Thursday, March 24, 2011


____ I have recieved a proof copy from the publisher and given the book the OK. It's now available online and I have ordered a box of ten which I'll sell for $20 each. First come, first served. It's not perfect; there are a few places where the layout could be better and the place names on the maps are in very small print. Some of the photos came out better than others and I thought it would be a bit thicker. The cover came out really well and I'm proud of that. Also the font, which is called "Segue UI", makes the printed page look clean and tidy. There is nothing new in the book that you cannot read on the blog, so I don't want anybody to be disappointed with it. Just click to see what postage and packing rates are to your part of the world.  www.createspace.com/3575340

Trip XXXV.

____Day 1: Friday morning in Selkirk, just north of Winnipeg, the temperature is above freezing as I load two consignments of steel grader blades for Iowa and Mississippi. Tarped, scaled and back to Steinbach by midday; where Eric, the training guy, says Manitoba is under a blizzard warning. Hard to believe when it’s plus 6 and sunny. But just after dark, it starts blowing and snowing; dropping down to minus 18.

 ____Day 2: A wind chill of minus 30, as I bundle up and go for breakfast. The roads are hard-packed snow, beginning to shine as more and more vehicles buff-up the surface with spinning tyres. The DoT internet sites for Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota, all show road closures and it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon before the border reopens. There’s a long line of trucks waiting to go south at Pembina and it’s late in the evening by the time I reach Sauk Centre.
____Day 3: An hour lost due to the changing of the clocks but it’s not a hard day’s driving down to Delhi in Iowa. Interstate and four-lane highway all the way. Big surprise is that the locals pronounce it: Dell-High.
____Day 4: Unloaded and away by eight-thirty, south to St. Louis and onto Interstate 55, which will lead me to within a couple of miles of my other drop. At Sikeston, Missouri, I look over the fence at Shelby Elliott’s place; east side of the highway. The biggest selection of used trucks with the biggest sleepers in the world. One day I’ll stop; but I push on to Matthews for the night.
____Day 5: Missouri, into Arkansas, a few miles of Tennessee at Memphis, then three hours south on the Double-Nickel to Jackson, Mississippi. The customer at Pearl is not expecting me until Wednesday morning but I’m unloaded and away by half- three. Back north to Memphis, to end the day an hour south of my reload at Blytheville, Arkansas. Steel pipes going to Lac La Biche, Alberta. Two thousand miles plus.
____Day 6: The new truck isn’t carrying any pipestakes and I need four. The office gives me the phone number of Gerry in Blytheville. I call and we arrange to meet in an abandoned truck-stop on the edge of town. A battered pick-up truck rolls up, driven by a seventy year-old guy with a dog on his lap. Four pipestakes for $150 from the world’s slowest speaking person; there’s southern boy drawl and then there’s good’ol Gerry-boy drawl. He makes me sound like an auctioneer. I need a receipt; Gerry is also the world’s slowest writer plus he can’t speak and write both at the same time. At the pipe yard, I have just completed my safety induction course when I return to the truck: satellite message. Job cancelled!
____Day 7: The new reload is from Jackson, Missouri, two hours north; wire-mesh shelving going to Kelowna, British Columbia. 2260 miles. It’s one off them loads where the straps have to go over the wooden frames that hold the bundles of shelving together; otherwise the product would get damaged. Also, I’m not allowed to walk on the load and have to unroll the tarps whilst balancing on the rubbing rail at the side of the trailer. It makes for an untidy tarp job. Away just after 9 o’clock; I get in a full days driving, reaching the Missouri/Iowa border on the Interstate 29.

