Thursday, February 23, 2012

Houston : Whitney and the City.

____Day 1: The usual Friday afternoon visit to the peat-moss mine at Elma; then south, over the border, to Stone's Truckstop at Watertown, South Dakota. On the last leg of the journey, a silver Pontiac Trans-Am comes cruising alongside. Interior light blazing; with the driver stroking the inner-thigh of her red-satin clad right leg. I look away in disgust; glancing at the speedometer where the trip-counter is showing 666.6 km. The little devil !
____Day 2: Breakfast is accompanied with television pictures of Whitney Houston's funeral from her hometown of Newark, New Jersey. The City of Houston, Texas, is my destination for a Monday morning delivery in the western suburb of Richmond. But I don't get far without this year's run of tyre problems continuing with a puncture. It's only a four minute drive from the fuel-stop at Sioux Falls' Flying'J to the service centre at the nearby Pilot; but it's four hours later when I can have it fixed. Continuing to Cherryvale in Kansas and a mid-night finish.
Smart Service Centre but very slow.

____Day 3: A full day's driving, through Tulsa, through Dallas, down to the customer's premises. Dry roads, warm weather, light traffic but an uncomfortable ride.  The same load in the same direction with the same truck as every week; so it must be the trailer. A Wabash instead of the normal Great Dane and a different suspension set-up. A single shock-absorber on each axle might save weight and save money but gives a very choppy ride and a pain in the back for the driver.
Single-shocker set -up on Wabash trailer.
____Day 4: President's Day national holiday, but the plant nursery work-force are in at 8 o'clock and I'm up at the West Houston Flying'J for breakfast before nine. However, a lot of companies are  not working and reloads are hard to find. Then just before noon, I get instructions for a load of plastic granules; going to Winnipeg from Orange, the last town on Interstate 10 before the Louisiana/Texas state border. Loaded before four, then north on US Highways 96, 59 and 71. Winding roads up into Arkansas and a night at Mena.
The popular Peterbilt 379 custom look with deep windshield visor.
____Day 5: The warm weather of the southern States continues until the evening; 1000 kilometres to the north. A night at Vermillion's Caribou Coffee Fuel Stop at Mile-marker 26 on Interstate 29. Truck #31 on Interstate 29; but it could have been Truck #31 on Interstate 31 if the coin-toss had gone the other way. Even -numbered Interstates run West to East; numbers rising from South to North. Odd-numbered Interstates run from South to North with the road numbers counting-up as one heads eastwards. During the construction of 29, it was still undecided if it was going to be 29 or 31.
Most Iowa farms have old trucks working as grain-haulers.
____Day 6: The homeward run is broken up by the  collection of some tractor parts from Grand Forks, North Dakota. Which nearly slips my mind; just like I forgot to put Grand Forks on the map. At only 75 miles south of the border, it delays my arrival back at the yard; when I have to wait two hours for the customs papers to be filed. Back in Manitoba, eight inches of snow have fallen; the biggest covering of the Winter.
____Overall Distance: 5560 km.

Big-sleeper Coronado has radio ham aerial on left-side mirror-arm.

US Highway 75, seamless join onto Interstate 45, southbound through Dallas.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Springs : Walnut and Siloam.

____Day 1: While I was on my log-hours reset; # 31 went to Regina to rescue a trailer from under a broken-down unit and came back smelling like a dirty ashtray. Sad that some truck-driving smokers have no consideration for non-smoking truck-drivers. A run out to the peat-moss mine at Elma to start the trip. Then through the border at Pembina; finishing the day at the Dakota Magic Casino on the North/South Dakota's border. I come out with $25 more than when I went in; winnings that can finance the purchase of some No Smoking stickers.

Overnight indoor parking for Flying Eagles during the Winter.

