Thursday, July 30, 2015

Worst Flying'J Ever!

____Load 1: Sunday afternoon departure with a load of angle rings: rings of steel made out of angle iron. Not a full load; so the truck goes well, down Interstate 29 to Brookings in South Dakota. Delivery to an industrial fan making company and unloaded in a matter of minutes; followed by a leisurely breakfast as I wait for reload instructions.

____Load 2: It is not often that I get to reload from the same company that I deliver to. This time it is same company but different factory. Twenty miles to the east at Elkton, on the Dakota-Minnesota state line. Six large fans. Picture an action film where the hero is in the ventilation shaft of the villain's headquarters. He crawls through the blades of a fan before it starts to spin. That size of fan for a hospital at Milton  in Ontario.

Old Kenworth Cabover with B-Train Grain Trailers

____Another light load; eastbound on US Highway 14, through sleepy villages amongst endless fields of soya and sweet-corn. Then Interstate 90 for the rest of the day, which is cut short when the trailer brakes start hanging-on. Air leaking from a brake chamber; I make it into the Petro Stopping Centre at Portage, Wisconsin. They have a truck-repair workshop which is open 24/7, they have a new brake chamber, they don't have any other customers so I am straight in and out. $166, parts and labour; the trip is back on track.

____Tuesday is a full day of driving; across the bottom of Chicago, across the border at Detroit and up to the Flying'J at London, an hour or so from the drop. Hospitals and seventy-five foot trucks don't mix, the problem is "cars." Parked everywhere with little regard that there might be more deliveries than just babies. After a lot of shunting, I manage to jack-knife the trailer onto an unloading bay. The six skids are soon dragged off but it takes a while before the building contractors can find the guy who has the pass-card for the exit barrier.

Highway 401 through Toronto. 4 express, 4 collectors : 8 lanes in each direction and busy 24/7.

____Load 3: Back at the Fifth Wheel Truckstop, I wait for reload instructions and wait. I get the truck washed at the next-door Blue Beacon Truckwash and wait some more. Details of a reload could come through at any moment so there is no chance of doing anything else. The Pan-Am Games are on in Toronto and Milton's new velodrome is hosting the cycling events but I can't go. Eventually, details of a job arrive at 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon; loading Friday for Edmonton, Alberta.

____But before I get my load from Ajax, an eastern suburb of Toronto, I have to load a trailer for another driver. This means four journeys along the busy Highway 401 at peak traffic time. Milton to Ajax, load, across to Mississauga for a trailer change, back to Ajax and finally after loading again; across to the Highway 400 and north, out of the Greater Toronto Area. It is midday before I fuel-up at the Pickering Flying'J and finally get going.

Friday morning in the GTA

____What a dump the Pickering Flying'J is! Mr. Jay Call, the founder of Flying'J would be horrified to see such a miserable place carrying the name of his company. The place calls itself the largest truckstop in the GTA but only has one person manning the fuel desk and cooking breakfasts at the same time. I walked out in disgust and what about all the private cars taking-up parking spots in the truck park? Local drivers reserving a spot for when they return after a days work. Selfish bastards.

____Heavy traffic heading for cottage country slows progress, but once north of Barrie, I make good time and make it to Wawa for the night. It's a light load of cardboard advertising material for a chain of furniture stores; 23 pallets and 3500 lbs at most. Just the type of load that suits the scenic Highway 17, every hill in top gear and only slowed by innumerable amounts of roadworks. A long day but back in the yard at Niverville and my own bed for one night before pushing on to Alberta.

Helicopter Weathervane.

____I am delivering to the furniture company's Alberta distribution centre and getting an unloading appointment proves nearly impossible. All incoming furniture is in trailers and containers that are left on-site for the company to unload at their leisure; great if you are a regular supplier and can swap a loaded trailer for an empty but not much fun if the job is just a one-off. Eventually, they get it into their thick skulls that I am not delivering furniture but by then Monday has come and gone. Empty, Tuesday, 09.00, after 3600 kilometres from loading Friday; so not so shabby.

