Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bringing Home The Mack.

____ The Sunday after Christmas, bright and early, we are on our way to collect the Mack. There is already a long line of Canadian cars waiting to go through into the States; mostly on shopping trips but none with a 1989 fire rescue truck on their list. A long day follows, more than would be legal in a truck. To Indianola, Iowa, the last town before Princeton, in Missouri, which has a motel.

____ There is quite a bit of paperwork and customs formalities before your can bring a vehicle out of the US and into Canada, Some of which need to be done before you take charge of the vehicle. Paying for it is the first thing. Carrying big amounts of cash across the border is problematic, so is sending money by post or wire to persons unknown. I was sending money to a county fire protection department so wiring the money to their bank was a lot safer than if it was to a private individual. Next step was to register the vehicle as an impending export at US Customs. They need 72 hours notice of any internal combustion engine vehicle leaving the country, so they can check to see if it is legitimate and not stolen. This has to be done with an accredited agent and cost me $75 with Border Parcel Services of Pembina, who did a good job and came up with the vital IT number.

____ Insurance is another necessity for the truck. This is done through Manitoba Public Insurance, the only insurance option for Manitobans. They need to see a copy of the bill of sale and title before they issue a temporary tag for the required number of days. $38 for five days for a 16 ton truck. All paperwork on the whole trip went surprising easily for someone doing it for the first time, Thanks to Matthew and Jesse for all the good advice and tips.

____ Three fire-fighters from the volunteer force show me the finer points of their old rescue truck. I get the all-important title and bill-of-sale before I set-off back to Canada. Smiling like a Cheshire cat, everything was going well even though it was snowing and Winter Storm Goliath was approaching fast. Then, just north of Des Moines on Interstate 35, at 60 miles per hour, the right steer tyre blew-out. It threw the truck onto the shoulder but luckily I held it from going into the ditch. Totally disabled after two hours of truck ownership.

____ Armed with the apps on my phone, I started calling tyre companyies, none of whom would come out and do road-side repairs in blizzard conditions. Anyway, only one company had the right size of tyre that I needed; a 10 R 20. The only option seemed to be calling for a tow truck but that didn't happen because the weather conditions had prompted the Highway Patrol to enforce a tow-ban. Eventually a cop car came along and authorized a tow; recommending "Dave's Towing and Diesel Repair" from nearby Ames. It was about to get dark by the time we got back to their workshops.

____ The truck is unusual in the fact that it had 20 inch wheels on the front and 22.5 inch wheels on the back. Dave had 22.5 inch steer tyres but not the rarer 20s. He did have a couple of 22.5 inch wheels that he could throw in with a deal for two new steer tyres. He suggested that the other old steer tyre cold quickly go bang too and I was inclined to agree. The good old boys at the repair shop showed a genuine interest in the old Mack; so while they agreed to sort out the wheels in the morning, we went to the nearby Days Inn for the night, not knowing that it was infested by bed-bugs.

____ The next morning with a freaked-out and badly bitten girl friend, we set off again; $1,300 lighter. But at least it had stopped snowing; we made good progress as the little blue Focus followed the fire truck through into Minnesota and up as far as Fargo for our third night in a hotel. The Mack was suffering from electrical problems; probably caused by the taking-off of the light-bars and the siren but added-to by the steer tyre tread ripping out some wires under the right fender. It wouldn't allow headlights and tail lights at the same time. I also wanted to change the anti-freeze/coolant to a good Canadian winter specification. The workshop at the Petro Truckstop did a good job for a set price of $50 plus the fluid. The Red Roof Inn was the best hotel of the trip.

____ Day four started with the two and a half hour run up to the Pembina/Emerson border. US Customs stamped the title with the date and time of export after checking the VIN and ITN on their computer. Then Canadian Customs did an efficient job of writing-up the import papers and relieving me of $1,500. Back home by early afternoon with a 25 year-old truck that goes well, stops well, but had a couple of old tyres that didn't have enough life left.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Annacis Island Switch

____ It is 12 Noon when a trailer, coming from Ohio, arrives at the Steinbach terminal. I have wasted half the available day-light hours but at least the snow-ploughs have had more time to clear the 20 centimetres that fell in the last 24 hours. A long-haul to Swift Current on roads in varying states of slippery-ness. I have three days to get the load to the West Coast and by the end of day two I have reached Revelstoke.

