Monday, April 29, 2013

The FlorTexMan Trip to St. Somewhere.

____Day 1: Any Manitoba based long haul trucker will tell you that Texas is good miles. Florida is even better. But not many would have done a round trip that takes in both Texas and Florida. But on a Saturday afternoon in late April that's what I set off to do. Getting down to York, Nebraska, for the first night with just a few snow flurries in South Dakota to liven up the day.

____Day 2: With the first drop situated just north of Fort  Worth; I don't have to push on all the way into Texas. The Worlds Second Largest Casino, the Winstar, on the Oklahoma border will do fine. On a fine Sunday afternoon and a couple of beers in the Toby Keith Bar and Grill.

Texas spagetti.

____Day 3: Chaos engulfs the whole of the first drop at Flower Mound. I arrange to meet a guy at the junction of Interstate 35 and  Farm to Market Road 1171; I head to Interstate 35 East/ FM 1171, my guide goes to Interstate 35 West/ FM 1171. I phone and tell him I don't need a guide; I have GPS. He says that it's a job-site in a gated community and I will need him to get in. OK, see you there. I beat him to the gate. The wrong gate! Tradesman's entrance is for trucks and I've passed it by a mile. They won't let me come in and turn round so I have to continue along a narrow road and turn round in another gated community which has a much nicer gate-keeper. Finally inside; things don't get any better. I can't the truck within half a mile of the house which being constructed on a lake-shore connected by a narrow tree-lined track. The windows are trans-shipped, a few at a time, onto a pick-up truck for the last leg of their journey. Thankfully delivery number two at Lancaster is quick and easy but the four hours at number one stops me getting to number three before they close.

Too close Dallas traffic.

____Day 4: I've done the Austin delivery before; so park on the un-loading dock overnight. There's nothing worse than parking on the door-step only to wake up and find some early bird has relegated you to number two. Next: 2098 kilometres to delivery number four in Naples, Florida. A run along the Gulf Coast that affords the drive no view of the sea. Houston, Baton Rouge and to the eastern side of Mobile, Alabama, on a day of a thousand kay through the rice fields of America.

Tunnels at Mobile, Alabama.

____Day 5: A thousand kilometres in Florida, making the state crossing longer than should be expected. Busy roads around Tampa and the west coast. Another series of phone calls setting up an early morning rendezvous in a Walmart car-park as it seems another in-accessible job-site is waiting for my windows. There are worse places to stay over-night than Walmart car parks, which normally tolerate trucks, but they normally don't have alligator warning signs like the one in Naples.

____Day 6: One roadkill alligator and the snout and eyes of a live one in a river are spotted on US Highway 41 on the way across the Everglades from Naples to Medley, a suburb of Miami. If I had more time, I would have stopped for the experience of an air-boat ride. Plenty of air-boat tour establishments on the ninety mile crossing of the swamplands. The last consignment on the trailer is destined for the Dominican Republic; going to a shipping company before be containerised for the sea journey. Reload is in Alabama; so another 4-figure kilometre day, to Dawson in Georgia for the night.

I was born near a railroad track, the train whistle wailed and I wailed right back.

____Day 7: Across country on US Highway 280 to Birmingham; then north on Interstate 65 to the small town of Morris. Deliver Austin, load Morris makes me think I'm a Rover on a Mini-tour. A heavy load of refractory powder for Selkirk, Manitoba. Enough time to reach Nashville; where I find I have only one and a half hours left of my weeks 70 hour work allowance. An hours re-set is needed. First evening: Downtown, drinking with runners, in town for Saturday's Nashville Marathon. Surprisingly out late on the eve of the race.

Black and white truck with black and white load.

____Day 8: Heavy rain through to late afternoon keeps me cab-bound; missing the after-race street party on Broadway. But Rippy's is ticket-tout central for the next door concert venue. Jimmy Buffett is in town and as the one-time owner of a battered V-Dub Combi who spent many Summers barefoot on the Riviera; I have always been a fan. The aging hippy on the sea-side of the country music scene knows how to entertain. Lining up in front of three drum kits and a full backing band; the place rocks. There is a tribute to the people of Boston and the marathon runners of Nashville who have defied the threat of terrorism. The passing of George Jones is honoured by a rendition of  the classic, " He stopped loving her today." The band's rhythm guitarist does such a perfect imitation of the country music legend's voice that the audience is stunned into a jaw-dropping silence. The arena fills with emotion.