____Day 2: Texas is the destination [again] and with 400 miles already done; two days hard slog will now be three days of easy driving. Highway 81, all the way from Watertown until Interstate 135, leading on to Interstate 35 at Wichita, Kansas, and a night at the Belle Plaine service area. Resisting the temptation of the newly opened Kansas Star, an enormous casino complex right by the interstate.

Ethanol producing plant in Nebraska at sunset.

____Day 3: The satellite picture option on Google Maps has got to be one of a truck-drivers most useful tools when looking for a delivery or collection address. The delivery address for the plant nursery at Walnut Springs just gives me the number of the "Farm to Market" [FM] road, but with my laptop I can see the poly-tunnels, the packhouse and a trailer parking area. It's getting dark when I turn down a winding, muddy dirt track but I know that in two miles I will find the plant nursery. Either that or a secret dope growing enterprise hidden away from everything except surveillence satellites.

Google map showing just what to aim for.

____Day 4: A quick tip and the bill of lading is signed, so I'm not bothered what they grow. First pick-up is four pallets of toys, from Roanoke, the same as the last trip. Then a two hour wait at the nearby Pilot Truckstop, while the office searches for more freight in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Finally instructions send me to Arkansas for a pick-up in the morning. If there is a truckstop within 20 miles of a collection, I will stay there overnight, but if I don't come across anything; then I park at a shipper's premises. Such as at Siloam Springs.

Cornfield Cadillac aka International Transtar.

____Day 5: Brake-drums loaded and away to Nebraska for the third and final pick-up. Then just north of Kansas City, there is an almighty BANG. A rear axle trailer tyre blows and the tread whip-lashes through the mud-flap; pulling the mud-flap hanger onto the one remaining tyre. It's a narrow shoulder on a busy Interstate but I have to get the angle-iron hanger away from the tyre before anything else. Thank heavens for sliding trailer axles. By strapping the mud-flap hanger to the bumper bar, at the rear of the trailer, I pull the hanger back by reversing the truck; whilst the axles move forward on the trailer. After moving to a safer spot at the next off-ramp; father and son team, Rick and Stephen, come out with a replacement tyre. A two and a half hour delay, but still time to load 9 pallets of organic pet food at a remote mill near Murdock. Healthy nutriution for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and rats.

Not the smartest service vehicle in the States : but they were quick.

____Day 6: A Wednesday morning with 550 miles of Interstate 29 to do; north from Sioux Harbor, Iowa. My toe-nails need cutting, but before I can get a sock off; it starts to rain. Freezing rain, the one thing that strikes fear into the heart of every articulated vehicle driver. The twitching of the drive-tyres corresponds to the twitching in the seat of my pants. I back-off the throttle and run a high gear at very low revs, trying to maximise the traction. I'm trying to remember if the next exit has a truckstop; when a wreck on the southbound carriageway causes a bump on the northbound and everything slithers to a halt. Eventually a gritter comes along and everyone is content to follow along behind it. The rain turns to snow; with flurries all the way home.
____Overall Distance: 4686 km.

Freezing rain will always cause carnage.

Monday, February 13, 2012

British Truckers Abroad

____My first memories of British truckers abroad are from the early eighties when a gathering of drivers at the Italian Customs was a weekly occurrence. I soon came to know the regular places where a table of Brits could be found on most nights. The Bake House at Bourg-en-Bresse and the Monkey House on the way up to the Mont Blanc Tunnel; Carisio, on the Autostrada between Milan and Turin.

____Places where a driver could relax amongst friends; knowing that someone was watching his back and would get him back to his cab if he overdid the alcohol. Good food and cheap drink were an important element at all the traditional stops; that and the managements’ acceptance of the often rowdy behaviour.

____To the British truck-drivers on the run to the Middle-East; these watering-holes had a much more significant meaning. They were places where useful information could be obtained from drivers coming in the opposite direction. Road conditions, the weather, the waiting time at the various border crossings, could all be digested during an evening meal in the Eastern Bloc and beyond. Places like the Motorest at Plzen and the Hotel Rokycany in Czechoslovakia. Not many British drivers went past the Windmill at Kecskemet, Hungary or the National Hotel on the outskirts of Belgrade. Most drivers stopped if they saw a GB plated truck, any where.