The snow-shed on the way down the Coquihalla Pass.

____ A truck-driver can average 60 miles an hour on the Mid-West Interstates and it brings in a decent hourly wage. But in the mountains, in the dark, in adverse weather conditions; that average can be cut in half. There is no double-time for working on a Sunday. I am an experienced driver with all the skills needed to handle an 18-wheel-semi in any situation, on any road in the World. Here I am selling my services for less than the minimum wage. Next time I look in the shaving mirror; I will see an idiot. But on the plus side; the falling snowflakes will save on the screen wash.

Changeable conditions on the Coquihalla Pass

____ Fuel and food at Hope, after a chain-less descent of the Coquihalla, and I decide to doorstep the load at the customer. Annacis Island is in the heart of sprawling Vancouver, an early-morning arrival would be problematic. Surprisingly the island is almost totally industrial with no private dwellings. Enough industry for the office to find a reload on the island. Heading East, in the right direction, but as only a far as Calgary. A long 16 hour day ends at Golden, back into the Rockies in the dark. A  west-bound super-B grain-hauler jack-knifes at the summit of the Rogers Pass. The wrecker has yet to arrive, but I manage to squeeze past on the shoulder. No injury to the driver but the unit is a mess, a highway closure looks certain. Golden was a good result.

Annacis Island in the Fraser River Delta Area.

____ Calgary is a trailer switch but only south, to Lethbridge. Another switch with the back-end and eastwards again. Driving home for Christmas, but only as far as Regina. Unloaded, and I expected a message to send me back to Steinbach; but no. One final trailer change, a grain mill just north of Yorkton and a pre-loaded trailer for Etobicoke in Ontario. I just have to take it to my home terminal where another weather system from Colorado has just dumped another 20 centimetres of the white stuff. A White Christmas for me and Happy Christmas to you all.

Low cloud on the summit of the Coquihalla Pass.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tug Of War.

5004 kilometres - 6 days.
____ The trip started like so many have done since I started at Penners; an empty trailer from the Steinbach yard to the paper mill at Dryden. Snow flurries had died out before the Manitoba/Ontario border and temperatures were above freezing for the next five days in a mid-December warm spell. Into the States at International Falls with a heavy load going to Appleton, Wisconsin. Not a long-distance load; but when the re-load is a trailer switch at nearby Neenah going to Mississauga, then things start looking good.

The Inuksuk at Vermilion Bay, Ontario.

____ The company doesn't pay a driver anything to switch trailers but it never takes more than half an hour and the truck is back out on the road; earning cents per mile. How things have changed from when I was at Big Freight! Every load needed strapping down and usually tarping. At Flying Eagle, things got easier with just the opening and closing of the van doors. Now at Penners; at least half the loads are ready to go before I arrive. Another switch at Mississauga and I am heading back down Highway 401 towards Detroit on Saturday afternoon. Sunday is just a short drive to Carol Stream, a western suburb of Chicago.

The Dragon Wrecker.

____ But as with most trips, there is always a hiccup. Monday morning and the clamp truck at Carol Stream springs an hydraulic leak. It is the only thing in the factory that can unload my huge rolls of cardboard and it's 4 o'clock before it is working again. The office has a re-load organised from Brook, Indiana, luckily they work until ten in the evening so I do get loaded but it was a slow run through the Chicago evening rush-hour. Then in the morning I had a slow run through the morning rush-hour, going back in the other direction.

Early morning snow at the Big Chief Travel Plaza, Home of the Bison Burger.

____ The re-load was for Steinbach; so I put in the full 11 hours driving. Making it as far as Fergus Falls as the temperature dropped and the light rain started freezing on the windshield. Miler-marker 86 and things got tricky. The Big Chief Travel Plaza at MM 61 took a long time coming. The rain turned to snow as I slept and it kept snowing all the way home. The wipers on the Volvo didn't handle the conditions very well; I soon had great lumps of ice swishing across the screen. The only way to clear them was to stop, get out, climb up and bang the blades on the screen until the ice dropped off.  "Twenty centimetres of white stuff"; they said on the radio and from the look of the patio table on the deck; they were right.

