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Riding with a partner …sort of! :)

Or when winter hits down south!

Ok so on my last trip to Arizona, I had a ride along partner…my wife Judy joined me for the trip.  I had promised her a nice warm trip to Arizona in the middle of a cold Manitoba winter…boy did I get that one wrong!  I should have known that “murphy’s law” would strike, but for more details, read on.

The trip started out quite normally, a cold and snowy February day in southern Manitoba.  I headed over to grab my load of peat moss to take to Denver, all the time assuring Judy that once we hit southern South Dakota, the weather would begin to improve rapidly.  We got a late start out of Manitoba, and I decided to pull it over at a rest area in South Dakota at the end of the first day.  I hadn’t done as many miles as I wanted to, and I was really pressed for time, but fatigue started to kick in and I figured it was best to start refreshed early the next morning.

In the morning, we turned towards western South Dakota and then headed south on Highway 83 towards Nebraska.  I was still trying to convince Judy that the weather was going to improve, although by this time I was really beginning to doubt it myself, as the temperatures remained well below freezing.  That night we parked in a truckstop about 3 hours from my destination of Denver, CO.  The wind was howling and the temperature was COLD!!!!! I was still hoping for a drastic change, but really concerned.

The next morning I headed out for Denver and found my way to my destination, only to discover that not only was it still really cold, but that I had to back my truck around TWO corners to get to the loading dock.  This was an extremely tight location from a very narrow road with very little room to move around.  I eventually, after struggling a little, got into the dock and got unloaded.  This was Wednesday morning, and I was scheduled to reload in Nogales, AZ (approximately 800 miles away) on Friday, so it was time to keep rolling.

We  headed south through Denver and towards New Mexico.  I told Judy that the worst of the cold had to be done, and that it would begin to warm soon.  By the time I got to Albuquerque, NM, however, I knew differently!!!  When we parked for the night in Albuquerque, it was -18C and really cold, we got a message from back home that it was +4 in Winnipeg and RAINING!  So much for enjoying the weather down south!!!  The truck stop where we stayed for the night had frozen waterlines and no coffee due to the extreme cold weather.  My trailer needed to be washed out prior to reloading, but the truck wash was closed due to frozen water lines also.  Again I figured that things would improve!

The next day, we headed out of Albuquerque towards Arizona.  Along the way I decided to stop for breakfast at a small independent truck stop.  As soon as we walked inside, we knew this was not good.  The building had no heat, except for a roaring fireplace.  The owner was layered in sweaters and complaining about how cold it was.  His bathrooms were frozen up also, but he did have bottled water for coffee and was able to prepare food.  When we sat on the restaurant seats, it was like sitting on a block of ice, everything was so darn cold!  But we made the best of it and joked with an Australian couple who arrived shortly after we did.  Once back on the road, I figured a quick stop for a bathroom break at a rest area close by was in order, but unfortunately it was closed due to frozen waterlines.  The next one was also closed for the same reason, are you beginning to see a pattern here?????

The road was covered in fresh snow and ice, but the crews were out clearing.  In New Mexico they do not use sand on the roads, instead they use crushed volcanic ash which is pink and the side of my truck developed a nice shade of pink as we continued to drive.  Finally as we crossed the New Mexico/Arizona border, we left the snow and ice behind and unbelievably, by this time, the temperature finally rose above freezing!

Since I have issues with spending the night in Nogales, AZ, we decided to spend Thursday night in Tucson, AZ and head to Nogales in the morning.  The temperature remained above freezing overnight, and I was able to get the interior of my trailer washed out in preparation of loading.  About 5 minutes after leaving the truck stop in the morning and beginning to head to Nogales, my phone rang advising me that due to the cold weather, the tomatoes that I was supposed to pick up had not been picked and my load was now delayed until Monday, meaning I had to spend two days waiting!  So I turned around and headed back to the truckstop.

This did allow us to walk around the area and survey the damage caused by the cold.  Many of the cacti had a lot of damage and many broken parts lay on the ground.  I hope they recover, but I am sure they are just not used to this kind of cold.  The stopover also allowed us to watch the Superbowl in a truck stop surrounded by serious football fans.  We had some interesting discussions with some of them, and although I am not a big fan of NFL Football, I was still cheering for the Packers, in a crowd of Steelers fans!  We had some good fun there and met some great people.

On Monday I headed south to Nogales, AZ to grab my load of tomatoes to take back north.  By this time the temperature was up around 15C, still well below normal and not what I had planned for Judy’s trip, but this was out of my hands.  After loading, it was off to another truck stop to scale my load and take a quick bathroom break before heading north.  BUT as you may guess, the bathrooms were closed due to broken (previously frozen) waterlines!!!!

So north we went towards Glen Canyon, but first we had to get through Phoenix.  We made a fuel stop at Eloy, AZ and this is where I started my “Engine Cooking” experiment.  For a full report on engine cooking read:  https://paulcroft.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/engine-cooking/.

