Sunday, October 30, 2011

Deliver: Nazareth. Reload: Northumberland.

____Day 1: It could have been any one of the Canadian women that I have dated; when the office told me that my next load was "Crackers." Luckily; it was 60 pallets of square savory biscuits from a bakery in Winnipeg, going down into the US. After a customs examination at Pembina, I make my way to Wilson in Wisconsin on a busy Sunday afternoon.
____Day 2: The crackers are for two RDCs; the first in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook which does have a truckstop at my Interstate 55 exit. With an early morning appointment, on Tuesday, it's convenient but not the sort of place to stop if you don't have to. Another short mileage day, which will be the pattern for the whole trip.
A Peterbilt and a Kenworth, in the long and low style that is so popular.
____Day 3: I hate Regional Distribution Centres and judging from the large number that have banned me from premises; they don't like me too. But Bolingbrook is brand new and with plenty of eager staff, pleased to be out of the unemployment line. In and out, inside an hour, how it should be. I wonder if it will stay that way? Onto the next drop; east along Highway 30 for a night at TA Lodi in Ohio.
____Day 4: The next delivery is not booked in until Thursday morning; so another low mileage day. Interstate 80 through Pennsylvania with only 13,000 lbs of biscuits on the rolling hills; cloaked in orange and brown  autumnal colour. I continue the experiment; to see if modern man can survive on coffee and Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen chicken tenders, with plenty of visits to the Travelcenters of America along the way.
An alloy-wheeled eleven-axle steel-hauling B-train.
____Day 5: The RDC at Nazareth is typical of the Regional Distribution Centres that I loathed so much in the UK: long wait to get unloaded, long wait for paperwork, unhelpful staff and its pouring with rain. This one also has the added annoyance of the "Lumpers" system; where a driver is expected to pay for his trailer to be unloaded. I take the option of unloading the crackers by myself; which would have been easy if the pallets hadn't been loaded the "wrong" way round. The notches cut out of the solid pallet side do not align with the pallet truck that I have been given to work with. It takes a lot if lifting and wedging; then ramming and dragging to get the 15 pallets off. After all the messing about, there is still time to get reloaded at Northumberland, two hours west. Fifteen hot-tubs and covers; loaded in 15 minutes.
Well maintained old Mack tipper had to be heard to be believed: awesome exhaust note!
____Day 6: From the TA at Lodi, with the first chance of the trip to put in some decent mileage. The average for the five days is only 700 km. Now I need two days of over a thousand, to get home. Crossing Chicago at the wrong time doesn't help, especially when the truck in front has a bump. A car cuts in on a truck, going into some roadworks, and the truck can't stop. Normally the driver of truck would be at fault; but this guy gets out and gives this woman such a piece of his mind that she jumps in her car and drives off in tears.
____Day 7: Flying Eagles #28 and #31 pull out of Black River Falls in the Saturday morning darkness; heading for home. The popcorn on #28 has yet to be popped; so Darrin's load is much heavier than the hot-tubs, which are empty. We chat on the CB for a while, before the undulating terrain of Wisconsin causes the distance between us to increase and the signal to deteriorate. A full days drive back to the yard with coffee stops at Hasty and Fargo.
____Overall Distance: 5454 km.
One of many Allied Orange Big-Sleepers doing light-weight removal work.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On The Blood Red Roads Of Minnesota And Wisconsin.

____Day 1: A midday start on a Tuesday; running up to Beausejour to load peat moss before crossing into the States at Warroad. East to International Falls before picking up Highway 53 southbound. Then BANG. Animal strike. I saw something flash across the headlights of an on-coming pick-up truck. He clipped the hind legs of Whitetail doe and sent her spinning into my path. I was on the brakes in an instant; but at 55mph with 44,000lbs of dirt on board, 18-wheelers can't stop on a dime. It's a sad fact of life that truck-drivers don't swerve $150,000 worth of equipment into the ditch to avoid an animal; so Bambi's mum got stamped on the butt with a Manitoba license plate. Fortunately for Flying Eagle #31, the creature was on it's knees and the bumper took the impact; saving the hood, grill and lights from damage.
Raw peat-moss being brought in from the mine.
____Day 2: Late away from the Nemadji Truckstop, on the outskirts of Superior; heading to the Flying'J at La Salle in Illinois. The peat-moss is for the near by town of Granville; so this going to be one of the rare sub-1000 mile trips that I've done for Flying Eagle.
____Day 3: A good tip at the huge greenhouse complex of the Mid-American Growers site before heading north to the Il-Wi border and place that sounds like a question, Genoa City? Apart from glider engines and rocking-horse pooh; probably the lightest load that I have ever carried: 64 giant rolls of bubble-wrap filled the trailer to capacity. Going to Winnipeg; I reach Hasty for a night at Olson's.
A cracked bumper was light damage compared to what could have happened if the deer had been standing-up.
____Day 4: Back to the yard; to show them the damaged truck. Nobody is too surprised. For high mileage drivers, it's not a case of IF you hit an animal, it's a case of WHEN. At over a million kilometres and five years, here in North America, this was my first deer strike. My last was in 2001; a little AX Citroen took the antlers off the head of a young buck, along a country lane in deepest darkest Dordogne. My animal-loving lady picked up the stunned creature and put it in the car. Back at the farm; I was just lifting the thing out of the hatch-back when Marie-Odile's eldest daughter came out of the house and screamed,
"Eeeeeeee, une biche!"
The startled deer kicked me in the balls as it exploded into life and then ran off.
____Overall Distance: 3052 km.
Seed-carrying bulker, off to the fields, where winter wheat drilling is in full swing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You can all go to Hell and I shall go to Texas : Davy Crockett.

