The life and times, of an over the road trucker. 50 years and millions
of miles, with photos and stories from that period in my life.
My life in Trucking,
----- This is about my 50 years, and millions of miles over the road, along with stories and photos from that time in my life.
To some, it may not be of interest, but to others it may fascinate. To me it was a great experience, and I would not change it one bit. Except to, perhaps do it all over again.
I was not an astronaut, nor was I a genius of any sort. I was never schooled, to any degree. I did have a lot of bad times, but the good times and fun outweighed the latter.
I enjoyed life as I experienced it. Scary times as well as the good times. I came close to being killed more than once. I have smoked and drank myself to the edge of extinction, but had enough foresight to pull myself back to reality. My wife was more tolerant and helpful to me, than I had imagined. For that, I am truly thankful.
------- William (Diesel Gypsy) Weatherstone -------
1 ---------- In the Beginning
2 ---------- In the beginning, --- my first road test, (Over 1/2 century ago)
3 ---------- First trip west, --- licensed and ready to roll
4 ---------- King of the Yukon, --- (So I Thought)
5 ---------- Eastlake Equipment, --- Snow Crop, (1956)
6 ---------- Mitchel Pacific Produce, 1956, --- Florida Bound, (Maybe?)
7 -------- Mitchel Pacific Produce, 1956, --- Florida Bound, (Finally, my first trip)
8 ---------- The Pipeline
9 ---------- Bulk Carriers, --- The Beginning
10 -------- Bulk Carriers, --- First Trip
11 --------- Bulk Carriers, --- Unexpected Visitor
12 --------- Bulk Carriers, --- Stupid Fire
13 --------- Bulk Carriers, --- Mexican Overdrive
14 --------- Bulk Carriers, --- Sinking
15 --------- John Grant Haulage, --- First trip
16 --------- John Grant Haulage, --- Runaway Truck
17 --------- John Grant Haulage, --- The Moon River Bridge
18 --------- A & H, H & M, Mexicana, and Torvan, Transport Companies
19 --------- Embarrassing Moment
20 -------- Flying Load
21 --------- License Problem
22 --------- Accident Near Devils Lake North Dakota, USA, (1958)
23 -------- Christmas On The Road, --- (1959/60)
24 --------- The Canadian Maritimes
25 --------- New Zealand or Bust
26 --------- The Leyland Hippo, --- An English Lorry in Canada
27 --------- The Peninsula Truck
28 --------- Produce Gypsies
29 -------- Wimco Steel, --- (1963)
30 --------- Squeaks, Mobile Terrorist
31 --------- Honeymoon Chariot
32 --------- Intruders, ---- Cops & Robbers
33 --------- Broken Bones
34 --------- Izzy's Gypsies
35 --------- The Griffith Laboratories, --- Getting Started & Border Crossing
36 --------- Flour Power
33 --------- The Detroit Riots, --- 1967
34 --------- A Really Sort Story, --- Driving in Barbados
35 --------- Frank's Transport, ---Shipping On The Docks
36 --------- Double Trouble
35 --------- Owner / Operator
36 --------- Wheeless In The Bush
37 --------- Texaco Canada
38 --------- Labrador City, --- Emergency Load
39 --------- Winter On The Quebec North Shore
40 --------- Temper - Temper
41 --------- Imperial Oil, --- Esso
42 --------- Trimac, --- Tanker Emergency
43 --------- Seniors, --- Driving Terrorists
It was more than 50 years ago that I started into trucking. Before that, I was thrown out of high school in Sarnia, Ontario, before my time. Never ever, found out why. They just told me, it would be better for both of us if we parted company. Who am I to question the school principles decision? I was gone in a flash. Fortunately, I was big for my age, and had no problem lying about it. Taking my drivers license test was a snap. Since I was 13 years old, I used to ride with my stepfather, on weekend trips, hauling bread on overnight trips. After school on Friday nights, he had a trip up North, from Toronto to Peterborough, returning by noon on Saturday. I was helping to unload the bread, and learning to spot the trailer into some very tight laneways.
One night he asked if I thought I could handle the truck on the highway. It was about 4:30 am, and deserted. OK, was my answer? He pulled over, and we switched seats. He promptly flaked out. It was a 1949-KB-8 Binder; (International) it was equipped with air brakes, instead of the old vacuum type. It was great advancement. He let me take it for about 50 miles. We never saw another vehicle all night. When we switched back, I was the biggest and best King Cong., of all truckers.
This arrangement went on for over a year. One trip in particular, he had spent all day in the tavern, with the boys. By the time, he got home and ready for work, he was pretty baffed out. We loaded, and took off. At the city limits was the last coffee shop available. We stopped in, had a coffee and he almost passed out. It was an open road from there and no traffic. The sun was just setting in the west, when he asked if I would like to drive for 20minutes to a half hour. We switched seats and I drove on. He was out like a light before I even got it into gear.
The load was going to Peterborough, ON. (Canada) It was about 100 mi. away. I got her rolling and was having a ball (at 14 yrs old). I was motoring along and wondering when he would tell me to pull over and change drivers. It never happened. I drove up through the hills, and into town. Fortunately, this warehouse had a back door in a through ally. It was narrow, and tight, but it was a straight through drive. The unloading was through the side door of the van. I got in without a scratch.
I jumped out the driver's door, ran around to the front door of the Canada Bread warehouse, and went inside. Jack, the night loader, asked where the old man was. I told him that I would help unload, as my stepfather was too tired, and was going to grab an hour's sleep. He bought it, and we got to work.
It was about an hour job for the two of us to unload, and reload the empty bingos. (Bread trays) We closed up and he stayed on to wait and load his city trucks. I jumped into the driver's seat, drove out the ally, and headed for the highway. The old man was still dead to the world.
I motored on down the road, happy as hell. The first crack of dawn was breaking through, and I was about 1/4 mi. from the starting point, at the coffee shop. The old man woke up and started screaming at me, what in Hell, are you doing on the wrong side of the road, going the wrong way? He threw a sh** fit. Pull back into the coffee shop and get out! Well we went in and he was really cranked up over me. He could not figure out, how, in a couple of minutes, I could get turned around, and then be headed back into town. During his fit of anger, the all-night waitress was putting on her coat to go home. She came over and lit right into him. She promptly told him that the trip had been done already, and the sun was not just going down, but it was just coming up. He had the most stupid look on his face, I had ever seen. He stomped out to the truck and opened the trailer door, looked in, saw it was unloaded, and then closed the door. He never bugged me again, after that trip.
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After running week ends with my stepfather on the bread run, I was still 14 years old. I needed a driver’s licence pretty bad. He was getting used to me driving for him on the week end trips. It was a miracle that we had not been stopped and checked for anything. Friday nights, after midnight was pretty dead on the highway usually, and the police patrolling was quite rare.
Roy’s best friend lived just outside of town and across from the drive-in movie theatre. His property was 10 acres of scrub bush and sand dunes. On the week ends they would get to drinking and partying until it was time to go back to work on Sunday night. I tried to get Roy to teach me how to drive a car. I wanted to be ready and practiced up for my road test when it came up. Strange as it may seem, I could pilot a loaded tractor trailer down the highway, but had never driven a car before. Wouldn’t that be a sight, some young teenager coming in for his first licence test, driving a tractor trailer?
Well they were well into their usual week end drinking session, when I approached Roy and asked when he would give me some car driving lessons. They all stopped talking and just stared at me for a moment, when his friend Ab reached into Roy’s jacket pocket pulling out his car keys. Throwing them at me, he said go to it, you have 10 acres here, just do not run into the house. I haven’t got it paid for yet. I looked at Roy and asked if it was OK? Yea, go ahead but get us another beer first. I did, and then I took off out to the car. It was a 1940 Ford Coupe. I never got out of first gear for over an hour. I tore up those sand dunes and went crazy all afternoon.
Trying to figure out the shift pattern almost drove me nuts. I had a memory like a sieve anyway, and that did not help things for me. Roy finally got around to telling me it was the same as in the tractor. The shift pattern is always in the “H” formation. You do it OK on the truck; well the car is the same thing. Just turn the “H” on its side on the car’s steering column, and then shift in the “H” pattern as usual. After he explained it to me that way, it was a snap. I was off to the races. One problem, I was still under age.
It was shortly after that, that there was a lot of friction at home. (Again) I was tired of hearing the arguing and fighting. I figured it was time to get out. I called my dad in Sarnia and asked if I could stay with him. It was agreed, under certain conditions. I said goodbye and took off hitchhiking, the 250 miles.
I spent a few months in Sarnia and there was friction building up in this house as well. One day, I was called into the principles office for a confrontation. (First year, high school) I asked what was I here for, and he began to explain……. Well Bill, it’s like this….. You know, I don’t think that we are doing you any good, and to be frank with you, I don’t think that you are doing us any good either. I sat for a minute and had no idea what was going on here. I said, what do you suggest? He had his answer in short notice, and without batting an eyelash, he said….. I think it would be better for both of us if we parted company. If you mean I am to quit school, I do not think that it is legal. I was always told that you could not leave school before you are 16 years old. I will be 15 in 2 weeks. His answer to that was…. I think we can overlook that this time. Am I out? You sure are. I jumped up and ran down the hall to my locker, opened it, grabbed what was there and took off out the front door. I’m FREE, I’m FREE. The greatest day in my life has finally arrived. Oops, dad doesn’t know yet. Oooh, big time trouble ahead.
Well dad got home from work ahead of me. I was uptown bragging to everyone that I had just finished school, by getting thrown out. I am now a big hero. So I thought.
When I got home, he immediately took me out to the garage for a conference. I was surprised, that he did not invoke his extremely short temper, and punch me out. Instead, he just laid the law down, now that I was (Supposedly) old enough to be on my own.
He did not even mention any reason why this happened. He told me that he would try and help me get by as long as I was in school. If I am out of school for good, I was expected to carry my own weight.
In a couple days, he had pulled a marker in, and said that he could get me into a mechanics apprenticeship. I would have to make my own way down to Corunna Ontario, and work at Brocks garage. It was about 10 miles and I had to ride my bicycle to and from work.
The job was 6 days a week, at 10 hrs. a day, for 16 dollars. He told me that as long as I was living there, I had to start paying room and board at $10 dollars a week. That would include my laundry as well. If I wanted to drink, (beer) I had to pay for my own. It would have to be in the house only and not in some ally, if caught, it would mean getting the crap punched out of me. Cloths, trips, transportation, personal or public, was now my responsibility. Now that you are a man, you have to carry a man's weight. (Quite a load to handle with $6)
That carried on till September, when the friction really started to get a little rough around the house. I decided that it was time to move on again. So hitchhiking back to Toronto was the only alternative. After all who was going to hire a 15 year old on his own, with little or no experience to work with?
Well things had cooled down in Toronto again. I tried to get a job, but with no luck. Being truck crazy, I told mom that if I had my licence, I would be able to get work. (Dreamer) The weekend parties were still going on, so I grabbed all the time behind the wheel that I could.
Finally, everyone thought that I was ready. It was suggested that I use Ab’s address in Dunbarton, Ontario, because it was easier in a small village than testing in Toronto. I was still under age. I was 15, and the licence had to be 16. I was big and ugly for my age and could pass for much older.
I was set up for the test. Ab advised me to show up for the test at the village hall, at exactly 10 minutes before lunch. Not before, nor later than 10minutes before lunch. He stressed that over and over.
I pulled up in front of the ministry at exactly on the planned time. I parked right in front of the office door, and went inside. I asked for the test and he gave me a dirty look and said that he was going out for lunch. I responded with, I have borrowed this car and have to return it shortly so as they can go home for their lunch, 5 miles away. He gave some thought and said OK, let’s go. He got in the car and as I got the engine started, he said to make a “U” turn and pull into the curb on the other side of the street, and then he would direct me. OK, I made sure that the way was clear, pulled a “U” turn and parked directly across the street. I sat for a moment waiting for instructions, while he was filling out some papers. I said where do we go now, and he answered, I don’t know about you, but I am going into this restaurant for my lunch. Here is your licence, been nice having you drive me here. At that, he got out and went into the restaurant and I drove off into the sunset, fully licensed and still underage. (I had to lie on the form) I am now officially 16 years old, because my licence says so, and looking forward to a lifetime of trucking. (So I thought)
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FIRST TRIP WEST. ---- licensed and Ready to Roll.
I started looking for a job, but with no luck. I was way under age with no documented experience. I fooled around for about 6 weeks reading the classified ads every day with no luck. It was like the comedian in the old movies who played opposite May West, W. C. Fields who always used to say to the young ones, “Go way kid, ya bother me”, that seemed to be the attitude that I would get when applying for a job. I hated that Fields guy ever since.
I did finally find an ad looking for drivers to deliver new cars to Calgary. It was listed under business personals. It was a one way trip and they paid $2 dollars a day plus room and meals. I might as well go and check it out.
I found the place; it was in a small gas station in down town Toronto. There were 8 cars and one ½ ton pick up truck to go. The guys would fly into town and buy about 10 cars and hire drivers for a one way trip. They made a fortune doing this. They did not give me any static about age or experience. I jockeyed a bunch of cars around the parking lot for them while I was waiting my turn. I guess it was some sort of test. If it was, I passed. I was told to be there at 08:00 am the next morning, stressing again that this was not a job but a one way ticket to the west. I didn’t care; I was going west, one way or another anyhow.
I was there early and selected the ½ ton Chevy p/u. It was about an hour and we were on our way. The night before, I told my mother that I got a job delivering new trucks out West. She seemed relieved that I finally got some work. The thing that I did not tell her was that it was a one way trip with no job or help at the other end. That did not bother me one bit. I was driving and earning a small buck on my own. Even if it was for just a week or more, I was on the move to my independence.
We drove over to Sarnia, Ontario, crossed the border into the United States, and then made our way up to the Straits of Mackinac, in Northern Michigan. We then lined up and took the ferry boat over to St. Ignace, catching US highway #2, to the west. It was all new territory for me and the excitement got stronger every day. We went right across the Northern States to Shelby Montana, and then turned north to Sweetgrass at the Canadian border. We had to spend a couple hours there before crossing into Coutts Alberta, while all the bond papers for the vehicles were checked and cleared.
In the meantime I was in the little coffee shop looking over the souvenirs. I found some bull Durham cigarette tobacco in little bags. They were the ones that the cowboys carried in their shirt pocket. It even had the string to close it up with your teeth, just like in the movies. Each bag came with a small pack of cigarette papers. They were plain with no glue on them. You were supposed to stick it together with your spit. They were 5 cents a pack. I bought 20 bags for a dollar. I went over and had a coffee with the other drivers, and on the way out all I had was a twenty dollar bill. The coffee was a dime. She gave me 19 silver dollars, 3 quarters, 1 dime and a nickel change. I could hardly walk without my pants falling down. Those silver dollars are big and heavy and I did not realize it everyone in Montana used them for gambling. Just like in the old cowboy movies. We then headed north again, and the farther north you went, the closer the mountains seemed to be. We made Calgary, spent about an hour getting parked and being paid off. From there, I was totally on my own, with the nearest person that I knew was 2,500 miles away. I got directions to a cheap hotel, and bunked down for the night.
First thing in the morning I started looking for a job at the employment office. It was a no go so I walked to a restaurant for a coffee. While there, I started talking to the guy sitting on the stool next to me. I asked him, how do I get out of town so I can start hitchhiking to Edmonton. He asked why I was going there. I said that I am a driver and need a job. He then told me that Fred Manix Construction, was always looking for men to work on different jobs. They have a camp that you can stay in, at the job sites. That way it doesn’t cost you anything to get started. You eat sleep and work there, without spending any money out of your pocket. They deduct your bunk and board strait from your pay. He gave me the office address and said for me to ask for Fred, and tell him, I sent you.
I walked about 10 blocks to the downtown section, found the address and went in. I explained to the receptionist what I wanted. She directed me to Fred's office down the hall, and said to go straight in. I did, and the guy asked what I wanted. A job I said. I was told that you were looking for men on a job site, with room and board. We talked for about 20 minutes and then said that there were 2 jobs on the go that were short of men. One was up near Fort Saskatchewan, and the other at Canmore, Alberta on the Spray Lakes Dam Project. I got him to show me on the map where they were. The Fort was on the prairies, and Canmore was just a few miles inside the mountains towards Banff. The mountains, I said, the mountains. He looked at me and said OK. He took a bus ticket chit out of a drawer, and filled it in. As he gave it to me he said that I would be met at the bus depot when I arrived, and taken to the camp site. There is one more very important thing you will have to remember. If anyone asks your age, you tell them that you are 18, OK? Yes sire. He gave me the ticket, shook my hand and wished me luck.
I had about 3 hours to kill, so I went in to a movie theatre and watched the show till it was time to go. I was on the bus on time and made sure that I had a window seat. As we entered the mountains it was awesome, I had never seen anything that big in real life, only in pictures. We arrived in a couple hours, and there was a p/u truck waiting and drove me out to camp. They let me into the mess hall and fed me, and then they assigned me a bunk. I was home.
I worked there until late fall, as general labour, and then supply driver, and all round trucker and equipment operator. I learned a lot of things on this job. The whole crew treated, and taught me continuously like I was their only son.
I was asked one day if I had ever been to Banff. I said no, and for a couple days they told me about the hot springs, the big hotel, and other things of interest. They said that I should not go home without seeing it first. It was a must. Every day I was more and more intrigued with it. Finally, while delivering a load up to the dam site, the guys were bugging me about Banff again. Finally I said well I can’t wait any longer, I am going over there now. When I got back down to the base camp I went over to the foreman’s office and told him that I wanted to quit and go to Banff. Well I guess the crew finally got to you. I really don’t want you to go, but stop in at the cookhouse and grab some lunch, by that time I will have your pay ready for you. Jerry can drive you into town to the train station.
By 10:00 am I was on my way, and thanked them all for giving me a chance. I caught the next train west; it was just a short hop of about 30 miles. I checked into the King George Hotel for a couple days, and then proceeded to be a tourist.
The Banff Springs Hotel was first on my agenda, it was a long uphill walk, but I had all the time in the world. I always liked swimming, I wasn’t any good at distance, but still enjoyed fooling around in a close area. The hot pool was really inviting and bathing suits were available for rent. I left my cloths in a locker and brought the key with me tied to the waistband. The water was hot sulphur straight from the underground springs. It was a slow entry, but once acclimatized; I began moving around more and more. Everyone else was just sitting there or floating around. I on the other hand started throwing my key into the pool and diving for it, at a pretty steady pace. In about 20 minutes, I had my fill. With all the constant diving and swimming around, I was starting to feel a little tired.
I changed and started to walk back to town, getting about 200 yards, I sort of passed out, and drop to the ground. A couple of local passers by picked me up and set me on a park bench, all I remember was someone saying…. Another foolish tourist. I must have slept there for at least 2 hours. All that fast swimming and diving in that 100 degree + F sulphur water sucked out all of my energy, and left me useless. While sitting there and regaining my awareness’, I noticed that my silver ring was almost black. It was from the sulphur in the water and took a couple of days to get it worn off and shiny again. More new lessons learned.
I spent 2 days taking in all the local sites, and was ready to move on to new adventures.
Next, I went to the train station and bought a ticket for Calgary. After arriving, I took my big suitcase and shipped it to Toronto by rail, keeping the small one with my essentials for travelling. I learned early that the only way to travel, was light, and fast.
I made my way over to a truck stop called TRUCK TOWN. I thought that I would check and see if it was possible to catch a ride. My timing could not have been better. I wasn’t there 15 minutes when a Ford tractor pulling an empty car carrier, pulled up to the pumps. It was a standard day cab with a gas engine. The name on the door said INTER-MOUNTAIN car transport, and the address read CALGARY, ALBERTA and WINDSOR, ONTARIO. When I saw Windsor on the door I started talking to him, and asked him if he knew of anyone that I could get a ride with, because I am going to Windsor too.
He gave me the once over and finally said that he would take me along, just for the company. I threw my small bag under the seat and we were off. We headed straight south to the Coutts & Sweetgrass (CANADA, USA) border, and running empty, cleared the customs in about 5 minutes.
He drove day and night, stopping only for food and fuel. He was running around 70 miles an hour, and wouldn’t slow down unless he seen a cop. I just couldn’t understand how he could stay awake that long. At times I would lean against the side window using my jacket as a pillow. But he just kept on truckin. Eventually we crossed over from Detroit to Windsor and I was nearly home. After that ride, the next 250 miles would be a snap. I thanked him and headed out to the highway to thumb a ride. That was about 07:00 am, and I was in Toronto, at home in the late afternoon.
I had never heard of it till years later, that drivers running non stop, day and night were usually on Benzedrine, or something along that nature.
I was home for about 3 weeks, and being the travelling hero of my local friends, I ended up paying for all the parties. They were still going to school and were broke. This was near the end of November, when I found myself broke again and still out of work, and locally, I was still considered to young.
Getting desperate, I called the drive-away service again, and was told that another convoy would be leaving near the end of the week. They were still in the marked for drivers. Remembering me from earlier, I was told that there would definitely be a car for me.