What a time and place for a tug of war! Actually the little white bus was winching the big yellow bus out of the ditch.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mack In A Million.

4559 km in 6 days.
____ An empty trailer to Dryden starts a trip that I have done before in its entirety. Then I switch for a really heavy one and go to the border at International Falls. Highway 502 which is nearly 200 kilometres of pure Canadian Shield; no houses, no traffic, just rock, trees and lakes. I wonder how long this route is going to be usable as we enter the Winter season. This time it is bare and dry but it could be unwise to use it in bad weather. I reach Minong in Wisconsin for the night; home of the Links family and their beef jerky empire.

____ South into warmer temperatures, first to Troy in Illinois; then an early Saturday delivery in Jackson. Instant reload information sends me south to Olive Branch, a few hundred yards south of the Tennessee/Mississippi stateline. On my previous visit, I was loaded and away within an hour: not this time. Three Penner trucks have arrived for two available loads and I draw the short straw. It is a 27 hour wait; Sunday afternoon before I am on my way.

Cab-over beside the Interstate 55 in Missouri.

____ But every cloud has a silver lining and I have an opportunity to call in at a rural fire hall to look-over a fine old Mack fire-rescue truck. Twenty-five years old with just 22,000 miles on the clock. Three hundred and fifty horse-power with a five speed Allison automatic transmission, 4000 lbs winch, 15 kilowatt generator and automatic snow-chains. Something that would make a unique motor-home conversion.

____ A light load of just 11,000 lbs helps for a good run back to Manitoba. Twenty-seven minutes to get shot of 22 pallets. A warm spell brings temperatures to positive degrees but makes for a mucky truck. Luckily the workshops also have a wash bay and screen-wash in bulk. A mid-week finish, a hours reset and out again on maybe the last trip before Christmas.

Built in 1989 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

22713 miles.

Mack R688FC with bodywork by Saulsbury.

4000 lb Electric Winch on front bumper.

Allison Transmission shifter and plenty of extra switches.

No clutch; just two buttons for air-horns and siren can lead to noisy mistakes.

Even has a built-in wine-rack.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blow Over Some Cherry And Carry On.

8437 km-11 days

____Day 1: The girl-friend is along for the ride. Her office is closed because a new computer system is being installed. We take an empty trailer to Portage La Prairie and once loaded; we wait three hours for the paperwork. Their computer system is down. The g/f has this effect on things. After a 7.00am start; it is getting dark by the time we cross the border, which would have been a one hour drive from home. Pushing-on to the maximum 14 hour spread-over; we make it to Sauk Centre.

____Day 2: The Sunday before Black Friday and it seems that most of Chicago's shoppers are saving their dollars for the big sale day. An easy run through the city and it's sprawling suburbs. The EZ Pass toll-paying tag sure makes it easier than the cash-paying Flying Eagle days. Eleven hours driving gets us to the Elkhart Service Area on the Indiana Toll Road, aka Interstate 80 and 90.

____Day 3: Totally toll road; into Ohio and then the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Then there is an accident at the required exit with horrendous tail-backs. We push on past; stopping for the second night at a toll road service area. It's good to know that some of the toll dollars go to these places. They are always clean and tidy; the one on the south side of Reading has a 24/7 Starbucks.

For most truckers; Great Dane is a make of trailer. For this guy; it's a cab-mutt

____Day 4: As soon as I enter the foodstuff warehouse; I smell "Union." This delivery will not be quick. Old men slowly going about their jobs and sure enough; when I do finally get allocated an unloading bay: they go for a break before starting to unload. All off and away at eleven; luckily the reload is at nearby Hanover. The rest of the day; locking horns with the relentless PA traffic, around Harrisburg and up into New York State for a night at Dansville in the TA Travelcentre.