As we headed towards Phoenix, I let Judy know that this was a large city and would take a while to get through, but I did not expect the delay that we got.  As we entered the city, the Interstate signs began to warn of an accident and that the Interstate was closed.  Being unfamiliar with the city, I did not want to stray too far from my route, however, and so I continued along.  We encountered the clean up of a fairly minor accident, that did slow us down a bit, but I figured, “OK, that wasn’t too bad” and we kept on rolling.  Just a few miles down the highway though, we encountered another “slowdown” and this one was the “big one!!!!”  We went from rolling at highway speed to a dead stop in just a couple of hundred feet and then crawled along!  The CB Radio was full of wonderful comments and advise to take this detour or that detour.  I was considering trying to get out of the mess, when I heard one trucker call for help.  He had taken one of the “detours” and ended up in a major residential area with narrow streets and cars parked on both sides of the road and was lost.  At this point, I KNEW that I was going to stay on the Interstate and try to navigate through this mess!  From the chatter on the CB, I knew that I was about 4 miles from the epicentre of the trouble, but that 4 miles took me in excess of 2 hours to drive through!  By the time I reached the “incident” they were in the final stages of clean up, and we didn’t see anything at all, so I have really no idea what happened, although the rumour was that a semi, a number of cars, and a motorcycle were involved.

At this point, I was tired and stressed out to the max, and was also getting hungry.  The smell of the “engine cooking” experiment was starting to drift into the cab and my stomach was growling.  I found a nice rest area not too far along and decided that it was time to park for the night and get some food into us, and we would see the canyon the next day.

After a good nights sleep, we hit the road again.  Not too far from Flagstaff, AZ, where the climb into the mountains begins, we once again hit snow!  Seems that snow was really attracted to me on this trip!!!  Up and down the hills we traveled and at some points the visibility was really poor.  But we had to keep moving and make some miles towards our destination.  We got through Flagstaff and turned north towards the canyon.  The weather improved a little, but not completely, at least until we got into the main canyon section.  Judy was amazed at what we were seeing outside our window, as I was even though this was now my third trip through this area.  The colours of the rocks are indescribable as they are so varied and it is really overwhelming.  The huge climbs that the road takes are difficult in a fully loaded semi, as are the downhill runs, but as my experience grows along with my confidence, I really get to enjoy the views out the window.

At the bottom of the canyon is the city of Page, AZ where we stopped for a quick bite at the local Subway, and then it was across the Glen Canyon Dam and into Utah.  The trip from this point meanders through small towns and forests and then eventually into a pass that makes the major climb over the mountain range.  This pass is a great challenge with 25 MPH corners and “switchback” turns.  Oh and of course the snow had started again.   Once we were through the pass, it was back onto the Interstate.

I took the drive through Salt Lake City at night, something I have never done before, which brought a whole new perspective to the city.  The trip through this metropolis is long as there are a few cities in a row that are pretty well connected due to the population growth in the area, and therefore this section takes a couple of hours to get through.  After Salt Lake City, it was time to bed down for the night in preparation for the push north to our final destination  of Saskatoon.

My border crossing on this trip was much smoother than the last load, when they completely searched my truck and trailer.  This time I was barely stopped on the border crossing when they let me through.  After spending one more night on the road in small town in Alberta, I made my delivery to Saskatoon.  My reload was already set up for my return trip to Winnipeg, which of course became an overnight run.  This stretched my logbook to the max, and by the time I arrived in Winnipeg I was at the edge of my hours.  My first drop was at 4:00am in a “rough” area of Winnipeg, but I parked on the street just outside the delivery.  I jumped into the bunk, because I knew the receiver would knock on the side of my truck when he arrived, but not 2 minutes later, I heard a knock and thought “Wow they are early tonite!!!”  Well all was not as it seemed.  When I climbed out of my bunk and went to look, it was not the receiver there, but instead there was a “young lady” at my door.  She asked me if she could come inside to “warm up” and I told her “NO!”  At that point, she offered me her “oral skills”…and she must have been quite the talker because she was going to charge me $20.00 for these skills!  I told her my wife was in the bunk and I’d have to get her permission, to which she replied “OK!”  Laughing at her, I told her to “get lost” and climbed back into my bunk!  What an interesting city Winnipeg is!  Judy got a real kick out of this incident and it remains a topic of conversation!

After completing all my unloads in Winnipeg, I was asked to take a quick load from Winker, MB to Saskatoon and then reload back to Winnipeg.  I had planned on taking some time off at this point, but my dispatcher convinced me to take the load as he was desperate!  We headed to Winkler on Friday morning and got loaded.  Just after fully loading my truck, the shipper realized that I was a tandem and not a tri-dem and that they had over-loaded me.  They removed two pallets of potatoes from my truck and sent me on my way.  With no scale close by, I headed back to Winnipeg.  The load did not deliver to Saskatoon until Sunday morning, so I had lots of time to make the trip.  When I scaled in Winnipeg, though, I found that I was heavy everywhere, front axle, drive axles, trailer axles and gross weight!  This was NOT good!  My only option at this point was scale avoidance mode because it was too late to get any weight removed.  Amazingly, I made the trip to Saskatoon without crossing a scale and without having to detour too much out of the way.  I got unloaded, reloaded and back to Winnipeg all within my hours and then headed home for a break.

Although the weather that I had promised to Judy, never really materialized, we did have a great trip and she got to see parts of the US that she hadn’t seen before, including the beautiful canyon.  This was one of the places that I had wanted her to see and am glad that I was able to arrange it.  It is also great to have someone along with me to talk to and have some fun with to break up the monotony of mile after mile of driving, and she also gets to see what being on the road is like.  I don’t think she could do it full time like I do, but doing a trip like this every couple of months seems to work well for her.