Well here we go again. It was getting a lot colder, sooner this year, but I thought that I would be able to get some work. In those days construction pretty well came to a halt for the winter, and most of the available jobs are usually taken. One other thing, I did not have any unemployment insurance stamps accumulated. I was not eligible to collect, if necessary.
I was on my way again, with a full belly at meal time, and warm beds at night. We took turns going out in the mornings and make sure the cars would start. The temperatures were getting below zero every day. It took a little longer this trip, as we hit a couple freezing rain storms, and after that, it got extremely cold, we hit heavy blizzards on the prairies. It was turning into an all round crappy trip. I think it was a sign of things to come. There was no fun in it this time around.
We ended this trip in Calgary again. We got our pay out, and were again on our own. I got a room for the night, and then started to pound the streets looking for a job. The only thing available was washing dishes in a restaurant, and it would be 2 weeks before the first pay. I did not have enough to get a room and carry myself that long. This went on for a couple more days and was totally frustrating. With the temperature riding below zero almost every day, I decided the best thing for me to be doing now, would be to get moving again.
My small suitcase was becoming a hindrance to me now. I dropped it of at the railroad station on the way out of town, and shipped it home collect. I had about four dollars left to my name, and only 2,500 miles to go. (Walking) I had a ¾ length fall coat, wool pants and a light pair of penny loafer shoes with light socks. I stopped in at the Hudson Bay Co, and picked up a wool toque for a dollar.
It was dark out now and was walking out of town eastbound. I got a ride for about ten miles and was dropped off at a country intersection. It was about 9:00 pm, pitch dark out and well below zero. I started walking again, and there was not a car in sight. My feet were freezing, and I dare not stop moving. I came near a farm house with the lights on in the window. I stood there for some time debating whether to go and ask for shelter or not. My feet made that decision for me. The pain was becoming excruciating. I went to the door and knocked. An old man answered and asked what I wanted. I asked him if he would let me sleep in the barn for the night, in the hay, to get out of the cold.
My heart dropped when he said that he could not allow that. As I was turning to leave, he said you will have to stay inside the house, come on in young fellow.
When I hit the heat, and started to warm up, my feet produced pain like I had never felt before. He said that it would have not been much longer, before I would be in real trouble.
They fed me and babied my like I was their only son. He said that there was a milk truck that goes by here every morning. We will get you up at 04:30 am. You will eat first and make ready to travel. I will get him to give you a ride. It should be over a hundred miles or so. We sat for a bit after eating, and were then taken up to the attic of this small house. The bed was old fashion, and had an original tic to lie on (An old style mattress, not a bug) then covered with an eiderdown comforter. It took about 30 seconds and I was out like a light.
The morning came fast; they called me to breakfast, and said I had to be ready for the milk truck. She made me a lunch to take with me, and I did not know it till hours later that the old man stuck a two dollar bill in my coat pocket.
We said our good bys, and I could not thank them enough for the help given me. I could have died if it were not for their hospitality.
The milk truck took hours and hours to go the one hundred miles. It was truly a milk run, stop and go all the way. Finally we arrived at Bassano, Alberta, and he said that this was the best he could do for me. I thanked him and was on my way again.
This time of year, on the old roads, there was practically no traffic at all. You could walk for hours and not even see a car. Not only that, out on the prairies, you would be lucky to even see a hill. It was still below zero and my feet were getting cold again, and I dare not stop walking. I eventually picked up a couple of rides at fifteen to twenty miles each. They were ranchers, just going from one ranch to the next. Out here it is just going to your next door neighbours.
Eventually I made it to Medicine Hat, and was fortunate enough that my ride took me through the city, and about twenty miles farther east. Again I was dropped of at a side road out in the middle of nowhere. It was getting late in the day and the temperature was dropping fast. I returned to the walking routine, just to keep warm. I got my final lift to ten miles north of Maple Creek Saskatchewan. It was dark and extremely cold. I stood at that intersection for about an hour, freezing. There was nothing to stop the cold wind from hitting me, no trees, nothing but open prairie. Eventually an old pick up truck came along and said he was going south into Maple Creek, and if I wanted a ride to jump in the open back. There was a male driver and two women passengers, jammed into that small cab. It had a sliding rear window. He opened it so we could talk. I was, with the wind chill freezing my ass off and could hardly get the words out anymore. He told me that there was his old army great coat in the back there some where, and for me to put it on if I wanted. I found it under the straw, and made a tent around me, with my face stuck into the open rear window. They had a bottle of whisky open that they were passing back and forth. They began to include me in the circuit, passing it through the little rear window, for my swig.
It was about 10:00 pm when we pulled into town, and he dropped me off at the only open business at that time of night. It was the local pool hall. I practically crawled in, and saw an old pot belly wood stove in the center of the room, just belching the heat out. I made my way over there and began to thaw out again. Being the only stranger in town, I was considered suspicious by everyone there.
It was about a ½ hour before I started to thaw out again. I was approached a couple of times wanting to know if I was looking for a game. I declined and said perhaps later. I asked if there was a hotel in town, and was directed to it, about a block away.
I only had a dollar left to my name, but I went over that way anyhow. I checked at the desk and was told a room would be two dollars in advance. I did not have it. There was a payphone in the lobby and so called home collect. My mother answered and I told her my predicament. She asked if she could talk to the night clerk. He listened to her and she asked him if he would give me a room till morning and when the bank opened, she would telegraph me ten dollars. He said no, it had to be cash in advance. She asked me to give her an address where she could send the ten dollars, and I told her not to do it, because I had no place to stay till the next day. I would be walking out of here. I told her not to worry and I would call again somewhere down the line.
The only thing I got out of the clerk was that the Salvation Army was down the street. He gave me their address and I walked to it. It was a house and I knocked on the door. A man answered by opening the door about two inches, and asked me what I wanted. I said that I was freezing, broke, and needed a bed for the night. He looked at me and said we do not do anything like that; you will have to go somewhere else. With the door slammed in my face, I then headed to the railway station. I sat on a bench and tried to get some sleep. The night watchman came over and woke me up, saying you can’t sleep here, you will have to move on. By this time it was about twenty-five below zero, and I told him no way. Call the cops if you have to, but I am not going outside for anyone.
He said to follow him, and we went to the furnace room. It was a dark dungeon. We got over by the furnace and there were three other hobos sleeping in the dirt. Just as I was resolving to stay there, a big rat ran across one of the guys. I went back to the waiting room, lay down on a bench, and then told the watchman to wake me when the police arrived. No way in this world was I going to sleep in that rat infested dungeon. My temper was really starting to show now, and he plainly seen it. I had a bellyful of this so-called, nice friendly town in the west called; MAPLE CREEK, SASKATCHEWAN. A freezing, hungry and penniless teenager had no place showing up in this town looking for a little help.
The police did not show up, but the sun shining through the window, told me it was time to move on and try to make it through another cold day.
I was walking out of town heading back north, it was ten miles back to the intersection. I did about three miles, when a feed truck came along and gave me a lift up to the highway. He saw the rotten condition I was in and pulled out his lunch bucket, and offered a sandwich and some coffee from his thermos. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. That coffee and sandwich made my day, and lifted my spirits back up. Well there was one good guy in Saskatchewan anyway. He dropped me off at the junction and carried on up north, while I started to hoof it eastward again. Thinking to myself, this is one town that will leave an indelible (bad) memory with me as long as I live.
Here I go again, walk, walk, and keep walking. There was no traffic at all. I carried on for about three hours, and spotted a surveyor working ahead. I asked him if I could get a lift, even for a short distance, just to be near his heater for a while. He asked what I was doing on this road anyway. They told me this was the new Trans Canada Highway, and it goes to Toronto. Well I got some bad news for you. This is the Trans Canada alright, but it is under construction and not open yet. You should be about four miles south of here, on the old road. Com on, I’ll give you a lift for about eight miles and will get you onto the right road. OK? Thanks, you are a life saviour.
The wind was still howling, and it was still below zero. My feet were swelling and I was starting to lose a little sensation now. I started to run and jump a bit to see if that would help the circulation any. Finally, I noticed a car coming from quite a distance down the road. I stopped, waited and had my thumb up in anticipation. My other hand was in my pocket with my fingers crossed. He stopped, (thank god) and I got in. Behind the front seat was a bushel of delicious apples. For the next hour I could not help but grabbing a look. Finally he said would you like one? Go ahead. Thanks, I haven’t had much to eat the last few days. Just help yourself when you want one.
It was an old 1938/40 (?), Nash four door sedan, and I had noticed that the rear doors had been spot welded shut. He said that he was going to Toronto, on the Canadian side. I just about choked to death. I had a mouth full of apple at the time, and spewed it into my lap. Are you serious? Can you give me a lift all the way? Yea, I guess that I could, it would be better If something happened out in nowhere, to have company. I savoured the moment, in total relief.
In the back seat was a sleeping bag. After talking for hours, he figured it time to grab a couple hours sleep. We pulled over into an abandoned service station and slept about four hours. We pointed the car into the wind, and rolled the windows down about an inch, with the engine and heater running. We dare not shut the engine down. In this cold it surely, would not start again. He was in the back with the sleeping bag, and I was twisted around the steering wheel. I didn’t care cramps or not, I was in a heated space.
As day light was breaking we were on the move again. We drove through Winnipeg without stopping. The wind was really whistling as we drove across the flat prairies. You could feel the cold coming through the doors. We pulled in for gas at one of the only stations between Winnipeg and Ontario. While gassing up he went in to the garage and got an empty cardboard box, breaking it down, and with a piece of rope tied it to the front of the grill, making a makeshift winter front. He said he should have thought of it back in Saskatchewan. On the move again, the heater made a dramatic improvement in its output.
We drove for hours, without seeing any traffic to speak of. Heading into Ontario we were finally off the prairies, and into the bush country. It cut the wind chill dramatically.
We had just come into Dryden and he was practically falling asleep. We stopped for a coffee and he asked if I would like to drive for a while. OK, sure. He climbed over into the back seat and flaked out. I drove on into the night, the road was old and narrow, twisting and turning around the hundreds of lakes and over the granite hills. It was becoming tiring, but I made it through Fort William and Port Arthur, (Thunder Bay, today) without a hitch. It was another sixty miles to Nipigon, where the road split. I finally made it through town and came to the junction. The rising sun was blinding me, and I was totally beat out. Pulling over just across the Nipigon Bridge, at the junction, I called him and told him I could not go any farther.
Once he was up, I told him Highways, 17 & 11 split here, either left turn or straight through, but there is no posting of which is which. You drive straight through until you see the first road marker, it should be les than a mile. If it says 17, turn around and come back, and then take the other direction, which will be Highway 11 South. That is the road we want, and will take us straight to Toronto. Highway 17 dead ends at Schreiber, sixty miles to the south.
I climbed over into the back seat and wrapped myself into the sleeping bag. I was totally beat out from driving all night, while he slept all the way.
It seemed like it was only a minute later, when I felt a bump, bump my eyes were focused up and out the side window. All I could see was a blur of trees and sky flying past the window as if we were doing about one hundred miles an hour. My eyes were closing again, and then I was flying in the air, bouncing off of the ceiling of the car. I just could not figure out what was happening. I thought for a second that I must be dreaming. Then it hit me. If you are dreaming you do not ask yourself if you are, it is real. A big thumping crash, and the spot welded back doors were both open and a small river started flowing through.
Still in a daze, I heard yelling, get out, get out; it is going to blow up. I had to fight my way out of the sleeping bag, and that was no easy chore, while still dazed. I looked up at him, and he was about fifty feet above me on a cliff yelling and screaming. The water was flowing like a river through one door and out the other. The snow was not too deep, but it was a pain in the ass trying to climb the bank, especially wearing street shoes. By the time I got up there, I was cold wet and totally pissed off. What happened? I don’t know, I found my self flying through the air, and crashed down the bank and into the creek. I asked where we are. I don’t know. What do you mean, you don’t know? I just don’t know.
I went back down to see if anything could be salvaged. The car landed right over the creek, breaking in half. The trunk was open and he had three, five gallon cans of gas that I did not know about. It could have blown. Now I realized what he was yelling about. All that I could retrieve was the sleeping bag (soaking wet) and his winter boots.
Back at the roadway, standing around for twenty minutes, no one came by. I suggested we start walking. Which way? He did not know which way was up, so it fell on me to decide. Looking at the tracks in the snow, I figured go back the way we came.
After walking for over an hour, I saw a little shack over the cliff, and down beside the railroad tracks. We climbed down and banged on the door. There was one man in there, and had a telegraph key. He asked where we came from. We had an accident down the road and need help. Can you call the police for us? OK, he then telegraphed back to Nipigon for the Police. He said that they would be right out.
It was about two hours, before the cop showed up. I asked what took so long, and he answered that he came directly, and that is what it takes to come here. I asked where are we. You are about forty-five miles out of town. It takes two hours? I found out when we riding back, to just where we were. It was all narrow old road, winding and twisting up and over a range of mountains. At times we had to burn our way up the hills when running on snow packed roadbed. The snow ploughs do not work at night. Not only that, we were still on #17 highway, and was supposed to be on #11 highway. We were headed for a dead end. Actually, we did end up on a dead end anyway.
Apparently, he drove right on past the road sign and carried on until he fell asleep at the wheel, drifting over the bank and off the road.
On the return to Nipigon, the old Highway 17 was one scary trail, and I was glad that I slept through it all. Coming up to the 11 & 17 intersection, the sign was there showing the routs to Toronto and to the Lakehead. It was not displayed on the other side, and could not be seen eastbound. I was really getting browned off. The 17 road sign was only about one hundred yards past the intersection, and he drove right on past it.
The police wanted a statement from us, mine was short and sweet. "I slept through it". We were back in Nipigon and I phoned home again. Mom said that she scraped up ten dollars for me, and to stay put for a few hours while she wired the money. Just as soon as it came I went directly to the hotel for a decent meal and a bed. It was three dollars for both. I cleared everything with the cops and was free to go. I asked him what he was going to do now, he had to wait and make the tow truck arrangements and he would be here for a couple more days. Apparently his Saskatchewan government insurance covered everything, no mater the fault. He also lost his bet with his friend in Toronto that the old car would not be able to make the trip that far. He lost, but not from mechanical failure, it was driver failure.
After a good rest, I was up good and early in the morning and walking again. I walked across the bridge and made sure I was around the corner and on highway 11, before trying to catch a ride. I was not about to make the mistake of going down 17 again.
I walked on past the Indian reservation and was on my way around the shore of Lake Nipigon, when I got my first ride. It was a logging truck that was going about 125 miles to Longlac, going to work in the bush. He took me through town and five miles out, before dropping me off at an inspection station, and then turning off onto the bush road. The guy stepped out of the shack and asked where I was going. I told him Toronto. He then told me I could not go any farther unless I had a guaranteed ride. Why? It is one hundred and thirty miles to Hearst, the next town. It is dirt bush road, and you cannot go without being signed in and checked out at the other end. There is another check point part way through. You have to give an estimated time of arrival. If you do not show up at that time, we give you another three hours. Then if you are still not there, we come looking for you.
It was close to an hour before another car came along. He checked in and willingly gave me a ride to Hearst. We were off again. We made both checkpoints and I was dropped off in town. I tried to get going again but with no luck at all. I stood on a corner at the edge of town till after dark. Nothing. It was late, and I was getting colder and colder by the minute. I couldn’t take anymore so headed back to the railroad station. I sat on the bench and tried to sleep a bit. About midnight there was a shift change. The jerk that took over said that no bums were staying here while he was in charge. He ran me off. I walked for an hour, and had enough. There was a cardboard box lying on the side of the road. I had a pack of small matches with me, so I tore up the box and started a fire. Once it was going, I broke branches off of a couple dead trees and kept the fire alive till morning. Once the sun started to break, I let the fire burn it self out, threw some snow over it and started walking again. It was about two and a half hours later before anyone came along. When one did, it was a tractor trailer moving van, and he was going all the way to Toronto. He stopped, gave me a lift all the way, and I figured he in reality saved my life.
I survived the trip and was looking forward to my next adventure. I just had to do some trucking, one way or another.
It was December now, and Eaton’s of Canada was looking for drivers real bad. The few weeks before Christmas were their busiest time of the year. They had curb side vans, piled high with parcels for home delivery. They would hire anyone who had enough power to walk in from the street. They were really desperate for any driver that they could get their hands on. I went for a 5 minute parking lot test, and within 20 minutes I was issued a complete drivers winter uniform. Another hour later and they had me delivering a load of parcels. I asked, when I was supposed to finish, and they replied, just keep going until no one answers the doors anymore. On some days, I was still doing deliveries at 11 o’clock at night. Whatever I could not deliver, just bring it back and come in, in the morning and start out with another load.
A few days before Christmas, one of the appliance drivers got hurt hauling a big refrigerator, and would not be back to work until sometime after New Years. I just happened to be on the dock loading when they approached me, and told me to leave the parcels and go onto the appliance truck. At the time I was physically the biggest one there, and was automatically elected. My age was never ever questioned. That carried on for a few months, and I never got laid off after Christmas, I was now full time on the appliance trucks.
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It was 1952, and I was getting itchy feet again. Since I was two years, old, during the depression, my parents went sailing on the Great Lakes as ship's chef, for ten months of the year. This went on for years, until after the war. Every year, I boarded out at different friends in different towns. I guess that must have contributed to the development of itchy feet and the travel bug.
What better way to move around and see the land, than to get into the trucking business. Have your cake and eat it too, to be able to travel, and to draw pay at the same time.
I was working at my first full time trucking job. EATON'S of Canada. I was delivering appliances, within a 100-mile radius of Toronto. There were two of us running double. We had to carry fridges and stoves, to some weird and wonderful places. Such as the third story attic, of a farmhouse. It was a backbreaking job, but a good way for a young man to build up his body, for bigger, and better things in the future.
I was having a beer with a couple friends, after work, one day. They mentioned that they had seen an ad, looking for experienced truck drivers to deliver new trucks out west to EDMONTON, ALBERTA. The next morning we all called for more info on the job. It was a one-way trip. It paid a flat rate plus all expenses. Still, it was only one way, and no job at the other end.
I thought about it for a couple days, and was about to turn it down, when John called and said that they have raised the rate, and needed another driver pretty bad. Well that grabbed me, and I agreed. I just had to see the Rocky Mountains again. This was the way to do it.
A few days later, we assembled a convoy of ten drivers. We each had a truck tractor, with two other tractors piggy backed. This was another first for me. The trucks being pre-pointed, and parked facing toward the exit gate. Some of the drivers had never pulled a tractor-trailer before, let alone, doubles. Previous experience proved damaging to the gates, fences and other vehicles in the assembly yard. Now it is idiot proof, just pre pointed and you go.
The next morning we were on our way. We all got out of town without any incidents. The convoy turned Northbound, and headed up to North Bay, Ontario, then headed west, toward Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The roads were old, slow, and very narrow. It took about sixteen hours to get to the Soo. Ontario. (The Soo is the short reference name for Sault Ste. Marie.)
The next morning we had to be down at the docks early, to load these trucks onto the ferryboat, before the rush. We made the crossing to the Soo, Michigan, without any incidents. They led us down to the Straits of Mackinac, and picked up US # two, to the West.
The road to western Canada, on the Canadian side was barely passable in the late 1940's & early 50's. To get to the western provinces, you had to drop down into the United States, and travel west to Minnesota, or anywhere to a western state that you could enter Canada again. A section of highway in Northern Ontario was the final stretch to open up Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In this case, we followed old US # 2, all the way west to Shelby, Montana. Turned north to Sweet Grass, and crossed back into Canada, at Coutts Alberta. We continued straight north passing through Calgary, and onto Edmonton, the booming jumping off point to the Northern Territories. We encountered a few problems on the way, but nothing serious. The trip was over and we were paid cash on the spot.
It was about 10:00pm when we cleared away. All the drivers said their goodbyes and then drifted off in all directions, leaving four of us not knowing where to go, or where we were. We started to wander in town, and came across the old, York hotel. Not wanting to spend all our money before knowing what we were going to be doing, John went inside to get a price. He came out and said it was $2 dollars a head. He went back in and signed up for a room. During the process, the other three of us snuck in passed the desk doorway and up the stairs. We hid down the hall until John came up with the key. We all got in, and there was only one small bed. It was midnight and we were all beat out. We split the cost at 50 cents each. We then just flopped onto the bed crossways, fully dressed. I was jammed into the steel foot post.
Everyone was dead tired and sound asleep, and then crashing and banging sounds were coming through the door. We all became wide-awake in hurry, and it sounded as though we were coming under attack by a gang. Not one of us made a sound. We just waited and listened. The banging and yelling started again, but then we heard, the attack was being directed, directly across the hall. All of a sudden, a great loud bass voice yelled, Is there anyone in the room that is not registered? We all just about crapped ourselves. The banging started again, and then they yelled, it's the police, open up or we will smash our way in. Go to hell was the answer. The door across the hall was taking a beating. After being violently smashed in, and during that time, I found a big fire rope. I opened the window, threw it out and grabbed my bag, and was in the process of climbing down the rope, when the others followed suit. They were coming down a lot faster than I was. It was fortunate for me that it was only the second floor; I hit the street just as the others were crashing down. We took off up the alley and into the next street. We stopped just long enough to say goodbye and split up. We never met again. By now, it was about 4:00am. I made my way to the railroad station and slept there until day light. Quite a town so far, I must truly be in the wild, Wild West.
