Monday, December 8, 2014

The Immigrant : Part Three.

Never one for ladies of the night,
My profile went up on a dating site.
"New Guy In Town" didn't have to wait,
"Crazy-4-You" took the bait.
Soon we were on our first date.
My problem was my lack of wealth,
Her problem was her mental health.
So now I'm resigned to being alone;
Well anyway, I'm never home.
Longest Trip.
____ My first trip for Big Freight was to Calgary in truck C537, a Kenworth T800. Five hours down the road, at Whitewood, Saskatchewan, the fan-belt broke on the fifteen litre Caterpillar engine and I sat for 24 hours before it was replaced. 24 hour service, in Canada, means twenty-four hours before somebody can get out to the truck. The company's response to my delay was "Laid-Back." In fact, laid-back described every aspect of Big Freight. A lot of good paying work fell into the company's hands, there was no forced despatch. If a driver didn't like a job; then they would find him something else. If  a driver made a mistake; there was nobody to give him a bollocking as long as he didn't prompt an insurance claim. All the staff were easy-going, friendly and bordering on complacent. I had previously worked for haulage firms that had twice as many trucks with half as many office workers as Big Freight. They were top-heavy with no leader driving them on. I thought it was strange but maybe that was how all Canadian companies worked.
____ The Summer months of 2006 soon became my first "Fall" then my first Canadian Winter. The flat-deck work was varied; giving me new roads to drive nearly every day. This was the main attraction of the job. Steel buildings from Brandon went all over North America. Specialist lumber from Kenora went to most of the eastern US. The quad-bikes and snow-mobiles of Minnesota went to practically every town and village in Canada. Of course not every job was like French-kissing a princess and there were plenty of frogs that needed snogging; loads that needed tarping in temperatures of -20 and then un-tarping just a hundred miles up the road. But I took the rough with the smooth and never refused to do a job that was physically and legally possible.
____ One high-light of that first year was my first trip to Newfoundland; still my longest-ever. Industrial machinery from Winnipeg with a collection of similar pieces at Ayr, in Ontario; all destined for a paper-mill in Windsor, on Newfoundland. Leaving home on a Monday morning and delivering on the following Monday; plenty of time to muddle through at the ferry terminals and find the paper-mill on the Sunday afternoon. It would have been the perfect trip if I hadn't gone "Drinking for England" at Kelly's Bar. I still remember falling out of the bar-maid's sister's jacked-up pick-up truck and throwing-up whilst un-tarping the next morning. I told them I was still sea-sick from the crossing. That trip continued with peat-moss from New Brunswick to North Carolina; before coming back to Manitoba with a load from Georgia. Just the sort of tour that suits me fine.
Team driving trip to Alaska.
____ Another good one was Alaska in March 2007. I had been to Whistler in British Columbia which was to be the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics; a steel building to house the towns new re-cycling centre. The re-load was ply-wood from Vancouver, two drops, Calgary and Saskatoon. Then came a satellite message: "Wait for Neil Ramsden in C540 and double-man an urgent load to Anchorage, Alaska." I hate team driving as I suffer badly from motion sickness and can never sleep in a moving vehicle. We had to do the trip in a drafty, noisy, un-comfortable, single-bed Kenworth T800 during the heart of Winter. The rate for the job was 36 cents per mile; split between us. Neil was a good mate but he had no mountain driving experience; he had yet to drive a truck on hard packed snow and, of course, he had never driven on snow-covered mountain roads at night!
____ But Neil was dead keen for some adventure and pointed out that this might be our only chance of visiting Alaska. I decided to do it just for the craic; yet again I was letting myself by drawn into a situation where there was going to be a lot of hard graft for little or no reward. The story of my life. We left my truck at the Flying 'J in Saskatoon; setting-off just before dark. Snow-chains were needed to get out of the Smoky River valley, on Highway 43 just before Grand Prairie, but otherwise it was trouble-free as far as Watson Lake. By then, I had talked Neil  round to my way of thinking; he was keen to drive non-stop because of the urgent nature of the load, but I was knackered so insisted on a five hour break.
Alaska passport stamp in mirror image.
____ At Whitehorse, Yukon, we met the first of the Big Freight trucks returning from Anchorage; Steve and John, fellow Brits, parked-up with a trailer brake over the cam. They gave us valuable information about the rest of the route and the tip in Anchorage. In all, there were twenty-four 20 foot containers going to the Bema Gold Corporation mine in Russia; flying from Alaska in an Antonov cargo plane. But when we arrived, the next morning in Anchorage, the plane had broken down some-where on route from the Ukraine. There wasn't any room at the airport for our load; eventually getting unloaded at the port by the very helpful and knowledgeable Scotty. Into a hotel for the night and a look round the town, we had just missed the start of the Iditarod long-distance dog-sled race.
____During the run back to Canada, a message came through with details of another trailer on it's way to Alaska. It costs $300 a year to register a truck for use in Alaska; sending us straight back would save the company money. We did the switch at Fort St. John and were back to AK in 48 hours  but with still no sign of the plane; all that urgency for nothing. Worst thing that happened was when the rear axle brakes on the trailer locked up in the freezing conditions. Four tyres ruined, but BJ's at Watson Lake had us up and running again inside three hours on a Sunday morning. Remarkable service but at a price: $2200 charged to Kenworth Assist. I was surprised nobody at Big Freight said anything about it when we got back.
____ The job was going nicely up to the end of May when a phone call told me that my father had died from a sudden heart-attack. I had spoken to him on the Saturday afternoon and felt that he didn't appreciate me calling when he was watching the horse-racing on television; he died on the Sunday. Big Freight brought me straight back from Kansas and I was back in the UK before the end of the week. Just a few days short of being a year away.

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