Saturday, June 27, 2015

New York Harbour Boat Tour.

Empire State Building in the centre.
The crowded deck of the Circle Line Tour Vessel.

The south end of Manhattan Island with the New Free Trade Centre.

Hudson River on the left, East River on the right.

Statue of Liberty.

Manhattan Bridge over the East River

United Nations Building.

Statue of Liberty with Staten Island in the background.

The new New York Skyline.

The eye-sore is a golf driving range.
The Hudson River where that plane landed. No planes in the sky or on the river; just a Concord sitting on a pier.

Brooklyn Bridge.








Friday, June 26, 2015

Mack Trucks Museum

The museum is part of The Mack Customer Centre. I arrived at the gate in the truck and they must have thought I was making a delivery as the security guard waved me through. I couldn't find anywhere to park and was thinking, "I shouldn't be here, especially in a Peterbilt." I narrowly avoided turning onto the test track before pretending to make a delivery and driving out. I parked on the nearby industrial estate; got the bike out of the truck and rode back to the gate. This time posing as a British tourist on a bicycle.

The museum is just beside Interstate 78 at exit 57 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It used to be the Mack Trucks Research and Development Centre before Volvo took over in 2000 and moved all R & D to their place in North Carolina.

The original bulldog mascot was carved from a bar of soap by a bored member of senior management in 1932. Alfred Masury was recovering from an operation in an Allentown hospital at the time.

This is the oldest surviving Mack vehicle; a 28 seat passenger coach from 1905. Right-hand drive but not for the British market; it worked in Chicago in the Summer and New Orleans in the Winter.

This is a L model Mack and like most of the trucks in the museum it is in better-than-new condition.

B-Series Heavy-Haul Mack unit pictured in the sound-proof room where Mack did all the decibel testing. All those triangle wedges on the walls are covered with a soft furry material that deadens all the sound vibrations like in a recording studio.

A B75, just like the one that used to stand in the Flying Eagle yard; but in much better condition.

B61, the most numerous of the B-series. Between 1953 and 1965; 127,653 B-series were produced.

Mack and Brockway, side by side. They were near neighbours in New York when Mack began in 1900 and Brockway began in 1912. Mack bought Brockway in 1956

All the trucks start and run; the museum rotates the trucks on show so it will be different every time you visit. It is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am till 4 pm. With guided tours leaving on the hour and taking about an hour. I was the only person on the 10 o'clock tour, so it was just me and Tom, a retired Mack test engineer, as my guide. There wasn't much he didn't know about Mack engines and transmissions.

The biggest truck on show, built for the mining and construction industry. One of the first Mack trucks to have the cab off-set to the left so that the driver could line-up the vehicle easier.

A gas-turbine engined Mack, one of only three that were built to see if jet fuel was better than diesel fuel. Maybe the only vehicle that was not in working condition.

The turbine engine was under the cab of this virtually un-used Cruiseliner. 

The iconic AC Mack, the truck that went into service with the British Army during World War 1 and became known as the Bulldog Mack. A name given to it by soldiers because it was tough and tenacious like a bulldog.

The museum has it's own restoration workshop staffed by retired Mack employees. Here an old cab-over model is being restored in an area that previously used for the dyno-testing of engines. The drive wheels were placed over rollers built into the floor and the horse-power of the engine was measured.

40,299 AC Macks were built in the 22 years between 1916 and 1938. It came in three sizes: 3.5 tons, 5.5 tons and 7.5 tons.

Besides the old trucks; there was a section on Mack Trucks in films, also loads of old Mack toys and models. Old photographs and memorabilia. There is a gift shop with everything Bulldog and Mack, plus a cafeteria. It's free entry too and I must say that everybody was really friendly; I think I shook hands with every body who worked there. But the best thing about the visit was Tom; you could not have wished for a better person to give you a insight into the Mack company, their history and their vehicles. The tour was supposed to last one hour but we were chatting away about Mack Trucks for well over an hour and a half; it was that good. 