Eventually, I found the YMCA, and got a bed for 50 cents a day. I spent the next six days wandering the streets looking for a job of any sort. I was beginning to get cranked up about it all, enough to go to a hotel for a beer or two, to try and relax a bit. I ended up talking to the guy sitting at the next table. One thing led to another, until he asked me, what kind of work do you do? I told him that, I was a Long Distance, coast to coast, truck driver. He gave me a funny look, and then asked if I was available to take on a driving job, hauling gear for a mining exploration outfit. They were still looking for an explosive expert and a truck driver. It meant driving a load up into the YUKON, and help set up a mining site, for at least a year. I promptly bought him a beer. He was not involved in anyway, except to have an office beside the exploration Co.
I was at their door first thing in the morning. They had just hired Smitty, an explosive expert from the army. He turned into a drifter, and did not want to be tied down to anyone, or anything, for more than a short period. This was the job for him. They called me in next, asked what I was there for. I said that the guy in the next office said that you were looking for a trucker to go to the YUKON. He asked, what kind of trucks can you drive? What size of equipment can you handle? My answer was fast, I blurted out, if it's on wheels, I could handle it. I got a strange, quiet look in return. It felt like time had stood still. Well, we are way behind schedule, now. OK, you are hired. What and where do I do my road test? What road test? You said that you were a cross-country trucker, so let’s get to it. Be here first thing, in the morning, and bring your bag. The others will help you load up, and we take off as soon as you are done.
I was there about two hours early. I was just chewing at the bit to get going. They finally showed up, and I was then, driven across town, to pick up the 1949 Ford, single axle dump truck. The one and only thing, that I hated about that truck, and still do is the steering. It really takes forty acres to get that thing turned around. If you had to make a tight turn, forget it. You had to jog back and forth a number of times to get it to turn into a tight spot. Anyway, it had a five-speed transmission, a two-speed axle, with a short fourth. I was well experienced with that combination, so no problem there. One of the guys jumped in and said he was going to help me load up at the yard. I thought I impressed him with my driving expertise, until we were approaching an overhead catwalk. He quietly said that if we were going to continue under the catwalk, that it would be a lot less painful, if I stopped and let the dump body back down. When I started off, and not having any experience with a dump body, I did not know that the power takeoff was engaged. It started to rise as I drove ahead. I did a panic stop, and he grabbed the takeoff handle and then pulled it out of gear. The box floated down and he locked it. I asked him if I still had a job. He just laughed, and said, Kid, we all have to start somewhere. Today is your time to learn something new. Now, let us get going. OK?
We arrived at the yard and had the truck loaded in about an hour and a half. I loaded drilling gear, tools, trolley track, and about six, forty-five gallon drums of gas. The Alaska Highway was not a tourist road yet, and the gas stations were at least one hundred or more miles apart. The farther you traveled north, the more expensive the fuel became. Our spare drums of fuel were not to be used until after we left the Alcan Highway, and headed into the interior.
The moment arrived, and this great convoy to the Yukon was on its way. James R. McM. was the leader of this expedition, he took the lead, in his new Chevy car. His father-in-law rode along with him, to act as the camp bull cook. Next in line were Smitty & Chuck, driving a 1949, FORD half-ton panel truck. They carried food supplies, and some camping gear. Behind them came the Swede, a monster of a man. He drove an army, war surplus jeep, with four cases of explosives, and four army surplus tents on a little pup trailer. Then came the big dump truck, piloted by yours truly, Bill W. I carried the Joy drilling machine, track for an ore car, and six drums of gasoline, and assorted tools and gear.
We headed north out of Edmonton, on old highway # 2. There was less than one hundred miles of pavement, after which gravel, and dirt roads were the best to be had. We traveled on up to Slave Lake. The road was very rough with bad washboards, from the many days of rain. We parked, and took a cabin for the night.
We were all up and ready to roll by six am... The old man had been up by four-thirty, got a fire going and had
breakfast ready when we got up. Right away, you could see that the old man was going to be an appreciated asset to this operation.
Carrying onto Peace River, we stopped at a roadside café, for a bite. They served our lunch, and were bringing, what I thought to be, a glass of weak 3.2% American beer. It turned out to be the local water. I was about to take a drink, when the Swede, stopped me, and asked if, I had ever drunk water that colour before? "No." "Well don't start now. You had better have boiled tea, or coffee. We cannot afford to wait a couple days for you to get off the toilet." I thanked him for the warning, as he was drinking his water.
The big Peace Bridge was an unexpected huge sight. It seemed out of place, in this North Country. It made you think you were back in the south. Reality returned, when I cleared the other side and bounced back onto the gravel roadway again.
We worked our way onto Dawson Creek B.C., and lay over for a day. It seemed that, our leader had business to take care of. We got a room and settled in. I took off, to check out the stores, and see if I could find a souvenir. It seemed to be a small frontier town, with dirt streets, and small buildings, like in the movies. The center of town's main intersection had a white wooden post, fenced in with a chain, surrounding it. It was the Mile "0", the beginning of the Alcan, (Canada, Alaska) Highway. I had a small Kodak camera, and got a photo of it, along with the Dawson Creek jewellery store. (I had to have something with a name on it.)
We were finally on the road again, and went through Fort St John, a bustling, busy place. Tanker, and float trucks were flying up and down the road, creating their own dust storms. Just the opposite happened north of town about thirty miles, where we ran into a torrential downpour, and all that dust turned into a river of mud. The local truckers were not about to change their pace. As they caught up to me, and passed, they would spray mud so bad that the wipers would not be able to clear the windshield, and I would be flying blind. I had to stop a couple times to wipe down the mud. Once away from the mainlined traffic, where they turned off onto job sites, the rain flushed the windshield clean.
Once past Fort Nelson, you could see old army trucks here and there, abandoned during the construction of the Alcan. If a truck broke down, engines seize up, a broken axle, or even just run out of gas, they would just leave it there. After the war, almost all the locals had army trucks, or equipment. It was cheaper to abandon it than to transport it out.
We carried on up past Fort Nelson, up and over, the Summit Lake Pass. The rains were still coming down in torrents. The road was a slimy mess, until you were climbing the Pass, which was a horrendous washboard. The only thing which kept me from being very discouraged, was that it was an all-new experience, and I soaked it up as if it was gold.
Once over the pass, we headed alongside Muncho Lake. The road was cut out of the side of the mountain. Chuck had made this trip before, and showed us a spot where, during the construction of the highway, a bulldozer had gone over the edge, and into the lake. It was down too deep to be retrieved, and was abandoned. It could still barely be seen, when the lake was smooth and glassy.
We made our way to the Liard Hot Springs. Chuck again showed us something new. We pulled off the road and made camp for the day. He told everyone to strip down to our shorts, and follow him into the bush. Scary, what in hell is he up too now? Is this going to be some sort of, first time up north initiation? Well we went along with it anyway. There were logs lying end to end through the muskeg. We walked on them for about a hundred yards, and the smell of sulphur was getting stronger, with small areas of low-lying fog appearing. He stopped then said to enter the water, but do it slow and easy. I began to think that there were alligators, or some weird monsters about. No, nothing like that happened. The water turned out to be natural hot springs, and was well above 100 degrees F. Going in fast could be quite a shock. Once over the surprise, we had a ball. It was about three or four feet deep. The others mostly floated around, but I had to show that I was just as good a swimmer as Tarzan. I went swimming around like crazy, for about ten or fifteen minutes, then I damn near drowned. The steam heat, sucked out all my energy, and I could not even climb out onto the log. Swede saved my butt and dragged me out. He called me a stupid, brainless teenager that needs to be tuned up. Anyway, I was so beat, that I hit the sleeping bag and flaked out until the next morning. I guess that I did not learn anything from my hot spring swimming episode in Banff.
We carried on toward the Yukon border. Along the way, I noticed that every couple of miles or more, the road would take a ninety-degree turn, for no apparent reason. Also, near the odd turn in the road, would be the only road signs around. It would be a very large stop sign, (a red octagon?) With the words, containing, the number of persons killed at this spot, and the date, it happened. That was the only warning of danger, on the highway. Chuck explained, that the right angles, change of direction, in the highway was to make it harder for enemy aircraft (Japanese) to strafe the road in an air attack. The road was built during World War II.
Well we arrived at the Yukon border. I was finally, a true explorer of the north, (So I thought), and already was having visions of becoming the second, MAD TRAPPER OF RAT RIVER.
Watson Lake Yukon was my first stop in the gold rush country. There was a garage, with fuel pumps, a couple houses and the Watson Lake Hotel. It was a large timbered log structure, that was to be our home for the next couple of days. It had small rooms, a dining area and a large saloon. (It was the drinking kind). A sample of pricing would be, a beer at the hotel in Toronto, or Edmonton would cost around twenty cents a pint, for good Canadian beer. The bottle of 3.2% US beer in the Yukon was going for $1.25 a pint. The food pricing was just as bad, a hamburger steak dinner at home, was about 75 cents. The Yukon price was about $ 7.00 a plate. Fortunately, the outfit that I was with had to foot the bill.
The second day around, found Jim (the boss) off on a business trip, down the road. The rest of us, being true red-blooded Canadians that we were, figured, the best way we could help the northern economy, were to patronize the bar and then try hard, to circulate some currency locally.
The stuff was actually, going down very well by now, and the price of drink, seems to have floated away into oblivion. The bartender was getting embroiled, with a browned off, miner. (He was not the under age type, but the hard rock kind.) A fight broke out between them, and the miner took a punch at the bartender, he missed, and was dropped on the spot. A friend of the miner took offence with the bartender hitting his friend, and retaliated, by hammering the bartender with a hardwood chair. In addition, as usual the bartender had another friend, which took offence to this, and him, in return hit the #two miner with a beer bottle. Well everything just snowballed, and the place went crazy. Even the Swede got involved, not because he had a friend hurt, but because it was, a northern tradition and he firmly believed in upholding tradition.
In the meantime, Swede had bought a twenty-four, case of beer for the room later. I was still drinking my beer, and watching heads being busted. It was just like in the old western bar room brawls in the movies. This was no movie, and the blood was real. Swede worked his way over to where I was, grabbed the case of beer, and dragged me out to the porch. He told me to get up on the roof and take his beer. He gave me a boost up, and threw the case up behind me, yelling at me to guard it with my life. Guard it I did, I opened one up right away, and started drinking it, so as no one else could steal it. I think that John Wayne would have been proud of this fight. Well there was a lot of destruction, and the Mounties moved in and cleaned house. Many guys went for medical attention and returned to camp. Usually their employers pick up the damage tabs. That gives them a welcomed entry, in the future. This teenager is starting to grow up very fast.
The next day arrived with quite a surprise, Jim showed up and told us that there would be a change in plans. Some unexpected, drastic changes were to be discussed. The trip up to the Dawson City area was off. Now we were heading down to Mc Dame Creek. I asked where in hell Mc Dame Creek is. He said that there is a road out of town about twenty miles, turn south, down into British Columbia, and on a bulldozed trail is a mine called Cassiar Asbestos, it is new.
Well Mc Dame Creek is the next mountain over. OK? Well to me it was not OK. I was all geared up to go to Dawson City, and beyond. Swede reminded me that it was Jim's nickel and his option. I had no choice but to accept it. (Another lesson learned.)
At that time, the road was not much more than 130 miles, of a narrow, bulldozed trail. They had a policy at that time that they would close the road in one direction, for 12 hours, to allow the transport of dangerous goods and supplies. Then reverse the direction of travel, for the next 12 hours.
We made our way down to a selected campsite, then pulled in beside Mc Dame Creek, and proceeded to make camp. We cut timber for framing the tents, and started to assemble everything into our private little world. During the construction process, I was handed a Swede Saw. Not having seen one before, I did not have a clue to its use. I learned pretty quickly of course, by hanging onto a small log in one hand and the saw in the other hand, proceeded to cut the log in half. When on the starting draw, the saw skipped and jumped into my thumb, and promptly opened it up, instead of the log. I can professionally attest to the fact, that my skeleton bones are truly ivory in colour. In a flash, the colour, changed to dark red. The medical facility, at one of these events, consists of the bull cook running over to me and sticking my hand into a pan of Hydrogen Peroxide, and when the fizzing stops, tie a rag around the wound until it seals off the bleeding. (Another lesson learned)
The camp quickly turned into a regular homestead, and everyone settled into a regimental routine. We had finished supper, and were just relaxing, shooting the breeze, when Smitty asked Jim, now that we are here, just what in hell are we doing here anyway? Jim then explained, that there will be a bulldozer coming in, in the morning, and will be cutting a trail up the side of the mountain too within about, eight hundred feet from the
peak. Up there is supposedly, a great deposit of high-grade silver lead. Eighty-five % to be exact, and we are going to bring it out. Well somebody was bound to be rich over this, and we knew, that being the slaves, it would not be us.
During the bulldozing activity, Smitty and Chuck were setting up a storage place for the explosives. The Swede was helping the dozer operator, in the road construction. I now being a true northern pioneer received the responsibility of chopping and supplying wood for the camp stoves.
The roadway to the mountaintop was completed. I being the professional truck driver in the company, was the one elected to take the jeep up top on a trial run. As I was starting out, Smitty yelled at me to wait, he wanted to take a cache of dynamite sticks up to the work site. The little jeep had a main transmission with an auxiliary, and four-wheel drives. With all the combination of gears, we still had to burn our way up. Some of the grades were fine for the dozer, but hell in a jeep. We almost went over, on a switchback, but with the newly added weight in our pants, (brown) we seemed to gain more traction. The dozer stayed on for a few more days, working to make the trail passable.
The work started in earnest now, we found a single boulder of high-grade silver lead, and we had to dig it out by hand. They figured it to weigh in at about 100,000 lbs. This is where Smitty came in. As we dug around the side of the ore piece, Smitty would light up a cigar, and chew on it like crazy. He would dig down beside the piece and plant a single stick of dynamite, cut a short piece of fuse and attach a cap (nitro) into the stick. Not having been any closer to a dynamite explosion, than watching the bad guys, in a Roy Rogers western movie blow up a dam. I promptly ran like hell to get out of there. Smitty on the other hand nonchalantly stuck his cigar to the fuse. Then slowly, he walked to the nearest large boulder sitting down behind it smoking his cigar, as the explosion took place.
In the meantime, I am still in high-speed transit getting out of there. Oh, yes, the ore piece split a slice off as neatly as a butcher, knifing through a steak did.
|The next few days were routine, Smitty blasting, the others, breaking up and bagging the high-grade ore. The ore bags were about 18 inches long and 12 inches wide, but weighed about 100 lbs. They were away up on a ledge. The bags were then dragged down to the jeep on the lower ledge, about 200 feet, one at a time. That was part of my job. I weighed in about 192 lbs. when I started. By the time I got into the rhythm, I went up to 225lbs. In addition, was running down to the ledge with one bag under each arm. This one day, Smitty was in a sh** disturbing mood. He knew, that I thought if you dropped a stick of dynamite, it would blow up. Besides, weren't teenagers built expressly, to be picked on? He seemed to think so. I was leaning against the jeep waiting for a charge to be set, when Smitty wheeled around and drew a stick of dynamite from his rear pocket, ( just like a gun slinger ) and threw it at me, hitting the corner of the jeep, breaking in half and dropping to the ground. I went as white as the whitest snow; I cut loose and took off down the side of the mountain, and did not stop until I hit the base camp. There was no bloody way that I was going back up top while he was there. When the crew finished, and came down to camp, they, especially Swede, dragged me over to the freezing creek, and promptly tossed me in. It took about a|
week, before the big joke wore off. Smitty said that he just could not resist the temptation. He spent the next few days teaching me about dynamite, fuses and caps. What you could do with them and definitely, what you should not do.
The next few weeks went by uneventfully. Jim got a brainstorm one morning, he figured, why are we using the jeep to bring down four or five bags of silver-lead at a time. We have this big FORD dump truck sitting here doing nothing. We can get the kid to take it up the mountain and bring a real load down. Hey Bill, do you think that you could get that truck up to the ledge, on the mountain? Of course, I can. I am a professional trucker that is why you brought me along. (It is my turn now. I will show these guys how to, really drive) Well I fired up the big FORD and took off. By the way, nobody wanted to go up with me. I headed up the trail, dropped to the bottom gears, and started to climb. After running up and down this mountainside, in the jeep, I did not realize just how narrow this bulldozed trail actually was. I was about a third of the way up, and beyond the end of the tree line. Now out in the open I could see all around me with no obstruction, including the outside dual tire rolling along on empty space. I was scrubbing the wall, and the road still was not wide enough for this truck. One wheel running over the edge, started to give me some concern. (Was I still a stupid teen, biting off more than I could chew?)
There were no turning back, and no backing up, period. As I carried on, the grade was getting steeper and steeper.
I would hit a rock, and bounce, making the wheels spin. I ran out of gears just as I was approaching the top ledge. So far, I made it, in one piece.
Now, that I am here, I had better try to get this thing turned around. As I mentioned earlier, you need forty acres to turn this thing around. Well now, I had about a truck and a half in length, on this ledge. I was moving back and forth for about 3 feet, cranking and turning. (It had the old manual steering, by the way.) I was just half around, when I ran out of a ledge. I was pointing away from the mountain, and facing outer space, nothing under the front of me, when I made my grave mistake; - I thought that I was in reverse, when actually I was in forward. All that jogging back and forth, had confused me, I stepped on the gas, and expecting to go back, shot forward, with the front end going over the edge. Frantically, I slammed on the brake; white knuckled the steering wheel and, hung on for dear life. I could not see directly below me. Just as well, it was about 1500 feet down to the first outcrop of rock. Looking straight ahead, all I could see was an awful lot of fresh air. Then beyond that, across the valley was Cassiar Asbestos Mine, where they were shearing the top of the mountain off. The only thing that went through my mind at this point was, It's time to die, and my exploration days, in the north are about to end.
The brakes were a vacuum over hydraulic type. If the engine decided to idle down, and quit, the brakes would too. With one foot on the clutch and the other pushing the brakes peddle through the floor, how am I going to get out of this mess alive? The older trucks had a manual choke for the engine, and they usually had a manual throttle, to control the speed, when using the power take off. I grabbed for the throttle, pulled it out all the way. With the engine screaming, I let the clutch out and the brake off at the same time. The rear wheels started to spin, and jump and dig in. The front end started to sink over the edge, but with the drive wheels, bouncing up and down, the front end made one jump, and came back onto the ledge. With the throttle still at full, the truck tried to climb the bank behind me. I pushed the throttle in, and got the engine back to normal. There was no room to get out of the truck, so had to keep jogging back and forth, until I finished the turnaround. I promptly got out and kissed the ground. (Another lesson learned) Swede was on his way up in the jeep to give me a hand. He saw what happened, and would not let me load. He said that the truck was too big for the trail, and loaded, I would not make it back alive. We got the equipment back down to the base camp, and parked it. Swede called me over to his tent and gave me one of his prize beers, and told me that I earned it.
We worked on, for another few weeks, with nothing-serious happening. Then BOOM, while working on the mountain, out of nowhere, came a total whiteout blizzard. The snow was coming down fast and furious. We had to leave the jeep and equipment up there. The snow was piling up very fast, too fast to drive down safely. We made our way back down on foot. Once we got below the tree line, the snow turned into heavy rain. The snow was wet and heavy, and piled up on our rest tent, until it collapsed, from the weight.
It was three days before we could get the equipment, and jeep down. With this particular job site, it had to be shut down for the winter. You just could not work the top of this mountain, with what we had. We spent the next two weeks, shipping the ore down to Helena Montana for smelting. It was a good deal for a few truckers heading south, to take a return load with them. After the ore was on its way, we dismantled our camp, loaded up, and headed for the Watson Lake Hotel, for one final party before heading south. After this episode was over, and I had made a pocket full of money, I started to hitchhike back to Toronto. I accepted a lift with a bed bug hauler, (moving vans). He was in a big hurry to get to Halifax, upon finding out that I was a PROFESSIONAL truck driver, he promptly
jumped into the bunk,
and yelled out, that it was my turn to drive, and I ended up running with him
temporarily for the next few trips until another offer came
along. I found out in short order, that I do not like hauling furniture for
(strange and fussy) people.
After leaving the Yukon, and returning back east, I started looking forward to getting the longest trips that I could find. The trucking bug bit me.