[Edit: I just realized after posting this item, that the last time Judy was along with me, we get mixed up in Hurricane Hermine!  Maybe this is something I should be more aware of when I plan trips with her!!!]

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Engine Cooking

A Test in Trucker Culinary Skills

[A full report on my current driving will be posted in a future blog entry, but this one will outline a test of something that I have heard and read about on the net]

What I thought was an “Urban Legend” is supposed to be true and therefore it is time to test it out.  The idea is that a trucker can use his engine to cook and heat food while driving down the highway, so now to put it to the test and provide the pictures to support the result (or lack thereof)!

It starts out with simple ingredients: Hot-dogs and onions, with support by tin-foil, wire and, of course one Kenworth truck engine.

 

Hotdogs, buns, onion and foil.

 

So the next step was to combine the ingredients, slice the onion and add the weiners double wrapped in tin foil (to prevent any engine oil contamination) and then to find a nice hot place on the engine to (hopefully) cook the meal.

Meal seated on top of engine

 

The next step was to do what I do best, drive down the highway.  I had planned on a trip of about 4 hours and hoped that was long enough to properly prepare the meal.  I departed from Eloy, Arizona (about 40 miles south of Phoenix) and began my cooking trip.  I figured by the time I had driven for 4 hours, I would be well on my way into the famous canyon section of Arizona, but real life always takes turns that you do not expect.  Shortly after arriving in Phoenix, the signs on the Interstate announced that I-17 was closed ahead due to an accident.  What should have been about a 1 hour trip through Phoenix, turned into over 2 hours in bumper to bumper, very slowly moving, traffic.  I could begin to smell a strong aroma of onion inside the cab, coming through the vents, and therefore figured that something was obviously working right!

After finally negotiating my way through the traffic and the accident finally being cleared away, I had done more than enough driving for one night and began to look for a place to park. Not far outside Flagstaff, Arizona (about 2 hours short of my original destination) I decided to pack it in for the night.  So now it was time to open the hood and see the results of my creation.

As it turns out, Engine Cooking is NOT an urban legend, but it is also not an exact science.  My meal was rather warm, although the hotdogs were just not quite completely cooked.  There was no bleed through flavour from any of the engine, so the double wrapping of foil obviously worked well.  The onions were mostly cooked, but still a little bit raw.

Hotdogs and onions

 

So this is definitely an experiment worth repeating and all it will take is a little more time on the “oven” to get a really decent meal.  I tried this with something relatively inexpensive, hotdogs and onions, which if ruined would not break the bank, but I have heard of people cooking roasts, fish and other meals.    I am not sure that I am prepared to tackle something that complicated right now, but am prepared to try again just to allow myself some variety from truckstop cuisine or road sandwiches.

 

 

January

Darn it…I had planned on being a little better at this updating stuff, but just can’t always keep up!  So lets see where we are.  Right now sitting in Calgary, AB with a load of cucumbers and peppers all ready to be unloaded tomorrow morning.  I brought this load from Nogales, AZ.  Although it is really warm in Calgary, it is nowhere near as warm as it was in Arizona!  But I guess us tough Canadians can handle a little bit of cold, eh!  😉

Now lets try to update a bit.  After Christmas and New Years was done, I got back on the road in that lousy, noisy, hard to drive rental truck and took it back down to Laredo, TX with a load of (guess what)…PORK as usual.  I was finally able to unload the pork AND get rid of the rental and get back into my Kenworth.  Now all I can hope is that my baby has the bugs out and keeps running for a while.  From Texas I took a load of tomatoes north to Southern Ontario.  I was on a “push” run with the broker calling me each morning and asking where I was, and when I was going to arrive at my destination.  I GUARANTEED him that I would arrive on Thursday evening, around 8:00pm local time.  I really worked to make that time work as I had to fight with some nasty weather (see below).  When I arrived at my destination at about 7:55pm (yeah I was that close on my estimate), there was NOT  A SOUL to be found!  I had called in advance and the broker was supposed to have set up my unload, but the message never got passed down.  After a few calls and residing myself to spending the night in the yard, a supervisor arrived and reluctantly unloaded my truck, stating “we didn’t need this load that badly!”  So much for my rushing to get there!

Ok, now back up a bit to the bad weather part.  On my way down to Texas, at the Texas/Oklahoma border, I ran into a snowstorm!!!! It really was coming down and the flakes were HUGE!  I slowed down to a comfortable 50MPH (80KPH) and continued on.  It was interesting to watch the cars react to the weather though.  Some drivers were crawling along the freeway, in obvious fear, and others seemed oblivious to the weather until a curve would arrive and then they would hit the brakes and continue straight ahead, either into the ditch or scraping the wall or guardrail.  Needless to say, I saw many accidents, none seemed too serious and I was able to avoid them all!  At one point in that week, there was snow in 49 of the 50 states, with only Hawaii being spared.  On my trip back up north to Ontario, I hit snow in northern Texas and never left it.  Through Arkansas was the worst though and I saw many vehicles in the ditch.  I guess I missed the bad storm by one day!  🙂

Ok, so then from southern Ontario, I headed to Mississauga, Ontario to grab my reload back to Winnipeg.  This was a full trailer load, and to be honest, I have no idea what was onboard, except for the fact that it was temperature controlled (reefer running).  Just east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, I stopped for the night at a truck stop in Pass Lake, Ontario.  At some point overnight, my reefer quit running and for some reason this did not wake me up!  Usually the sound of it shutting off instantly wakes me, but I slept through it!  After a call to my maintenance, I was informed to take it to a truck wash and fill the engine with hot water.  It seems that the reefers are freezing up inside due to the mild, cold, mild, cold weather that we have been experiencing.  Amazingly, that actually worked and I got my reefer back up and running and continued on my way to Winnipeg, albeit late for my delivery.

