Flew in on a Trans-Atlantic flight,
They put me in a motel, fifty bucks a night.
Then there was the test to take,
With pre-trip followed by air-brake.
Then a week of orientation
And how to behave at the border station.
____ Eric Slatcher met us at the airport; I was impressed that he turned out at 10.30 in the evening. "Us" refers to his four new drivers; all on the same plane, Paul Cook, Mike Muhling, Neil Ramsden and Chris Arbon. The four of us were pretty much inseparable during driver-training, right through until we signed on for our individual trucks. It was a great help to be team-handed; it saved money by sharing a motel room and eventually an apartment. It helped to have a buddy when practicing for the driving test. A British Heavy Goods Vehicle Driving Licence was not transferable to Canada; all immigrant drivers had to take a test.
____ On the first Monday after our arrival, we all trooped into Winnipeg to sit the written part of our test; sixty multiple choice questions. Neil and I passed but the other two needed to re-sit. Monday afternoon and Neil and I went to the Free Eagle Driving School and booked three half-day sessions. We had three different instructors during the sessions but there wasn't much they needed to teach us; apart from the test route around Steinbach and the complicated air-brake test. It took a hell of a lot of practice; but with each of us testing each other, we eventually cracked it. The driving school block-booked several test spots every week; so by midday, Friday, we were both ready to hit the road as qualified Canadian truckers.
____ But it was another two weeks before we went out with a load. Paul and Mike didn't take their tests until the following week and the week after that was "orientation" week. At most of the companies were I have worked; there has been no training. Just show your HGV licence and catch the set of keys thrown across a portacabin. But Big Freight presumes that you know nothing about trucking; a whole week is spent in the classroom covering a lot of stuff that I already knew but also some important customs and border-crossing information. Big Jim Penner was the training and safety guy while on Sunday he preached at a local Mennonite church. I told the others to not ask questions, not to argue and we would get through it just fine.
____ Outside work; there was plenty to do. Medical card, social insurance card, bank account, finding permanent accommodation, buying and insuring a vehicle; but with four of us going around together, all the problems soon became solutions. I did a couple of short day-trips as a passenger with other drivers which was a lot more worthwhile than orientation. One to Brandon for a load of steel beams; the other, south of the border for a load of quadbikes. Both regular customers. It took just over three weeks from when I landed until I rolled out the yard with my first load. A lot longer than I thought and longer than necessary; but I was paid from day-one and am not complaining.
|Big Blue, the Free Eagle training vehicle pictured in 2006, still on the streets of Steinbach in 2014.|