On #17 Hwy., just west of Nairn Centre, Ontario and east of the river bridge (on the old road) I was on the way from Calgary, Alberta, to Montreal, PQ. For lack of highways, I traveled south to US #2 at Shelby, Montana, across to the Soo, Michigan, then by ferry boat to Soo, Ontario, (There was no bridge at that time ) Note; The Soo refers to Sault Ste. Marie, in both Ontario as well as in Michigan.
“Same trip as the photo on the right". I was traveling south from Calgary to US# 2 at Shelby, Montana. There was a makeshift truck stop there. It was a small house with a diner room, and one diesel pump outside. It was the Husky House Truck Stop. The photo has a 1950/51 Freightliner, with a 180 Cummins engine, and the first time I was involved with a 10 speed, (single stick) Roadranger transmission. I usually had 5 X 3 or 5 X 4 Spicer's & Browning's. The other truck is a Kenworth CBE (half cab), 220 Cummins, 1953 (?). The driver & co-driver sat tandem, like in a crane. (One behind the other) The bunk was across the back.
The smoke stack was right in the middle of the hood, and straight up. The right rear mirror was on a little tower on the right side of the hood. It looked something like the configuration of an Ottawa shunt truck with a bunk across the back. This was before Midland joined up. It was Superior Transport only. The photo and trip was taken at the end of October 1954. Notice the mud on the trucks; it was normal Alberta roads at the time. The oil patch boom created lots of mud and crappy excuse for roads.
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In 1956, I worked for Eastlake Equipment, located in the Ayer cold storage warehouse. It was on the Queensway in the West end of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Eastlake Equipment was the distributor for frozen foods. Such as, Snow Crop vegetables, Swanson frozen dinners, and Frazerdale frozen strawberries. We had only one tractor-trailer, a couple straight trucks, and three small curb side delivery vans. The first new straight truck to the fleet was about to be delivered to us. It was a 3000 WHITE tilt cab. It was very modern and futuristic. All the drivers wanted it.
The single axel 22 Model White Mustang, had a 36 foot single axel reefer trailer. It was hauling frozen product between TORONTO, and MONTREAL.
The run between Toronto and Montreal was on the old # 2 Highway. If you ran non-stop, it was about a 12-hour run. Today, on the 401 Highway, it is about 6 hours.
THIS WAS OUR FIRST & LAST, RACING TEAM.
THIS IS ZIP, ONE OF OUR DRIVERS; HE IS CURING A COMMON PROBLEM OF THE DAY.
When on our free time, we were going to conquer the racing world. A few of us got together and had three cars fixed up for racing. After entering our first race, reality rather put a damper on our winning dreams.
The first 3/4 lap of our first race, we were in a wreck with three cars on top of us. We did eventually finish the first season, by all of us going broke. The good old trucking careers brought us back to life.
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In the early winter of 1956, I was scouting out a job. I had this thing about getting to see Florida. Now that winter is here, it would be a good time to get a job that would send me there, and pay me for my travels.
A number of years earlier, when I was in grade 8, in public school, I had a summer job with Mc Cord Cement & Construction Co. During that time, they were in the process of building the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto, Ontario. I seemed to have a little political drag at the time, knowing, and attending school with the daughter of Mc Cords chief engineer, who gave me a chance to work on the terminal construction site. I spent the summer there and when the time came, I returned to school.
This terminal when completed turned into a paradise for trucks, traveling to and from the State of Florida, as well as all the major distribution terminals across Canada, and the United States. Knowing the building, and realizing the potential for work there, I decided to head down that way, and scout the place out.
I came around the corner of the main building and found myself in front of a great looking B-Model Mack conventional day cab. (No sleeper) It was all red, with the top of the hood black, as well as the fenders. Painted in large staggered letters, across the front bumper was, “I’M ALL SHOOK UP”. The tire man was there with the driver, and they were installing a complete set of new tires, all around.
I got talking to the driver, and found out that he was the son of the owner. They had three trucks. Two of the trucks were dedicated to running south, to the Eastern seaboard, and on to Florida, with deliveries in all states between. The third truck was dedicated to running to the Lakehead. Fort William & Port Arthur, the twin cities, today known as Thunder Bay, Ontario.
I asked, what are the chances of them needing a driver? He responded with, well we have a salesman working and delivering the north run. I think the old man would like him to do sales only, without trucking. Let us go inside and check with him.
He offered me expenses to go along with Sam on a trial run up north, to see if I could handle the truck OK. I agreed, and Sam said we leave about 9pm tonight for Timmins, Ontario, where their “Northern Produce” branch was located.
As usual, the produce business was never on schedule, or on time. We were even lucky to get away at midnight. Sam drove the truck out of Toronto, and headed north on highway # 11. He got as far as Barrie Ontario, about 60 miles north of town. He said it is your turn to drive. We switched and I do not think I even hit high gear and Sam was out like a light, snoring even louder than the old Mack.
(I seem to end up with the first driver always going to sleep, while being left to do all the driving.)
It was all, on the old road then, and every one of the 900 miles, had to be practically, crawled over. The farther we went north, the colder the temperature became. As I made my way through Cobalt, the temperature had dropped to 38 below zero F. My legs were feeling the cold now, and I was not getting any heat from the little heater on the firewall on the passenger side. Sam had his feet on it and a small blanket covered the rest of it. I got into New Liskeard, and the little truck stop was the only place open. It is time to wake up Sam and grab some breakfast.
Once in the restaurant, and awake, Sam said that it has been a long time since he could sleep while someone else was driving. On top of that, if you are capable of handling the North Country in the dead of winter, you have yourself a job. So now, is the truck dedicated to me? Yes sir, it is. I will be back in a sec. I went out and tore down the Mexican hat tassels that were hanging from across the top, inside of the windshield. (I am over 6 feet tall, and they drove me nuts, dangling in front of my eyes.) I took them in to Sam and told him to take them with him, and store them in the appropriate place. He just laughed, and said that they would not fit, and dropped them in the garbage can.
We arrived in Timmins in the morning, and unloaded. They then reloaded some stock, and said to go on to the Lakehead and deliver. I was on my own now, and was off again, but not before getting an old tarp and covering up ¾ of the radiator first, and bringing it down and under the front axle, to be a windbreak for the oil pan. To be doubly sure, I got some industrial alcohol and dumped it in the fuel tanks, to keep from freezing up on me. Sam called me a fusspot. I said that at least I am a live fusspot, then left.
From Timmins, the road to the Lakehead was just a horrendous trail. I made it all the way to Jellico, and could go no farther. All I had in the cab with me was an old furniture pad. I wrapped myself in it and lay down on the seat with my legs cramped under me. I woke up a couple hours later, almost frozen. The outside temperature was well below the -40 degrees F. mark. The little heater was (it seemed), spitting out ice cubes. The windows were covered with a thick layer of frost on the inside. The engine temperature gauge did not even move from off the bottom. The engine was putting out enough fog through the stack pipe, that it almost covered the truck. Half dozen others were there also, and created our own little fog bank with not even a breath of wind to disturb it. The little coffee shop was open, and I went in. The waitress was wearing a parka and served coffee that would just about freeze in a few minutes. The old wood stove was just dancing on the floor trying to get the place warmed up.
After an hour of trying to get myself thawed out, I went out and tried to get going. The engine was still stone cold, and when I forced the transmission into gear, and let the clutch out, it almost stalled. After trying for four or five times, I gave up, and went back in for another cold coffee. The rear end gears were froze up solid. One other driver was a lot more vicious at trying than I, and twisted the drive shaft right out of his truck.
The trucks in those days were not equipped with thermostatic fan clutches, as they are today. The fan ran constant and almost froze everything behind it, when the truck was stationary. You had to cover up the front and drive under load to get any heat.
After another hour trying to warm up, a couple of us decided to get a little more drastic. We could not stay there all winter. We scrounged a couple of old baking tins from the restaurant, along with some old rags. While I was siphoning some diesel out of my fuel tank, Bob, the other driver, had a shovel, and began piling snow up around the rear wheels on the tractors. Once he had a wall around them to hold in the heat, we soaked the rags in fuel, put them on the baking tins, and then slid them under the rear axels. We struck a match to the rags, and stood back and watched, as the flames did their job. You would not attempt to do that today, with all the plastic airlines, around the axel housing. They would melt in a flash. I know, I found out the hard way, quite a few years ago.
About 20 minutes is all it took and we were on our way. I started to think, I came to this produce company looking to get a run to the southern climate and warm beaches of Florida. Here I am half way to the North Pole, and almost freezing to death.
The last I heard of the driver with the drive shaft out, was, that he was going to have to wait a couple of days for them to come out with the parts and do the repairs.
I finally made it into the Lakehead, and made my delivery. I got a room and had to lie over until the next day and wait for instructions.
They called and said to go back to Kapuskasing and pick up a load of scrap cast iron and copper, and bring it down to Toronto. I said that I could not get back to Toronto before Saturday night shut down. (Ontario's Blue Law, no trucks could run on Sunday.) They told me that produce trucks were exempt from the law, when hauling perishables. I asked what was so perishable about scrap metal. I was told to open the produce vent doors on the nose, and back doors of the trailer, put a cheap lock on the rear doors, then throw away the key and drive like hell for home on Sunday. The cops should not bother you.
Well I did just that and could not help but keep looking over my shoulder for the cops to pounce on me. I passed three cruisers, on the way home, they looked, and then must have figured that it was perishable, and did not bother me. On Monday morning, we got the trailer unloaded at a local scrap yard. Something unknown in the load was thawing out, and it started to stench up the trailer. The wooden floors and sidewalls seemed to soak up the scent. I went over to the garage to get it washed out, to reload for another trip. The smell was still hanging on, even after the washout. What now? I was told not to worry, just go over to the restaurant across the street and see if they had any fresh used, wet coffee grounds that we could have. I ended up with a pail full, and directed to spread them out across the floor like Dust bane, and then close up the doors for a few hours. Just before loading, you sweep it out, and the only smell left was that of a previous load of coffee. It can fool almost anyone.
You just never stop learning something new every day.
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In December of 1956 I was running steadily to the North Western Ontario Lakehead district, known today as Thunder Bay at the head of Lake Superior, about 1,500 km or 950 miles from Toronto. In those days Thunder Bay was two separate cities: Port Arthur and Fort William.
Christmas was coming on and the two Florida drivers were getting a little nervous at about not being home for Christmas. There was one for sure that would be leaving for the south and not making it back in time. I told my boss Lou, that if it was OK, I would switch with the driver and run his load south. I had nowhere to go for Christmas anyway, and this would be my chance to get to see Florida. Everyone agreed to the switch, I was given $100 cash for traveling expense, (no credit cards in those days) and I was on my way. That had to pay for everything.
I headed home to pack my extra bag with some lighter cloths. I cleaned up and hit the sack to rest up for an early start.
I headed out for Blyth, Ontario, about a 4 hour run NW from Toronto, loading up with bags of waxed turnips, (rutabagas to the Americans). Once at the plant, and before loading, they brought in about a dozen bails of straw. The floor was of wood construction and the frost would come up through the floor and freeze the produce. The straw was first spread out over the floor to act as an insulator for the load. This was high tech in the 1950’s, but it worked great, dusty, but worked. Another high tech tool was handed to me to carry on with the insulation job. It was called a pitch fork, and was manpowered. I wasn’t to sure if I was supposed to be a trucker or a farmer. But if you want to get loaded, you do it.
I finally spread out the straw, and they (2 guys) started to haul the 75 pound burlap bags in on hand trucks. They of course waited for me to pick them up and pile them on the floor, stacking them about 5 high, then continue waiting, while I packed more straw around them, so as to be insulated from the walls of the trailer. The loading was performed by hand. The only mechanical tools of assistance were the two hand trucks, and the pitchfork that the warehouse guys had most generously let me use. I can’t refer to them as loaders, because they didn’t load, and wouldn’t.
After a few hours of hand bombing this load on and spreading the straw, I finally was ready to roll. One minor detail was left to do, get the export papers from the office. This turned out to be a bigger job than all the physical loading was. It seems that no one was qualified to do them up, and the only one who could, went to the dentist and then out for lunch. It was a tossup to what was the hardest part of getting down the road. The actual physical loading, or waiting for the paperwork. While chewing at the bit to get going, I found out very quickly that all this crap is a regular part of the produce game.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was on my way. Before I took the load, Lou asked if I knew the way to Florida. I said of course, straight down US 15 from Rochester New York. Well at least I made it sound as if I knew where I was going. I failed to mention that I heard other drivers in the food terminal discuss the hills on US 15, and assumed that to be the route to take.
In those days, as well as low powered engines, there was no sleeper cab, no Jake brakes, and no turnpikes to leisurely cruise on. And worst of all, no radios or CB’s. Old roads through every town, village & RR crossing were the best to be had. On top of that you had to have x-ray vision to spot the cops behind the billboards, waiting for the unsuspecting prey.
I crossed the border into the United States on the old Whirlpool Bridge at Niagara Falls. After clearing the border, I headed over towards Rochester, NY and picked up old US 15 south. Not having a clue as to what to expect, I roared down 15 in all my glory of freedom. I now owned the world. Before I realized that my daydreaming was getting me into trouble, I found myself running away on a long grade and not being able to slow down. I quickly brought myself back to reality while entering a sharp turn at the bottom of a long hill. I thought that I was going to lose it. That old feeling of the big knot in my stomach was returning as well as my knuckles were turning white again. It was along ride down this hill, and I didn’t realize just how fast I was going. Going too fast to gear down, I had to jump on the brakes, causing them to start smoking and begin to fade. I made the curve but I could have sworn that one side had the wheels lifting off the ground. I finally got stopped and pulled over to the shoulder of the road. Letting the brakes cool off and regaining my composure, I started thinking that someday one of these episodes is really going to make me crap myself. After settling down, I carried on with a little more caution and attention to my driving.
It just seemed to go on forever, the small towns, stop lights, and then farm country again. There were lots of hills, giving the gears and brakes a good workout. I was climbing a long twisting grade up the Steam Valley hill in Pennsylvania. Figuring that before heading down the other side, I had better get out the most important tool in my box, the 9/16” box wrench and set the brakes up. Fortunately for me there was a restaurant at the top of this hill. I did my brake adjustment, ate and grabbed a few hours sleep time.
When I got up, I had a quick coffee and left as it was just breaking daylight. It was a real pleasant drive along side the Susquehanna River, and easy going. As I came into Gettysburg, I realized that I was in civil war country, with American history surrounding me. Acting the part of the tourist, I was on the lookout for any landmark I could find. Unfortunately this is one trip I should have had a camera with me, but no such luck.
I cut across the corner of Maryland and on into Virginia. The snow on the ground was practically non existent by this time, and the motoring was becoming dry and easy.
Somewhere between Virginia and down in the Carolinas, I had an eye opening experience. I have to admit first, that I can not for the hell of me; remember what state it was in. The building and happenings are like a photograph in my mind. (Such is getting old)
I was motoring along in the hills, and looking for a place to pull over and have some lunch. There was this old two story frame house, alone on top of the hill. Looked to be 100 years old, and still showing the original paint job. It looks pretty rough, but hunger prevails.
When I parked, I seem to have taken over half of the parking space. Coming up to the door there was a small porch with a handrail dividing two doors into the place. I took it to be a semi detached affair. Looking in through the left door I could see a bar and it appeared to be open. I went in and sat down at the bar. There were three guys sitting at a small table off to the side. They immediately stood up when I sat down.
A black waiter came over to me and asked what I wanted. I answered with, a ham sandwich and a cold beer. He just stood there staring at me. Curious, I asked if there was a problem. He said yes, I can’t serve you. WHAT! I’m over twenty-one, why not? You’re coloured and I can’t serve you. Are you serious? In the meantime the other customers were standing and waiting for something to happen. So what now? You will have to go next door, if you want anything.
I went outside and looked down at the door. What I had not noticed, was a small dirt covered plaque, saying “Coloured”. Looking over the handrail at the other door was another plaque saying “White”.
Well I promptly hopped over the rail and went in and sat at the other bar. There were a couple guys in there playing the pinball machine and drinking beer.
The (white) waiter came over and said what do you want? So I answered, " a ham sandwich and a cold beer". Is that right? Yes why? Well I can’t serve you. What in hells wrong now? You love the Nigg…. so much, you go eat with them. In the meantime, a few others had come in and seemed to take an interest in the situation.
I figured that things could get out of hand at any moment. Being the lone foreigner in a foreign country facing odds of about 6 to 1, I’d be a fool to hang around. To take on one or two, maybe, but not as it stands. I mentioned that I was from Canada, and was not familiar with the local rules. One guy yelled out, Canada? What’s that? Now I know it is time to move on.
It was about an hour later that I found another spot which had just enough space to squeeze into. What do you want? (Here we go again) a ham sandwich and a cold beer. Right, here’s your beer, the sandwich, in a couple minutes. Well, I finally get to eat.
I made my delivery to the food terminal in Columbia, South Carolina, with no problems except that I have about 12 bales of straw that I am stuck with, and no place for disposal.
I left on US 21 Southbound towards Savannah, GA, and then picking up US 17 South. By this time the temperatures were up in the 80’s F. I was still wearing my winter wool uniform, and was just about cooked to death.
Motoring along, I came across an old small truck stop. PURE brand, if I remember right. It had a couple fuel pumps, an ice house and a small restaurant. I fuelled up and paid the bill, and that is when he asked if I was going to take the free shower. I did not know that the truck stop had a shower for drivers. I grabbed at the offer, parked the truck away from the pumps and took off up stairs. It was just in time too, as I was very sweaty and smelling from wearing the winter cloths. I cleaned up, changed to summer cloths and headed for something to eat. While there, I started a conversation with another driver. One thing led to another, and he mentioned having to find a pile of stuffing for a load of wooden crates he was picking up in Atlanta, GA. The shipment was going overseas and had to be well packed for fragile articles. I asked, how would dry straw work? It would be great if I could find some. I’ll make you a deal, you buy this lunch and I’ll give you 12 broken down bales. He couldn’t believe it. We swept and shovelled the whole pile into his van, and then slipped me another $10 bucks. I ended up with a free meal, $10 dollars, and a cleaned out trailer.
My pick up was in Belle Glade, Florida. The other company driver down here had picked up a load of oranges and was on his way home. He had just enough time to make it before Christmas. I was to pick up a load of greens (mixed vegetables).
I followed US 17 into Jacksonville, Fl., and then picked up US 1, all the way down to West Palm Beach, and then turning west over to Belle Glade. The Florida portion was in a torrential downpour of rain for a solid 3 days. I was under the impression that this was supposed to be the sunshine state. More like liquid sunshine, and being in the steaming South American jungles.
Finding the warehouse for my load was no problem. Once there, I found out that my load was still in the field and not even picked yet. Well after throwing a proper sh** fit, and stomping around for a while, I reigned in my temper and asked when would it be ready. After checking the weather to see when they could get back into the fields, he figured about a week. Grrrreat! What in hell am I going to do now?
There was a bar down the street a ways, so I made that my immediate destination. Getting into the beer and a big steak kept me busy till after midnight. I crawled out to the tractor, flaked out completely and did not come around till about 10:00 am. Sitting there for about an hour with the rain still pounding on the steel roof, didn’t do my hangover any good. It was just compounding it.
Once into the coffee, I remembered that I was supposed to have an uncle that I had never met, living in Hialeah, just a couple blocks from the race track. I phoned home and got his number and address.
Joseph O’Rourke was his name. Arriving in America from Ireland sometime between 1910 & 1915 made his way to Detroit Michigan, and a prearranged job. He was a master mosaic tile setter. His reputation spread pretty fast and was offered a job in Orange Texas. He met my aunt across the border in Windsor, Ontario, Canada at a family function. They eventually married and went on to Texas. After a long and steady career there, a job offer came up in Florida. Perhaps you may have heard of him, Al Capone, your friendly gangster. He was having a mansion customized, and the services of a mosaic tradesman were required. Joe and Iva moved over to Florida, where they spent the rest of their lives. Other than being related by family, Joe and I had one great thing in common from day one; --- we were both connoisseur whisky lovers. What else would an Irishman and a Canadian have in common?
Now back to the business of my trucking career.
I got the info from home, looked up Joe’s number, called, and in seconds he was giving me directions to his place. My aunt was ill for quite some time and had past away a couple years earlier. Joe was living alone and was looking forward to family company.
The rains had finally eased off and I was on my way. I had spent most of the day in and out of the saloon. With nothing else to do, I helped a couple drivers unload at the terminal. The price I charged them was steak and beer. Well I was starting to feel my oats and figured it time to move on. I headed out to US 27 South towards Miami. It was a narrow high crowned 2 lane roadway, (with no shoulders) leading across the Everglades.
It was close to midnight and I was in no condition to go on. There was no shoulder to pull over onto, so kept going till I came to a small garage with 1 gas pump. I squeezed the truck onto the small property and flaked out. Besides, it is easier to look for a new address in the daylight.
The sun came up bright and strong, the steam heat from the swamp woke me up in a soaking sweat. (Windows closed for the bugs) I was just going to step down from the truck and stretch, when an old bearded guy yelled at me to stop and stay there. Do not get out of the truck. Why? What’s wrong now? He stayed back and advised me to stand on the tanks and jump away as far as I could from the truck. What for? Just do it and I will explain after? I made a jump as far as I could and went up to him, and asked what was this all about?