After dropping my loaded trailer, and picking up another empty one, I headed back out on the road, and picked up a load of peat moss (YEA its not pork!!) and headed for Colorado.  This was a nice, easy and relaxing drive and I enjoyed the different scenery.  From Colorado, I had an 800 mile dead-head (empty trailer) run to Nogales, AZ.  I got my trailer inside washed out and tested my reefer to make sure it worked and all seemed good.  I spent the night just about 1/2 way between Tucson and Nogales, because I really don’t like to spend too much time in the border city.  In the morning, I started my reefer to pre-cool my trailer and the trouble began!  The reefer would NOT run now!  Again, I called maintenance and they began the search for a repair shop, but advised me to drive to Nogales.  Just after arriving there, I got a call from them telling me that the repair shop was in Tucson and I would now have to drive BACK up there to get my reefer fixed!  ARGHHHHHHHH!

So back on the road I went, luckily the repair shop was not too busy, and I was able to get it fixed pretty quick.  A fuel solenoid had failed and I was also low on freon.  With both of those problems fixed it was back to Nogales to get my load!  By this time it was getting pretty late in the day, so after loading it was time to call it a night.  I knew the route I had to take and didn’t feel like driving it during night hours, so I figured an early night and early morning start were in order.

My route back to Calgary, took me through the Glen Canyon, which is just east of the Grand Canyon and is really a beautiful trip.  This is my second time through this area and I enjoyed it a lot more this time, as I felt a whole lot more confident.  The last part of the trip was different from the last time I passed through this area though and took me onto a narrow two-lane highway with sharp curves, high climbs, and switch-backs, that really challenged me, but I found it really enjoyable!

Its amazing, however, how quick the weather changes once you cross the mountains.  On the eastern side of the mountains it was about 25C, while on the western side it dropped to about 4C and the ground was covered in snow!!!!  For the most part though, the snow was in the fields and ditches, except for this morning, as I was driving through the mountain passes in Montana.  At one point the road was snow and ice covered, and I almost had to put chains on at one point, something I am dreading, because I have never installed tire chains and am not sure if I know how to do it!!!!

When I reached the Canadian border, I was told to back up to a door, open up and go inside.  Once inside, a border official asked me a bunch of questions and then told me they were going to search my truck and trailer.  She asked me if I knew what they were looking for, and I replied “I imagine you are looking for drugs.”  She replied, “Drugs is one thing, but also illegal weapons, animals, child porn, or public security items”, and then asked me if I had anything onboard that she needed to know about!  Since I have none of the above, I said no!  She told me to sit in the waiting room and the search began.  After about 45 minutes, my name was called, and she told me to have a safe trip!  Now I am 100% in favour of better border security, but wish they would leave me alone since I know that I am not doing anything illegal!!!

Anyway, I made it to Calgary and now I hope that I get an easy unload in the morning, and get reloaded back to Winnipeg so I can take a few days off.  Its time to get out of this truck, since I have been on the road since just after New Years!

Been too long

Wow I have been away for a while, been almost a month since I last posted, so I can’t update on everything that has happened in that time, so instead I will give you a run down of the last couple of weeks and the most recent trip I have been on.

I took a few days off from driving and went home, also got to spend some time with my oldest son, his wife and of course my darling grandson! 😉 And then it was back to work!

Started out ok, was called into the office for a “meeting” and upon arrival I found out they had made an appointment with the lab for me to go take a “pee test” … it is used to check for drugs in the system, not that I am concerned…I actually found it funny that they had to drag me in by setting up a non-existent meeting. It is pretty tough to get me into the office on any sort of regular basis, so they found a way! Haven’t heard the results yet, but it should be 100% clean, the only drugs I use are Tylenol and Advil, oh yeah and Aleve that is not legal in Canada!

After my drug test it was off to pick up my preloaded trailer. For once I did not have to wait for anything at all and was able to hit the road right away. I thought this was a good omen…oh boy was I wrong on that one! I put in a good days drive and made it to Vermillion, South Dakota about 7 hours south of Winnipeg. On the way, I ran into some really really nasty freezing rain. One minute I was crusing along at 65MPH and then suddenly the cars in front of me started to slow down and hit their 4 way flashers. My windshield was immediately (out of nowhere!) covered in rain and ice! Now you maybe can slow your car down quickly, but 80,000lbs going 65MPH takes a while to slow down, especially when you don’t dare use the brakes, and so I hit the hammer lane (passing lane for those of you who don’t know) and let up on the throttle. I went whizzing past all these cars going slow, along with a couple of other trucks behind me who had take the same option, and let the engine slow me down gradually. When I got in front of the cars and doing a reasonable 30MPH, I pulled back into the granny lane (slow lane for you) and became “leader of the pack!”  We drove for about an hour in this freezing rain and although I was able to keep my front windshield clean (for the most part), my driver’s side window was completely encrusted with ice, so much so that I could NOT see out of it at all and couldn’t open it to scrape the ice off! Also, although I have heated mirrors, the heat could not combat the ice and my mirrors were basically useless! Nothing like driving a big rig down the highway and can’t see anything around you! Eventually, after about an hour of 30MPH driving and freezing rain, it cleared as fast as it started and I was back up to speed, but I was ready to call it a night!

