Thursday, November 25, 2010

El Paso : May 2009. The Facts.

____Pete Young was sat on a wooden bench outside a closed-up Greyhound Bus office in the dusty small sprawling town of Fort Stockton, Texas. The temperature was 125 degrees F; Pete had time to think, as the events of the last ten days churned his stomach as much as they did his head.

____ The trip had started with a run across Manitoba to the rural township of Rivers; where Pete and two other BFS trucks had loaded alfalfa hay for Hereford in Texas. It was at the border crossing where the first problem occurred. Dunseith, North Dakota is not a big busy crossing and three trucks with the wrong paperwork clogged the site. Pete also needed to renew his I94, the visa waiver all British drivers need for 90 days travel into the US. It was not out of date, but with a trip to Texas, it would be by the time he returned to Canada.

____In an effort to clear the crossing, the border officials refused Pete’s pleas for a new I94; ordering him to get on his way, saying it would not be a problem. Company guidelines on matters like this required drivers to obey customs officers and not to argue. Pete reluctantly drove south with only the knowledge that nobody ever asked to see your I94 as any comfort.

____Hereford, Tx. calls itself the Beef Capital of the World; the smell and the never ending stream of livestock trucks rolling into town make you think that maybe they are right. The alfalfa hay is a regular load to the feedlots that surround the town. All three BFS trucks are unloaded on the Thursday morning; two get reloads from Fort Worth to Quebec and Pete gets instructions to load Bentonite from the Cowboy Mining Company, situated fifty miles south of Alpine, close to the Mexican border.

____More than a full days running south; it is midday when BFS Volvo C626 and its 48 foot flat-deck trailer are loaded at the mine. A palletised load that needs tarping, 46,ooo lbs of granules in fifty pound sacks.

____Heading north, Pete’s main concern is where he can shower and eat before starting the long haul to Montreal, back in Canada. But being so close to the Mexican border; Pete does not realise that special checkpoints are on all northbound routes, checks to catch illegal aliens who do not have the correct papers to be in the USA! At one such semi-permanent establishment; the fact that Pete’s I94 is out of date is spotted.

____After spending millions of dollars on efforts to stop illegal immigration; it must be wonderful for the authorities to catch someone at their checkpoint; even it is only a British trucker with documents that are a couple of days out of date. Pete is arrested, the truck left at the side of the road, and he is ferried, by a series of prison vans, to a detention camp in El Paso.

____The holding cell is full of men with Oriental and Spanish origins. Pete immediately decides to opt for solitary confinement. Showered, dressed in prison clothes without belt or shoe-laces, he is then locked up. With his US dollars, he telephones BFS and his girlfriend, Carrie, to tell them what happened. Nothing more happens until Monday morning.

____There will be no court case or hearing; it’s a cut and dried situation; Pete will be deported for being in the US illegally. BFS accept this; finding that the deportation will take between two and four weeks. Carrie is understandably distraught and contacts various members of the British Ex-pat community in South-east Manitoba. Robert Menhenitt, a.k.a. Bobthedog contacts the British Embassy, finds details about immigration lawyers on the internet and starts the Facebook group, ”Free the Winnipeg One.”

____Meanwhile Chris Arbon is waiting for reload instructions at Trois Rivieres in the Province of Quebec. Instructions come to fly down to El Paso in order to collect C626 and return with it to Montreal. Leaving at 6 o’clock, Tuesday morning and flying via Philadelphia, Phoenix to El Paso, Chris books into a airport hotel and contacts Bobthedog who advises a visit is essential.

____BFS don’t want to employ a lawyer. Pete has run out of telephone money. The case officer in charge of Pete’s deportation refuses to discuss any details and give any idea of when he will be free. Carrie is getting more and more distraught. The British drivers at BFS are demanding that something gets done but the office are resigned to Pete doing the time.

____Pete is finding it difficult to cope with the solitary confinement and lack of progress in his predicament. A small 8 foot by 10 foot cell with just a bed, a toilet and picture on the wall of the Virgin of Guadalajara. However, he is surprised and delighted when he is told he has a visitor; Chris Arbon has come with some telephone money. The two drivers talk for twenty emotional minutes on the telephone at a glass-screened booth. Pete does say that a supervisor is sympathetic to his plight but he seems very depressed about getting out.

____Asking to speak to a supervisor turned out to be the turning point for Pete. Chris Arbon spoke to Mark Cowell and the supervisor took it upon himself to organise Pete’s release. Not justifying, or giving any reason, the supervisor just announced that Pete would be released at two o’clock that afternoon. All he needed was a fax from BFS; stating Pete’s average wage and length of service at BFS. This was to enable Pete to get a new I94 at the Mexican border so that he could carry on with the load to Montreal.

____Due to the constraints of the Data Information act, BFS said it was impossible to send such a fax. It took a 20 minute telephone call from the supervisor to BFS to convince them that their driver would not be free if they did not send the fax. Pete was pleasantly surprised to walk free at three o’clock; take a taxi down to the border, get a new I94 and book into a posh downtown hotel. It was the closest hotel to the Greyhound Bus terminal.