____ Parking on the beach at Kavala was also popular; but the number one overnight halt was the Londra Camp on the western outskirts of Istanbul. Ample safe parking, a chance to grease the truck and get anything fixed; a chance to relax and let off steam before setting out across the Bosporus and the hard work that lay ahead. The TIR parking at the Harem Hotel was another favourite, along with the Teleks Motel at Ankara.

____ British Ex-pats across the world always meet somewhere in every sizeable city. Truck-drivers in Istanbul would frequent the Pudding Shop, located in the heart of the city, but were often out numbered by British, Australian and New Zealand backpackers. When I lived in Augsburg, Germany, it was an Irish Pub called Murphy’s Law and that is typical of many places today. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books often give an Ex-pat place where English is the spoken language.

____ For the British truckers of Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada; Frantz Bar, on the outskirts of town, is the meeting place most Friday and Saturday nights. Christmas Eve, 2011, saw more than a dozen drivers enjoying a drink and a chat with a chance to play a game of pool where everyone knew the right rules. A meeting that was set-up with just a short message on Facebook.

____ The two biggest changes to truck-driving that have happened since I started, must be the cell phone and the internet. The days of being out of contact with the office have now gone. The grapevine of verbal information being passed from driver to driver is now done by a Bluetooth Headset. But is it a good thing? Sure, most of the truck-driving Ex-pats in South-east Manitoba are my Facebook friends, but the Internet has also been the cause of a lot of problems between my friends.

____ The Internet also gave us Ex-pat truck-driver forums which was always one sack of vipers that I thought I would never put my hand in. But I have done; with the hope of getting more blog readers and with the well-intentioned desire to answer some questions on life and work in Canada. A big mistake.

____Ex-pat truck-driver forums have got to be the most nasty on the planet. If the pen is mightier than the sword; then the lap-top key-board is mightier than an AK47 in the hands of a trucker. They make me want to go back to the good old days. But hang a minute; I remember the good old days, when you got a bunch of drivers and a lot of drink in a room together. Always, if there was any trouble, it would be the British drivers fighting amongst themselves. Same as it ever was.

____ The Internet is good, it would be really good without the hackers and the viruses; it would be really, really good without the hackers, the viruses and the ex-pat truck-driver forums. With any luck, they will die a slow lingering death; brought on by increased member disillusionment.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Load-Brokers : Love'em or hate'em.

____Day 1: Weather forecasts for the mid-west, plains area of the USA are usually very accurate. So when a Winter-storm warning is given for Nebraska and Western Iowa, I know there is going to be plenty of white stuff. The job needs a full 11 hours driving for two days if the peat-moss is going to be delivered to Rosser, Texas on Monday morning. The best option is to stick to the Interstate Highways, they get snow-plough priority and if they do get blocked; there are a lot more truckstops to rest in. Nine inches of snow falls but I keep going to reach the Sapp Brothers Truckstop at the Iowa / Missouri state border.
The snow had stopped falling by the time I came along.

____Day 2: Clear skies and bare / dry roads as I skirt the western side of Kansas City; taking the US Highway 169 south to Tulsa before Highway 75. A $6.50 section of the Indian Nation Turnpike brings me out at McAlester, Oklahoma, then Highway 69 and some more 75. Through the heart of Dallas, out the other side on Interstate 45, arriving at Rosser to find I am the third Manitoba peat-moss truck in the village.
Old Fire-tender was one of many interesting vehicles in the yard at Rosser.