I checked my weather radio, built into my CB radio and a really neat gadget, and heard that there was a severe blizzard warning out for my area. The forecast however, was for the blizzard to only hit as far south as Souix Falls, South Dakota, and since Vermillion is about 50 miles south of there, I figured I was safe! So Vermillion became my stop. I arrived there and it was about 40F outside, a nice refreshing late fall evening with extremely clear skies…I had made a good choice and avoided the bad weather, or so I thought!

At around 4:00am, I awoke and felt my truck rocking in the wind, and figured something was up, but nothing I could do until morning, real morning that is! At about 6:00am I awoke, got dressed, pulled back my cab curtains and saw WHITE! Nothing but white all around and I was sitting in the middle of the blizzard that was supposed to hit 50 miles NORTH of me!!!!!! This is all I could see out of my front window, and no my camera is NOT broken!

Blizzard in Vermillion, SD

This was NOT good.  I now got really dressed, into my winter garb, and headed out to the truck stop building, but first I had to climb over a THREE FOOT DEEP snow drift that had accumulated in front of my truck!  The wind was fierce and extremely cold, and even though it was only about 50 feet to the building, by the time I got there, my face was really cold and I was glad that I didn’t have much further to walk!  When I got inside, there were a bunch of truck drivers standing around drinking coffee and mulling about the weather, and how they heard it was NOT going to be bad in Vermillion!  Guess we were all wrong on that one.  Throughout the day it kept getting worse and worse and we heard of a major accident on the Interstate just a couple of miles from where we were stopped.  The Interstate was closed, but people still kept arriving and by the end of the day, the parking lot was jammed with cars and semi’s parked in every available space, even the fuel islands!  Some people ventured out on the roads, and we never heard back from them, but most just hung tight and waited it out.  I met one guy who had ditched his car about 2 miles from the truck stop and waited FIVE hours for the police to find him!  He is very lucky to be alive!

Finally around 9:00pm, the snow began to let up and the cleanup began.  The plows attempted to clear the parking lot, but had a hard time due to the large amount of snow and the number of vehicles parked everywhere!  More people headed back out on the road, but a state trooper arrived at the truckstop to warn us that anyone caught on the road and/or causing an accident or hitting the ditch, would be fined $10,000!!!!  That was more than enough to convince me to bed down for the night!  Sunday morning arrived, and the sky was clear, and the parking lot was mostly clear!  At around 10:30am they finally (officially) reopened the Interstate and it was time to head out.  When I got to the scene of the accident, it was like a wrecking yard.  There were trucks and cars all over the place in various states of destruction!  The rumour was that one person was injured, no one killed thankfully, but looking at the vehicles made me think there were some very lucky people out there!  About an hour down the road, the snow was gone, and therefore if I had driven just a little further on Friday night, I would have avoided it all and made it ontime to my delivery in Laredo!

After that mess, the remainder of my southbound trip was pretty uneventful, except for a nagging orange warning light on my dashboard, and the fact that at the last part of my southward trip, I had very little power in my engine.  Since I had already lost one day, I ignored the light and continued on.  I arrived in Laredo, late Monday night and now had an early Tuesday morning unload.  On Tuesday I arrived at my unload at 7:00am and began the wait!  I had also arranged to have my truck looked at as soon as I was empty.  Well, I guess I should have known things wouldn’t get better, and after waiting all day at my unload, I was finally told at 6:00pm that I would not be able to unload today and to come back tomorrow!  I figured, maybe I could get my truck looked at, but as luck would have it, the shop was closing and would not be able to look at it until tomorrow (Wednesday) after I had unloaded!

Wednesday arrived and I was back to my unload spot at 7:00am and as luck would have it, I got unloaded pretty darn quick!  It was then off to the shop to get my truck fixed (or so I thought!)  I sat all day Wednesday at the repair shop, only to be told at about 5:00pm that they were going to take a quick look at my truck, but would not be able to fix anything that day.  I convinced them to let me take the truck back, once they had looked at it, so I had someplace to sleep.  They told me to bring it back first thing in the morning, Thursday, and they would fix it then!

Thursday arrived, and back to the shop I went.  I sat there all day long, again watching multiple episodes of CSI:New York on the TV.  Around 6:00pm they told me that they couldn’t narrow down the problem.  My company told me to find a hotel room, and I took one that was recommended by the repair shop.  THIS was the only thing they got right!  The hotel that I stayed in was pretty cheap ($60/night) and had a happy hour from 6pm to 8pm (happy HOUR?????) where you got free hotdogs and BEER!!!!  Too bad I couldn’t stay longer!