____The Greyhound from El Paso to Alpine had a connection at Fort Stockton but due to a DoT inspection on the bus during the first leg of the trip; the second bus had already left. As Pete sat on the bench, an old SUV drew up in a cloud of dust and the driver asked,

“ Looking for a ride to Alpine? Buddy.”

____Chris Arbon had agreed to $60 and a tank of fuel for the ride down to Alpine with Richie Sheehan, a local of Fort Stockton. It wasn’t until 10 miles down the road and Richie’s announcement that he shouldn’t really go to Alpine due to the conditions of his parole that the two Brits realised they were in for no ordinary ride. Their driver had been caught with half a ton of marijuana in the bed of his pick-up the last time he was this far south. The whole journey was passed with Richie giving details of his drug-running escapades.

____C626 had been towed and there was a bill to be paid but everything was sorted and the two drivers were on their way to Montreal that night. Arriving back in Canada in time to deliver on the Monday morning; team driving the Volvo non-stop.

____Overall Distance: 9426 kms.

Friday, November 19, 2010


____DAY 1: The Ontario-based driver, Couch-John, is on the sofa with his feet up in the driver's lounge when I arrive for work. He was broke-down in Kansas for five days last week; limped back to Steinbach and the truck died again. Couchie tells me that I have been given his load, 8 drops in Quebec and Ontario. A load that he was due to leave with on Saturday; to get him home for the public holiday on the coming Thursday. Now I have to do 1424 miles plus the deliveries in 3 days; thanks to a lemon of a truck. I do 600 miles to Longlac on the Monday.
____DAY 2 : There is a fine line between getting good miles by being a hard working reliable driver and being " the go-to-guy for mission impossible." This load needs to be delivered by Wednesday afternoon so that the truck is available for reloading on Friday morning, after the holiday. Not easy; but I have to go for it, or sit about for the weekend. Another 600 miles to Pembroke and an evening spent looking at maps and making plans.

 ____DAY 3: A good early breakfast at the Irving Big Stop, then across the Ottawa River into Quebec for the first 3 drops, Chapeau, Fort Coulonges and Shawville. Back into Ontario for the Ottawa city Polaris dealer. In a strip mall next door to a charity thrift shop; the rear parking lot is full of late-model prestige European saloons. As the womenfolk of the capital's good and great come to donate. Just enough room to get 75 foot of Kenworth in amongst the Mercs and BMWs. A well dressed middle-aged woman comes over to ask if her X5 is parked in my way.Oh so obvious that she fancies a bit of rough; it's a shame that I'm on a mission.
I knew I would need a bit of luck along the way and it comes at the fifth drop. Ottawa airport, a snowmobile due to be air-freighted to the far north; I'm just in time to get unloaded before the shutter comes down  before lunch. Rockland, Alexandria and finally on to Cornwall; all unloaded by five o'clock. A night at the Fifth-Wheel Truckstop and the Mexican buffet.
____DAY 4: Remembrance Day, not a holiday everywhere and BFS has some office staff working. Reload details arrive at midday: Webster, in New York State, 2414 miles to Calgary, Ab. and 250 miles of empty running for an eight o'clock pick-up on Friday morning. Into the US at the 1000 Islands bridge, south to Syracuse and then along the south shore of Lake Ontario towards Rochester.
____DAY 5: The loader is as surprised to come across an English truck-driver as I am to come across an Australian fork-lift truck driver.
"I hardly noticed your limp, mate, who cut off the ball and chain?"
All good colonial fun. But the load is far from funny: thin gauge steel profiles, up to 20 foot long. Maximum weight of 46,000 lbs, stacked 7 foot high off the deck; it takes all my straps to wrap around every bundle so that none of them can slide forwards or sideways. Then it has to be tarped before I can get back on the New York Thruway, heading west through Pennsylvania, into Ohio and as far as Toledo.
____DAY 6: The Weather Channel is showing a big snow storm in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Interstate 94 will take me right through it. I contemplate staying to the south on Interstate 80, to avoid it, but it's a long way round. I gamble on the snow-plough drivers being eager to put in two early season weekend shifts and that the Interstates will be their priority. There is plenty of snow about by the time I park up at Wilson, Wi. but it is not freezing, just wet.
____DAY 7: An early Sunday start; I need to do another 1000 kilometres today and another 1000 tomorrow. Snow flurries continue throughout the day but the cold wind keep the roads bare and dry. Back into Canada, at North Portal, Saskatchewan and up to Estevan's Husky Truckstop for the night.
____DAY 8: The last leg of the run to Calgary and the snow continues with the temperature hovering at freezing point. My delivery address shows as north-west Calgary, but as there is no-where to stop on that side of town, I choose the Flying'J; situated on the south-east side of town.
____DAY 9: Overnight snow and a temperature drop to -10 has left the tarps with a white crusty coating. It still hasn't blown off by the time I have crawled across town in the early morning rush-hour traffic. I am even more disappointed when I see my carefully tarped load of bright steel profiles are going to be stored outside in the snow. The reload is the typical Calgary to Winnipeg load; pallets of sand and cement with two other drops in Northern Manitoba to fill up the trailer. It takes the rest of the day, creeping around town on hard packed snow, to get loaded. Then it's back to the Flying'J for a shower and a walk over to the Wildhorse Inn with Matthew from C556.
____DAY 10: The roads are still bad when I head out of Calgary on Highway 22X, picking up the Trans-Canada Highway at Siksika. Conditions improve by the time I get to Saskatchewan, but at Swift Current the day gets decidedly worse. The scale is open! It had been boarded-off when I came past on Monday. Now the repair man is working on the westbound side and he has already finished the eastbound. Two DoT officials are checking it out and I am their first paying customer. $510 for being 1430 kgs overweight on the trailer axles. I tell them I will move some of the metal corral panels to the front; which will make things legal. It's hard work; they are heavy and it's slippery on the frozen tarps. I take it slow; hoping another BFS truck will stop and give me a hand. I have moved five panels by the time the scale operatives decide to go home; they say the load now looks good and I can continue on my way. They have long gone by the time I have re-strapped and reweighed; I've only moved 400 kgs but I'm outta there.

