Guest Post by Paul Curran – May 15, 2015
“Hey Paul, you got a minute?”
“Yeah sure Greg, what’s up?”
We were in the company office in the Burnside Industrial park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Greg was a fireman who worked part-time for the heavy equipment hauler where I drove. He often did two or three-day trips during his off time from the station but didn’t take any of the longer runs. His wife, Melanie, was the company accountant.
“Can I ask you a favor?”
“Sure.” This was getting quite drawn out, I felt a bad one coming on – but Greg was a good guy so I should be safe.
Exterior of R Model Mack (like our company trucks)
“Well, I had promised Melanie that we would take a trip together in the truck and she arranged her vacation for the next two weeks. I was supposed to be on vacation too, but one of the guys at the station broke his arm and the lieutenant told me I have to work in his place and take my vacation later.”
The conversation was stretching out and I still had no clue where it was going.
“She is really looking forward to the trip because she’s never been in a truck. She can’t change her vacation because other office workers have the time booked. Can you take her for a trip this week?”
“Greg, I’m going to Detroit tomorrow with an ACL [Atlantic Container Lines] RoRo [Roll-on Roll-off the ship flatbed trailer with the freight already loaded] – I have no clue where I’m going from there, I could be gone a week or more. They sent me to Toronto once and I ended up in Seattle.”
2200 Kms (1367 miles)
“That’s fine, I talked to Mel about this and she really wants to go for a trip. She said she would prefer to go with you if I couldn’t go.”
This was a bit awkward: take another man’s wife in a truck for a week? We would be within arms length 24/7 for 7 days or more. I didn’t doubt my ability to be a gentleman, but even the optics were bad and I had never done anything quite so suggestive looking before.
“Are you sure that you are OK with this Greg? I don’t mind taking her but I don’t want any flak. You know the other drivers are going to gossip.”
Interior of Mack Truck (not much space)
“Yeah, I know but Mel can handle herself.” No doubt about that. She saw every driver after every trip as she was responsible for the paperwork and she could easily deflect any inappropriate comments.
“All right then, she needs to be here for 4:30 am tomorrow morning. I’ll go talk to her now.” He thanked me and I walked down the corridor and into Mel’s office knocking on the door frame as I went through it. We greeted and I told her that I be happy to take her for a trip as long as the owner agreed. She explained that she already had Mike’s [the owner] blessing as he wanted her to understand what the drivers saw and did. Fair enough. She agreed to be in the yard at 4:30 am the next morning.
Melanie looked just like this
Melanie was about 5’ 8” with shoulder length jet black hair and a cupid face. She was 35 with two young children and was drop dead gorgeous. She was very smart and soft-spoken, preferring to sit quietly. One of the biggest issues when taking passengers is their bladder size. It turned out that she and I had about similar capacities, which was perfect. Stopping a tractor-trailer and finding a washroom was a time-consuming activity. I typically stopped every 4 hours and knew all the coffee shops and truck stops along the way – each about 4 hours from the last.
ACL’s Fairview Cove Container Pier (McKay Bridge in the upper left)
The next morning we crossed the McKay Bridge to Halifax and arrived at ACL’s Fairview Container Pier about 5:30 am. RoRo’s were used by customers who did not want their freight handled or cross docked. They loaded an ACL highway flatbed at the shipper’s and the trailer with the load was rolled onto the container ship, transported to the closest port to the destination and then hauled by truck to the end-user. This particular load was a trailer full of German-made Opal engines that were going to a GM plant in Detroit.
Rows of these stacked inside the trailer
By 6 am we had the trailer and were on our way, beating the morning traffic as it began to flow into the city. We had an R model Mack truck – which was fairly small inside with only a single sleeper berth. It was a workhorse, not very pretty but with a powerful engine and our load was light so we could make good time. The trailer was an ACL 4 foot rack and tarp – it had removable side panels (four feet high and about 4 feet wide) with a tarp over the top (including the bows this left about 6 feet of head room down the center). It could be converted to a flat-bed by removing and rolling the tarp taking out the aluminum bows over the top then removing and stacking the side panels. The area in the front of the trailer where all this was kept when disassembled was called the “pen”.
Assembled Rack and Tarp
We made excellent time as Mel and I chatted. I encouraged her to ask questions and told her stories of some of my experiences. There were some comfortable silences as the miles sped by. My goal was to make it to The Curry Hill Truck Stop in Ontario, just west of Montreal, where I could fuel and we would sleep. This was a bit past the half way point and would allow us to reach Detroit in time to unload on their night shift the following day and get out-of-town before resting. Detroit was not a good place to spend the night. Log book regulations, in theory, limited the number of driving hours, so it had to be planned carefully. Although our average speed would be a bit over 85 kmph, I could paper log it at 95 (this entailed accounting for the driving as if it were done at the higher speed and thus increasing the distance that could be travelled in a day while still maintaining a log that looked legal). At 95 kmph Detroit was 23 driving hours from Halifax which allowed me to log 13 driving hours per day and still have 3 left when done in Detroit to get out of the city after the rush hour.
We reached Curry Hill on schedule and had supper and watched some TV in the drivers’ lounge. I gave Mel the bunk and I slept across the steering wheel – a skill that I had perfected over the years. That was fine for one night; we’d have to get a motel the following night.
The following day went smooth as Toronto sped by and then the long drive through the farmlands between there and Windsor – where we would cross the international border on the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit. I called ahead to confirm our delivery appointment for 7 pm. I also spoke to dispatch to determine which direction to head when we were empty. They gave us a reload of commercial contractors’ air compressors from Ingersoll Rand in Campbellsville, Kentucky back to the dealer in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I called Ingersoll and made a pick up appointment for 2 pm the following day.
We arrived ½ hour ahead of schedule at General Motors in Detroit [note: this was some years ago – before the reorganization of the auto sector and the closing of plants]. I registered Mel as a trainee and we were assigned a dock which we found and backed into.
We walked up onto the dock and gave our paperwork to the supervisor and then proceeded down to our door where I removed the two rear racks, opening up the trailer for unloading. The forklift driver was very ignorant, at first refusing to speak to us at all.
*Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!