 ____Day 8: After a faultless DoT inspection at Jefferson, South Dakota, north to Sioux Falls, then west onto Interstate 90; counting down the mile markers from 397 towards 61 and a night at Rapid City, in the Badlands. On the outbound load, for a long way, I tracked the Mississippi River; downstream. For the return load, I am heading upstream alongside the Missouri River; towards it’s headwaters in Montana.
____Day 9: This trip has over 1000 miles of Interstate 90, but I break up to monotony by taking the Highway 212 shortcut through Broadus. This cuts out Wyoming and it’s Port of Entry paperwork inspection; bringing me back on the 90 at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. I fuel up at Belgrade; then the big CAT climbs well into the Rocky Mountains. With only 16000 lbs. of cargo, I fly over the Continental Dividing Line; straight into a snow-storm. Five-hundred and fifty miles to Kelowna and all of it on high-country roads; at the mercy of the Jet-stream and the weather blowing in from the north Pacific Ocean. What falls as rain at the coast; falls as snow at high altitude.
____Day 10: An early morning log-book hours check at Missoula tells me I have only 5 hours driving for today. Not a worry as the load is not due for delivery until Tuesday. So Sunday is a late start, early finish, 200 miles through to Spokane.
____Day 11: Now I’m tracking the third great river of this trip; the Columbia, crossing at the Great Coulee Dam. Canadian regulations give me an extra 10 hours driving as soon as I cross the border at Osoyoos, British Columbia. With a two hour gain from crossing two time zones, I decide to go for it and try and get the load off a day early. At Kelowna, the builders merchants are very helpful; even help folding the tarps. In and out in an hour. The office is on the ball too; a reload from BC to Wisconsin and they say it’s up to me if I can reload early. Crossing the Columbia again, this time by ferry, on my way to Nakusp.

____Day 12: Stan Alto in C623 is already at the Box Lake Lumber Company when I arrive. He’s also loading for Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a Monday morning delivery as well. Two loads of Red Cedar post and rail fencing; high and heavy but smelling nice. An old style lumber yard clinging to a hill-side as snow melts and rain falls; we load, scale and tarp. North out of Nakusp and an hours wait for the Galena Bay ferry to Revelstoke. Then another delay as an avalanche is cleared from the Trans-Canada Highway at the Rogers Pass. Finally out of the mountains and it starts to snow; a hard days work to get to Strathmore for fuel and the bunk.

____Day 13: Snow is still falling as I pull out onto the TCH; heading east across the Prairies. There are a few trucks and cars that have gone off the road; some places are treacherous. Then I notice that nothing is coming in the opposite direction, a sure sign of trouble ahead. One 18 wheeler on it’s side and another jack-knifed; west bound lanes are blocked but east bound is clear. I push onto Brandon with 101fm, The Farm, saying it’s going down to minus 20 overnight. Welcome back to Manitoba!
____Day 14: Back in the yard by midday for a log hour reset. A big triangle of a trip. Two days off and I’ll leave with it, early on Sunday.
____Overall Distance: 8921 km.

Monday, March 14, 2011

PART TWO : Back to Work.

____ The cycling shorts have been exchanged for the insulated coveralls. 30 lbs. lighter and with the blood pressure down from 150 / 95 to an acceptable 125 / 85, I'm back at Big Freight. I have lost so much weight that several people have asked if I am suffering from some serious illness. When I tell them of the 4300 kilometre cycle tour of New Zealand; it only confirms that I have serious mental health issues.
____ I have signed on to truck number C592. a Kenworth T 800 from the same batch as C 596. It took the best part of a week to get the vehicle serviced, saftied, cleaned, insde and out. Also it's been re-equiped with straps, chains, bungies and tarps etc. Much better to get it all sorted in the yard than out on the road. First trip is 1610 miles; a load of steel from Selkirk, Manitoba with two drops; to the States of Iowa and Mississippi

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Latest News On The New Book.

Final selection for the back cover.
____The book of the blog is now at the publishers and a proof copy is in the post. It just needs my approval after checking everything and the book will be on sale. The price will be $23.95 + packaging and postage available from CreateSpace, the publisher and from Amazon.com a couple of weeks afterwards. It is more expensive than my other book because it is in colour and in a larger format even though it is 142 pages compared with 396.
Front cover-  8'x10'
____WARNING ! If you have read all the blog posts then you have read the book. It is all the Canadian trips of 2010; the only difference being that the book starts in January and finishes in December. I don't expect a lot of sales to blog readers but I'm going to send copies to truck magazines and hope that good reviews will generate some sales. Also the British publisher of The Long Haul Pioneers have expressed an interest in the manuscript.It would be nice to have the book available from UK bookshops. Watch this space!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Snow Chains And A Shovel.

____My newly found prowess in snow chain fitting was a big factor in my decision to take the Transylvanian mountain route across Romania. By the end of the first day, I knew it was the bad option. Progress was slow and as darkness fell I was stuck at the bottom of a particularly steep incline, with only the knowledge that all the brown bears were in hibernation to console me.

