Melanie-Part 2

*If you haven’t read part 1 you can find it HERE Then he began with the verbal abuse – accusing us of stealing jobs and union busting. Mel was taken aback but she stood close and said nothing. I knew what was happening here and had expected this treatment but not quite so vociferous. We were hauling European engines into GM – and by doing so were reducing the demand on their engine plants. The forklift operator started on how much he made ($80 per hour on overtime – which he was currently doing) and how that made him so much better than truck drivers and scabs. His operating skills were poor and he frequently dropped skids and ran one skid into another. He was also slow – likely deliberately. I just bit my tongue and let him ramble on with his abuse. My thought was that he sure wasn’t adding the value he was being paid and that if there were many more like him, they likely would cause the company to fail. This was some years before the industry reorganization – and turned out to be true. I still have a hard time feeling bad for auto workers who have lost their jobs – much of it was their own doing. We were empty in about 2 hours, got our paperwork signed and headed to Kentucky.

Lift truckCrates Containing Engines

After about three hours of driving – maxing out my log hours and enough to get us well away from Detroit- we found a hotel and had a good night’s sleep. I would normally sleep in the sleeper berth for the whole trip but it held only one person and the steering wheel was not comfortable. The next morning, after sleeping in and having a good breakfast we got on the road about 7 am.

425 mile map683 Kilometers (425 miles) Google Maps

We took our time and stopped for an early lunch – as I was sure there wouldn’t be food at Ingersoll Rand. We also picked up some sandwiches and some drinks to go. Along the way we passed a nuclear power plant which Mel had never seen before. At 1pm we arrived at Ingersoll Rand in Campbellsville, Kentucky. We were directed to the loading docks but told not to back in. Mel and I went up to the dispatch desk and announced ourselves. We were early and that was fine, so they told us we’d have to wait for our turn to load as dock space was limited. I inquired as to how the units were to be loaded, how many, what weight, etc. An escort took us out onto the dock and showed us flatbed trailers being loaded and the units we were going to load – which were staged on the dock along with about 10 or 12 other trailer loads. We had 9 two-wheeled air compressors – the type you often see being hauled behind contractors’ trucks. They would be staggered on the trailer so the nose of one would be beside the tail of the other, then wooden blocks would be nailed to the deck around the wheels and we would strap each compressor down individually.

air compressorAir Compressors

Making sure that the IR dispatcher and the supervisor knew we would be waiting in the parking lot we went back to the truck. While we waited, I showed Mel how to disassemble the rack and tarp and build the pen in the front of the trailer – converting it to a regular flatbed. This is heavy work and takes about ¾ of an hour. These compressors would spend their lives out in the weather and so didn’t need any protection on the flat-bed deck. At 2 pm, we went back inside to see if our loading position was ready. It was not. At 3 pm we tried again – still not ready. This time I alerted the supervisor and IR dispatcher that our company charged for any time over 2 hours after the appointment time. Mel was standing listening as I did this. At 4pm we tried again and again they weren’t ready. I informed them that they were now on the clock. I got paid a chunk of any waiting time to the tune of $25 per hour for waiting, so I was fine and would have been happy to wait all night of necessary. We continued to do this until at 8 pm they asked us to back in. The loading went smooth and by the time all was secure and the paperwork done it was 10 pm. We had 1700 mile trip ahead of us – which was about 32 hours of driving or almost exactly 2 ½ days by the log book. I could squeeze a few hours out by paper logging but it would still be late the day after tomorrow when we arrived home. I called our dispatch and let them know our schedule and we set out for home.

1685 mile map2712 kilometers (1685 miles) Google Maps

I had logged the waiting time as off duty, so I still had enough log hours to get well into West Virginia before we had to shut down to sleep. West Virginia is very mountainous and as we drove in the dark I pointed out the truck runaway ramps to Mel and explained how they were used by trucks that had lost their brakes in the steep mountains. To underscore this we came to a part of the road where a landslide had covered the eastbound lanes and all the traffic was rerouted onto the west bound, making it a two lane road. All of this was in the dark and I couldn’t gauge what Mel was thinking as her face was just a shadow in the glow of the dash lights. Then I happened to glance over as we were going down a steep grade and she was leaning forward grasping the dash with both hands. She hadn’t said a word for quite some time. “Are you OK Mel – do you need to stop?” There was a pause before she answered. “I’m just concerned about how steep this hill is. Can we stop if we need to? Hmmm, I may have overstressed the danger somewhat. “I’m sorry, we are fine.” “Didn’t you have to disconnect some brakes yesterday?

steep_grade_ahead10183Mountain Warning

I had actually backed off one brake because it was overheating. However, that left us with 9 brake drums – essentially 16 out of the 18 wheels with good brakes. The compressors only weighed 2,000 pounds each for a load total weight of 18,000 pounds. With the empty weight of the truck being about 35,000 pounds, we were grossing about 53,000 pounds. We were rated for much greater than that – at least 80,000 pounds, so we were running at less than 70% of rated weight and we had 90% of our brakes, so we were fine. I explained this to Mel, who, being an accountant, felt much more comfortable once she knew the numbers. It wasn’t long after that we found a motel in a truck stop and stopped for the night. I planned to sleep over the steering wheel the following night and push for home after that. There is a log exception that allows you to start 2 hours earlier on your last day.

*Stay tuned for Part three!

Melanie-Part 1

Guest Post by Paul Curran – May 15, 2015

Paul Curran

“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.

TruckExterior 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.”
map2200 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.”

Inside TruckInterior 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.

Pretty ladyMelanie 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.

Paul Curran 5ACL’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.

Paul Curran 6Rows of these stacked inside the trailer
(Inside crates)

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”.

RackandTarpAssembled 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.

Paul Curran 7Garbage Mouth?

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!