece of dual carriageway in Romania. There was a parking area, with a kiosk set back in a pine wood; it was crowded with trucks, but I just managed to squeeze into a space at the far end. Before I had taken the cellophane off the carton of Kent, the policeman was knocking on the door.
____Knowing that most officials do not like it if you lean out of the window to talk to them, I opened the door. I was not going to get out and give up my superior elevated position, but I did not mind showing that I had nothing to hide. The officer did not seem angry, but went on to give me a long lecture in Romanian, which I did not understand at all. Presumably it was about speeding. However, as he spoke no English, I was wasting my time arguing with him. In the end I gave the traffic cop twenty Kent king-size; at least this made him put his gun back in its holster as he needed two hands to put the cigarettes in his jacket’s breast pocket.
____The cigarettes did not stop the policeman rambling on in his native tongue; he only quietened down when the girl with the longest hair I had ever seen came along and started speaking to him. The good looking female then pulled herself up the steps of the Scania, climbed across my lap and plonked herself down in the passenger seat. Her black hair was plated into a ponytail, but was still long enough to sit on. The copper was still hanging around, so I gave him another packet of cigarettes and as he walked away, I shouted a parting shot:
    “And make sure my spare wheel is still there in the morning.”

Map of Romania.

Friday, October 1, 2010


____DAY 1: Before I leave the yard, the trailer axles need moving back to their regular spot at the 41 feet wheelbase mark. Sliding axles come in two degrees of difficulty: reluctant and seized solid. It needs a 4 inch strap around the pin release handle running across to a winch on a nearby stepdeck plus plenty of hammering with the snipe bar. But it's good to have the rig set up right before leaving on a 1400 mile trip to Ontario with a full load of steel beams. After all the metal on metal banging, my hands are still fizzing when I start the log book; it looks like it's been written by a four year old.
____DAY 2: From White River to Mount Forest, a full days driving through the changing colours of Autumn. Even a ruffty-tuffty trucker stamping across the continent with a huge carbon footprint can't help but admire the splendour of nature along the North Shore. Mount Forest is a typical small country town of Ontario, tree lined streets on  the crossroads of Highways 6 and 89.
____DAY 3: A rainy morning for unloading the beams; then south to Oakville and a preloaded trailer of roof panels, back to Manitoba. By now the rain is so heavy that I postpone tarping for two hours, luckily the traffic out of town is still light by the time I get going. Back to Sault Ste.Marie for the night; third high mileage day in a row.
____DAY 4: The tourist season has finished but the roadwork season is still in full swing. The dollies with the lollies seem to have a boring job with their traffic control duties but it can have moments of high drama when big black bears come out of the woods to check out their lunchboxes. While waiting for the return of the pilot car at one site, a park ranger pulled out of a dirt track with a black bear who had been captured overnight after being a nuisance. But even in a bear trap, a black bear still has a trick up his sleeve, or should I say nostril. Stick a camera in his face and SNORT: you'll be sprayed with snot. I  was.
____DAY 5: From Dryden back to the yard for midday; the crane needed for the unloading at Peguis is not booked until 9 o'clock tomorrow. Meanwhile; a celebration of Farley Fries' 25 years service at Big Freight. A barbecue, speeches and the presentation of a brand new silver Kenworth T800. The fourth silver truck on the fleet and Farley will soon suffer the same fate as the others. None of his workmates will recognise him without his green truck.

____DAY 6: Two hours north of Winnipeg is the settlement of the Peguis First Nation. My load is the roof of the new medical centre, a project of the Action Plan for regeneration of the economy. A crane lifts the crates onto the roof, not a quick job but when it is finished; a job giving satisfaction.
____Overall Distance:- 4740 kms.