____At the crack of dawn, I was out with one of the world’s most travelled shovels; trying to guess if the raised humps on the snow covered verge contained heaps of grit. Invariably they did not, so I had to make do with chunks of turf to provide my grip. It took over two hours to give the 300 metres up to the brow of the hill a liberal sprinkling of dirt, stones and grass. Once I began moving, I did not want to stop again, on this or any other hill; so I brewed up a cup of tea and had something to eat before I started. While I was drinking my well earned cuppa, a snow plough came over the top of the hill, pushed all my hard work into the side of the road, swerved round me and disappeared out of my rear view mirrors. I was stunned, not only because I had wasted the whole morning, but I had never before seen a snowplough in Romania.

____In frustration, I attacked the hill as it was, gunning the Merc at full throttle in third gear. All this did was to spin the wheels and the offside snow chain flew into a hundred pieces. Fortunately, the snow plough returned an hour later, when he put me on the end of his tow chain. For the next 40 miles I was towed up hill and down dale until the driver came to his home town. At times, I thought the snow plough driver had forgotten that I was still attached; but he was only trying to maximise his Kent cigarette income on a mileage basis. The driver was well pleased with his 200 king size. I felt for a thousand, he would have pulled me all the way to the Hungarian border.

____Out of Romania, it was no warmer, but driving conditions improved as I drove further west. For the last leg of the journey, my sole surviving snow chain was able to stay hanging on its hook at the back of the unit; shining brightly. Appearing for a few days as if it was made of stainless steel; before slowly returning to rust.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Romanian Winter Roads 1985.

____ I was laying awake, wondering how long I could last before having to get up and go for a leak when there was a crash of metal on metal as the cab rocked violently. I jumped up, pulled the curtains and found that a Russian truck had driven into the offside of my cab. The driver was trying to back away, but was only spinning his wheels on the ice, as the two vehicles rubbed together. Because of the cold, I had been sleeping with my clothes on, so after pulling on my boots and grabbing my jacket, I climbed out of the passenger door to inspect the damage. As I went round the front, the Russian driver finally found some grip and the two truck cabs parted company. My Scania had a broken indicator, a cracked mirror lens and the mirror arm, which seemed to have taken the blunt of the impact, was badly bent. The Russian Kaz had similar damage; the driver was tall, young and not in the least bit apologetic.

____I rubbed my thumb and forefinger together to indicate to the Russian that I wanted some money for the damage he had done. The Kaz driver scoffed at my demands and started gesticulating that it was all my fault because if I had not parked so close to his truck he would not have hit my cab. It was then that I elected to hit him; deciding to use my head and nut the Russian. He had shown no remorse or respect, which made me angry. As I had pulled my head back, ready to thrust it forwards into his face, I realised I was standing on a sheet of ice. The small movement had transferred too much weight to the rear of my body, causing my feet to shoot out from underneath me. As I fell to the ground, I inadvertently drop kicked the Russian in the shins; he came down on top of me, with his nose colliding painfully with my knee.

____All this was witnessed by the two other Russian drivers, who had been drinking coffee in their cabs. The first time I noticed them was when they got out of their trucks and slammed the doors. A quick glance at the registration plates made me think I was in big trouble but, luckily, they failed to recognise my rearward head movement as an act of aggression. The Russians just came over to help us back onto our feet, even seeing the funny side of the situation. After making a cup of coffee for me and the guy with the nosebleed, the Russians advised him to give me some money. The Kaz driver came out with 200 Romanian Lei and we shook hands on it.

____My traveling companions, John and George, got up about an hour later, by which time all three Russians had gone off in the direction of Bulgaria.

    “What have you done to your mirror arm?” inquired George.

    “Is that blood on the snow down there?” asked John, as we sat in my cab, drinking coffee.

    “Where were you two when I needed you?” I said, continuing the interrogation line of conversation.

____The thick, freezing fog of that morning was like no fog I had ever seen before; instead of being a calm, still day, the wind was blowing at gale force. As the trucks headed north into the blast, they became encrusted, all over, in ice more than an inch thick. With my heater fans on full speed and all the air directed at the windscreen, it just about remained free from ice. Up ahead, John’s Volvo was struggling with an oil leak in the air compressor, which meant that the engine had to be run at high revs to stop the brakes from coming on. However, George in the Foden was in real trouble: his heater and fan lost the battle against the ice. The only two areas of clear windscreen on the Foden were two half circles, the size of a dinner plate, at the bottom of the glass, close to the air vents. To cope with this problem we all had to stop and chip away at the ice every few miles.

    "Break that windscreen and you'll find yourself driving a Foden; a fucking freezing Foden!" warned George when I became a bit too aggressive with my ice clearing.