 ____DAY 11: I cannot leave Yorkton until 10.00am, as I still need to be driving at midnight; due to the 22.00pm delivery of the sand and cement in Winnipeg. Fourteen hours is the maximum time allowed in a shift. The two metal corrals are for Gilbert Plains and Ste.Rose; both Coop Agricultural Depots. The guys at these places are a delight to work with; always quick and helpful, plus they aren't too bothered if the odd panel slides off and comes crashing down in the road. It is near blizzard conditions when I deliver the sand and cement; the Home Depot guys don't seem to too bothered either. My unloaded pallets are put under a canopy; by the time I pull out, they are covered with snow. It's a slow drive back to Steinbach as freezing rain replaces the snow and the wind shield wipers turn to blocks of swishing ice.
____Overall Distance: 7855 kms.

Friday, November 5, 2010


____DAY 1: A late start and precious daylight running lost as I head east on the Trans-Canada Highway with tarps billowing and flapping in the wind. It's a good job the speed limit at the DoT scales is 3 mph, the tarps just hang limp, tattered and torn. On into Ontario and the town of Longlac for the night; a little short of one thousand kilometres for the day.
____DAY 2: The destination of this load had been changed since I picked it up, but only by a few miles. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the delivery time is changed. From 12 noon it is moved forward to 08.00 am. Four hours is a lot when it is the next morning; I can save two hours by taking an eight hour break instead of ten but even as I push on as far as Pembroke, I can't see it happening.
____DAY 3: Away as early as possible, I now catch all the traffic in the Montreal rush hour. It's half past 9 when I reach St. Mathieu de Beloiel and what do I find? Three more BFS trucks all waiting to get unloaded! It is nearly 4 o'clock in the afternoon by the time I am empty. Not happy, but the reload is at nearby La Prairie and not until the next morning. Then at one o'clock in the morning someone bangs on my cab door. I try not to get angry in these situations; there must be a reason for it. A driver needing my assistance? A pretty young lady needing my companionship? I get dressed and go through to the front; nobody there. But there is a bright green light shining from my dashboard; my reversing spot lamps are still on from when I parked up. My thanks go out to the unknown person who saved me from flat batteries.
____DAY 4: Over at La Prairie, they look at me as if I'm stupid when I'm told my load to Winnipeg was cancelled weeks ago. Three hours later a replacement job comes through on the satellite receiver; five pick-ups of the empty reusable steel crates that  Polaris use to ship their snowmobiles and ATVs. First is Sorel, one hour away, no problem; then Gatineau, where they look at me as if I'm stupid, they sell the Arctic Cat make of ATV that comes in wooden crates. It's getting late when the correct address comes through; I go across town in the hope of getting loaded. Too late, which is just as well, because there is nobody to look at me as if I'm stupid. They sell the Cam-Am Bombardier make of  ATV and snowmobile which also comes in wooden non-returnable crates. I'm not waiting until morning for another address and leave Gatineau; making it as far as North Bay as I head for New Liskeard.
____DAY 5: Tritown Motorsports has a huge stack of empty Polaris crates. At last something on this trip is going in my favour! With 24 from Sorel and 96 from New Liskeard the trailer is now full; no need to call in at Timmins and Cochrane; hammer down for Steinbach. All day I have a raging thirst; drinking five of a Gatorade six-pack. I put it down to the peameal ham that is always the breakfast special at the North Bay Truckstop. Do try my newly invented cocktail; one part Cointreau to three parts Lime/lemon Gatorade over ice. OK, so they were the only two beverages I had in the appartment at the time but I think I have stumbled onto a classic. Easy to make, easy to drink and finding a name was a piece of cake too. I call it "Gateau", except in the French speaking Province of Quebec, where it will be known as "Gatineau."
____DAY 6: A cold start to the day at minus 6, a morning when staying in bed, covered by a duvet and two thick fleece blankets, seems the best option. But it's a full days drive from Nipigon to Steinbach and it has to be done. Bright and breezy with a late afternoon high of 10 degrees C; the empty crates are a fairly light trouble free load. Back in the yard just after five o'clock, unstrapped and trailer dropped; home by six.
____Overall Distance: 5192 kms.