____Day 9: Nashville has to  be my number 1 all time night-out location. Amsterdam, Barcelona, Istanbul have an edge that makes the adrenalin flow. Dublin and Vienna are friendly and safe but Music City USA has it all. Live music bars and restaurants that buzz seven days a week, reasonable prices and a top class truckstop within walking distance. But I have to leave; two days driving back to Canada with day one finishing at Evansdale in Iowa.

____Day 10: Minnesota is the fifteenth State of the trip and as the trip counter clocks up 8000 it becomes my longest Flying Eagle tour. The heavy return load hits the fuel consumption figures but the truck doesn't miss a beat.

____Overall Distance: 8462 km.

Traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Another Week : Another Winter Storm.

____Day 1: " For fuck's sake; when will this Winter ever end?" Mister Ramsden on the phone; Saturday afternoon, asking about alternative routes to Utah. Friday's freezing rain had stopped him short of Fargo; now blizzard conditions in Montana awaited the flat-deck driver and his urgent jet engine. "Arizona," I suggested and the call dropped-out. I had no trouble making it down to Percival with the usual peat-moss.

Fine Old-Timer for sale at the roadside.

____Day 2: Flying Eagle #31 clocks up 500,000 kilometres after coming on the road twenty-three months previously. Much has been written about the reliability of the new low-emission diesel engines with their diesel emission fluid injection and the gas regeneration systems but the 15 litre Cummins in #31 has been just about fault-free. A broken hose clip being the only incident that has halted out-on-the-road progress. Another long day of 1100 kilometres down to the Rest Area on Interstate 45 at Corsicana.

700 days to do 500,000 kilomtres

____Day 3: The potting compost packing plant at Huntsville is busy and I'm third in line to be unloaded. It's 11 o'clock before I'm away; heading to Gilmer and a two-thirty loading appointment. Not that I needed to hurry; loading is delayed by the shipper not having  the correct delivery address. A bullshit excuse, if ever I heard one. Two packs of steel pipes are loaded by 6 o'clock and they all go home. I bobtail back to the Pilot at Tyler for the night and a brisket sandwich.

Long pipes make nasty marks when pushed into the trailer.

____Day 4: No further loading before lunch sees my bobtailing to Walmart for supplies. Walmarts in the US are a lot cheaper than Canadian Walmarts and Walmarts in the southern States seem the cheapest of all. It's a warm Spring afternoon, 30 degrees C, when the trailer is finally loaded; 26 hours after arrival. Enough time to get  to Big Cabin in Oklahoma, where a midnight parking spot is assured in the vast truckstop.

Bodacious: Texas B-B-Q shack that does a mean brisket sandwich.

____Day 5: Eight foot of empty trailer is filled on the way north at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. Three hundred boxes of paper plates for Winnipeg and a night at Sioux Falls; ready for an easy drive home.

Dash-Cam shot of a slippery Interstate 29.

____Day 6: Winter-Storm Yogi sweeps in from the Rockies, over-night. The drive home is far from easy; driving on hard-packed snow with visibility reduced by blowing snow. Traffic is light, which helps; but at one on-ramp I move over for an on-coming pick-up truck. The insde lane is tricky, the outside lane is treacherous but the pick-up maintains a position alongside the trailer for five miles. Speeding up when I accelerate, slowing down when I slowed and tried to get back on the inside. The situation is only resolved when a vehicle comes up behind. Where I come from we have a name for drivers like this: arsehole. At Fargo, conditions improve; the last couple of hours are completed on dry and bare roads.
____Overall Distance: 5043 km.

Dash-Cam shot of trailer straddling a six foot deep ditch in the median.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More Snow in Minnesota.

____Day 1: Some hard work for a change. An early morning delivery appointment in Tennessee and more than two days worth of driving to get there. Alarm clock time. Away from the yard early Sunday morning with Portage, Wisconsin in my sights for the first night-out. A heavy trailer full of empty beverage containers; going to be re-cycled.
Marmon with double-sleeper.