____By mid-afternoon, we had only covered a 150 kilometres which had brought us onto the wide open plain north of Bucharest. As the relentless onslaught of the freezing fog showed no sign of easing, John was anxious that we should find some shelter before nightfall and the inevitable fall in temperature. In the limited visibility, all we could see were the big flat fields of the communal farms. The only cover that we came across was a group of haystacks in one of the fields. John took a chance by driving onto the frozen dirt, but after he managed to get some shelter from the wind, George and I followed.

____For the distance travelled and the trouble we had; it was hardly worth it, especially as next day turned out clear and bright. Just after the town of Roman, we stopped at a lay-by in order to fill our water containers from a nearby well that John had discovered on a previous trip. As the turn off for Iasi [ Yash ] was only a couple of miles up the road, I said goodbye to John and George and carried on alone, hoping to reach Radauti that night.

____Running on the hard packed snow and ice was not a problem for the Scania. In the flat countryside, the only problem I had was when I encountered a low bridge, just before reaching my destination. Normally, low bridges were only a couple of inches lower than the front of the trailer, but this one only came up to the bottom of my windscreen. It was a wide, flat road, with several car tracks in the snow. I could not understand why the bridge had been built so low or what it carried over the road. When I got out to have a look, I soon figured out what was going on: it was a road bridge over a river and I was driving on top of the frozen water. When I reversed back along the river in the dark, it was not easy, but I did not dare try a U-turn as I would have surely lost all traction. All the water must have been frozen solid as I did not hear any cracking in the still night air. In the limited light of my hazard warning flashers, I retraced my tyre tracks to the slight slope where I had left the road, before charging off the ice covered river-bed and back onto ice covered ashphalt.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Canada : Winter 2011

A Mike Muhling Photograph.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Romania : Winter 1986.

____With all the cold weather in late December and January, I had expected it to have warmed up a bit in Romania; but, if anything, it was colder still, as I made my way up the main road from Bucharest to the Soviet border. Just how cold it could get in the middle of February was shown to me one night when the Mercedes’ engine died, just north of the town of Roman. The German made anti-freeze fuel additive called “Long Drive” said on the bottle that it was good for minus 24 degrees centigrade. I could only presume that it was minus 25 when the diesel in the fuel lines froze and I came to a halt in the snowy wastes of the windswept Rumanian plains. That night, I went to bed fully clothed, inside two sleeping bags, with my sheepskin coat over my head and I still shivered.
____In the morning, I turned the engine over, but it would not fire. Careful not to run down the batteries, I left it and hoped the sun would warm things up. The sun never came through the clouds all day, so I had to resort to filling empty food tins with near solid diesel and lighting little fires under the lorry. At the end of the day, the motor still would not start, plus my camping gas bottle in the cab would not light because it, too, was frozen. Back on the bottom bunk, I shivered through another night, after chewing on a couple of rock hard Mars bars.
____Day two was much the same as day one, with only the arrival of a couple of Bulgarian trucks, on their way back to Sofia from Kiev, to relieve the monotony. The drivers obviously thought there might be some handy bits and pieces to be had from an abandoned British truck, but they left empty-handed after boiling me some water for a coffee. The Bulgarians also gave me a swig from a spirit bottle that reminded me of nali varnish remover, as it burnt its way down my throat and into my stomach. My only other visitors were an old couple in a horse drawn sled. I swapped 20 cigarettes for a loaf of bread, but declined the offer to go back to their place. The little fire in the baked bean cans burnt for about three hours at a time, but had no noticeable effect on the frozen engine. On the morning of the third day, I figured that the wind blowing underneath the lorry was taking most of the heat away from where it was supposed to go. To stop this, I got out the world’s most travelled shovel and built a wall of snow against the front and sides of the tractor unit. With the addition of a couple of extra cans, whose contents I had consumed cold, the little fires started to give off some perceptible warmth. When it was getting dark, the battery spun the starter for the umpteenth time, but with success, as the vee-eight came to life for the first time in 72 hours.
____The fourth night was just as cold as the previous three, so I kept the engine running, the fires burning and the snow walls in place. From now on, I would only run in day light when temperatures were, hopefully, higher. It took over a week to go from Istanbul to Radauti. It was the best part of another week before the barbecues were ready to load. By the time I got back to the UK, I had been away for the best part of a month. What had started out with my quickest ever run down to Istanbul, finished up as my slowest ever round trip. As Fred Archer only paid you for the trip and not the time it took, I would have been better off staying at home.