One area of the centre is for a display of the company's latest models. This is the top-of-the-line over-the-road tractor unit: The Rawhide.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Peat-Moss From The Edge Of The World.


____ Day 1: Worse than a peat-moss plant with no scale; it is a peat-moss plant with no weigh-bridge that is infested by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. Twenty-five miles along a dirt road beside the northern expanse of Lake Winnipeg; Riverton is the closest dot on the map. My early start is rewarded by second place on the grid. Smoke from Saskatchewan's forest fires has blown across Manitoba and dims the Sun to a dusk-like haze; perfect conditions for the hordes of mosquitoes who are going to stay out all day long.
Satellite view of Peat-Moss extraction operation.
____ There is a ramshackle collection of semi-permanent buildings that make up the plant in the middle of no-where. Probably to be dismantled when the dirt runs out and the area is returned to wilderness. Installing a scale to weigh the out-going trucks must have been considered an avoidable expense for such a short term asset stripping operation. No thought was given to the over-loaded truck that would have a 200 kilometre round-trip to the nearest scale and back again for a weight adjustment.
Dirt Road 234 beside Lake Winnipeg.

____ Fortunately my weight is good for the US maximum of 80,000lbs when I check the axles on the way to the border. Four hundred kilometres and 8 hours on the clock before I leave Canada; so only on to Fergus Falls for the night as I head in the general direction of Chicago and Channahon in particular.
 Visible from up in Space.

____ Day 2: Breakfast-time is question time in American restaurants. Cream with your coffee? How do you like your eggs? Toast: white, brown or rye? Patties or links? Which refers to sausages. I ordered patties to go with my scrambled eggs and French toast; the plate arrived with links. I wish I hadn't mentioned it and will never do such a thing again. The waitress would not let it go. At least ten times; she came over and apologised, offered to change them, offered a slice of pecan pie as compensation, offered a coffee-to-go. A sausage is a sausage is a sausage as far as I'm concerned but she was completly over the top. Which is not an uncommon feature of truckstop waitresses on the Interstate 94 in Minnesota. I just need peace and quiet at that time of the morning.

____ The rest of the day was the regular push south-west on the 94, Minneapolis, Madison and onto Morris with it's excellent "R-Place" restaurant; part of the TA Truckstop chain. A good day was spoiled by a 132 minute wait for a shower. The display screen for the automated shower allocation system said 132 minutes and was pin-point accurate. Just half an hour to drive in the morning.
Early morning mist in June.

____ Day 3: First on the unloading dock at the destination; but my satisfaction is short-lived as a fellow Manitoba peat-moss delivery tries to reverse in beside me. The hood of the Peterbilt is put in continual peril from a badly directed trailer. The driver is an immigrant, like me, but matches my 40 years of experience with about forty days of his own. He might have been taught how to pass the test but he wasn't taught how to reverse an articulated truck and trailer. He hasn't got a clue about starting off with the rig in the best starting position; he just ploughs the same furrow, blind-siding himself every-time and relying on my air-horn to avoid a collision. I am unloaded and ready to pull away by the time he does get his angles right.

____ Should I have got out and offered the lad some helpful advice? I would if he had been on his own but he had another guy in the cab with him, maybe an on-the-road trainer. Bloody poor trainer if he was one. I'm damned if I'm going to go out and direct traffic in the rain when there are two of them and they sit there looking at you as if you are some kind of servant.

____ Truck-driving is a bit like speaking English; just about anybody can do it badly. You don't need much tuition to make yourself understood and get what you want. Pronunciation and grammar can come later. The same with truck-driving; just learn how to do the stuff that's in the test. Difficult reversing manouvers can come later. Arm yourself with an automatic gearbox and a sat-nav; bingo; there is a new career that pays a $1000 a week. Training in the transport industry is very poor. Most companies don't want to waste time and money on driver-training as they know that high driver-turnover means it is money down the drain. Most rookie-drivers are on a lower pay-rate but if they get any decent training they soon get a grasp of things and move elsewhere for better pay and conditions. There are a few exceptions amongst the bigger fleets in the US. C.R.England and Swift do have mobile classrooms with one-on-one training but for most novice drivers it is trial and error; learn from your mistakes; use your commonsense, muddle through and be lucky.