When I headed back to the shop on Friday, I was told my truck would possibly be ready later that day, but that my company was arranging a rental truck so that I could head off to pick up my reload, return to the shop and be ready to head to Calgary and get home in time for Christmas.  The truck that was rented was an International day cab (no sleeper) with a 10 speed gearbox.  Now I have never driven a 10 speed before and it is certainly different from my 13 speed that I am used to!  Takes a lot of getting used to and downshifting is really difficult, but I got through it.  Now as luck would have it, by the time I got my rental, drove the three hours to my reload spot and picked up my first of two loads, the second place was closed.  I only had a day cab and therefore it was hotel time again, albeit one without happy hour!  😦

The next morning at 6:00am, I headed over to pick up the second part of my load.  Obviously I misunderstood my instructions on the phone, because I thought they opened at 7:00am, but they didn’t open until 9:30am!  I could have slept for a couple more hours!!!!!  I also found out at this time, that my truck was seriously broken and I wouldn’t be getting it back, instead I was to return to the rental spot, and exchange my day cab for a sleeper truck!  I thought I was stepping up … but oh no!  Again, when I exchanged it, I got another International truck with a 10 speed gearbox, and therefore I have to drive all the way to Calgary and then to Winnipeg and then probably back to Laredo with this damn thing!  Also it has an airleak somewhere, so every few seconds, the compressor kicks in and then lets out a “pissssssst!”  It does this all the time, when I am driving and when I am parked, and I have to leave the thing running to keep the heat on…so sleeping is NOT easy!

The one bonus is that the truck travels at 73MPH instead of my usual 65MPH, so I can really add on miles, and very few trucks were passing me today!  🙂

All I can hope is that my problems are passed me for this trip and I can make it to Calgary and then home in time for Christmas!

I hope you enjoy my ponderings, and wish all of you a MERRY CHRISTMAS (no political correctness here) and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Its winter!!!! :(

Well, not officially for about a month, but in Canada it has definately arrived!  From east to west (even as far as Victoria, BC, the country is blanketed in snow and cold.  Last winter I was pretty lucky and avoided most of the nasty white stuff, but that is certainly not the case so far this year!  Already I have driven through a major snowfall in Northwest Ontario, and into the cold and snow of the Prairies.  The drive through Ontario was nasty to say the least.  It was probably the worst weather and road conditions that I have experienced so far and it really took a lot of skill to keep this monster on the road!

I left Toronto on Friday afternoon after an interesting drive through DOWNTOWN Toronto!!!  I called the company where I was picking up and got directions.  The person on the phone, who seemed to know what he was doing, gave me directions and I followed them to a “T”!  BIG MISTAKE!  I came around a curve on the road and ahead of me was a train bridge marked at 3.9 Metres…now for those of you who didn’t read about my trip to Montreal, my truck is 4.1 Metres high!!!!!  This is NOT good!  I slowed to a crawl with traffic backing up behind me, and dumped the air from my suspension and proceeded at a snail’s pace, all the time watching the top of my trailer in my mirrors.  You couldn’t have slid a piece of paper between the top of my trailer and the bottom of the bridge, but I made it through, which is really lucky or else I would have had to back up through traffic!!!  The next problem occurred when I arrived at the street where I was to make a LEFT turn.  A very bold sign sign indicated “NO LEFT TURN”!!!!  I was less than a kilometre away from where I needed to be, and being unfamiliar with Toronto, I really didn’t want to go out of my way.  So as traffic cleared, I made an illegal (and successful) left turn!  I then arrived at my destination, only to find that it was on a very narrow street that I had to make a right turn onto.  I blocked both lanes of traffic on the street I was driving on, swung wide to the other side of the road, ran a red light, and backed a van about halfway down the street, so I could make my turn!  I then realized that I was facing the wrong direction if I wanted to back into a very tight loading dock, so a U-turn in a narrow receiving area was necessary!  I am not sure who built the loading docks in the Toronto area, but they certainly didn’t take 53 foot trailers into account.  I finally got backed into the dock after blocking the whole street for about 10 minutes and holding up transit buses in the process!  I went inside and bitched to the shipper about the location and the lousy and dangerous direction that I got!  Eventually I got loaded, got BETTER directions to get out of there and headed on my way to Saskatoon.

Not far out of Toronto, the snow began and by the time I arrived in North Bay, Ontario it was coming down pretty hard, although it was really wet and not sticking to the road at all.  I spent the night in North Bay.  In the morning, I awoke to a nice white scene and figured the fun was about to begin, but luckily not far out of North Bay, the snow cleared and I was able to make pretty good time.  There was snow in the ditches, but the road was clear.  That was all about to change, however.

I made it to Pass Lake, Ontario (about 40km from Thunder Bay) and hunkered down for the night.  That night it began to snow big time, and talking to others in the truckstop led me to believe that the storm was all the way to Winnipeg and points west.  In the morning, the ground was completely white and covered with about 4 to 5 inches of new fresh snow!  I got my game face on, and after sitting and pondering the weather for about half an hour, I decided to hit the road and very quickly fell in behind another truck going the same direction.  Not long after we started, we caught up to a snow plow on the road and our speed slowed to a crawl.  We couldn’t pass the plow, due to limited visibility and poor conditions, so we followed him for about 20 km doing approximately 40 to 50kph!  All the time, there were more and more trucks backing up behind us.  At one point, we reached a passing lane and the snowplow drove down the CENTRE of the road to prevent anyone from passing him.  This did not deter some of the cowboy truckers behind us though, who figured they would get where they were going faster if they passed a couple of trucks.  Needless to say, this did NOT go over well with the other truckers who were stuck in the line and there was LOTS of cursing on the CB radio!  They really didn’t accomplish anything anyway, because they were still stuck behind the plow!

