Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hidalgo and US Highway 281.

6908 kilometres in 8 days.
____ A Winter storm called Decima is scheduled to cross my path somewhere between the Canadian border and the Mexican border as I head south from Steinbach to Hidalgo in Texas. The Friday run down to Vermillion is under clear skies but with a bitterly cold north wind chilling temperatures down to minus 27 C. Only when I park does the snow start; drifting across the front of the idling trucks as they huddle together for warmth. Daylight hours are short as I leave at the crack of dawn; taking the Interstate 35 option where I hope the snowploughs have done their job. Blowing snow mixed with a few flurries; through Omaha, Kansas City and down to Joplin where freezing rain brings everything to a standstill. The Petro Truckstop at Junction 4 on the 44 is an hours crawl from Junction 10. The parking area fills to bursting point as drivers give up on the job and  go to work on the BBQ Buffet in the Iron Skillet restaurant.
Nice new quilted Winter front gets tested by Winter Storm Decima.

____ I wake to find Interstate 44 is moving again and Sunday is an easier day with the strong north winds helping with fuel consumption. It is still freezing but by the time I get to the Flying J at George West; it is only -3. Into the border town of Hidalgo bright and early with the peat-moss, ready for transshipment onto a Mexican trailer pulled by a fellow member of the W900 club. A Kenworth of similar age to #94 but with an overdose of tacky religious bling. I'm just a few hundred yards away from the Rio Grande in an area specializing in the transfer of cross-border goods; my fourth visit to such a town. after El Paso, Eagle Pass and Laredo.
Petro 44 Truckstop, Joplin, in the snow.

____ The reload is from Mansfield, a suburb of Fort Worth, nearly a days run from the southernmost tip of Texas, along Highway 281 and Interstate 35. Synthetic oil and grease for a distribution centre in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. A three day run that sees me on the Highway 281 again in North Dakota. Very windy from the West but an easier run. I am back in Canada by lunchtime on Thursday. A phonecall to the customer assures me that they will take delivery that afternoon. The depot manager stays on the line to talk me into the delivery point; very useful in avoiding weight restrictions and finding an old brewery tucked away behind the vast Moose Jaw goods yard. By the time I go to re-fuel, 70 hours in seven days have elapsed since I set off. An enforced early finish but that enables an early start that sees me running empty back to Steinbach and a reasonable finish on the day before Christmas Eve.

Straight from the Blue Beacon Truckwash at York, Nebraska.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Taber Sugar.

Three Days on the Snowy Prairies.
____ Six axles in Canada can be loaded to 100,000 lbs and the out-bound load to Swift Current wasn't far from max. At least the blowing snow from the North didn't have much effect on the W900 as we followed a ice-patched Trans-Canada Highway for 800 kilometres of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The first delivery was to an agricultural machinery place directly opposite the truckstop where I stayed overnight. It was good to eat a breakfast and drink from an bottomless cup of coffee as I waited for the lights to come on over the road. Twenty pallets of various oils and greases unloaded off the back and into the yard in a biting wind and a temperature of minus 25 Centigrade.

____ Six pallets left for drop number two at Maple Creek, 108 kilometres further West on the same TCH and selling the same brand of tractor. Then, empty to Taber for a reload of sugar. A time-zone crossing gives me an extra hour as I cross from Saskatchewan to Alberta. Sask don't change their clocks; in Winter they are the same as Manitoba, in Summer they're with Alberta. The sugar is heavier than the oil, good job they had a scale at the beet-factory; the Detroit Diesel needs all of it's 500 horses all the way back to Swift Current for another night-out. For a second night, the truck engine runs all night at a fast idle. The Kenworth doesn't have an "Outside Temperature" gauge but when the exhaust stacks of every truck are leaving huge vapour trails in the twilight then I know that it is below minus 20 and time to keep the motor running. The sunshine of day three fails to make a difference to the mercury; all the way back to Steinbach.