____ From Channahon, it is a two hour run through the Chicago rush-hour to Milwaukee and a two hour wait for a load of mining equipment. Destination Alberta and British Columbia, but first, every mile of Interstate 94 in Wisconsin. Three hundred and forty-one miles with thousands of out-of-state Illinois plated vehicles racing to their weekend retreats in their northern neighbour. I make it to Mile-Marker 4 at Hudson before the prospect of a congested early-evening crossing of Minneapolis/St. Paul persuades me to finish at the TA.
Bison Transport LCV.

____ Day 4: Time to get a stamp-on. The office relays news that the customer will be expecting delivery on Sunday in British Columbia. Luckily, the BC stuff is on the back of the trailer; also, the overall weight of the shipment is only 17,000 lbs so Number 26 and Trailer D73 fly along at the cruise-control maximum of 65 mph. Over the border just after Midday, the short-cut to Brandon and onto Weyburn. A night at the Main Track Restaurant and Lounge, a fine peppered steak with baked potato and just the one Bud-Light.
A plate that could spell trouble.

____Day 5: Another day of near total cruise-control maximum. Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge. Lunch and a quick call to Tom; to tell him that I'm on the last leg of the journey. Up the Crowsnest Pass, into BC and the first town on the way down the other side: Sparwood. There is a wide-open unloading bay waiting with a raring-to-go fork-lift revving behind it. Sunday unloading at its easiest; easy like Sunday morning. Back into Alberta on Highway 3, then north on Highway 22. One of my all-time favorite roads and a pleasure to drive with the Peterbilt now just laden with five tons. The foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains rise and fall as a black ribbon of asphalt sweeps  across the grassland. Vast fenced pastures with stands of pine trees, streams flowing down into rivers and far off to the West; the bare jagged mountain peaks with the remnants of last Winter's snow. Ranch land as good as it gets; all the way to Black Diamond. The citizens of Calgary fly past in their Audis, their BMWs and their Volvos on their way back from the mountains; so fortunate to be saturated in such beauty.
Crowsnest Pass at the Frank Slide.

____ Day 6: Getting-up early gets me out of Calgary before the early morning rush. But early mornings are a pleasure at this time of the year with the quiet cool of the dawn sunlight being the best part of the day. Up to Acheson and unloaded before breakfast; A & W's All Canadian Breakfast. Bacon, egg, sausage and tomato with hash-browns and toast; very nearly a Full-English. I was hoping for an easier day as the weekly driving-hours were getting rapidly used; but the office had a reload for me. So it was off to Lloydminster to get loaded with cardboard packaging before they stopped shipping at 2 o'clock. Just enough time to get to the Red Bull at Radisson; which then gave me just 6 hours available for the last day in the 7 day cycle.
Dawn on the Trans Canada Highway.

____ Day 7: How to make six hours driving take-up the whole day? Lie-in, get up late before driving a half-hour for a leisurely breakfast. Go to a truckstop where you always have to wait for a shower. Drive a bit more before stopping for a cup of tea and a siesta. Drive another couple of hours to the Co-op at Moosomin and that is it for the day.
Two light loads and one heavy shipment of peat-moss.
____ Day 8: Plenty of hours now, but I only need half of them. Back into Manitoba and a quick breakfast at Brandon before delivering the cardboard to a dairy in Grunthal. After that it is only 30 minutes before I'm back in the yard. A mid-week finish and back out on Friday which should mean some decent miles before a Monday delivery. Here's hoping!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Colorado Fountain.

A trip that gives the out-line of something from Ghost-Busters.

____Load 1: Peat-Moss: Diagonal roads are few and far between in North America and the ones that are there probably don't join up the required dots. Winnipeg to Colorado Springs offers an endless variety of vertical and horizontal but no diagonal routes. So South on Interstate 29 and Highway 81 with a bit of Highway30 and the end of day 1 is at Grand Island, Nebraska. That leaves it easy; easy like on Sunday morning; through to the Tomahawk Truckstop, just one junction past the delivery point at Fountain.