Well now, are you new around these parts? Yes, why? I thought so; now take a look under your truck. I did, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It was the first time I had seen a real live gator. He was lying just under my fuel tank, with his tail sticking out from under the other side of the truck. He was a monster, (to me anyways) Moose and bears, I can handle, lizards and the tropics, that’s another story.
He explained that snakes, and gators in the winter nights will be attracted to the heat expended from the diesel engine and could be under the truck or snakes could be up and around the engine seeking the heat.
He was good about it and explained what precautions should be taken when in his part of the country. But you could also notice a smile on his face from the shock of the greenhorn being initiated to his way of life.
He took me inside and made coffee and toast, just to get me started. He also told me that I had made his day; things had been pretty quiet around there until I showed up. At least I was good for something to someone. He drew me a small map on how to get to Hialeah and bid me luck and farewell.
I found Joe’s street and drove the tractor trailer up the residential street right to his house. I was in sight of the race track entrance. He was out in a flash and I asked where could I park this thing? He had a corner lot and his next door neighbour was separated by a 4 foot high hedge. He said to back it in along the hedge and over his grass. (Right on his front yard) I asked if I should be here, and he said that they can all go to hell, if they don’t like it, and if anyone complains, it will be hell on earth for them as long as I live. Park it. He was well respected and we never had a complaint, they actually thought that it was a novelty having a big Canadian truck in their midst.
We had a great time and got along wonderfully. The first morning after arrival, he came in and woke me up. Handing me a glass tumbler of straight whisky, he said to take a drink and asked me if I could name the brand. Still sitting up in bed, I took a swig and responded with “Seagram’s” rye whisky, Canadian of course. We bonded immediately. Before breakfast I had to finish off the tumbler of booze. He said to eat up; we are going surf fishing for our lunch.
Well he is my host, so I had better jump to it. Got up, dressed and finished off the whisky, ate, and we were on our way.
We arrived at the coast, and he said to stay directly behind him and do not get too close to the big clumps of tall grass. I did not ask his reasons till we got out onto the shore. He explained that there could be some seriously bad snakes in the tall grass, and we should not get involved.
Now at this stage of life, I don’t really know if that was the problem, or was old Joe just pulling the strings of a young greenhorn? Anyway, at the time I took him very serious.
I spent the full week with him, including Christmas Day. We had a ball together. I called in and the load would be ready in two days. I reluctantly left and we had never met again. He passed away shortly after that.
I had never drunk so much whiskey at one time, in my life. Even with the hangovers and headaches, it was a real experience, and with Joe, I would gladly do it all over again. The visit, (once in a lifetime) was a real pleasure.
I headed back to Belle Glade, loaded the greens and was on my way. I stopped for lunch about an hour after loading. I asked another driver about the load, and wanted advice.
With greens, you should ice the load down. What is that? Explain please, I have to know.
Well, with a load of greens (vegetables) you have to keep them moist, so as they do not dry out and rot. How do I do that? Go to the ice house, just down the road about a mile, and tell them you want a load of ice blown into the load. They will know what you want. OK, I am on my way.
I hit the ice plant and told them what I needed and they knew the score. Directing me to back into the dock with the rear doors open, they brought a large hose, (like a big fire cannon) pointed it to the nose of the trailer and began to blow crushed ice up and over the load. They spread and filled the top of the load with ice as they had done thousands of times before my first time. I let them do their thing, and then I was on my way.
There were two vent doors on the nose of the trailer as well as two vent doors on the rear of the trailer. To make the ice effective, I was advised that they should be open, to let the melting water flow over the lower cases of veggies.
I headed up through central Florida on US 27 and the temperature was approaching the low 80’s and I was coming up to Haines City. I noticed in my rear view mirrors that there was a flood of water coming from my trailer, every time I stopped and then took off. I pulled over and checked the rear of the trailer, and found that the high temp, and the vents opened, made the ice melt off in fast time. I thought that I had better close the trap doors before the ice all melted off. Once I closed the doors I took off again, keeping an eye on the rear mirrors constantly.
I made my way up to Ocala and then caught US 301 North. The ice melting on the load seemed to slow down quite a bit with the vents closed and the sun setting. I was coming into Orangeburg, GA, when I spotted a Melbourne produce truck from Hamilton, Ontario parked in front of a restaurant. I pulled in beside him and he was just getting out of his truck to go in and eat. I introduced myself to him, and we went in together. He had a load of oranges on and was headed home. After we ate, he said that he was going to grab four or five hours sleep then take off, and suggested that we run together. That was great for me, as he knew the routes to take and how to look after perishable loads. I could pick his brain if necessary, and learn something in the process.
Somewhere along the way we came across a small truck stop called the Green Gator. We stopped for something to eat. The food was pretty good, lots of it and cheap as well. During our stay, I noticed for about an hour that guys were heading towards the washroom at the rear of the restaurant. I did not give it much thought till I noticed that no one was coming back. That washroom must be pretty crowded by now. I asked Ted if he noticed anything strange. I thought possibly that I was going crazy. He started to laugh like hell, and took it for granted that I knew. Knew what? You might say that this truck stop is a place of ill repute, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s a cat house out back. The only reason I stop here is because the food is good and it’s cheap, and if I am stuck, I can buy a bottle of booze to go.
You just can’t stop learning something new every day.
Once we got up to Virginia, we started running into snow. It was light stuff in the beginning, but got heavier as we went on. They were not all that good at keeping the roads cleared of snow. A lot of times they just closed the roads down and waited for the storm to pass. In our case it was getting worse the farther north we went.
We made it to just before Gettysburg, found a restaurant and went in for a coffee. The guy just stared at us for a moment, and asked, where the hell did you come from? Florida. How did you get here? Drove. You can’t do that. Why? The road has been closed since last night. Well if you feed us we will apologize for showing up. I guess that must be why we had the road to ourselves. A couple of cars had been there all that time waiting for the road to open. They were still there watching us out the window as we drove away.
It was now New Years Eve, as we made our way into the restaurant at the top of Steam Valley, Pennsylvania, hill. It was about seven pm. There were a bunch of Canadian trucks there for the night. The name on their doors read, The National Ballet Company of Canada. The convoy was moving their stage and gear to do a show down south. There were no dancers there, (damn it) just the drivers and a couple stage hands.
It was planned to stay off the road until well after daylight. It was considered more dangerous with the possibility of an incident with some drunk driver, or being drunk themselves.
We were well into our meal when one of their drivers went out to his truck and came back with a bottle of Crown Royal. It is New Years, let the celebration begin, and begin it did. Before the night was over, everyone was plastered. As fast as the bottle was emptied, another showed up. It was quite a bash. It was after 2:oo am when I crawled out to the truck for some sleep. I lost track of Ted, and really did not have the strength to go looking for him.
In the morning we had breakfast with lots of extra tomato juice and coffee. A real migraine was my New Year’s bonus. The temperature had dropped considerably and was floating near the zero F. mark. Ted did show up, he was in his truck before I was. We took off again and headed to a small truck stop just inside the New York State line. I needed fuel. I was also out of money. I could not get a hold of anyone in Toronto as it was the holiday. Fortunately Ted offered enough for a tank of fuel and a few bucks to eat with. I told him I would get it back to him when I got home.
Eventually we made it back. Ted stopping off in Hamilton, and me, going on to the food terminal in Toronto. It was evening when I pulled in. Lou was there and said that we need this load really bad and trucks will be in around midnight to load up for delivery the next day. Apparently he made a real killing on this load.
I hung around for about an hour for some help to come in. When they started to unload the veggies, we found that all that water that melted down through the load had frozen into one giant block of ice. This load was 36 feet long and 7 feet wide. Now what? Lou just stood there and said to get an axe, and dig it out before the customers get here. It was the first time I ever had to unload a trailer with an axe.
Well that is another trip under my belt. I am looking forward to another new destination that I have not been to as yet. Take care; drive safe,
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There was a new natural gas pipeline under construction. It was located between Stratford and St. Mary's, Ontario. I hired on as a float driver with the contractor, F. E. Shaw Construction, from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. It would be my first attempt at float work.
I had a 1952 / three, (I do not remember the model year, exactly) Model 22 White Mustang, single axle, float tractor, with a 5 X 3 Browning Trans. It was equipped with a heavy duty, frame mounted Tulsa winch. I would run a crawler up onto a flat deck highboy float, then winch the trailer nose up onto the fifth wheel and draw it into the coupler. The highboy float has no landing gear, and sits nose on ground. It was the same with the pole trailers. I am the driver standing next to the truck, and it was my first job at float work. The other photo is of the Mobile crane, for loading 40' to 60' pipe lengths onto the pole trailers. The side boom dozers were TD-14 Internationals for unloading, and stringing pipe on the right of way. They also position the pipe for the welders to work on, and then lower it into the trench for burial. We also had a 1952 / 3 Dodge straight job with an "A" frame body. It really takes a beating, winching and pulling welding machines and equipment, through all kinds of terrain. (Such as bush, swamps, etc.)
I learned a lot about specialized equipment on that job. Stringing pipe, and operating heavy equipment. I even had a chance at learning to weld pipe. I worked through the summer and up until freeze up in Christmas. The job shut down and I hired on with Bulk Carriers, out of Sarnia, Ontario.
I was chewing at the bit to get back to the long haul again.
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(“Ontario’s Pipeline on Wheels”)
In the first part of 1957, I hired on with Bulk Carriers at Sarnia, Ontario. I had never hauled a tanker before, but they were willing to teach me the ropes. The highway asphalt season was coming on and they needed drivers for the new Trans Canada Highway building boom.
I went through the usual road testing process and passed with flying colours. The B-61 Mack and the Fruehauf, tri-axle tank trailer was to be my dedicated equipment. The next item was my first load. They said that, I was to be at the refinery at 10:00 pm, load, and then deliver to an asphalt plant near London, Ontario, just 60 miles away. They told me that the refinery crew would show me the loading procedure. The instructions included, that under no circumstance, should I allow letting moisture or water get into the tank after unloading. It would create a serious danger. KEEP IT DRY.
I was at the plant on time, and was instructed and helped in the loading. The loader gave me the same warning as the company did. I was also warned never to wear short sleeve shirts, or short pants, in case of a splash from loading, or unloading. The product was in the 400 to 500 degree F. temperature range. If I were to get any on my bare skin, find cold water and submerse the area. Try to bare the pain, and do not try to wipe or brush it off, as the flesh could come off with it. With fabric covering, you could take it off right away. I acknowledged the information and I was on my way.
I arrived at the London plant on time and all I had to do was to open the loading hatch on top of the trailer, hook up a single stainless steel hose to the storage tank pump, start up the electric motor and crack the valve open. Simple enough, except nothing happened. The receiver came along and said that the valve on the tanker was cold and frozen solid. He gave me a heavy steam hose and said to direct the steam onto the trailer valve until it thawed out and begins to flow, and then the hot product would eventually melt its way through and pump off. After an hour of hot, wet steaming, it cleared and began to move. If the top hatch were not open, the pump would not only move the product, but would also suck the sides of the tank in. Then you would really be in deep sh**.
The load eventually was unloaded, and all valves closed. It was just starting to rain, and after all the warnings about keeping the tank interior dry, I went up top and closed the loading hatch, to make sure that any moisture would not enter. (THAT WAS A BIG MISTAKE!)
I hit the yard, and was told to go home, and get some sleep. One of the yardmen was going to load the truck for me, and then I could come in and leave directly on a long trip.
Well my mistake was to close the loading hatch with the trailer interior still hot. A closed hatch, holding in all that heat makes the tank sweat and then leaves moisture on the bottom of the tank as it cools. The hot, airtight tank creates a vacuum as it cools, and could suck in the walls and collapse them, severely damaging the tank.
The yardman went over to load up. Fortunately, the tank resisted collapse, but did have some water, spread out on the bottom from the sweating. Loading at night, they did not see it in the black interior. When the product hit the bottom of the tank and mixed with the water, all hell broke loose. The loading temperature was well over 400 deg. F and was coming out of a high speed 6” loading pipe. The product started to foam like hell and the trailer started to bounce violently, and then came out like a geyser. The loaders flew off the platform and the safety valve shut down. It created a bloody dangerous mess, over a little bit of water.
The safe way to keep it dry is to drop the hatch latch into the opening then drop the lid down on top of it, leaving the lid open about 2 inches. The heat escapes, and no vacuum would be created, and rainwater cannot enter. That is the part about keeping dry, that no one had explained to me.
Well I was off the hook for having creating the problem. They accepted the fact that, I was not properly informed. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no real damage occurred. It was just a messy cleanup. That incident really sunk into my brain. All the theoretical instruction that you receive is no match for practical experience.
I ran like a lunatic after that, there was so much work; we had a hard time keeping up. The time came when they were looking for four volunteers to go up North to the Lakehead, for the balance of the season to work on the Trans Canada Highway. The Lakehead today, is known as Thunder Bay, Ontario. I jumped at the chance. Jim M. and I ran up there together. It was just over 1,000 miles, north and west of here. It was bad road and muskeg, and took us over 30 hours from Sarnia, to make the trip running empty. There was no such thing as a logbook in Canada, at the time. You ran until you could not go another inch, flaked out for a few hours then carried on. Two other drivers would follow us up there, a couple of days later. Once at the Lakehead, (at the time, properly called, Fort William & Port Arthur, the twin cities) Jim and I decided to split a double room at a hotel downtown. The other two drivers would share a room in the same hotel next to us. We saved a lot of money, that way.
It was what you could call a long hot summer. It was full of crazy happenings and experiences, some comical and some dangerous. It was a great time.
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After settling in, the four of us were shuttled around town, showing us the locations of necessity, the Husky Oil Co. asphalt plant, as well as the loading procedures. The locations to whatever we might need when on our own. You had to be self sufficient on this job. After treating us to lunch, we received our warning that we are now ready for a hectic season. This was on Friday. We were given Saturday to do as we wish, but must be ready to roll on Sunday evening. In Ontario, you could not run on Sunday. You had to shut down Saturday before midnight, and could not leave until 10:00 pm on Sunday night. It did not matter where you were.
The roads were; all tore up, and under construction, with others, opening up for the first time. Our territory was as Far East to Cochrane, Ontario. It was 500 miles of very rotten construction and bush road, the worst, between Hearst and Long Lac. To the West we went out as far as 250 miles to Kenora, Ontario, near the Manitoba border. Then there was the new Lake Superior route. The old road went south along the lake shoreline, and used to end about 60 miles South of Nipigon, down at Schreiber. This road just recently opened up to White Lake Narrows, where the road ended. Other construction was working its way north from Sault Ste. Marie, to meet up. The section southbound was in the process of being blasted, and dug through solid granite. You could see the flashes in the sky all night, through most of the summer.
Sunday night came along and my first load was down to White Lake Narrows. The first 60 miles down to Nipigon, was all under construction, and barely passable? You could hardly get going at all. I thought that my back would break in half. (No such thing as air seats, existed) There was a Husky Oil truck stop at Nipigon. It was open 24 hours a day, and had a bunkhouse at 50 cents a night. No one had the luxury of sleeper cabs. If you were going to be stuck on the road over the Sunday shut down time, you automatically headed for the first Husky, to grab a bunk. After that, you headed for the local bootlegger, so as not to be dry on your layover. There was not much else to do on Sunday, except to party, or if you wanted to, you could go out in the bush and do a little fishing, or chase after the Moose. On the other hand, a Moose could chase after you.
It was about 1:00 am, when I pulled out of the Husky Truck Stop, heading south to the Narrows. The road at this point was old and narrow with twists and turns like a pretzel. I was getting into some good-sized hills. The farther I went, the higher and steeper they came. Fully loaded, I was grossing just less than 80,000 lbs. I only had a 205 Mack engine and a 5 X 3 (15-speed) tri-plex transmission. The grade was getting so bad now that I was down to skipping the aux. Trans and using the main only. (You could not split the two sticks fast enough). I got down so slow that you could get out and walk faster. At one point, I pulled out the throttle all the way, and let it go on its own. I opened the door and stood out on the fuel tank, hanging onto the steering wheel, just to get away from the heat coming up through the floor. (Stupid, I know, but that was almost ½ a century ago.) Only one more gear to go then I would be S. O. L. I crawled along for what seemed to be forever. I hit a pothole and the steering seemed to float freely. I was starting to get a little nervous. Where in hell is the top of this hill? Finally, I broke over the top and had to stop and let the engine cool down. It was going to be a long trip. The shutters would not open soon enough to let air flow through and cool the radiator. I found a chunk of wood, and jammed it between the shutter slats, to keep them open. After that, I carried the stick and stuck it into the shutters just before heading into the hills. I made my way down past Terrace Bay, where they had dumped fresh sand on the new roadbed. The grader had it smoothed out, and looking good. Figuring that it could still be soft, I put it to the floor. I made it ¾ of the way through this section, and was sinking fast. She went down to the hubs and bogged down to a stop. All alone and early in the morning, all you can do is flake out and wait for the bulldozers to drag you out in the morning. This happened numerous times during the summer.
I finally made it down to the plant and got the load off. Running back empty, I was really making good time, sailing into a turn in a treed section, this Moose ran out in front of me. It was getting dark again and starting to rain a bit. All I seen was two big eyes looking at me. I cranked the wheel towards the shoulder of the road and just clipped him on the snout, leaving snot marks all over my left front fender. He just stood there like a dummy, then turned and trotted off into the bush as if nothing happened. I finally got the knot out of my stomach, and checked to see if I had messed myself. Fortunately, I did not. The tractor had a single axle drive with a dead trailing axle. I was stuck again, and it was another hour or so before a truck came along and dragged me out.
After that episode, I thought that I had better bring along some survival gear. I started by picking up a 3/8 steel chain, 20 ft. long. An axe, a fishing pole, a couple cans of beans. I also had to get a 20-ton hydraulic jack with a couple sockets and a T bar, to be able to change my own flats. There was no service or phones available in the bush. Before the summer was over, we all ended up carrying three spare wheels. Those old bias tires just could not take the rock abuse. I have changed as many as the three in one trip. I got very good at it before long.
I finally finished my first trip. I pulled into the yard, expecting to go to my room and flake out for a few hours. While topping up my fuel tanks, dispatch came over and said to hurry up. Cochran was running low on product; get there as fast as you can. Well now so much for my expected nap, and log books? What are they? The Americans invented them, but did not bother to share them with us. So, off again.
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The summer was going crazy, we would be leaving town on Sunday night, and practically living in the truck till the following Saturday. We did not really having any time off to do something for ourselves.
The asphalt plant at Cochrane, (500 miles east of the Lakehead) was located in a gravel pit, about 10 miles out of town. They had a portable bunkhouse, an office shack and a cookhouse. It was a government of Ontario camp, and they had special rules all their own.
Bulk Carriers had arranged with them to allot us 3 bunks for the drivers after unloading. We were to sleep for 8 hours before heading back. They also gave us cart blanch in the cookhouse, at their expense. It was nothing less than roast beef and “T” bone steaks for the rest of the season. In their wisdom, the government, that is, made it a rule to do all beef in saltpetre. They assumed that no all male bush camp of theirs was going to have any sex problems.
We worked our butts off, this particular week, and we had been practically, driven into the ground. It was Friday and we were unloading in Cochrane. Jim had finished unloading first, and was pulling up to the cookhouse while I backed in to unload.
He really had a thing for the free roast beef and steaks, and made full use of the arrangement. By the time, I finished unloading and into the cookhouse, Jim was just finishing up, with steak and eggs and he had three roast beef sandwiches to go. (Saltpetre and all) He was in a hurry to get going, one of the local guys, had invited him to go out in his new boat, and perhaps get in a little fishing. I sat down and started into a big chunk of roast beef. He watched as I trimmed the outside off. Why are you always doing that, he said. I told him about the saltpetre, and I just did not want it. He told me that, that is just a load of crap.
Well I was just going to drag my butt back this trip, so I told him to go ahead and not wait for me. He said OK, and took off.
There was a Husky Truck Stop at Hearst, and you always stopped in for a coffee or something. Long Lac the next town was 132 miles away through a bush road, pretty well under construction all the way.
I had just parked, and was heading in for coffee, when a car came roaring in and stopped right beside me. The driver got out and called me by name. I had not recognized him, but it was Jim’s dad. He had his wife and Jim’s wife in the car with him.
He asked if I knew where Jim was, and I answered, yes, he should be about an hour ahead of you. What are you doing up here anyway? He said that he had some time off, and thought that he would come up to visit his son and bring him a present. He said that no man can work that long in the bush country and not be serviced. It is not natural.
We all had a coffee together, and then they took off trying to catch up. By the time I got back to the Lakehead, Jim had left me a message that he would not be around. His dad got a motel room for Jim and his wife, away from everyone, and never told any of us where they were.