____Day 3: It's a distribution centre for peat-moss, run by a small haulage company, who soon have all three of us empty and on our separate ways. My first re-load pick-up is in Grande Prairie, with a telephone number   to call for directions. On the third attempt, I speak to an over-friendly load-broker who says the place is difficult to find because it is on 110th street and not Carrier Parkway as I was told. Also the company name has changed from APD to LQT. Incredibly, I am hearing this from the person who gave out the original information. Later, he phones the office and complains that I was rude; after I objected to being groomed as the next truck-driving boy-friend of some old Texan poofter. I thought about calling him to say that my snipe bar would go so far up his arse that he wouldn't shit-right for a month; but that's probably just what he wanted to hear. With the re-conditioned engines loaded; my next pick was14 pallets of toys from Roanoke, a job I had done before. Then North to Big Cabin for the night, on my way to Lawrence, Ks.
The lake at Big Cabin, with a fine view of some un-used fridge trailers.

____Day 4: I don't always maximize the whole of the possible 11 hours driving-time, sometimes I will finish short at a place I know; for the food, a shower and a quiet night's sleep. Parking by the lake at the Big Cabin Travel Plaza is a favorite. Away at 08.30, to Lawrence for one heavy crate that's going to Edmonton. Then to Fort Calhoun in Nebraska; another pick-up that I have done before. Which is just as well; because, for the second time in 4 pick-ups, I am given the wrong company name and address!
This wind tower did have height-measuring pilot car in front.

____Day 5: The Caribou Coffee Cup Fuel Stop at Vermillion is always a good place to wake up; the skinny Latte is as good as any from Starbucks. Then it's the north-bound Interstate 29, homeward-bound, and a chance to see how much wax can be extracted from two ears, by one bent paper-clip, in 500 miles.
____Overall Distance: 4586 km.

Map of the options : Niverville to Dallas.

Not a ball and chain in sight.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tub Thumping.

____Day 1: One thousand miles with a load of flax and a thousand ways of doing the job. Different drivers, different ways; same driver, different ways. Changing priorities and at the top of today's list: a new drivers license. The annual trip to the Autopac shop; where the Canadian Government has a nice little earner when everyone comes to pay for another year's permission to drive. So, a midday departure south on Interstate 29 to Vermillion, South Dakota.
____Day 2: North Dakota: 217, South Dakota: 252, Iowa: 161, Missouri: 123. Every one of the 753 mile Interstate 29 will be covered on this trip. From Pembina on the Canadian/US border to the heart of Kansas City where I turn onto Highway 71. Taking the very good four-lane 71 down to Joplin for a night at the Flying'J.

Old style accomodation on US Route 66 in Oklahoma.

____Day 3: A good quick tip at the animal feed plant at Neosho; then a quick phone call to the reload address tells me not to hurry to Tulsa, as the stuff won't be ready till after lunch. An ideal chance to save the $16.50 toll on the Will Rogers Turnpike [Interstate 44] and take the old Route 66 through the towns of Afton, Vinita, Foyil and Claremore. Places that still show the dilapidation of the many prosperous enterprises that folded when the Interstate came pushing through. A traffic-free hundred mile drive in a sunny temperature of 19 degrees C. The load is "Donkey Engines" from the Arrow Engines factory, a place that reminds me of a visit I made to Patricroft; the home of Gardner. The same engineering emphasis; durability, precession and quality. Arrow engines are made to run 24 hours a day and for 60 years! No hi-tech, light-weight, high-powered throw-away rubbish from Arrow. Then after two and a half days of poodling about; it's time to put in a serious six hour stint at the wheel and get to Omaha. Within a days drive of ma home. Ha,ha.
New style accomodation : The Hard Rock Hotel at Tulsa, Ok.

____Day 4: Northbound Interstate 29, all day, cruise control on, arm-rests down and the mind wanders. Trying to think thoughts that remind me of the good times; trying to think thoughts that remind me of the best times. I've been knocked down, but I've got up again. Ain't nothing gonna keep me down. Freezing fog from Fargo through the rest of the trip; back in the yard by nine in the evening.
____Overall Distance: 3456 km.

A common sight on US roads : Will there always be enough wind?