____Day 5: The load is from the US warehouse of a company to their Canadian counterparts in Mississauga. A 10 o'clock delivery appointment means an early start and a dawn crossing of the Peace Bridge, connecting Buffalo, New York, to Fort Erie, Ontario, just upstream from Niagara Falls. No-one at the delivery point knows anything about my arrival and my load; great inter-company communication. But as it looks like everything else in their warehouse; they unload me by noon. The next job is a trailer switch, also in Mississauga, but it won't be ready until mid-night. The g/f has never been to Niagara Falls and it is just an hour away on the Queen Elizabeth Way; but then I wouldn't have the only Canadian girl friend who hadn't seen them. So we play crib in the truck at the shambles that masquerades as the Mississauga Flying'J.

2006 Volvo with 15lt Cummins ISX, Eaton-Fuller 13 speed and 1.75 million kilometres on the clock.

____Day 6: An early start is needed if we are to swap trailers and get out of town before the early morning rush; 5 o'clock Eastern, 4 o'clock Central. Plus 8 and drizzle turns to Minus 2 and snow flurries by the time we reach North Bay. Highway 11, west-wards into the weather; New Liskeard onto Cochrane, Kapuskasing to Hearst, darkness falls on the last leg as we make the final push of the day, to Longlac. Hard-packed snow on the desolate two-hundred kays to a freezing parking spot on a service road.

____Day 7: The cold wakes me just after mid-night. I fire up the Cummins and turn on the bunk-heater. Sleep doesn't return and dead on 10 hours rest, we are under way with enough time to get home. Sun-rise at Thunder Bay, clear skies, bare and dry roads. It is all looking good until the engine conks out at Kenora. A bizarre situation with one diesel tank brim full and one tank bone dry. The balance pipe between the two is plugged; probably with frozen diesel. A short walk to a handy chain-saw dealer and I return with 10 feet of five-eighth inch coolant pipe. I stuff one end in each tank and take the blue air-line from the trailer; pushing it in the full tank. Some old rags block up the rest of the filler orifice while the g/f works the brake pedal. In no-time a third of a tank  of diesel is blown-over. The big 15 litre Cummins ISX is self-bleeding, we are soon up and running. But our troubles are not over. The diesel pump draws fuel from the empty-ish tank and returns fuel to the full tank. Within 100 kilometres, the engine dies again; luckily within sight of the Coop Cardlock fuel stop at Hadashville. The power-steering goes into arms-strong mode but I make the zig-zag and glide up to the pumps. My sigh of relief sounds like I have set the trailer brakes twice.

____Day 8: The guys in the workshop stayed late and checked out the problem with the tank-link pipe. Apparently Volvos are fitted with a valve between the tanks that stop fuel leakage in the event of a truck roll-over. It could have frozen or may have been activated by filling empty tanks with the engine running. You learn something new everyday in this trade. It is Saturday and driving hours are now short; enough time to get to Moose Jaw and again wonder how Canadian Flying'Js fail to give the same customer satisfaction as their American counterparts.

Not me Guv! It was already sealed when I picked it up.

____Day 9: The load must be in Calgary by noon; so the earliest start of the trip is needed for the seven hour stretch across the Prairies. No problem as Saskatchewan has yet to see snow, bare and dry Trans-Canada Highway. It takes four and a half hours for them to hand-ball my load out of the trailer which finishes my work-day with just enough time to catch the final match of this year's Canadian Football League; the Grey Cup.

____Day 10: Homeward bound; changing the empty trailer for loaded one at Medicine Hat. It's due for delivery on Friday in Chicago but my orders are to take it to Steinbach. To Brandon for the night with an endless Dire Straits compilation blasting from the speakers. Ride across the river. Brothers in arms. Telegraph road. Running every red light down memory lane. Stirring ghosts from thirty years ago. Bitter cold Winters on the vast plains of Romania; so similar to the vast empty deep-freeze that is central Canada. We are Sultans, we are the Sultans of Swing.

____Day 11: Another night of broken sleep due to the cold; but not a lot to do, three hours. End of the month and a quick check of pages 1 and 30 on the log-book tells me that the kilometre count is over 22,000. It was 20,055 for October, so it looks like the job is going in the right direction.

A 30 year old photo, taken in a Romanian lay-by just after I had blown-over some cherry red diesel from the trailer's belly-tank and into the running tank. I made a mess then and made a mess on this trip too. Some people never learn.