Well Jim was back at our room early the next morning, looking like death warmed over. He said that, his wife was on her way home already, and they had been fighting all night. Apparently, all that steady diet of saltpetre must have taken effect. He could not perform at all, even after being away for six weeks. She accused him of running around and not being faithful. Jim tried to explain the effect, and compulsory use of the stuff in the government camps, but she just would not buy it. The old man thought that it would be better all round if they headed back a little early.
With the amount of hours, we were working; if you could find a minute to run around, it would not work anyway, you were too tired to do anything but sleep.
It took quite a bit of time to get over that episode. For one thing, he never had any more beef from the road camp. Time heals all, and it eventually did.
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It was getting on in summer, and the nights were getting cooler. The 12 to 14 hour trip to Cochran was making asphalt cool off faster. When unloading, we would use a steam hose for about an hour, trying to get the discharge valve at the rear of the trailer to thaw out. The asphalt in the valve gets very solid when cold.
I was becoming, fed up with this slow procedure, when I got a sudden brainstorm. There is one thing that is hotter and faster than this deal. It was about 3:00 am in the morning and I was the only one around. In the winter when it's, way, way below zero, we used to get a rag, soak it in diesel fuel, wrap it around a 2 X 4, light it and put it under the truck or bulldozer oil pan. The heat generated would have the oil flowing in a few minutes. This should be able to work on this valve, RIGHT? --- WRONG!
I siphoned some fuel from my tanks and soaked an old rag. I wrapped it around the discharge valve, and set it on fire. Well this should not take more than a couple minutes. The flames came on fast and furious. The wind coming across the open gravel pit just fanned the fire even more. The flames started to climb up the back of the trailer, and I started to panic. I could not get the rag off the valve. I had no stick even to work with. I jumped into the cab, fired up the engine and headed up to the bunkhouse to look for help. It was about a ¼ mile. I guess that it looked like a blazing comet coming in from the sky. The cook was just heading for the cookhouse to get his own fires going. I guess that I scared the hell out of him, with these huge flames chasing me.
He was on the ball and wide-awake by the time I pulled up. He ran into the kitchen and grabbed a chemical fire extinguisher. By the time, I was stopped, jumped out, and around to the back of the trailer, he had all under control. The trailer was all black in colour anyway, so it did not turn out to badly. But I must say, now that the hot valve opens easy, I rushed back down to the storage tank and had the load flowing before the valve had a chance to cool off again.
The cook never let on to anyone that there was a stupidity fire, and whipped me up a big order of pancakes and steak. It took me the rest of the morning to get myself cooled off, and settled down from the action.
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Where the expression, MEXICAN OVERDRIVE came from, I do not know. In my case it just seems to have always been there.
About 50 or more years ago, when the trucks were all low powered and the hills were higher, steeper and not cut down as they are today. Without all th power assists that are now commonly used, such as high horsepower, engine brakes, power steering and spring brakes. You had to rely on multi transmissions with the maximum number of gears squeezed into the box, to give your engine more assistance to pull you up and over these steep, and high hills, and to help you control your downhill descents.
Thee odd time you would come to a fairly straight but long downgrade that could tempt you to kick it out of gear and run loose. This procedure was commonly called Mexican Overdrive.
Trucks were usually geared for 65/68 mph max speed. The condition of the roads and the available horsepower really didn’t give you much of a chance to make good travel time. When you came to a high hill with a fairly straight down run, temptation would sometimes take over your common sense, and put you into a dangerous situation. It could pull you like a magnet to cut it loose and just go.
There have been countless times when drivers have let her go. There have also been drivers who did not make it back alive, after losing control and having this activity change into a wild runaway.
This type of incident (Mexican overdrive) happened to me in 1957, on the building of the Trans Canada Highway along the North shore of Lake Superior, in the mountains.
In my case, I was driving a "B-61" Mack pulling a tanker with hot liquid asphalt. This particular hill was a couple miles down to the bottom on curves, and just south of Terrace Bay, Ontario, Canada.
I was in a hurry this day, as we were being pushed pretty hard. I broke over the hill and said to hell with it and cut her loose. The hot liquid was sloshing around in the tank and was becoming unstable to control, pushing me from side to side and picking up speed by the second. The truck was going too fast to get it back into gear. It would normally run at about 68 mph, flat out. I was well beyond that, and the Speedo would max out at 80 mph. The Speedo needle went beyond 80 and kept going completely around again. Between the 15 and 20 mph, the Speedo cable broke and the needle dropped straight down and just sat there swinging freely, pointing down. (Is this an omen, pointing to where I would end up?)
The brakes would not do anything but smoke and fire, they were useless. The truck started to shake and vibrate so bad that it took both hands to try and hold it steady. I went around a couple bad curves on the way down and had the feeling that this was my last ride. I barely made the curves and started to climb uphill, and that was when the vibration on the front end started to smooth out again. One of our other trucks, going the other way, saw me coming and pulled over onto the narrow shoulder, otherwise we both would have connected and ended right there. It was that close. It was an old narrow high crowned road with barely enough room to pass at normal speeds.
I began losing speed up the other side of the hill, and when I was slow enough to get it back into high gear, I would be going about 70 mph. I finally got stopped at the top of the hill, and sat for about 1/2 hour before I could go again. Morris walked back up the hill to see if I was alright. He was the old man of the fleet and knew about runaways. He said that as long as the front end was vibrating, I had a good chance of making it, if I could keep it on the road. Once it went past the vibration stage, continuing to pick up speed and starting to smooth out again, just say your prayers and wait for the end, because the wheels would be flying off, and possibly the running gear exploding apart at any second.
All this is happening, with no maxi brakes or power steering, to help control the situation. Old style bias tires would not help anything either. That was the last time I ever kicked any truck out of gear. You don't press your luck a second time.
Just an afterthought, --- When I die, I want to die like my grandmother, who died peacefully in her sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in her car.
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Chester and I were running along together for about a day and a half now, and I was getting pretty tired. I would have to pull off and grab some sleep it was about midnight and we were just coming up to Klotz Lake. There was a fishing camp there and they had a clearing on the waters edge. Room enough for a couple tractor-trailers and a few cars and pick-up trucks. We pulled off for a short break, and I told Chester that this was it for me; I am parking for the night. He said that he was going to carry on as far as he could, then left.
It was about 5:00 am, when I woke up, to the smell of fish on a fire. One of the people from the fishing camp had been out already and caught more than enough pickerel for two to have a good feed. I crawled out of the cab, half crippled and went down to the waters edge to get my eyes splashed open and to wake up. I commented to the angler about him being a masochist, cooking fresh fish in front of a starving man. He just laughed and invited me over to share in his breakfast. There was no way in the world that I was going to turn this invite down. He had a kettle of boiling water with loose coffee in it. The way the old trapper's made their coffee. After it had boiled long enough, you just dropped a bit of cold water into the pot and all the grounds drop to the bottom. After having my fill and helping to clean up, I started out for Cochran.
Between Hearst and Kapuskasing, there is a little kink in the road called, Lowther. This place had a few houses that the railroaders lived in. Just next to it about a mile off the road was a new radar station on the Pine Tree, National Defence Line. It was a military outpost, and staffed by a few Canadian and American personnel.
The road past this place had no roadbed. It was floating on muskeg. When a loaded truck past over it, it would start to sink a bit and bog down. You would sometimes have to drop a couple of gears to keep going through. The new road construction has not come this far yet. Other locations of this sort had to be dug up for about 10 to 15 feet deep, and then filled in with roadbed material, to give it a base.
It had been raining for the last couple of days, when I came upon it, and it made the road even spongier. I could see a tanker stopped and leaning hard over to the right. It was Chester. I stopped and asked what happened? He was in the need to relieve himself, so pulled over to the edge of the roadway while it was still dark out. When he finished, the truck had sunk down to the right wheel hubs. All the trying to get out only made it worse. It just started to sink deeper and deeper in the muskeg. He had sent a message with another trucker going to Kapuskasing to send back a tow truck. A couple other drivers tried to pull him back with their chains. They could not move him. The truck just kept sinking deeper.
A couple hours later, the wrecker came along. We tried for another three hours, and with no success. The final solution would be to get the tank unloaded first, and get the weight off. After getting the dispatch involved, he called ahead to Cochrane and had a message left to send the first truck to empty out, back as fast as possible.
John made it back. One of the construction companies came up with an asphalt pump. They had to use a steam jenny to heat up the valve. We started to pump the load off, when Chester yelled to shut down. We were all engrossed in getting the load off, and forgot about venting the tank. The loading hatch was at right angles to vertical, and would not be open for venting. The construction company then brought over a portable generator, for an electrical power supply, and then hooked up a drill to bore an air hole in the wall of the trailer, while it lay on its side. After the best part of a day, they finally had most of the load transferred, and on its way to Cochrane.
By this time, the truck had sunk completely over onto its right side with all of the left wheels up off the ground. It was in the process of sinking down and under the roadway. They say that if left long enough, it could go completely under. The sinking slowed down dramatically, once we had the load removed. It was dark now, and there was nothing else that could be done today. They would have to bring in a backhoe and dig it out before any cables could be hooked on. That meant it would have to wait until the next day.
The tires and wheels just dangling there, off the ground, would seem to give them a reason to grow legs and run away. To compensate for this, John approached one of the American air force people standing around, watching the goings on. He asked him if he had his own car, and would he mind sitting, and keep an eye on the truck all night, especially, the wheels that were off the ground? Just make sure that they are still there in the morning. We will throw in a few bucks, for your time, OK. Sure thing, was his answer, I will be back in about an hour.
He came over in civvies, and with his girlfriend. We left him with $10, and a 40 oz. bottle of whisky. Then we all took off until the morning. I went on to Cochrane to finish delivering my load, and then Chester hitched a ride to a small motel a couple miles down the road. Flare pots were set out and the air force person with his girlfriend, were now on guard.
The next morning, the backhoe arrived about 6:00am. The operator found the couple in the car, both passed out drunk. At least all the wheels were still on the truck. They dragged them out, moved the car, and one of the crew drove them, in their car back to the radar station. It seems that, both had a good time. It turned into cheap insurance.
Together, the backhoe, trenching around the truck, and with the wrecker working alongside, they finally got the truck up onto the road again. Other than the vent hole drilled in the side of the tank, there was no damage done to the truck. With all the ground being so soft and no rock about, the resurrection was successful. Chester was able to drive it home. One of the construction guys, came up with an old Gerry pot, put a ribbon on it, and then sent it along to the terminal with instructions on its use. They named it, (“KEEP OUT OF THE DITCH KIT".)
We finished out the construction season. The snow was starting to fly, and then the four of us headed back to Sarnia. A week later, they laid us off for the winter. Once released, I was out of there; I headed over to Hamilton for a visit with friends.
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For part of a season in 1957/58 A friend of mine wanted to go out on his own in business. There was this gas station he wanted to take over, on the Burlington Beach strip, at Hamilton Ontario; it was a strip of land, like a causeway, separating Lake Ontario, with the Hamilton Bay.
It was a very new field for him, but he was determined to try it anyway. During one of my between the job travels, I stopped in for a visit. Before I had a chance, he had me talked into staying on, and giving him a hand to get started.
Well eventually, things did not go to well, and he put it up for sale. A few days later a fellow showed up, and was interested in the place. It was Jack Grant, and he was looking for a location near Clarkson Ontario. He was in the cement hauling business, and had about 5 tractors and an assortment of trailers. I think it was 3 Fruehauf cement tanker tri-axels that were equipped with the Wisconsin, V-4 air cooled engine driving twin augers for self unloading. In addition, he had two or three flat decks for hauling bagged cement, and a full set of dump trailer “A” Trains, for bulk loading.
The location was great for his purpose, plenty of parking in the rear, and he could get a truck and trailer in the drive through bay for servicing. His brother was a licensed mechanic coming in from Cornwall, Ontario, to look after the servicing and repairing of the equipment. It would be 6 weeks before he could get away, and be here at Burlington. Jack took over the garage and I stayed on and ran it until his brother could get here. After he arrived, I was given a single axle, Diamond “T”, with a Turbocharged, JT Cummins Engine, (Rated at 165 hp.) The transmission was a 5 speeds main with a short 4th, coupled to a 2 speed axle. It was to be my dedicated tractor.
The main customer was St. Lawrence Cement. It was a good product to haul in the 1950’s, with the Trans Canada Pipeline, and the St. Lawrence Seaway construction, going full blast. The demand for cement was incredible.
My first trip was a load of bagged cement going to Pembroke Ontario. I grabbed the map and made my way to Kaladar, Ontario. I stopped and phoned ahead, and gave them an estimated time of arrival. Well as we, all know, it being a straight line, and only a couple inches on the map, I gave them a 3-hour estimate, of around 5:00pm. I had lunch and then took off.
I started up the first hill on highway 41, and never gave it a thought. I was grossing out at over 75,000 lbs. with 165 little horses, (more like pony’s) to power it. The grades were starting to get a lot higher and my speed was getting slower as I went farther along. I was down to the bottom gear, when an empty tandem dump truck caught up to me. I seemed to pick up all of a sudden. I then broke over and roared down the narrow, twisty road on the other side of the hill with the brakes starting to smoke. I was either crawling along, an inch at a time or was flying down the hill almost out of control. When climbing the other side of the hill I was holding up the dump truck again, just crawling along and almost running out of gears and RPM. It would pick up again just before dieing out completely. I finally pulled over at the top of the next hard climb, and waved the other truck on. He pulled up beside me, rolled down his window. I yelled at him to go ahead, as I am running to slow on these hills and I did not want to hold him up. He said no way, I was to stay ahead of him or I would never make it to Pembroke. Why, I said. I am holding you up. Well every time I was down and out of gears, he would catch up and had to push me up over the hills. I would be flying down the other side so fast that he could not keep up. The brakes would barely hold me back. The tri-axle trailer only had brakes on two axels.
They tried brakes on all 3 axles, but when running empty or light, the front axel would grab and bounce up and down, and screw up the tires as well as viciously vibrate the whole truck, and sometimes drift into a jackknife, or even break a spring. In the 1950’s, there were no engine brakes, air suspension or high horsepower to hold a heavy load back. No maxi brakes, as we know them today, or any safety device to help you live longer. Ah, but it did have a metal WIG-WAG hanging from the top left corner of the windshield. It is part of the air system to be a warning device. If, and when your air pressure was below 60 lbs, it would stay hanging down. When it is over 60 lbs it will fold and stay up. Then you were, supposedly safe to travel. If the pressure dropped down, it would drop and that would tell you to start dragging your feet, and start pulling on the mechanical hand brake, because you were totally on your own to stop. It is a great device to have, as you were running away on a long hill with your brakes on fire. Well I may as well mention too, about the right angle turn at the bottom of the hill that you were just approaching, ---- That's when all the praying and the swearing start to get mixed together.
It was one long process, trying to get to Pembroke, especially in one piece. Being pushed over another, four or five hills, and there was one worse, still to go. The driver told me how to get around it on a dirt road. This was as far as he could go with me, as his final destination was in another direction. I really thanked him for his help and sticking with me. It could have turned into a real disaster had I been on my own. I offered him some money, (what little I had) but he would not accept anything. He just said that I owed some other driver help, if and when needed.
Well, I finally pulled into Pembroke, 3 hours late. It was getting dark out and I met the crew walking down the street, heading for home. They thought that I was not coming, but turned back and got me unloaded. They were 100 lb. bags, and had to be manually lifted, off the floor of the trailer, and stacked one at a time, in the warehouse.
When we were finished, they asked what took so long. I explained what happened, and they told me that no one comes up 41. They all go around the hills and travel about 60 miles farther to get here, and do it in better time. I was lucky to have even made it.
NOTE, --- The bumpers on the trailers in the1950's, were real bumpers, and not like the tissue crap of today.
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It was just a couple weeks into this job, that I had another incident.
I had gone over to St Lawrence cement at Clarkson, and loaded out for Windsor, Ontario. It was the old 2-lane road, to Windsor. The Freeways had not been built yet. I had loaded the Fruehauf dry cement tank. It was a tri-axle trailer, whose front axle did not have brakes on it. (Standard for the day)
At the time, I was driving the single axel Diamond – T tractor, known as the JT. The engine was a JT model Cummins; this engine was rated, at about 165 hp. (There were no exhaust brakes, Jakes, or transmission retarders of any kind, as well as any Maxi-brake. None was available at this time in history.) The emergency brake consisted of a mechanical handle on the floor of the tractor, with no dynamite valve. The air supply to the trailer was two strait handled valves, with a ¼ turn. (Open and close.) These valves are frame mounted, on the outside, at the rear of the cab. (This description is for the benefit of the new young breed of drivers, not familiar with old style equipment.)
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was tired at the time, when I loaded. Again, as usual in this business and being informed of the desperate condition of the product supply at the customer. They expected me to be there before the world collapsed, (AGAIN) and save them from the disaster of running out of product, and may have to shut down their production.
There was quite a line up at the cement plant. I had to wait over an hour and a half, before I could get loaded. I finally scaled out, and was on my way. I was really getting tired by this time, after being up all night. It was about a 6 hour, non-stop run to Windsor. That is exactly what I did. I ran non-stop, again, and when I arrived, they advised me that I would have to wait until morning to unload. It was not that desperate. I was so tired that I backed into the unloading bin, lay down on the bucket seats and told them to wake me in the morning when they were ready. I was GONE, out like a light.
I often wondered, is there is at least, one dispatcher on this planet that could tell it like it really is. You know, without the BULLSH**.
They woke me up about 06:00 am; I fired up the little Wisconsin Engine, and unloaded. I finished up, and then stopped in at the local restaurant for breakfast. I was just leaving town when I saw Moose, (I never did know his real name) coming in with another load. We stopped together for a chat, and he gave me a message to stop in Zorra Township at Canada Cement, on the way home, for a load back to Hamilton, Ontario.
In the early 50’s there were no CB’s or cell phones to communicate between drivers. You had to stop and exchange info in person.
I made it to Canada Cement OK, and was loaded and on my way in about 2 hours. I was heading East on # 5 highway, which brings me out at Clappison Corners, at the junction of highway # 6. The Corners are located at the top of, what the locals describe, as the Hamilton Mountain. Highway # 6 South is a strait drop down the hill, where you go to the lowest gear possible, to safely descend. (Hopefully) I am not sure at this date, but I think it must be at least one ½ mile down. I do not remember the grade percentage, but it was not healthy at the time.
I started down the hill in the lower end of the gears, as usual. The road went in a straight line down hill, then levelled out for about a hundred yards, did a slow "S" turn then dropped dramatically again, where the grade steepened even worse. At the bottom was a stop sign. The main highway # 2 had the right of way and crossed the bottom of the hill. The road officially ended there, and you would normally turn left or right.
Across the intersection was a narrow laneway that led down past a small, 1 pump gas station then to a bridge made of old timbers, and posted with a 10 ton limit. Underneath, it was a drop of 25 feet to the railroad tracks.
About half way down the hill, the WIG-WAG over the windshield, started to waver, and then dropped. It just notified me that I have a serious problem. My air supply is rapidly diminishing. My stomach has just developed the second biggest knot in my life. My knuckles are turning to that familiar white colour. My shorts, -------- I did not have time to check. As it happened, the compressor gave up the ghost, and died on me, leaving me to my fate.
I was trying to conserve air for the bottom of the hill at the intersection. I held the peddle down, as the brakes started to flame. If I had let off, I would have lost my braking power completely.
I was at the levelled off section and started to slow down. I thought that I had it made now. No way, the truck coasted over the last drop and started to pick up speed again. The traffic at the bottom of the hill kept going across in front of me. I was down to about 20 lbs. of air, and all I could do now was to blow the air horn and try to warn those passing through the intersection.
The cross traffic did not pay attention to my warning. Just before entering the intersection, one car understood my predicament, and slid to a stop, jumped out of his car and flagged the other direction to stop. I sailed through the intersection just as the horn ran out of air, and quit.
I crossed the intersection, (to fast to turn) then headed down the small lane, without an ounce of air brake. I grabbed the hand brake, and pulled it back with both hands. That was all I had left. A young couple had just pulled away from the gas pump, and was heading towards the intersection, when I went sailing by. It was so close that I ticked his rear bumper as he pulled out in front of me. His girlfriend saw the truck coming at them, and thought she would die. She let out a scream and passed out. (Just as well.)
I was slowly coming to a stop when this stupid 10-ton bridge in front of me, extended my fear. That is all I need now, an old and decrepit 10-ton bridge, and me weighing in at close to 40 ton. The tractor rolled up and over the front of the bridge. Just as I was preparing myself for the next world, the tri-axles on the trailer caught on the rise, stopped and I rolled back off the bridge. It was then, that I had to check my pants for the after-effect.
When all the dust and my nerves had settled down, I walked back to the garage to use the phone, and call in. The kid was consoling his girlfriend. I think inadvertently, I did him some sort of favour. She was really buttering up to him for saving her life. I apologized to him for the scare, but he passed it off saying, that in reality, I actually did him a favour. (So much, for young love)
I called the office, and then was told to bring it in and they would look after it. Hell, as stupid as I was, I crawled back at about 2 miles per hour. Fortunately, I made it back to the terminal OK without killing someone.
