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!

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