Saturday, December 24, 2011

Feliz Navidad

 ____Day 1: The word "Weekend" seldom exists in the life of a long-haul trucker; substitute "Trip-end." It's "Night-at-home, day-off, night-at-home and go again" as companies try and maximise the productivity of expensive machinery. The thirty-six hour minimum break  can be stretched to forty-something sometimes but this time it's 35 hours 59 minutes 60 seconds and I'm on my way to Laredo with another load of peat-moss. The sooner I leave, the sooner I get back for Christmas. Ploughing the familiar south-bound furrow to Cubby Bear's Truckstop at Norfolk, Nebraska.
____Day 2: The peat-moss is for trans-shipment onto a Mexican trailer and onward delivery to a Mexican mushroom grower; good to know that it's not going to be used for growing dope. An easy Sunday's drive down to the Flying'J at Ardmore; with the only busy roads being encountered at Oklahoma City where Interstates 35, 40 and 44 all merge.
Flying Eagle #31 at the end of another cold Winter's day.
____Day 3: Ardmore is a popular overnight halt for all those trucks that have an early morning delivery in the Dallas/Fort Worth area; less than an hour's drive and a lot safer place to stay. I have a late start, to avoid the rush-hour, last to leave a deserted truck-park in the Monday morning rain. Normally there is very little chatter on the CB radio; just the odd call when it's safe to change lanes: "Bring it over Flying Eagle." To which I drawl; "Pre-she-ate-it." But at Laredo the air-waves are alive; DVDs-15 for $20, trips to Boystown for $25, part-worn trailer tyre for sale, handgun with full clip for sale. Then someone mentions the "N" word and all hell breaks loose. "Meet me on the scale at the Flying'J and prepare to die, bitch." I have a ringside seat and wonder if either is going to take advantage of the available weaponry. Only one guy shows-up and then he goes off on the eight-thirty tour to the Mexican red-light district.
____Day 4: Peat-moss delivered and a reload from less than a mile away; textiles for Calgary. Perfect in every detail; except that there are only 9 pallets. There will be two more collections before the trailer is full. On to Houston and the Brookshire Flying'J where I meet Kathy in Flying Eagle #156; also loading in Houston after running empty from Eagle Pass.
With low-emission exhausts, trucks no longer need the stack up the back.
____Day 5: Straighter than a preacher, longer than a memory: The Texan Interstate 10 runs east from El Paso, 868 miles to Orange. Junction at mile-marker 757 and north, 1 mile; the Mitsubishi fork-lift factory and two machines for Winnipeg. Blocked and chocked inside an hour; then away to pick-up number three. Nine hundred miles away at Fort Calhoun in Nebraska. Driving for the rest of the day takes me to the Belle Plaine service area on the Kansas State Turnpike.
____Day 6: Swift, the huge transport operation from Phoenix, Arizona, has a reputation for hiring a lot of inexperienced drivers and I admit to having been frustrated by their novice antics and bad decision making. I wake up next to a Swift truck with flat batteries but when the driver asks for my help; I give him a boost. The guy has less than six months on the road after 30 years as a prison warder. Over fifty and on a steep learning curve in his new profession; always run your engine before you go to bed if you've been standing all day. But he didn't call the office, he bit the bullet, bought some jump-leads and got it going. He'll probably make a good driver. Out of Kansas, into Nebraska and loaded with plastic and foil food-trays at Fort Calhoun; ending the day at Watertown.
____Day 7: An early start; with the office calling for the swift return of the trailer so that it can be de-vanned on the Friday afternoon. #31 is also due for it's 150,000 kilometre service, which gets started whilst I'm still in the cab; filling out my expense sheet for the trip. Good job they only needed to tip the hood; if they'd tipped the cab, I'd have been writing with my nose pressed up against the windshield.
____Overall Distance: 5880 km.
What's this? Santa Claus delivering presents in a red pick-up truck?

Friday, December 16, 2011

K is for Kalispell, Montana.

____Day 1: The route from Niverville to Helena, via Fargo in North Dakota, is 20 miles longer than the route through to Alberta and down into Montana by way of Sweetgrass. So it makes a change to head west with a load of peat-moss on a Saturday afternoon. Coffee and cookies at Brandon; heading for a late finish at Swift Current when BOOM. A side-wall of a trailer tyre gives way; I feel the cab rock, such was the force of the escaping air. Only ten miles of limping along until the Swift Husky truckstop.