After surviving this incident, another new lesson is learned.
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In the 1950’s between the construction of the, Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Trans Canada Pipeline, and the Elliot Lake uranium mines, the demand for cement was tremendous. John Grant Haulage was just a small trucking business at this time, but he had his foot in the door at Saint Lawrence Cement. There certainly was no shortage of work. Up to 90 & 100 hours on duty time, for a week was nothing unusual. *NOTE; Log books did not exist in Canada at that time.
There were times (In the summer heat) that you had to pull over, off the road, and try to get some sleep. Either you sat up and leaned over the wheel, sweating and getting cramps, or you got out and slept on the ground. The cabs on these Diamond “T” tractors were very small with bucket seats and no sleepers, and no air conditioning. One driver got wise and carried a war surplus Navy Hammock to sleep in. He used to sling it up under the flat deck trailers when hauling bagged cement.
The roads at that time were old, narrow and twisty. No turnpikes existed to help speed things along. The only direct road to the North Country was by highway # 11. The first four-lane expressway was open from Toronto, 60 miles north to Barrie. Beyond that, it was #11 all the way.
The fleet consisted of about five or six drivers, with a mixed assortment of trucks and trailer types. Mel Marshal was the # 1 driver of this little fleet. He mostly hauled the set of “A” train dump trailers. He was good at what he did. He could back the trains up to a loading dock, without disconnecting. Usually you had to break up the train, and spot them one at a time. There were no lock pins to help in backing up. Everyone used to jackknife within a few feet. Mel on the other hand always carried a couple spare chains and binders. He would cross chain the tongue of the converter to the corners of the pup trailer, locking the converter and pup trailer into one unit. It would be the same as backing up a set of easy “B” trains, of today. He was years ahead of his time. He was also the one who taught me how to keep, or get out of trouble. Load wise, police wise, or mechanical. He was a wild gypsy type that would take on jobs that was considered by others to be to dangerous, or could not be done. We seemed to have taken to each other, and while working here, he became my mentor. You just had to like the guy, it could not be helped.
Most of my trips were into the North Country. To get there you had to go past the gateway to the north, Gravenhurst, Ontario. It was home to the dreaded hellhole of the north, the government scale shack.
To get to Sudbury, or Sault Ste. Marie, you had to drive 100 miles out of your way, to North Bay, Ontario, then west to Sudbury. The only way at that time was strait north. If you were hauling a van, # 69 from Gravenhurst was not valid. The underpass at Bala had a clearance of between 9 and 10 feet. We on the other hand, hauling a tanker, or dump trailers could clear, by a hair, and just scraping through. With care, it was possible. The government scale shack, at the town limits, guarded (like a fortress,) the entrance to highway 69 north. It sat ¼ mile south of town, just before the junction of 11 & 69.
At times when trucks were overloaded, they took a chance, that by the time they arrived at the scale shack, it would hopefully, be closed. The Girls Diner, a little truck stop south of the scale always had their parking lot filled with trucks waiting out the scales. This one time in particular, there was quite a pileup of trucks, some waiting a couple days. Without CB Radios or communications, you waited for any truck coming south and stopping in for a coffee. Before the driver was even out of his truck all the waiting drivers pounced on him for information on whether the scale was still open or not. This time, and finally, the scale is closed. After the confirmation from the 3 rd truck coming in, it was about 01:00 am, and a whole group fired up their trucks and stampeded out of there. It was only about 3½ miles to the scales. When the convoy approached the scale entrance, all the lights came on, and a cop came out of the bushes and started flagging them all in. The catch that night was phenomenal.
This one day, Mel, Moose, and myself all loaded bulk cement together. You scaled in empty, and then loaded from a chute. It would dump tons of products, in seconds, and was very hard to judge the weight. When loaded, you had to drive all the way out to the gatehouse, to scale out. That was when you found that you were tons overloaded. There was no scale under the loading chute. You then drove back out to rear of the property and dumped part of your load on the ground, in a bloody, dusty mess. Drive all of the way back, and scale again. If you were still too heavy, you had to repeat the procedure. If you took too much off, you had to return to the loading area and start over. There was a minimum weight, which you had to have, before leaving. You could be screwing around for hours. It was on your free time of course. Our pay was, by the mile only, or flat rate, whichever benefited the company the most.
All three of us were tired to begin with, after trying to get legal a couple of times, we became fed up, and so we took off anyway. We were about two or three tons overloaded each. The only fortunate thing at that time was that Ontario was on the gross weight only, and it would be many more years before bringing in the axel weight system.
Mel was leading at this time, and pulled into Barrie for a coffee. We checked out a couple southbound drivers, and they said that the scales were wide open for the last couple of days. Here we are screwed again, no miles, no money.
Mel said that he knew of a way around the scales, but it was over light bridges and back roads. He suggested that we sleep for a couple hours, until after dark, and then make a run for it. We could either stay or run with him. All three of us went for it.
Mel passed around a couple cigars each, and said to light up and get going, we will sleep on the back road. Damned near choked to death on that cigar, but it kept me awake anyway. We had to be up north and beyond this part of the country before daylight.
We went up to Orillia, and then turned onto # 12 to Midland, Ontario. We could not go all the way into Midland, because there was another little hole in the wall, to small for trucks to pass through. We came up to Coldwater, then down an old dirt road to Waubaushene. I did a panic stop. Mel and Moose were now out of sight. I was staring at a small but long, scary looking bridge over the channel. I figured that either they are at the bottom of the lake, or they are still on the move. It was just like running over the ice roads up in the territories. I crawled over with the door open, just in case I went through. The old bridge was shaking and bouncing as I passed over it. I bit right through the cigar, wondering if the thing was going to hold up, or collapse. I cleared the bridge finally, and then had to drive like a mad man to try to catch up. About two miles down the road, they were sitting there waiting for me to show up.
From here on, officially there was no road. A trail was being blown, and cut out of the rock and bush. They were starting to build a new road up to Mac Tier, where it would hook up to # 69 from Gravenhurst; it was going to be #103
It was all blasted rock, with rough and partly sand filled roadbed. The best we could do was 10 to 15 mph. tops. This went on for a couple hours, and I thought that my back would never survive the trip. Eventually we came up to the Moon River. There was no bridge, and it was about a couple hundred yards across. We stopped and Mel said to follow him close, and stay in his tracks. He turned tight left, onto a bulldozer track. He was pulling the set of trains. Where we were going, there would be no backing up.
It was a narrow ledge cut out of the riverbank. We followed that down about 3 or 4 hundred yards, sliding on the newly spread soft sand. Down near the river’s level was an army bailey bridge. The entrance onto the bridge was a tight right angle turn. Mel scraped the left bank and then inched his way around and onto the bridge. I was directly behind him. His pup trailer would not clear the side rails on the bridge, the rear tandems caught on the rail. He backed up about 3 feet and began to jackknife. We sat there for about a two cigarette smoke, what now. He was not the least bit concerned; this was just another jackpot, he had to get us through.
Bill, get your bumper up against my rear trailer tires and push them over sideways, as I pull ahead. See if that will work. If it were not for those old solid steel bumpers on the Diamond “T” trucks, we would still be there. I got in and pushed against his tandems as he slowly pulled ahead. I dug my drives in the sand about 6 inches, then she finally moved, and he was clear. Moose had to give me a bit of a push to get me rolling out of the hole I had just dug myself into. We all finally got free of the construction, and took off. There would be more trouble coming back.
We hooked up with 69 again, and then headed up through Parry Sound and on to Pointe au Baril. It was still dark out and early morning. There was no food stop available all night. All of the restaurants in Parry Sound, were closed up for the night. There was a 10 ft. X 12ft. cabin just before Pointe au Baril. Mel went up, banged on the door, and got the owner up. His name was Larry. He came up north, and bought some crown land for 50 cents an acre. Built his shack and was selling bacon and eggs to the odd traveller. He got up, put on the coffee, and fed us. He slowly built up a small restaurant and motel over the next 20 + years. It still exists today, now known as LARRY'S TAVERN & MOTEL.
We all had different delivery locations. We said that when we were finished we would meet back here sometime between midnight tonight and early tomorrow morning. We agreed and took off. That was about 07:00 am.
I had to deliver in Sault Ste. Marie. I stopped for a couple hours sleep then ran the rest of the trip, unloaded and return about 10:00 pm. It was good timing both Mel and Moose, were there having another order of bacon and eggs. That was about the extent of the menu. While I was eating, lightning flashed and the thunder started to roll. Mel suggested that we try to get as far south as we could before daylight. We did not want to be caught driving through the new road construction while they were working. We were not supposed to be there anyway. No one was.
The summer storms coming in off Georgian Bay could really get rough at times, and this one was becoming full blown. We were all running empty, and could make much better time going home. We passed Mac Tier, and entered the no road zone again. In a few minutes, we came up to the Moon River. The rain was really coming down, and was beginning to wash away most of the fresh roadbed sand, spread during the previous day.
We started our turn, to head for the Bailey bridge, when, out of nowhere, a Volkswagen Bug, came flying down the hill on the other side of the river, and onto the bridge. He slid on the wet wooden deck, spun sideways, and jammed into the bridge rail. He was drunk as a skunk. We then spent the next ½-hour trying to get him off the bridge, so we could pass.
Moose became, really cranked up. He wanted to drag the driver out of the bug and throw him in the river. Mel had him cooled down and we all pushed the car off the bridge by hand, and then left him there. By this time, all three of us were soaked to the skin. Moose was first across and started up the grade to the road. Stopped and waited. Mel was next. From this side of the bridge he had a little more turning space, and cleared the pup trailer by dragging it, scrubbing the tires around the rail. He was just starting to climb the grade to the roadway, when he started to sink slowly. The rain was washing out the fresh roadbed and his pup trailer was starting to slide towards the edge. He spun out, stopped, and then he became stuck. Moose backed his rig down to the front of Mel’s truck then grabbed his spare 20 ft. chain and anchored it to Mel’s tow hooks on his front bumper. They both tried to climb the grade and the pup started to slide down some more, towards the river. I shot across the bridge and stopped, half on and half off the bridge. Grabbed another chain and hooked it up to the rear of his pup trailer, then to my front tow hooks. Now chained together as one, we cannot go anywhere. The water washing out the roadbed slacked off, and the rain slowed down to a fine mist.
What do we do now? We cannot go ahead, and we cannot back up. We are chained together like slaves. Mel just started laughing, lit up a cigar, told us that he will see us in the morning, climbed up into his truck, and flaked out, with not a worry in the world.
It was about 06:30 am when a road grader and a bulldozer came along to start work. They wanted across the river. Mel said, be my guest, but you will have to drag us out of the way first, if you want to cross. The operators were good about it, and saw the humour of the situation. They had us out in no time, but the dozer had to rework the roadbed before the grader could carry on. When we got up to the road, we noticed that across the river, the Volkswagen Bug was gone. He must have figured that we just might still be mad enough, and throw him in the river anyway. From there, back to Hamilton was no problem, but as usual, they wanted more loads moved right away. Isn’t it wonderful, this world of trucking?
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Around the very early 50’s, Stan Hewitt, was a supervisor at the AUTOLITE, factory in Sarnia, Ontario. A deal came up, where they needed a load to go to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Stan had a friend with a truck, or he rented one, I really do not know for sure. Anyway, he made the arrangements and the load was on its way.
Eventually, he saw the potential in this trucking business. After much researching, he collaborated with a Winnipeg connection, a Mr. Armstrong. It gave him a Manitoba address. He started running from Sarnia to Winnipeg, via the USA. Autolite was his first and main customer.
Thus was the beginning of A&H Express Lines. (Armstrong & Hewitt) Officially, it was Sarnia, that was head office, but operated as a Winnipeg Co.
He started out with a couple REO, V8 GOLD COMET’S, gas jobs, (single axle tractors.) Then up to REO V8 Cab over, (two story cracker boxes.) The damn things would run 70 mph. That was a real hot rod for the 1950’s.
He picked up a lot of freight in and around Sarnia, such as Polymer, Imperial Oil, and others. It included all kinds of LTL freight. He was expanding fast. His first warehouse, (terminal) was a tiny, two pumps, and closed gas station, in the downtown area. Back a trailer up to the door and you blocked most of the intersection.
Ontario, at that time, had no reciprocity with anyone. If you wanted access to any state or other province, you had to have a plate for each one. The reason for the partner in Winnipeg was to have an address in Manitoba. The plate was a different colour than the resident plate, but having it, you could bluff your way through many states, claiming Manitoba Resident. All trucking outfits started out as gypsies, whether they want to admit it or not. Those were exiting , and nerve-racking times.
Later on, Stan hooked up with a Mr. Manning, of Edmonton, Alberta, doing the same thing, creating H&M Transport, (Hewitt & Manning) and using the Alberta plate as a resident, giving them full reciprocity with most of the states. Manitoba and Alberta at that time had about the best reciprocity agreements with the states. Their running rights were better than any other province. Both company’s nameplates had the same round logo style, for a functional reason. -------------- I will not mention why.
The next trucks they had purchased were a couple of single axle Diamond - T’s. The gas REO’s they had were a factory yellow in colour. They needed an input of money to expand. A Mr. SMITH (cannot remember his first name.) Bought a new Diamond T, with an eight speed Roadranger, & a J T model, Cummins Diesel, rated around 165 HP. It had a factory sleeper. A couple more Diamond T’s came along, with a 220 Cummins, 2 speed axles and factory sleepers. The one J T was Smitties investment in the company.
He then started to take on a few brokers. They had an old, L J Mack, 26 White, and even an older GMC conventional. Things were on a roll.
The Lockey brothers had an old Mack, and went to the Hayes dealer in Winnipeg to deal, and upgrade, at Thieson, Hayes. They selected all black in colour. Thieson suggested adding a white colour for the roof top, along with a white stripe around the centre of the cab, making it look better, which it did?
NOTE, --- D.S. SCOTT, if I remember right, had the same colour scheme, except they had a small band of green around the centre, as well as white. That was the difference, between D.S. SCOTT and A&H.
The others were getting a little jealous of the Lockey Brothers; they had a new tandem tractor. Also with the extra axle, they were getting more money for the same trip. Therefore, as it would be, they one by one, went over to Thieson’s and ordered new trucks. All wanted the black and white theme. That is where the fleet colours came from.
The work came hot and heavy; you could not buy a day off. The trucks were all teams. About the 25th of the month, my partner and I loaded out for the fifth trip that month. Les was having lunch with a couple of Midland-Superior drivers at the time. In addition, they told him that they did not believe him, about the fifth trip in one month. (Edmonton to Ontario) I came in and Les asked me what trip we were leaving on, and when I said the fifth, the Midland drivers almost crapped out. Do not forget this was in 1958, and there were no turnpikes, just old and narrow roads, passing through every town on the map.
It got so bad, what with switching at both ends; you could be in the bunk, go into the terminal, be heading back out and not even wake up. You were on another trip whether you liked it or not. After time, you could start a fight with your partner, over some stupid little remark. A couple of the drivers never did get over it. We ran 22 straight trips from Ontario to Alberta, without any time off.
Well it was turning into insanity, and it blew up in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. We used to fuel up at the CO-OP, in town. This day, there were 3 trucks that hit there at the same time. One thing led to another, and we had enough. One of the drivers knew a farmer just outside of town. We also knew that the resident company squealer was only a couple hours behind. We left a message at the CO-OP for the Squealer to hurry, and catch up. In the meantime, our 3 trucks were out on the farm. One inside the barn, and the other two, parked around back. --------- LET THE PARTY BEGIN.
A day and a half later, we were out of money, flat broke. Therefore, when all the steam had blown off, we sent Stan a telegram, saying only, OLD MONEY ALL GONE, SEND NEW. In the meantime, our company squealer was going like a mad man ahead of us trying to catch up. Stan's blood pressure went to the moon and he was upset. The missing trucks were driving him crazy. Well eventually, he did send new money and we all ran like mad idiots again. By the time we got back to Sarnia, all of our antics were forgotten. (He had a grin from ear to ear).
Well it was turning into insanity, and it blew up in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. We used to fuel up at the CO-OP, in town. This day, there were 3 trucks that hit there at the same time. One thing led to another, and we had enough. One of the drivers knew a farmer just outside of town. We also knew that the resident company squealer was only a couple hours behind. We left a message at the CO-OP for the Squealer to hurry, and catch up. In the meantime, our 3 trucks were out on the farm. One inside the barn, and the other two, parked around back. --------- LET THE PARTY BEGIN.
A day and a half later, we were out of money, flat broke. Therefore, when all the steam had blown off, we sent Stan a telegram, saying only, OLD MONEY ALL GONE, SEND NEW. In the meantime, our company squealer was going like a mad man ahead of us trying to catch up. Stan's blood pressure went to the moon and he was upset. The missing trucks were driving him crazy. Well eventually, he did send new money and we all ran like mad idiots again. By the time we got back to Sarnia, all of our antics were forgotten. (He had a grin from ear to ear).
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During this period, I had a very embarrassing trip. It was an extremely busy year. You had to fight for a day off, and the only real way, was to get someone to run a trip for you. Well this time you could not even buy a driver. There were none available. This particular company was an all 2-driver operation. My partner at the time was BILL G. he was also the proud owner of this sleek new cab over HAYES tractor. He was also hungry for the miles. He wanted to get it paid off as soon as possible. At this time, we were on about the sixth or seventh trip in a row, (from Alberta to Ontario) without a day off.
My girlfriend was upset with me, for not being around enough. I told her that I would phone on Sunday morning from wherever I was at the time. Well it was in the first part of October, and was pretty dark and frosty at 6:00am, local time. It was an hour later at home.
I was just motoring along US # 2 Highway, about 30 to 40 miles west of Duluth Minnesota. It was a barren stretch, with no villages or population of any sort. I was looking for a place to make my phone call. Finally, I came up to a closed down garage on the south side of the road. At the corner of the lot was a phone booth. I was desperately hoping that it would be working. I pulled off, and jumped out and tried it. GREAT, it was working. I made my call, and she was upset with me, and telling me that I did not love her, that if I did, I would be with her now. When I finished, and heading over to the truck, (in deep thought) I jumped in and took off.
I was just flying down the road like a maniac. About 20 minutes later, the first set of headlights came barrelling up behind me. The first car I had seen in 4 hrs. All of a sudden, the lights were flashing on and off, and a siren started wailing. What in hell did I do now? I pulled over onto the shoulder, and the cop was running up to me, yelling, Where is your partner? I said he was sleeping in the bunk. He then said, get him up, I want to see him. OK, OK, don’t get your ba--s in an uproar. I climbed up into the cab and yelled at Bill G. to get up. He did not answer, so I pulled up the curtain, and the bunk was empty. Well I guess the look on my face was a sight of horror. It was then that the trooper started laughing like hell and could not stop.
It seems that a couple of State Troopers were cruising down old # 2 on an early Sunday morning, not expecting anything out in nowhere, when they came across, what they thought, was a pervert standing on the side of a deserted highway, dressed only in a pair of jockey shorts and cowboy boots. He was cold and shivering, and had no ID. of any kind.( except for a tattoo) They threw him in the cruiser and was about to take him in, when he finally convinced them that he was a team driver. When he woke up, he had to get out and relieve himself. He slipped on his boots, and jumped down closing the door behind him, then went around the back of the trailer, to do his thing. He was completely out of sight when I finished my phone call. I pulled away, leaving him standing there (in the middle of nowhere) doing his thing.
The cops finally gave in and called for another, to look for and stop an eastbound speeding truck. When they caught me and told me what happened, I wheeled around and headed back to pick up my lost partner. After I picked him up and for another day or so, the conversation between us was limited.
Why it happened, he broke an unwritten law. --- When running two drivers, and one climbs out of the bunk for any reason, or amount of time, you leave the curtain open. When I climbed back into the cab, I could not have missed seeing an open curtain, thus knowing he was out of the truck.
Whenever we went out for a beer with the boys, that embarrassing incident seemed to, always creep into the conversation.
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Normally, they would be loaded in a folded, and salted dry state, tied into neat square bundles and tagged individually. At that time, the Russians had sent in a ship to the docks in Montreal, to pick up a shipload of hides for export. At the time, they were trying to get this load down east before the deadline. So when we showed up for the load, it was in such a rush that it was loaded GREEN. This means, they were removed from the animals back, within the hour. (Producing and loading directly) The hides were still draining, slop & blood and were not even salted. (That is what they mean by green hides.)
It was in the middle of August and the temperature on the prairies was in the 90's. The hides had to be loaded for axle weight, for going through the United States. We had no sliding axles at that time, so the load had to be shifted by hand, and then run over a scale until it came out correct. We started across the parries, (2 drivers running double) in the extreme heat. About 3 or 4 hrs down the line, there was a car tailgating our trailer. Without a cloud in the sky for over 100 miles, I could see in my mirrors that he was running with the windshield wipers on, and starting to swerve a little erratically. He quickly pulled off and I went down the road for about another 5 or 6 mi. then pulled over also. My curiosity was getting the best of me. I was a little, but not totally surprised, that the blood and liquid crap was running out of the back doors. I had to run for my life, so it seemed; it was not only draining liquid, but also at the same time, devoured by a MILLION (or more) horse flies. The biggest swarm, I had ever seen. I jumped back into the cab, closing the window and taking off down the road, trying to out run the flies. Remember, in the 50,s air conditioning did not exist. It was well over 100 F. in the cab.