Scenic Highway 17 with glimpses of Lake Superior.

____Load 4: Highway 2, south to the little town of Innisfail; a load of fibre-glass insulation that has been a regular reload over the past few years. Booked in to load at 3, there by 12 and out by 2, a decent bunch of guys who just get on with the job and no fuss. The heaviest load of the trip at 18000 lbs but after shooting south to Calgary, I get a gale-force tailwind and the fuel consumption figures only get better. Trees are getting blown down, structural damage to buildings, vehicles blown off the road but I'm flying back to Niverville. The city truck can do the delivery in the morning as it's too late for Wednesday afternoon. Eight thousand kilometres in 11 days is not good; two days just lounging around in the cab at Milton is a complete waste of time but some times you win, sometimes you lose.

Blown off the road.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Canadian Trucking Show 2015

In the yard at Niverville. #56, before it was ever coupled to a trailer.

____The Canadian Trucking Magazine held their truck show on the 18th and 19th of July 2015 at the Husky Truckstop in Headingley; just a few miles west of Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway. The organisers put a lot of effort into the show but the weather didn't cooperate; frequent rain showers and high winds kept the attendance down, both people and trucks. There was live music in the marquee and fireworks, plenty of companies had recruitment displays but the whole event lacked atmosphere. Shame really, it was free to get in; both for the public and for anybody taking a truck to the Show and Shine.
____I took along Flying Eagle #56, a brand new Freightliner Cascadia. It gave me the chance of a test drive with the automatic gearbox and to see if I liked it enough to change over from the Peterbilt. It does have the advantage of the high-top, full-width, double-bunk, integral cab with the electric climate control comfort system. Extra batteries run an air-conditioning and heating system that does away with the donkey engine of Tri-pac type systems. But it is an automatic and it does have  the dreaded Diesel Exhaust Fluid injection and the bothersome re-generation ceramic filter; all of which spoil an otherwise very attractive vehicle.

Cascadia dash. Forward and reverse are selected by lever on right side of the steering column.

500 horse power 14 litre Detroit Diesel, sooooo clean.
Another Freightliner.
And another Freightliner, this one is from the TV show Ice Road Truckers.
Two more Freightliners of the White variety.
There for the show and shine; Western Star, from the same stable as Freightliner.
A pair of recovery trucks putting on a show.
All the wheels of both trucks are off the ground
Brand new Mack Pinnacle Had steer tyres on the drives.

New aero-dynamic Western Star.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Waupaca, Wisconsin, Whoosh.

____ Probably the shortest trip on the blog for a long time. A preloaded trailer from the yard to a Waupaca publisher; 11 hours of driving on four-lane highways and Interstates. Barely-legal heavy but no problem for the Cummins. Unloaded, bright and early Thursday morning and back to Fridley, a suburb of Minneapolis. A reload of cardboard for Winnipeg; nine big rolls, quickly loaded. Back through the border into Canada just as the sun was setting and the mist was rolling in. Tipped by 10 on Friday; empty trailer to a nearby customer and bobtail back to the yard. It is the Canadian Trucking Show this weekend at Headingley, Manitoba, 18th and 19th July, so just in time to go to that. Shall I take the four year old Peterbilt or one of the brand new Freightliner Cascadias? Decisions, Decisions.

On the bay at Waupaca, Wisconsin. Unloading Paper.

Amish buggie on a bridge.

Another day, another bay. Unloading cardboard at Winnipeg.

Monday, July 13, 2015

New Freightliner Cascadia or Four Year Old Peterbilt.

____ Load 1: One of the biggest changes at Flying Eagle made by the new owners is the closure of the workshop at Niverville. With only a handful of trucks, it made sense and the two fitters were given employment at the parent company's main shop. The sad thing about it is that the trucks no longer get checked-out and greased after every trip. Number 26 now gets serviced in the next village and on Saturday afternoon I drive over to collect it before returning for a trailer. Then it is onto Moosomin; driving through yet another thunderstorm.

Cabover Kenworth on the Trans-Canada Highway.