Crop-dusters are always a lot closer than they look in photographs.

____Third in line for unloading in the cool morning light; but no hurry, no reload. There is not much coming out of Colorado for dry freight vans looking for a load to Canada; so back to the Tomahawk for breakfast at Biscuits. The on-site restaurant is a friendly place with a young chef who takes a lot of pride in his food preparation; great French toast. Mid-day and the reload info arrives: a 350 mile dead-head run to Borger in Texas. South on Interstate 25 through the wide open landscape of Colorado before climbing the Raton Pass into New Mexico. Storms still raging in the flooded state of Texas as I park overnight at the pick-up point.

Lightning Strike from a Storm across New Mexico.

____Load 2: Carbon Black: When I first started truck-driving; nothing used to strike more fear into the hearts of lorry drivers more than the mention of the words: Carbon Black. Hand-balling a load, roping and sheeting a load, left a driver covered in the fine black powder as well as covering the truck, sheets and ropes, everything sooty. I never had to carry the stuff but did plenty of the second-awful-load-ever; meat and bone meal. That finely ground bagged powder got in everywhere and left you smelling like an Oxo cube.

Carbon Black Factory at Borger, Texas.

____Things haven't changed much. The Sid Richardson Carbon Black factory sits on a hilltop where everything is black; coated with a fine powder that brings to mind images of the Industrial Revolution. The last time I saw such a factory was in Bulgaria. Luckily, a driver does not have to get out off his cab once inside the factory; all door opening, loading, closing and sealing done by guys who looked like coal-miners minus the lanterns on their hard-hats. I left Borger humming "Dirty Old Town."

Ambassador Bridge joining Detroit to Windsor.

____ The load was destined for Sherbrooke in Quebec, 3000 kilometres away to the North-east. Delivery was scheduled for Monday, but with a quick phone call it was re-arranged for Friday and I had three days of hard driving in front of me. After 100 miles of two-lane it was all four-lane highway. Tolls to pay from Oklahoma City to Joplin, Missouri, but a free bridge crossing at the Ambassador that joins Detroit to Windsor in Ontario. A full days drive in Canada; to the Ange-Gardien Truckstop on Thursday night. A quick tip, the next morning, left me with an ugly inside of the trailer. Black marks on the walls and a black floor. Spreading a bag of sawdust and then sweeping it out cleared most of the loose powder but unless someone goes in with a pressure washer; black footprints will be coming out of that trailer forever.

Imported from Sweden: Spotted in Quebec: Volvo FH 460.

____Load 3: Angle Guards: The office did a good job with the reload. From Granby, just an hour and a half away from Sherbrooke, on the road to Montreal, to Vermilion Bay, three hours east of Winnipeg. This time it was three days to do 2000 kilometres. Angle guards aka corner protectors, cardboard strips stacked on pallets and weighing 17,000 lbs. To Pembroke, to White River on Highway 17 and then to Dryden but hardly a dry spot along the whole route. Everywhere along the north shore of Lake Superior was like an out of season tourist town in the rain; but at least I wasn't riding a Harley.

Nelson Granite, Vermilion Bay, Ontario. Spot the angle guards on those pallets?

____Nelson Granite was the destination for the angle protectors. A place I have passed a hundred times, with their offer of return loads to Georgia and Quebec. Pink granite outcrops are frequent among the beaver-dammed lakes and pine tree stands along the Trans-Canada Highway. Business seems to be flourishing if they need a trailer load of corner guards and the whole place is a lot bigger than it looks from the road. Unloaded and back to the yard, but first, pop into the peat-moss plant at Richer and pick-up a load for Colorado, Full circle.

Fully laden for two of the three loads.

Raton Pass, Colorado/New Mexico Border: 7748 feet. Highest point in Great Britain: Ben Nevis: 4409 feet.