____Day 1: The 2200 kilometres from Niverville to Madisonville are possible in two days driving but to make things easier and to get the truck washed; I leave on the Thanksgiving Monday afternoon. Henry, the head man in the workshops, had come in to service #31, earlier in the day. He had agreed to do the work, last week, before he realised it was a holiday. Good to see that he was prepared to keep his word.
____Day 2: From Fargo's Northstar Truck Wash to the Flying'J at Salina, Kansas. A load of peat moss for a Texan mushroom grower, along the familiar route of Interstate 29 and Highway 81 with the usual coffee-stops at Vermillion, Norfolk and York.

The soya and maize harvest brings out all the old work-horses like this Peterbilt 362.
 ____Day 3: All interstate highway; #'s 135, 35, 45. The major cities of Wichita, Oklahoma, and Dallas before heading south towards Houston. There are plenty of billboards for a place called "Buc-ee's"; located at my Madisonville exit. But when I arrive; I find a huge empty parking lot and a hundred signs saying, "No Trucks." I park on a pot-holed, vacant lot just across the road. Thankfully, it is a rarity to see trucks excluded from places in North America. I go across to see what makes Buc-ee's so special that it doesn't need truckers. A very big gas station, convenience store and gift shop with the largest selection of beef jerky that I have seen anywhere. I make a point of buying nothing and then use the washroom; those sort of places hate that.

New piggy-backed Cascadias, sporting factory fitted moose bars.
 ____Day 4: Davy Crockett was pigeon-toed and at the age of four, every night for six months, went to bed with splints bandaged to his legs. My parents said that he never made a fuss and grew up to walk straight and true; adding that I would too. I also got a raccoon skin hat. Now, 53 years later, as I drive from Madisonville to Lufkin; I pass through a splendid section of woodland that is named after my boyhood hero. The Davy Crockett National Forest; run forest run.

The fields of bare mud left by the receding Missouri River after months of flooding.
 ____Day 5: The usual load of grinding powder from Lufkin, back to Winnipeg, before being transshipped onto an Albertan-bound trailer. North out of Checotah, after a night at the Flying'J, to Joplin and onto Kansas City. Interstate 29 has re-opened after months of flooding by the Missouri River. Plants cannot grow without water, but too much water kills them; hundreds of acres of land lay bare and the trees are leafless. Reminding me of a desert; but one caused by water and not the lack of it.
____Day 6: At the splitting of Interstates 80 and 29, near Omaha, the GPS mileage figure to the next junction was 614 miles; ten miles from home. Of course, "She-who-must-be-obeyed" wasn't quiet for all that distance; as I pulled off at Watertown for the night and at Fargo for fuel in the morning. Back in the yard at two in the afternoon.
____Overall Distance: 4884 km.

Class 8 Peterbilt Motorhome Conversion, spotted at York, Nebraska.
I want one!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


____Day 1: A regular re-load for a flatdeck was high quality red cedar from North Plains, Oregon, to Steinbach. Now I'm at the other end of the factory; picking up a pre-loaded trailer of high quality windows going down to the US. A day of over a thousand kilometres; down to Mauston and a rendezvous with Searcy #202. 

Searcy #202 seeking out a quiet corner of the truck-park.
 ____Day 2: Breakfast with Mr. Ramsden; then another thousand-plus kilometres. Interstate cruise control driving only broken by a phone call from the office. The usual Monday afternoon question: "Did I draw fuel at the yard?" The fact that I recorded the fact in triplicate seems to be lost on this member of the office staff. They seem to think I might have forgotten; insinuating that I am not doing my job properly. Time for a rant; which should end the nuisance calls. I hope.
____Day 3: After a night in the hills of Kentucky, I reach the first drop at Knoxville just before midday. Sixty windows to be carried off, one at a time; carefully. Then it's on to Atlanta for number two. But they close at 15.30 so it's not possible and I have quiet night on a deserted industrial estate in north-west Atlanta.