____ The load is for Calgary, on the Foothills Industrial Area in the south-eastern corner with the Flying'J Truckstop. Not much space on a Sunday afternoon. But just 5 minutes from the Monday morning drop. So quick a delivery that with the reload only two blocks I have time for breakfast before they open.

Looking down-stream towards Niagara from the last bridge before the drop. 

____ Load 2: I used to be a roadie; I did it for two, one, two, one, two years. I tell this to the guy at the entertainment equipment enterprise but it is wasted. But at least it is a quick load; amps, speakers and other stuff a band might need. Not a full load, destined for the Winnipeg Folk Festival but I am to take it to Ile de Chenes. Two thousand pounds and the truck flies back, east, along the Trans-Canada Highway for another night in Moosomin.

Saturday Morning Sunshine in Mississauga.

____Load 3: Potash is one of Saskatchewan's biggest exports and most of it gets transported by train; long trains dedicated to potash. This is my first potash load, waiting for me in the yard; ready to go to Pennsylvania. Two full days driving after four easy days of crossing Canada. To Bunola, a factory on the Monongahela River; like so many places in rural Pennsylvania: river, rail and road in amongst the wooded hillsides. But why do they need their potash in small bags and not in railcars? Answer: they only use tiny amounts. They make those little sachets that come with bouquets of cut flowers and are supposed to prolong life in the vase.

Longlac and Highway 11 again.

____Load 4: The fourth load of the week is just a way of getting the truck up to the fifth load of the week which is part of a regular pre-plan. Two hours drive across PA to Hoopsopple and an iron-ore production plant. A load heavier than the potash and Highway 219 is the camel-track leading due North in the direction of Buffalo and the Peace Bridge to Canada. Over to Fort Erie for the night and the newly re-furbished Flying'J. The foundry takes delivery on Saturday morning and it is only a matter of minutes before I'm under load 5.

Hwy 219, not an easy route but with no obvious alternative.

____ Load 5: A trailer change before breakfast but a very busy Highway 400 out of the Greater Toronto Area. To Barrie, stop and go traffic, mostly holiday-makers going to the cottage or the cabin. From North Bay, the going gets easier. To Kapuskasing and another night at another Flying'J. Sunday's driving gets me to Dryden with the usual deluge along the way. Monday and the customer wants the trailer left on a bay so they can unload it at their leisure. Suits me and I bob-tail back to base.

The new Freightliner Cascadias have arrived. Should I take one and ditch the Pete?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

World's Longest Semi-Tractor.

____Day 1: Late on a Friday and I'm headed for the border with four drops that only weigh 16,000 lbs. First drop is Russellville, Kentucky; two days hard driving or the three easy shifts that I have chosen. To Fergus Falls for the night and a bison burger for supper.
Old Diamond T at the TA Truckstop, De Forest, Wisconsin.

____Day 2: Most truck-drivers know that the first sign of bankruptcy is when the fuel cards don't work. Saturday afternoon in Wisconsin and I have a dilemma; do I park-up and wait and see what the problem is on Monday morning or do I take the risk of filling the tank with my own money? I put in enough diesel to get me to the first drop and keep the job moving. Second night-out is at Rochelle in Illinois after a day of busy interstates; the holiday season is up and running.

Very clean, very red, very shiny, very long: the World's Longest Semi-Tractor now works at advertising stuff.

____Day 3: Rainfall for most of the day; the wettest period I have known in my nine years in North America. Afternoon tea and a shower in Mount Vernon; then on to Kuttawa, just a few miles from Russellville.
____Day 4: Just one piece of machinery is unloaded in minutes before I find out what put a stop to the flow of fuel into the Peterbilt tanks. Simple answer: the increased size of the fleet had used up the company's monthly limit in three weeks. The limit is soon raised and I'm topped-up and off to Conover in North Carolina. Nashville, Knoxville and through the Smoky Mountains; running alongside the Pigeon River which looks just right for some extreme white water rafting.

River freight on the Tennessee River.