____Day 2: The Husky is truly blessed with tyre changing options; Integra Tires next door, Fountain Tire on the other side and Kaltire, just 300 yards away. Kaltire get the work and soon give a clue as to why a perfect looking tyre should blow-out at sub-zero temperatures. Six of the 8 trailer tyres are low-profile and two are not; the odd pair have been subjected to considerably more weight and that's why one has blown. A costly mistake by the tyre fitter; not only because of the Sunday call-out surcharge but because I now need two new tyres. Eventually away at noon, I run down to Helena, the capital city of Montana; sadly driving the scenic Interstate15 in darkness.
____Day 3: High Country Growers won't have many truck-loads of peat-moss during the year; a small operation perched on the side of a south facing slope. Greenhouses full of poinsettias ready for Christmas. Unloaded and away to Kalispell, the only town starting with the letter "K" listed in Montana. A trailer load of office furniture, neatly stacked and banded onto fourteen 8ft x 4ft pallets. I take US Hwy 2, east, out of the Mission Mountains and the Glacier National Park; enjoying the scenery in fading daylight before coming to rolling grassland and darkness on my way back to the border.
Oversize load in the mountains in Winter; when a driver really earns his money.
____Day 4: The load is expected in Edmonton before noon, so an eight hour break was necessary. But I arrive to find that it's a kerb-side, hand-ball delivery with only the project manager and the carpenter to help with unloading. The manager buys me lunch, which softens my mood, and eventually two others arrive to help carry the furniture into the office. But it still takes 4 and a half hours before the trailer is empty.
____Day 5: I wake up stiff jointed and with aching muscles after the previous day's playing at Pickford's. But there is plenty of time for recovery as the next load is not available until eight o'clock in the evening. Windshield-washer fluid going from Nisku to Winnipeg; with enough time to get to North Battleford and not disrupt my body-clock too much.
Typical  Montana highway; rarely straight, often scenic.
____Day 6: Only one 8-hour break allowed in a week; so it's a late start across a wintry Saskatchewan and into Manitoba. Back to the yard just before mid-night, were I have the luxury of reversing the truck into the heated workshop. After I had filled up with DEF and completed all the paperwork for the trip, I was tempted to climb on the bunk right there, in the warm.
____Overall Distance: 4312 km.

Edmonton refinery sunset makes it seem like a melt-down.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Colder Weather

____Day 1: In 1803, the US paid France $15million for Louisiana; about 3 cents an acre. 1867 and it bought Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 at 2 cents per acre. It now seems that the USA is purchasing Canada; slowly and surely, one truck-load at a time. Another load of peat-moss going south of the border, to Troup. A bare and dry Interstate 29; until a Sunday afternoon snowstorm sweeps in from the west and leaves Nebraska shivering.
____Day 2: At a truckstop diner just outside of Lincoln; the night is as black as the coffee I am drinking. An early start, with the Zac Brown Band playing in my head and the whole Mid-West is stuck in colder weather. To vary the regular route; I take Highway 77, south, through Beatrice, into Kansas and onto Interstate 135 at Newton. The early start needed for an early finish, allowing an early start that will get the load delivered on time. Precious dirt. Fuel and a shower at Ardmore; then on to Troup and the second of two 11 hour shifts at the wheel.
TMC x 3 : the smart black and chrome fleet from Des Moines, Iowa.
____Day 3: There are "Needs" and there are "Wants." I always ask myself: "Can I live without this?" And if I can; then I don't buy it. After unloading the peat-moss; I go to load at Fort Worth: seventeen pallets of  totally unnecessary domestic objects; made in China. Candle-holders, ornaments, fridge-magnets; who really needs this stuff? But at only 9500 lbs for the load; I can't complain and the truck flies. Northwards to Salina, Ks; another day of over one thousand kay.
____Day 4: The bric-a-crap is for a superstore distribution centre in Edmonton, Ab. But thankfully, I'm only taking it to Winnipeg, where it will be consolidated with other goods at a transport company that has a regular delivery slot. It can be a nightmare; trying to deliver into RDCs just before Christmas. Another long day; to Fargo, where the Stamart Truckstop has disappointingly sold out of my favorite chicken tenders.
Freightliner Coronado with the neat twin tool-box / long-step set-up.
____Day 5: Every working day on this trip has started before dawn; all have been frosty but all have turned into bright, sunny days. This trip; I've broken my habit of arriving back in Canada during the afternoon. So once the trailer is unloaded in Winnipeg, there is still time for me to be sent over to the peat-moss packing plant at Beausejour and load for my next trip; Montana. Back in the yard just before dark.
____Overall Distance: 4929 km.
Three smart wreckers waiting to be called into action.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Week of Living Dangerously.