Big bales of cotton in Alabama.
 ____Day 4: Surprisingly; the east-coast state of Florida has a section that is in the Central Time Zone. This is fortunate; giving me an extra hour to get down to Youngstown after delivering in Georgia. Into Alabama; at Columbus and south on US Highway 431, the self-proclaimed "Highway to the Gulf." A well surfaced four-lane passing through wooded country dotted with fields of cotton and peanuts. Empty in Florida and back north to Columbus for a reload of supermarket chiller cabinets.

Truck-driving dog owner looks like his pets.
 ____Day 5: A big delay in loading; which I eventually get to the truth. One of the cabinets has been damaged coming through the warehouse to the loading dock. Quality Control arrange for repairs and it 7 o'clock in the evening before I'm rolling. But getting stuck does have it's compensations; the view from the truck is over lawns running into pine woodland, very quiet and peaceful. Eventually; a late finish after cutting through Alabama and back into Tennessee on Interstate 65.

Not another alien abduction return: A Rest Area tribute for the Saturn rocket-builders of Huntsville, Alabama.
 ____Day 6: Late finishes mean late starts, but after three relative short days, I have enough driving hours to get home without a re-set. Nashville, then St Louis, varying the return route; onto Cedar Rapids with another thousand kilometres going on the clock and taking it over the 100,000 mark.
____Day 7: Two big hits to get down to the drops. Now two big hits to get back home. At less than 10,000 lbs, I do have one thing in my favour; no incline takes the big Cummins out of top gear, all the way home. Returning 7.9 mpg for the whole trip and that's US gallons at 3.5 litres each. Not bad for a double-drive pulling a high trailer.
____Overall Distance: 6229 km.

Trailers of peanuts waiting to be roasted, salted and eaten.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


____Day at the Races: The last meeting of the season at Asssiniboia Downs, and the sixth time that I have managed to fit in the horses with my work. Ten races on the card; of which two pay out. Not a profitable day but fine Autumn sunshine on a Sunday afternoon. A big crowd and big fields; as all the trainers seek that final win for their owners.
____Day 1: A load of flax to Oklahoma; the first time I have carried this product of the northern Prairies. The seeds from the low blue flowered plant that is also grown for it's fibre. A heavy load of 50lb paper sacks bound for a pet-food production plant, 40 miles west of Oklahoma City. South on the familiar Interstate 29 to Vermilion, before cutting across to Highway 81 and an overnight halt at Norfolk, Nebraska.

Two classic Peterbilts up for grabs at Cubby's in Nebraska.
 ____Day 2: After fuel at Salina; I take side-roads through rural Kansas and into Oklahoma. An area now experiencing an energy boom on three fronts. The high price of oil makes it economical to sink wells and new pump-jack sites are everywhere. Wind-turbines group together on the high ridges and the corn-fields are being harvested for the production of ethanol. An interesting afternoon drive down to Clinton; avoiding the toll of the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Mainstreet, Smalltown, Mid-America; where there is no need to fold up your ramps when hauling your digger.
 ____Day 3: The flax-seed is unloaded promptly at the pet-care place; where it is used in the more expensive cat and dog foods as a fatty-acid oil that combats the growth of tumours. The medicinal properties of flax have a history going back to BC 3000. Then comes the news that the reload is at Southard, only 40 miles away but not available until the next day. However, Clinton does have an adequate truck-stop and is also the home of the Route 66 Museum of Oklahoma. Interesting exhibits and details of the Mother Road's history with old black and white films showing in the movie theatre.

Isn't it ironic; pump-jacks driven by the power of wind-turbines.
 ____Day 4: If the south-bound load was heavy; the north-bound load of gypsum plaster is even heavier. Scaling at 79,950lbs with the tanks less that half full of diesel. At the first DOT weigh-bridge; I sit at a red light for a long, long time before it thankfully flickers to green. Maybe the green was due to the fact that the truck is equipped with the Tri-Pac auxiliary power unit: a lot of states now give a 400lb allowance for the anti-idling donkey motor. The load is going to Saskatoon; but only to Niverville with #31. To the Flying'J at Sioux Falls for the night.

You can't park that here next to me, thank-you.
 ____Day 5: Interstate 29 all the way home. Any serious long-haul trucker will tell you that the Flying Eagle job is a good one. But there was one thing that had been niggling me: I was on a lower pay rate than other drivers. Something that I was willing to endure for my first three months and it was partly my fault as I presumed I would be paid the same as the others. I had never spoken to the office about money; but after 4 months, I felt it was time for a quiet word. And whoosh and zoom; I get a pay rise of half of one cent per mile, to take me level with the others. So would I have jacked in a good job because of such a small amount? Damn right I would; there was no way, after thirty-six years in the industry, that I was going to do the exact same work, for less pay, as a couple of Welsh blokes.
____Overall Distance: 3535 km.

Mummy and baby Longhorn.
You can tell it was a slow trip; when I have time to photograph cattle.