____Day 5: The small but friendly Wilco-Hess Truckstop is buzzing in the early morning light as I leave to trundle down to the second drop. In the same street that I made a furniture collection, four years ago. Another industrial machine for the American furniture industry that is concentrated in the Carolinas. It needs the best part of the remaining day to get up to drop three. The small town of Lititz; nearest truckstop: the Flying'J at Frystown. That will do nicely after another torrent from the skies at Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.

Deep floods in Missouri. If there had been people waving from the roof-tops; I would have waved back.

____Day 6: Third drop done and I'm less than an hour away from the Mack Trucks Historical Collection at Allentown and it is Wednesday so they will be open at 10 o'clock. The final drop at Norwood is booked in to unload on Thursday at 08.00 hours and is only three hours away; so plenty of time. After the museum, I run up to the Vince Lombardi Service Area at the northern end of the New Jersey Turnpike. An early finish and time to take the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan. John Cooper recommended the Circle Line Boat Tour, leaving from Pier 54, and very good it was too. A perfect evening to be on the water with a good commentary from an old guy who was your typical New Yorker. Memorable day; Mack Trucks Museum and the Statue of Liberty: two ticks on the bucket list within a few hours.

Why are my reloads never in Quick Loading Zones?

____Day 7: A white van moving slowly across a junior school playground at 8 o'clock in the morning would normally set alarm bells ringing but all I see is smiling faces. Especially when I get the back doors of the trailer to within six foot of the school's gymnasium emergency exit doors. The movable tiers of seating for the gym have arrived, a motley crew of parents, staff and contractors are there to help with unloading. Many hands make light work and I'm humming a 1977 song from the Stranglers. For Peaches and Beaches read Teachers and Bleachers. But happiness doesn't last; by the time I have wriggled my way out of the residential backwater of Norwood; news comes through from the office that my nearby reload has been cancelled by the shipper. Back to Vince Lombardi and wait.

Mr. Cooper on his torturous way to Vancouver Airport.

____Day 8: Reload instructions finally arrive. Load Monday afternoon in Georgia; 1300 kilometres away to the south-west. So at least there will be some earnings from the dead-head and a couple of days of driving. Back along the very busy Interstate 81; the interstate that takes so many university students to their colleges; but in Summer, super crowded with families going south-west on their annual vacations.
____Day 9: Across the mountains again, through the Carolinas, into Georgia and I select Carnesville for my weekend break. Hot and sticky as Georgia so often is; then rain, big spots that hurt the head and shoulders as they send you dashing for cover.
____Day 10: Sunday with a choice of Petro Stopping Centre or Flying'J. The Petro wins, hands down, on hygiene. In fact, I am wary of putting my hands down anywhere at the Flying'J; such is the grime.

The secret to good fuel consumption: a light load, a strong tail-wind and make the driver pay for the diesel.

____Day 11: A call from the shipper tells me that the load is ready a couple of hours earlier than expected; the first good news for days. Not a complete trailer load; so the office gets to work scouring the data-boards for  goods destined for Manitoba while I work my way northwards. Eighteen thousand pounds of lumber from Bradleyville, Missouri, is part two of the return trip. New roads after taking US Highway 60 west from Paducah; out of Kentucky, into Missouri and an excellent 4-lane highway. There is no Interstate 60 but this section of US 60 could easily be re-labelled.
____Day 12: Into the area known as the Ozarks; northern Arkansas, southern Missouri. Black-powder, bluegrass, white oak and endless hillsides of green forested colour. If it is lumber going to Canada then it is hardwood. Quality flooring, eight packs from a isolated saw-mill, along winding roads through small villages. Once back on the main highway to Springfield, I'm into top gear and headed for home. After unloading on the banks of the Hudson River, it seems strange to be going north on Interstate 29 out of Kansas City. Sioux City for the night as it rains heavily yet again.
____Day 13: One final big push for the border to bring the strangest of trips to an end. Catching up with Cooperman and his 70 ton, 9 axle, over-size load. He lists his problems as we chat on the CB; it seems in comparison that my trip has been pretty straight forward, if a little slow.