Eventually the plow turned off and we again began to move at a decent, although greatly reduced speed through the snowy, icy roads.  This section of highway through Northern Ontario is treacherous in good weather, but with the added danger of snow and ice, it was a recipe for disaster and I have to say, that although I was never scared, I was certainly respectful of the road and conditions and drove accordingly.  I increased my following distance behind other vehicles and approached every downhill slope with extreme caution.  I always attempted to have at least one other truck in front of me to use as a speed gauge, but at one point I lost contact with everyone and was alone out there.  That was until someone pulled out of a side road behind me.  When I got to the first passing lane after this, I pulled over to allow him to pass and he pulled in behind me.  At the next passing lane there were two other trucks behind, so again I pulled over to allow them to pass.  The two new trucks did pass, but the other one stayed behind me, and was using ME as a speed gauge.  Made me feel pretty good that he liked the way that I was moving along.

The roads and weather remained crappy for the whole day.  Just outside of Kenora, Ontario there was a really nasty truck accident.  A semi had missed a downhill curve and jack-knifed into the ditch.  The front of the truck was against the side of the trailer and under water in the ditch.  Not sure how the driver fared, hopefully he is okay, but just proves that it only takes one mistake to cause a really big mess!  The accident caused everyone to slow down a bit for a while.  By this time, the only vehicles on the road were trucks and snowplows with very few passenger vehicles at all.  At least without many cars to contend with, the trucks could move along without having to worry about the cars also!

Eventually I got through Ontario and got to the divided highway of Manitoba, where the conditions improved a lot.  When I finally arrived in Winnipeg for the night, I was thoroughly exhausted and my hands were sore from holding the steering wheel!  But I felt really good on getting through that mess without incident!

Today I drove from Winnipeg to Saskatoon.  The roads are in better condition, although still slippery in places and I was really glad to finally park for the night in Saskatoon.  Tomorrow morning, early morning, I unload this load of donuts and then I have to take a break to reset my hours so that I can hit the road again.  Gonna be stuck in Saskatoon until Wednesday, so time to relax and enjoy a break.

One year down…. :)

This week marks my first anniversary driving truck.  I started out on my very first load on November 17th 2009 and headed to Baltimore, MD with a trainer.  Since then I have logged over 130,000 miles, traveled through 38 states and 6 Canadian provinces.  I have been to or through many major cities in both countries, including EVERY major city west of Montreal in Canada except for Victoria, BC!  I have traveled (too many times to count) through The Rockies on both sides of the border, in all types of weather.  I have seen thousands of animals, alive and dead, probably millions of vehicles, carried tons upon tons of various commodities, ranging from pork to vegetables to high end electronics and much more!

I’ve been pulled over by troopers (lights a-flashing!) twice and come through cleanly, and been scale-checked hundreds of times, and until last week always came through cleanly.  But last trip got a very costly lesson and ended up with a $180 overweight ticket!  I’ve seen accidents of all types, ranging from single vehicle (unexplainables) to multi-vehicle Interstate closing crashes!  Too date (hopefully not jinxing myself) I have been able to avoid them all!  And some have been damn close due to somebody doing something they shouldn’t!

I am driving my THIRD assigned truck.  My first was a 2006 Volvo, then came the 2007 Freightliner and now I am in a 2011 Kenworth!  This is really the Cadillac of trucks and hopefully (although I have had issues with it) it remains in my care for a long time to come!

Although I have been out here for a year, I am still fascinated by the job I do and still love it completely!  I am amazed at myself as I handle this beast through heavy traffic on the Interstate, or more dauntingly on the infamous 401 through Toronto and area!  My first experience on the 401 was as a passenger in a 4 wheeler about 3 years ago and at that time I swore I would never drive it!  Now I regularly take a 70 foot monster through that area at full speed without batting an eye!

My only complaint about the job is the lack of hometime.  As many of you have noted, I spend a lot of time on the road and therefore away from home.  My wife, Judy, has been along with me on two trips so far, one to Edmonton, AB and the other to Southern Texas and then to Vancouver, BC.  We have another excursion planned for the near future together.

On my travels, I have seen many beautiful locations.  The highlights of my visits so far have to be the Virgin River Gorge in Northern Nevada on the Nevada/Arizona Border and the Columbia River Gorge in Northern Oregon.  Judy and I are planning to visit the Columbia River Gorge next year as part of our 25th Wedding Anniversary trip, and it will be nice to travel that route in a vehicle where I can see a few of the off-route sites!  🙂

All in all, this is a wonderful job and a great opportunity.  And while I value my hometime, after a few days home, I begin to get “itchy feet” and long to get back on the road.  It is great to be doing something that I love so much and look forward to many years on the road.

 

Parlez vous Francais?

OK so here I sit just outside of Montreal, awaiting my reload back to Winnipeg.  Dropped my trailer and they told me it will be ready sometime between 10:00pm and 2:00am!  Nice, more night driving!