____Day 1: Echoes of the previous week's trip; as I find my trailer full of peat-moss needs two new tyres before I can start my journey to the Mexican border. It was loaded by the city truck; his only excuse is that the Flying Eagle yard is muddy and the worn tread was covered in crud. The delay has me leaving after noon; making it down Interstate 29 as far as Vermillion, South Dakota, before parking-up.
____Day 2: A gale force wind from the north is rocking the cab as I set-off again; more Interstate 29 and with wind assistance. Best-ever fuel consumption figures for the fully-freighted truck on the flat terrain of the Missouri valley. Through Kansas City, on to Joplin and down Highway 69; running down the clock towards a full 11 hours at the wheel. Finishing at the Choctaw Nation Travel Plaza, Stringtown, with it's adjacent casino. I often dine at casino restaurants where prices are subsidised by the gambling. $5.00 for the burger basket, $2.00 for a Bud and an eye-candy waitress that would have found my accent even more attractive if I had been thirty years younger.
Mirror-shot of fine old White, out for a run on Thanksgiving Sunday.
____Day 3: The Sunday after Thanksgiving: busy roads, as most of America returns home from family visits. No cruise control on Interstate 35 southbound as a capacity crowd hustle for the fastest possible journey time. Not even south of San Antonio does the traffic thin out; heavy all the way to Laredo.
____Day 4: There are eight trucks from Manitoba with peat-moss, all delivering to the same warehouse. Some have booking times to unload, some don't: I don't. Due to the holiday weekend, bookings needed to be made on the previous Wednesday! I had telephoned on the Friday and left a message. Two trucks get unloaded on the Monday; I'm given a spot at Noon, Tuesday. A lazy day at the TA, one of three truckstops at Junction 13 on Interstate 35. A day to clean the inside of #31 in the warm sunshine, drink endless cups of coffee with friend and fellow blogger, Dave Caldwell, and listen to Steve Earle's " The week of living dangerously." The story of a guy who jacks in his job, drives down to Laredo, goes over the border to Boystown and finishes up in jail.
Two blogger's trucks and the world's biggest cabover.
____Day 5: Dave Caldwell of Penner International has a 9 o'clock booking and comes back to the truckstop to tell me about the very tight blind-side reversing that's needed to get unloaded; then he's off to Houston for a reload. The driver of the 2-axle, half-cab, yard shunter will back your trailer onto an unloading bay for $5.00. If ever there is a day when I'm unable to put my truck where it is physically possible to put it; I'll eat my license and go and work at something else. It is very, very tight but with the advantages of electric swivel mirrors and  the window in the sleeper; I jack-knife the trailer back onto the door. The rest of the day is spent driving up to Brownwood, for the first of my collections. Through countryside that reminds me of southern Spain. Arid, hilly land that proclaims itself as the "Heart of Texas" and a twisting road that should be called "Whitetail Alley."
____Day 6: The complete front half of a MR2 Toyota is my pick-up from a Brownwood scrap-yard. Then on to Roanoke for 13 pallets of toys that should have been picked-up yesterday; I hope they still get to the North Pole in time for distribution before Christmas. I'm taking them as far as Winnipeg. Final pick is in Ada, Oklahoma, and 146 miles to do before they close at 5 o'clock. I arrive at ten-to with a problem; they want to put 24,000 lbs of steel fabrications in the final 16 foot of the trailer which would make the trailer prone to jack-knifing and also overload the axles. I carefully explain the situation and to my amazement; they are really good about it. They unload 6 pallets of the lightweight plastic toys, load their stuff, and then reload the toys; working well past their going-home time. Good guys: the handling will be better, legal axle weights, I've got everything loaded in one day and up into Kansas for the night.
Peterbilt 379 with nice two-tone paint job that is getting very popular.
____Day 7: With the wind backing me from the south; a day of over a thousand kilometres as I push on for Fargo. Aiming for the Northstar Truckwash and their 24 hour service. Mostly Highway 81, as good as an interstate in places but with a sprinkling of annoying four-way stops in the most out-of-the-way places. Now familiar towns to be negotiated: Concordia, York, Columbus, Norfolk, Yankton from Kansas across Nebraska and into South Dakota.
____Day 8: I promptly parked-up when I came out of the wash and the wet truck promptly froze to the ground in the over-night temperatures of minus 10C. But I break free and finish off the trip with a three and a half hour drive back to the yard. Interrupted only by a 30 second question and answer session with the young lady at the Canadian Customs booth.
____Overall Distance: 5775 km.
Freightiner Argosy, long wheelbased cabover hauling section of wind turbine tower.