____ Six loads now for the 1998 KW and all of them have been within a couple of ton of the legal maximum. But the old iron doesn't complain; just gulps down another gallon and roars. Fuel consumption seems to be at about 10 to the gallon; ten kilometres to an American, 3.5 litre, gallon. That would be 8 mpg in old money. Not as good as something like a 13 litre Volvo but quite acceptable for a truck that is never going to show you a check-engine light or require a parked-re-gen. I am impressed by some of the Kenworth's attributes, a comfortable driving position, a nice double-sleeper, the excellent eight air-bag rear suspension and plenty of power. But some things leave a lot to be desired; the engine noise in the cab is thunderous and the exhaust stacks block a lot of rearward vision when reversing. They don't have to run up by the cab doors and it seems they are just there to complete the "American Class 8 Iconic Truck" look. When it comes to taking the last vacant spot at a busy truckstop, in the dark, in the rain; I can see myself falling out of love with chrome as I try to reverse in a tight spot. The backing-up will get easier with practice but I do find myself thinking more about where and when I'm going to stop; just to avoid a pain-in-the-arse end to the day. But three trips done now for Ruby Truck Line and just time for one more long one before Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Beeville-Pasadena: Texas.

Another Weeks Work.
____ A fretful start to the trip as I take ice-covered Highway 12 out of Steinbach to Vassar for a load of peat-moss. I am booked in for an 8 o'clock appointment and loaded by nine-thirty. A big Winter -storm is on it's way to south-east Manitoba with a foot of snow forecast; I'm anxious to get on my way before it's afternoon arrival. But it is stock-taking day at the dirt -packing plant and orders dictate that no paperwork can be printed before mid-day. A dozen un-happy drivers are left champing at the bit. Then there is a two hour delay while I wait for customs clearance and can finally head south of the border in an attempt to outrun the snow-flakes.

Cabover Bullrack

____ The going gets tricky around about Hillsboro, between Grand Forks and Fargo, but I'm just ahead of things and south enough to get bare and dry roads by the time I reach South Dakota. After a night at Watertown, the Arctic-blast follows me down Highway 81 and Interstate 35. The destination is the small Texan town of Beeville and the Bonnie Plant Farm. Unloaded and across to Pasadena; for the same re-load as last week, plastic granules back to Winnipeg.

While I was away!

____ The Dub'ya 900 takes it all in it's stride. Two heavy loads but the truck cruises along at 65 mph although the North-South route doesn't have any big climbs. My biggest concern is the quality of the diesel. Texas and Oklahoma have cheap Summer diesel that gels-up in the filters; temperatures are down to minus 25 degrees C in Manitoba and even South Dakota is down to a troublesome minus teens. I need good Number One Diesel from as far south as possible; Stone's Truckstop at Watertown fills the tanks and gets me home without problems. A six-day trip with some bad weather but as reports come through of drivers stranded for days in their cabs, I was lucky I didn't get held-up.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Penner No More.

Drive-by picture of the Sam Houston Statue on Interstate 45, just before sunset.
A Weeks Work.
____ I finally ran out of patience with Penner International after 15 months of waiting for the job to reach it's full potential. They had some good customers, plenty of trailers and some good runs but I never got more than one decent trip a month. The miles just never amounted to what I needed to get a decent wage. I had a reliable truck and always made myself available for any job but finally gave up waiting for things to get better.

____ The new job is a couple of cents a mile less but promises to make that up by giving better runs than Wisconsin. Ruby Truck Lines main destination is Texas and I started with a load of peat-moss to Laredo. The reload was from Houston and straight back to the Steinbach yard. Orientation was just a couple of hours on a Friday morning, I loaded my stuff into the new truck and set off for a Monday morning delivery. I was given a Kenworth W900; which is still in production, but mine was manufactured in 1998. It might have done 2.4 million kilometres or it might be 3.4 million.

____ The truck has recently been rebuilt after a roll-over and appears to be in good order; I couldn't fault it. A 500 bhp Detroit Diesel, 13 speed Eaton-Fuller transmission, lots of dials, a brand new mattress and a Jake-brake that could wake the dead. Different in so many ways from the Cummins-engined Volvo; it took most of the week to get used to the forward-set steer axle, high-hood and lack of rearward vision. The reversing geometry will take a lot longer to master after being spoiled by the Volvo's wide cab and set-back steer axle.

____ It was nice to have the shorts on for two days, and to be honest, getting away from the Canadian Winter was a big attraction when it came to applying for the job. Day-time high in Laredo was 28 degrees C while Manitoba had a high of 28 degrees F. I feel a lot more enthusiastic about this job than I ever did about Penners even though I have been given an 18 year old truck to drive. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that I had a 27 year old hobby truck at the interview.
Ruby Truck Lines # 94.