From Laredo, Texas, I headed north with a load of tomatoes going to Kingsville, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec.  I left the heat of Texas very quickly.  On Monday when I loaded, it was about 90F (32C).  I got loaded finally at about 1:00am after sitting since about 7:00pm and figured enough already and spent the night in a truck stop not far away.  I awoke to a not bad day, seemed like it would be ok, and then I hit the road.  The weather quickly changed, however, and just outside San Antonio, Texas it began to rain.  Man did it ever come down!!!  It was raining so hard at times, that even on full blast, my wipers would not keep the windshield clean.  Of course, all the trucks slowed down, and the cars didn’t!  Saw many in the ditch, saw a big rig on its roof in the ditch also … not a good thing to have to say to dispatch!!!!

It basically rained none stop from that point on, and the temperatures have remained in the 50’s F … which is ok, except for the fact that my damn windshield keeps fogging up!  This was a real pressure load from the start, the company I was delivering to was on the phone to my dispatch 3 or 4 times a day looking for updates on my location.  I pushed really hard to get back on schedule, after having such a bad time getting loaded.  The receiver seemed to think it was MY fault that it took so long to load!!!!!

I finally arrived at the Canadian border on Thursday morning, and couldn’t believe how easy a crossing I had.  I passed him my ID and paperwork, he took a look at it, scanned my documents and passed them back and let me go.  NO QUESTIONS at all were asked!  I am really beginning to question Canadian border security.  I am NOT a problem, but there are many people out there who are, and if they all get through that easy, no wonder we have issues here!!!!!

I got to my first unload in Kingsville, and got unloaded extremely quickly.  I then called my second unload for directions and the guy I spoke to almost demanded that I be there for 7:00am on Friday.  I tried to explain that I didn’t think I could make it due to lack of hours, but it didn’t faze him!  I told him I would do the best I could and hung up.  At that point I was about 7 hours away with only 4 hours left on my logbook!  I didn’t want to disappoint this guy and also didn’t want to piss him off, so I set my mind to it that I would drive and get to Montreal as soon as possible.  Time to hit Timmy’s for some “go juice”!  🙂

Amazingly I made it to Montreal at about midnight after driving well beyond what I should have … I had directions to find the unload spot, but of course construction changes everything, and the exit I needed to take was closed!  My GPS went crazy trying to redirect me back but when you are in a strange city (my first driving trip to Montreal and the first time I have been anywhere except the airport!!!), its really hard to figure out if the route I am being sent back to is “truck-friendly” or not!  Eventually I took a turn around spot and headed back towards my destination.  My GPS seemed to be doing ok, so I followed her instructions, took an exit and ahead of me was a bridge marked “3.8 Metres” … my truck is “4.1 metres” so this was Trouble …with a capital T!!!!  I slowed down to a first gear crawl and went under…waiting for the screech of metal on concrete.  The screech never came…but the “stuck” did!  My trailer ended up wedged under the overpass…I was only going EXTREMELY slow so there was no damage to either …but here I am in the middle of Montreal wedged under an overpass. [SIDENOTE: Just the other day I head a comedian on the radio talking about this exact thing, and when the trooper arrived, he asked the trucker if he was stuck, the trucker replied “No, I was delivering this bridge and ran out of gas!!!!  THAT went through my mind at his point!  END SIDENOTE].  Its a really lucky thing that trucks have air suspension, and its a pretty simple matter to dump the air from the truck and trailer and drop the height a little, and I did just that.  It was enough to get me under the bridge and out of my predicament.  Bet you thought that was gonna end much worse right???  🙂  I’ve never had to do that before though…and hopefully don’t again…but a lesson learned.

So then I finally found my unload location and WOW was it tight!  I couldn’t unload until later in the day, but I figured I would try to get into position, but being tired, the rain coming down, and very tight spot, I just couldn’t do it!  Time to park for the night!  This morning I woke up, went inside and like nothing the guy tells me to back into the dock.  Yeah right!  I struggled a bit, but finally got it all squared away.  NOT easy to do though.  They took off their tomatoes and then I asked for directions to the nearest truck stop to get a little more sleep and catch up on my logbook (read: make me legal!!!!)   🙂  The receiver was trying to give me directions, but his sense of direction was worse than his English …which was pretty bad!  Another trucker overheard and gave me better directions and told me if I could wait a few minutes, I could follow him, because he was going generally in the same direction.  Sounded good to me.

I followed him through some of the tightest corners I have ever taken!  I was curbing with my front and back tires at the same time and signs were jumping out of the way in fear!!!!!  Whoever designed the roads in Montreal, must have taken lessons from the same people who designed the roads in Vancouver.  The major routes are pretty truck friendly, but access roads certainly are NOT!  Add to this, the fact that this was in the middle of rush hour and there were thousands (millions???) of people going the same way!!!  I finally got to a decent route, and found my truckstop, bedded down and got some sleep …I feel a lot better now!

When I woke up, there was a message for me about my reload, so off I headed West (out of Montreal and towards the Ontario border).  I dropped my trailer and here I sit waiting for the call back to work.   I am just hoping all this rain doesn’t turn into snow or freezing rain.  I haven’t seen the sun since early Tuesday morning and its really depressing!  Hopefully as I head out of here, the sun begins to shine again.

Damn, I almost forgot, NO ONE speaks English here.  I went for breakfast this morning, was handed a menu in French, the waitress insisted in speaking to me in French, even though she knew I couldn’t understand or speak it!  I eventually got breakfast and coffee, however.  All the road signs are in French, all the street names are in French … I really feel like I have entered a foreign country, something I NEVER feel when I drive in the USA!