Friday, October 30, 2015

Not Enough Hours In Oklahoma.

7504 kilometres - 10 days.
____ The trip didn't start well; a six hour wait to get loaded at Portage la Prairie. Five pallets of my load had gone missing and I sat on the loading bay while they bagged-up replacements. It was getting dark by the time I cleared customs and crossed the border. Fargo was as far as I would go on day one. Destination was Spencer, New York, but even with Tuesday's hiccup, Friday's 9 o'clock delivery was still possible. Wednesday night at Rochelle's Petro Truckstop and Thursday at the Seneca Casino at Salamanca, NY. Interstate 86, the Southern Tier Thruway across New York, doesn't have a lot of truckstops so a casino with a big patch of gravel is the best I can do.
____ Spencer is a very small town in the foothills of the Appalachians, surrounded by copper leaved woodland on a warm autumnal morning. Quickly unloaded and away, on twisting, undulating two-lane roads; across country to the Interstate 81, south into Pennsylvania and onto Hazleton. A trailer change in a chaotic RDC with trailers dropped everywhere. I surprise myself by getting in and out inside 30 minutes. The trailer is carrying two consignments of Christmas decorations for superstores in Ontario; my instructions tell me to take it to the Penner yard in Mississauga.
____ Mississauga on a Saturday morning and another trailer swap. This time  it is a load going to Oklahoma City, 1900 kilometres south-west. Going straight back into the US without having a log-book hours reset can make things tricky but I cannot refuse the load as I do have enough driving hours to legally make the delivery. Problems could come afterwards. But first the load has to have customs clearance. Twice faxing the paperwork for an extortionate cost of $64 and a five hour wait make for a miserable Saturday afternoon. The clock runs out on the driving time before I get the go-ahead.
____ An early start from London, Ontario, gets me to the normally very busy Ambassador Bridge before the Sunday rush. Windsor to Detroit with only 30 seconds at the customs booth must be a record but that was all after I hit a deer. An eight-point white-tail buck on Highway 401. It came out into the slow lane just after a bridge; I didn't get on the brake pedal before I hit it at 100 kph in cruise control. I swear that at the last second, it turned towards the truck and lowered it's head; as if engaging in deer to deer combat. That action probably saved the truck from a lot of damage; the moose bar took the full impact. Normally if a truck hits a big animal; it hits the legs and body comes over the bar and onto the hood. The only damage was a broken lens on a fog-light.

Hefty front-end protection by Herd.

____ The day finished on the outskirts of St. Louis, half-done. The load was due to be delivered on the Tuesday afternoon but I was in the Petro at Oklahoma City by 2 o'clock Monday and that was  after a leisurely look-round in the Petro at Joplin. The driving hours were now getting critical, just three hours for Tuesday; the delivery was done ok but getting to the reload was out of the question. The despatch office knew the situation and booked a late loading time for the next day in Kansas City.

1989 Mack Superliner

____ There is a ball game going on. Kansas City Royals are at home to the New York Mets in the second game of the World Series. The place is buzzing. Strange how I have just come down from Ontario; where the Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays in the semi-final. I still don't understand some of the finer points of the game but was disappointed that the Blue Jays didn't go all the way. There are three Canadian trucks on the bays waiting to be loaded. I am first away but with limited hours coming back to from the previous weeks driving; I am last one back to the yard. Noon on Friday before I get back to the workshop and tell the guys about the fog-light lens. We all agree that moose-bars are a good investment and that the "Herd" brand is probably the strongest. Shame about the deer but at least it was quick.

On sale in the Petro at Joplin, Missouri, The hard-hat cowboy hat.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Maps From The First Trips At Penner International.

Just an easy short trip to start with. Pre-loaded trailer from Winkler; down to Maple Grove for a Monday morning delivery. They had a load of empty crates to go back to Winkler; then run back to Steinbach.
Took an empty trailer to Dryden. Swapped that for a loaded one and delivered that to Jackson, Missouri. Then ran to Lebanon, Indiana, and changed trailers again. This time taking a load to Mississauga and dropping it in Penner's yard. Out of there; I took a pre-loaded trailer back to Winnipeg.
Empty trailer to Dryden again and then the same delivery down to Jackson. This time the reload was at Arcadia, Wisconsin; another swap with a pre-loaded trailer. I dropped that in Winnipeg and bob-tailed home.
For the third time; empty to Dryden and swap trailers for a load to Jackson, Missouri. Then down to Olive Branch, near Memphis, for a live-load [loaded same trailer]. That went back to the Penner yard in Winnipeg.
Something different. Take an empty trailer to load at Richer. Then down to Millstadt before popping across to Effingham to pick up a load for Winnipeg. 
____ So far, so good. Penners do seem to have plenty of work from a lot of regular clients. There are a lot of trailers dotted about at different customers, all over North America. Swapping trailers sure beats all the hassle of waiting to get loaded. Also they don't expect you to rush about and with trailer swaps; you don't need to.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Is There Anything Good About This Job?

____ I was born too late to be conscripted into the British Armed Forces; so never had to do "National Service." But after five days of orientation at Penner International, I now know what 6 weeks of basic training must have been like for those poor squaddies. Sergeant-Major Rick was in command of our subterranean boot camp and he certainly knew his stuff. You could not fault his facts and figures but he had the misfortune to present all his messages in the style of an old know-it-all trucker, holding court at the counter of a truckstop diner. I had been given the heads-up on his abrasive teaching methods; so pre-conditioned myself, for the week, by pretending to be conscientious Captain Cautious. If he said "Slow"; I said "Slower."

____ We were a quartet that quickly dwindled to a trio. But I'm pretty sure Rick would have emptied a complete classroom of driving-school rookies in less than two days. Any novice would have abandoned the transport industry and returned to a safe career of burger flipping after the brow-beatings received by Adolf, Bob and myself. Adolf from Kazakhstan seemed to take it all in his stride. Maybe it was similar to his Red Army training. He looked the sort of guy who could still knock-down and re-build an AK 47 in under a minute. He also showed a good command of the English language and passed every end-of-day written test. There was homework too!

____ Bob from Gimli had chosen truck-driving as a retirement job after twenty years of running his own metal fabrication company. He was looking forward to a life of relaxed driving; poodling around North America without the stress of finding work for 22 employees and the day-to-day running of a business. He had jumped in at the deep-end as an owner/operator by buying a six year-old Mack tractor-unit and putting it on with Penners. Orientation by Rick was a big wake-up call. By mid-afternoon on Wednesday he was exclaiming, "Is there anything good about this job?"

____ I told him that it was him and his truck against the rest of the World, same as it always was; same as it always would be. Rick pretty much agreed. Later, I tried to cheer-up Bob with stories of Winter week-ends in Florida and nights-out in Nashville but I could see he was being over-come by a great sense of foreboding. There was a relentless onslaught of lessons to be learned and how to do things the "Penner Way." Compliance to all regulations, all aspects of transport industry safety, hazardous goods, log-books, cross-border Customs procedures and advanced driving techniques: all new to Bob and real eye-openers.

____ I can't remember if I learned anything new but stuck it out for the whole five days. I found out later that a certain group of people were having bets as to when I would throw in the towel and walk out. There is a thin line between forcefully presenting your company's ideology and bullying in the workplace. Maybe Penners only want the type of driver that is willing to endure that method of orientation and it separates the wheat from the chaff. But I came home every evening feeling like a toddler who had been severely told-off for shitting in his first-ever pair of underpants; after forty carefree years of wearing nappies.