____Day 2: Chicago; early on a Monday is an off putting thought, so I swing south on Interstate 39 and then Interstate 74 to Indianapolis. Little time for  breaks during the day as I have to finish early in order to start early. The Pilot Truckstop at Corbin, Kentucky, leaves me with about 100 miles. But at least early finishes give me a choice of parking stalls.
Old Freightliner still earning a crust.

____Day 3: Alcoa the company and Alcoa the town; destination of the aluminium at seven-thirty; six-thirty eastern. A strange unloading arrangement where the Flying Eagle trailer is taken by an Alcoa tractor unit and tipped. Literally tipped up in the air to let the bales of crushed cans slide out the back. Then to Cleveland for the reload and a problem never encountered while pulling a flatdeck. Insect infestation of the trailer. Hundreds of small black flies attack the forklift-truck driver and it takes a trip to Walmart for the purchase of some spray. Finally loaded after lunch I have enough time to reach Kuttawa, back in Kentucky.
Three cans of fly-spray and an air freshener.

____Day 4: Huck's truckstop has a special offer on "Dash Cams" and at $79.99; I'm tempted. It works straight out of the box. A neat little gadget that is up and running all the way to Albert Lea. An over-night temperature of 22 degrees drops during the day to just four. It rains during the night.
Dash-Cam with flip down screen.

____Day 5: The rain turns to snow. I continue with the early starts but it doesn't get my through Minneapolis before the weather stops the commuter traffic and Interstate 494 grinds to a halt. Near white-out conditions persist all the way out of town on the 94. A two hour breakfast at Hasty lets the worst of the storm blow through. From then on it is hard-packed snow most of the way to Fargo with plenty of trucks in the median or in the ditch. A long day; back in the yard by six.
____Overall Distance: 4986 km.
Mack Superliner with sleeper.
A mighty problem for an Interstate 94 recovery crew.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saint Simons Island

____Day 1: Positive temperatures for the first time as I leave on a Saturday afternoon at the end of March. A Winter as hard and as long as any that I have endured in Canada; but the  distances have been up to a year-long average. Jan: 21590 km. Feb: 19289 km. Mar: 23001 km. Another bonus for this trip: somewhere different  from peat-moss to Texas
____Day 2: Webster Groves, near St. Louis, an easy two days drive from Niverville is the first drop with this load of windows. The construction industry is waking from it's hibernation so more variation of destination in the forthcoming months. Easter Sunday and light truck traffic leaves plenty of empty parking stalls at the Quik Trip Travel Plaza at the north-side of St.Louis.

Smart Car Transporter with Big-Sleeper Kenworth 660.

____Day 3: First drop done but 1340 kilometres to the next in South Carolina. The road re-construction industry is also back in full swing; Interstate 24 in Kentucky is one big cone zone. Atlanta is the night's destination. I am looking forward to the final delivery on St. Simons Island; off the coast of Georgia, separated from the mainland by the Intra-coastal Waterway.
____Day 4: To Ridgeland, South Carolina, for the unloading of the majority of windows in the trailer. It takes four hours; five of us and a lot of sweat as the sun beats down on the tin roof. A phone call to St. Simons Island tells me that the job site is un-manned but the guy tells me he is working near the Flying'J at Brunswick. He comes to the truckstop with his pick-up truck to collect his consignment. No visit off-shore adventure.

The Intra-Coastal Waterway on the Eastern Sea-board.

____Day 5: Carpet manufacture for the US is mostly done in Georgia and an off-shoot of the industry is the production of geo-textile fabrics for the construction of roads. My reload is 160 of the black rolls from a factory at Willacoochee, an hour and  half west of the Flying'J. Heading home takes me back to Nashville; two days away from Niverville.

Egret colony just over the fence at the Brunswick Flying'J in Georgia.

____Day 6: To Madison, Interstates 24, 57, 74, 39. A heavy load but a tailwind, flat terrain and the truck running well.
____Day 7: Hopes of getting back to base for a snow-free trip are dashed with flurries at Fargo. A full days driving gets me home at 6 o'clock in the evening with a cold wind blowing strangely from the south.
____Overall Distance: 6262 km.

Shed load