We crossed over into the United States, at Noyes, Minnesota. Having the load sealed in bond on the Canadian side first. With the flies catching up and attacking the customs officers, they promptly told us to get the hell out of there. A day later, we were traveling the US highway route # 2, east bound. We came around the corner at Powers Michigan scale shack. They were open for business, and they loved nothing better than to nail the Canadians for any fines that they could scrape up. Well I pulled ahead onto the scale and weighed the steering axle, then pulled the drive axle on; he stopped me there, and called me inside. He showed me that I was 2,000 lbs to heavy on the front axle. In the meantime, a herd of horse flies caught up to the load. Being on the scale and the shack window wide open, with crap still dripping out all over the place, he said, he would give us a break, if we could move the freight back to a legal position, he would let us go. He also knew that we did not have any sliders and that the load was customs sealed in bond, and could not enter the trailer.
With the load being so greasy, and slippery, that when we made a panic stop, the load slid forward, and made our weight illegal. I pulled off the scale and drove like hell in reverse, then slammed on the brakes, slowly shifting the load back again. Then pull back on the scale for a reweigh. After dripping all over the scale and reweighing 3 times, to which I was almost legal again. The stink and the flies were attaching the shack and the scale man so badly, that he chased us out of there and in no uncertain terms, told us what he thought of us, and would be looking forward to an excuse to throw us in jail at a future undisclosed date. So away we went, followed again, by the biggest herd of flies I had ever seen. The Canadian customs at Sarnia, Ontario, gave us the fastest clearance I ever had. I have never seen a government man move that fast in my life. The next few weeks, I made sure that it was my turn in the bunk and out of sight, when we went over the Powers, Michigan scale.
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Another incident involved loads from the west to Yellow Springs, Ohio. At the time, Ohio and Ontario had a hatred for each other. (Trucking wise) Ont. would not let them in. Any loads for say, Toronto, had to be dropped at the border and trucked in by a Canadian. Usually Mc Kinley Transport, or buy a full set of Ontario license plates. I was swinging as a relief driver at the time. I went to Yellow Springs on 3 different trucks, on 3 different trips, (near the Kentucky border). I always got the load off, OK. When heading back north to Michigan, and within ½ to ¼ mile of the state line, the state troopers were on my ass, on all 3 trips. Needless to say, we were always escorted back to Bowling Green scale & jail, and for some reason, (I can’t understand why? ) they always put me in jail, and told my partner, that I was going to jail, and he was going to go and get money to get me out of jail. That includes enough money to equip the truck with a full set of Ohio plates. (They were wise to the non-resident Manitoba plate.) In a couple months I had run 3 trips, in 3 trucks, and went to jail 3 times, and bought 3 sets of plates. The final trip, (3rd) I screwed them good. A little revenge you might say, but that is another story.
During this period, Stan had ambitions, about being coast to coast. He tied in with another person, in Vancouver, British Columbia, creating another outfit, calling it TORVAN. (Toronto-Vancouver). It did not survive for to long. He was using all owner/operators. The last one I met was at our fuel stop, at Brule Wisconsin. He was bob tailing home from Vancouver, with four flat tires chained down on the rear frame.
The final name, MEXICANA, was apparently, the only license from Canada to Mexico at the time. Stan used to hire American owner/operators (gypsies) at Port Huron, Michigan. He would bring their trailers across the bridge into Sarnia, Canada, and load them with synthetic rubber from Polymer corp. They would then take it down into the Mexican compound, and transfer to Mexican trucks. Used to have lunch with the odd one, but never really got involved.
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Every, now and then, someone does not make it home. Unfortunately, in this case there were five.
We had just fuelled up and left Devils Lake, North Dakota, west bound on US # 2 Highway, for Calgary, Alberta. Running along just ahead of me, was another Canadian truck.
There were many bridges across the old highways that were too narrow for the newer sized trucks. In the 1950's, the trucks had to move over the white line and run in the centre of the bridge, because of trailer clearance. As shown by my Hayes stopped on the bridge.
The truck ahead of me made the curve and entered the centre of the bridge. Unfortunately, a carload of young service men from the local base approached the bridge in the same manner in the oncoming direction. As the truck came off the bridge, they collided. The resulting PHOTOS are self-explanatory.
As in the 1950's, today is no exception. You have to be vigilant, and have foresight, at all times.
Many really wild and exciting things happened during my stay there. It could only happen in the 50’s. Things that today could not happen. I would not trade my era for any other time, when it comes to trucking.
Many years after I left, Stan became ill. His doctor ordered him to slow down. He eventually sold out to Brazau Transport, from Quebec. All Stan’s named companies never had any running rights through northern Ontario. All exits were through the US side. When Brazau took over, they had the license to run the northern Ontario Route. They also switched over to using doubles to the west. Brazau eventually disappeared from sight.
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After leaving A & H transport, I just gypsy'd around for a while, not really having any idea as to what to do next, when I found myself broke again and out of a job in Edmonton, Alberta. Not having any traveling money I headed over to Trans Canada Highway Express hoping to catch a ride back east to search for a job.
One owner/operator in particular had 5 complete outfits (tractors & trailers) but only had 4 drivers. His name was Chuck Dorland, and I was directed over to talk to him. I told him what I had in mind about job hunting back east, and looking for a ride. He gave me a set of keys to an old Hayes cab over, and told me to hook up to a particular trailer and back it into the dock, while he set up a ride for me. OK, I'll do it for you. I got the old girl going, hooked up and proceeded to back it in. The dock and yard were one weird place, there was only one open space and to jockey into it took two men, myself and another standing out in front of the truck to direct the jackknifing into the spot. The approach was less space than the length of the rig. I had to jackknife back and forth watching my guide so as not to hit the trucks beside me on my blind side. Jockeying back and forth about 10/12 times, I finally squeezed in, without scratching any paint, and a thumbs up from my guide. Even in the cool weather, I was sweating up a storm, soaked from cranking the manual standard steering. No power on anything in the 1950's.
Unbeknownst to me, Chuck was watching all this trucking from the sideline. When I asked if a ride was secured, he said definitely, keep the keys, finish loading and you are on your way. OK who is the driver I'm going with? You are. You're working for me now. There are not too many drivers around that can get the trailer in here without damage. One of us usually has to spot it for outside drivers. You have been tested, now finish loading. OK and thanks, I said.
Great, now what is the procedure here? Chuck explained that we do all our own loading. First you go into town and pick up your base load. Usually around 10,000 lbs. Then return here for the balance of the load. LTL off the dock and that is picking and choosing the gravy rates. LTL portion is where the real money is. You will never leave without a minimum of 5 to 6, 000 dollars. (One way) NOTE ... At that time diesel fuel was about 23 cents an imperial gallon, almost 5 litres, or 5 American quarts.
I was now getting into the swing of things. Loading by hand, stacking freight so as not to damage. (You did it right or had to pay your own claims. No such things as palettes) It usually took 2 days to get the load on with all the picking and choosing. Your call to load was posted on the board. First in, first up, unless someone ahead of you booked off. If he returned before your loading, he was still ahead of you. No questions asked. You may have to sit 2 or 3 days waiting your turn. Usually you checked before noon and then spent the rest of the day drinking in the hotel lounge. (And we all know what happens there. You truck more miles in the bar than on the road.)
Christmas was only a trip away. (You average 2 rounds a month at between 5, 000 to 6,000 miles a trip.) Chuck was looking for someone to run a trip over Christmas and wasn't having much luck. All his drivers were married and said no way. I was then approached and asked. I said why? Well it is a government hot load. I had no ties with anyone, family or friends. I said that I would do it for him with one condition. What is it? He asked. I will run the load with the condition that where ever I was on New Years Eve that I would park the truck for 30 hours. Why? I give you Christmas; you give me my New Years drunken party. I want to park in the afternoon, get a room, party at night and have at least 12 hours to recoup. Chuck agreed and said OK, you have a deal.
It was Christmas Eve, about 4:30 pm when we all finished up loading. 5 of us all headed over to the hotel for some Christmas cheer. The other driver's wives had been shopping and finally met us for drinks. We all sat around toasting the season as well as anything else we could think of.
It was about 7:00 pm that we broke up and left the hotel. Wishing all the best to each other, we separated and went our own ways. The others went home or to a friends place, while I climbed into the truck and headed for Toronto.
I didn't even realize that I had not eaten since breakfast. I thought that once I got out of town and about an hour down the road, I would pull into a restaurant and have a good meal. No such luck, everything was closed and all I could do was to keep going. By now it was well after dark and the temperature was well below the -20 below F. It was an old 220 Cummins and a ten speed Roadranger. There was no winter front or automatic fan. The fan ran constant and the temperature inside wasn't much better than outside, the heater wasn't putting out much more than a lukewarm draft. I headed to Lloydminster, hoping that the Husky Truck Stop was open. On the old road it was about a 4 hour run. By 10:00 pm I could not stay awake. I was really getting hungry now. I pulled over and remembered that Chuck gave us a bottle of whisky for Christmas. I dug into my bag and pulled it out. I had no mix, or anything else, so I took 3 good slugs straight, and then hit the bunk.
Even with the engine turning up 1200 RPM, there was no heat. I awoke almost freezing. I had to scrape the frost off the inside of the windshield to see out. Hungry as hell with no food, I took a couple more good slugs of whisky. (Trying to warm up) I finally got rolling again and took about an hour to make it into the Husky. I arrived to read a sign on the locked door that they were closed for Christmas. After a few minutes of swearing along with a couple more slugs of rye, I pulled out and motored on again. It was just breaking light on Christmas morning.
It was hours and hours, it seemed that there was not a living soul left on the planet. I made my way down to Saskatoon. Driving around town in a tractor trailer really is not the thing to be doing. Discouraged, there was nothing open, not even a gas station. I headed out of town after a couple wasted hours, pulled over for an hours sleep, tying to ward off the hunger pains. A couple more swigs and into the bunk. It was hard to believe, that as good a whisky man that I was, I was now getting sick of the stuff. There were only a couple ounces left, so I threw the part bottle away. I had enough. I want food.
My next stop would be Regina, Saskatchewan. The Husky there never closes. I will be able to fuel & eat. It was about 6:00 pm Christmas night that I pulled in to the Husky Truck Stop. I went directly to the pumps and fuelled up, and dumped some methyl hydrate in with the fuel. It was expected to be way below zero this night, and on the prairies there is no wind block. I parked, went inside, paid my bill, and then headed into the restaurant. The door was locked and lights out. What the hell is going on here? The fuel attendant said they were closed because they could not get anyone to work. It was the first time since opening that the restaurant was closed. He said that the cook did up a big hock of ham and some fresh loaves of bread for any driver looking for a meal. I went to the table and saw the biggest bare ham bone I had ever seen, along with a small piece of crust from the bread, and it was dried out. I could have cried. It is now 35 hours since eating breakfast the day before.
What now? I suddenly remembered that a driver that I used to run with had a son that I new fairly well. He was supposed to have moved to Regina about a year ago to get away from his family & relatives. I took to the city phone book on a slim chance of finding him. I hit the jackpot, and called Dave D. He was home and had his friends in for Christmas dinner. I apologized for the interruption, but was wondering if I could grab a taxi and pick up a sandwich or something, and that I was passing through and no food was available anywhere. I was told to stay put and wait. In 15 minutes Dave pulled up and told me to get in the car. He then whisked me to his house and brought me in. I really felt out of place, being filthy dirty and in work cloths, while everyone was dressed semi formal. Nothing would have it, but I was dragged to the table (it did not take that much to drag me) and was waited on hand and foot by all the ladies, while the men brought me drinks. (Milk, coffee and water) I turned down the whisky, as I'd had enough of that stuff for quite a while.
The feast went on for about an hour, and I had to get going. Dave and his wife tried to get me to stay over but that was impossible with this load. Dave drove me back to the truck, wished me luck and I was on my way. I ate so much that I thought that I would explode. I went from one extreme to another, from starvation to bloatation.
It was about a 3 - 4 hour run to Moosomin, Saskatchewan, where my next usual rest stop was, a restaurant that 2 ladies owned and were open 24 hours. The traffic was totally dead and I was alone on the road. I pulled onto the property and like everywhere else, was closed. I was still full from the feast, but was looking forward to a coffee. The temperature was way below zero and the inside of the cab didn't feel much warmer. I got out and walked around the truck kicking the tires. The front door opened and the old girls called me inside. The only lights were the massive Christmas tree that almost flooded the place. They set down a coffee and said that they were just open to any trucker passing through, knowing that Regina's restaurant was closed. They immediately started bringing out a full coarse turkey diner, free. I was already still full, but after the way they offered to stay for any truckers, I ate for the second time in 4 hours. And I mean ate, having a real hard time getting it down, finally passing on the Christmas pudding. Man talk about being full. I just did not have the heart to turn it down after all the trouble they went through to look after the drivers. Apparently I was the first one, in the past 6 hours.
After practically crawling out on my hands and knees, we wished each other season's greetings, and I drove away thinking that there really is a Santa Claus. Just before the edge of town was the scale shack (closed) I just couldn't cut it anymore. I pulled in and slept like a log.
A few hours went by and I carried on down the road. By daylight (Boxing Day) all the usual stops were open again, and I was getting back into the swing of things. From there all the way to Toronto it was one continuous blizzard.
I made Toronto on time, unloaded and went straight to the hotel to get a room and a shower, along with some well deserved sleep time. In the meantime Chuck Dorland had called Toronto and had set up a return load. I was back at it the next morning. They had brought my base load into the warehouse. I loaded it on and topped off with LTL, all in the same day. I was on my way by noon. It was a real treat.
I headed out of town about 60 miles and slept until after dark. I got up and ran all night to Cochran, Ontario, fuelled up ate and took off again. I ran steady for the next 9 hours arriving at Beardmore, Ontario around 6:00 pm. on New Years Eve.
NOTE; There were no log books in Canada at that time. You ran till you could not go another mile, flake out for a few hours then at it again.
You could pass through town from one end to the other in about 4 minutes, but they did have a hotel, and served beer. This is where I took my end of the bargain, and parked the truck for the next 24 to 30 hours.
After cleaning up, I went downstairs, ate and then headed into the bar. It was about 8:00 pm and the place was jumping already. A whole herd of lumber jacks came in from the bush camps with their girlfriends, or someone else's. It did not seem to matter. The party was a roaring success. The doors were closed officially at 11:00 pm but they hung in there till after midnight and the New Year. Finally getting thrown out, the crowd broke up and headed to various houses to carry on with the party. I ended up with a group that was only a couple doors away from the hotel. I ate, drank and partied till dawn. I crawled back to my hotel room where I lay till after supper, before being able to move under my own power again. The party stop was a complete success, except for the 2 day migraine that I just could not shake off.
I made it back to Edmonton in one piece, and everything was fine except for one idiot in management who told me that I could have been here a day earlier, and wanted to know why. I promptly gave him the bullshit sign and walked away, saying Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you to fella .
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The East coast portion was from Ontario to the Maritime Provinces on the Atlantic coast. The company was using all Owner/Operators. Jack Snape was the largest operator in that division. He had five of his own trucks, while the other six or seven were independently, owned and operated. The fact that his wife was the branch manager, presented a bit of friction among the other Operators.
The company approached Jack with an offer to purchase the East division. He owned and controlled most of the equipment anyway. The deal went through and Jack took it over.
The first thing he did was to change the name and present new colours for the company. The name changed from Trans Canada Highway Express to J.C. Snape, Maritime Ontario Express Lines. The colour he chose was a medium blue, with a white stripe as trim.
He was looking to replace a driver that ran away to get married, and when I showed up on his doorstep, there was no hesitation on hiring a past, Trans Canada Driver. The road test was to hook up to a reefer trailer in the yard, fire up the reefer and then spot it into a door that was so awkward that if it had another coat of paint on the trailer, there would not be enough room to get it in. Fortunately, I impressed him enough with my one shot at the dock that he said to load up and be ready to head out. I had the job.
I had been down East a couple of times a few years earlier by car, to visit a friend in the service. Truck wise this was my first trip down that way on the Canadian side, through Quebec. There were no expressways, and it was all old narrow roads. Sometimes the road would pass between a farmer's front porch and his barn. It was a completely new ballgame for me, altogether different from the Rocky Mountains and the sprawling prairies.
When the trailers were loaded, John M. was heading out at the same time as I was. He became my guiding light, and I stuck to him like a magnet. He was from Nova Scotia, and was French Acadian, fluent in English and French with no accent in either. I had not had any experience trucking through Quebec, and had no knowledge of the language. John and I ran countless trips together and he had me speaking enough French to get along on my own.
There were no logbooks in Canada in those days. You loaded and unloaded your own freight, no pallets, and rare to come across a lift truck at a delivery point. You slugged freight and ran until you could not go another inch, then flaked out for a few hours then carried on again.
The road in New Brunswick, (north of Fredericton) ran along side of the St John River. It was hilly, narrow, and with bad twists and turns. Bill K was driving a conventional Autocar day cab. (No sleeper) He was heading for his first drop at Fredericton NB. About 10, or twelve miles north of town he broke over a hill and was getting it rolling down the other side. There was a hidden entrance to the highway about half way down. The downhill was a cut through the bank, and there were no shoulders to use in any emergency. Just as he was approaching the hidden intersection, a small pickup truck pulled out in front of him with no warning. Having no space to manoeuvre in, Bill gave it a hard crank to the left, to avoid the p/u. The bank in front of him was about eight or nine feet high, he ramped up the bank and flew into the air, nose-diving right into a small bungalow home. The tractor crashed through the living room wall, taking the whole house three feet back off its foundation, and coming to a stop across the other side of the room. Also in the process, hitting the iron wood stove and exploding it into pieces. The woman in the kitchen found herself outside on the ground in a daze. (Amazingly, not seriously hurt) the kids had just moments earlier, left for school. When all the dust settled, Bill found himself upside down, in the tractor, with his head on the floor and his feet out the window. The tractor and the reefer on the nose of the trailer were completely in the living room. It was a miracle that Bill or anyone else was not seriously hurt. The p/u driver was charged. Since then, after the repairs, the truck became my exclusive use. It was the same rig that I was locked into, by (what he thought) was a Good Samaritan and damn near froze.
At that time, the weight laws in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were pretty well on, just the gross vehicle weight. Nova Scotia, on the other hand was on the axle weight system.
I had to sit over the weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Monday morning at 07:00 was my loading time at the fish plant in Lunenburg. I got the load on OK, and took off. There was a construction company down the road about 20mi. I pulled in and got them to check my weight. I was under on my gross by a few hundred pounds. Unfortunately, I was too heavy on my trailer tandems, for this province. There was a restaurant down the line, a couple miles before the scales. I was due for some lunch anyway, so I motored on.
I got to the restaurant, and parked out front on the lot. There were no sliders, on both the tractor and the trailer. Any weight adjustment would have to be rearranged, by getting inside the trailer and moving freight by hand, from the middle of the load to the nose of the trailer. The cases of fish were about 50lbs. each. I had to drag six cases to the nose of the trailer on my stomach with only about 20" to 24" clearance, between the load and the roof of the trailer. The reefer unit was blowing 0 dg. F. and it was very dark.
I opened the rear trailer door, and with some difficulty climbed up the hinges to the top of the load, then crawled forward to move the freight. I was crawling and pushing the last case forward, when all of a sudden, I heard a bang, and everything went black. The reefer was still blowing freezing air on me and it was damned cold. I crawled back to the door and found it locked; it could only be opened from the outside, can you blame me, for starting to panic somewhat?
The trailer, insulated with cork, about 8" of it was practically sound proof. Its use is mostly for loads of ice cream, which made it practically sound proof as well. I spent about 20 minutes kicking at the door with no response. Finally, someone was walking past the rear doors, and heard my banging. He opened the door and I dropped down about 9 feet to the ground. I was almost ready to kill the first one I met. Fortunately, I was so cold I could hardly move. I thought later, that I could have hammered my savior. After I recuperated, (3 hot coffees) A guy in the booth apologized, and said he had seen the door open with no one around. He thought he was doing a driver a favour, and closed the door. He then checked in the restaurant, for the driver, but no one had seen me yet, so he sat down and ate lunch.
Eventually, I got out of there and headed for the scales. Wouldn't you know it? A local logging truck, (real clunker) broke down, right on the scale. They could not get him moved, and they waved me on.
In the next year or so, other things happened, such as the time that three of us had been booked in to load frozen fish at Lunenburg NS. Our office and small yard was in Halifax. It was about an hours drive down to Lunenburg, on the old coast road, providing the weather was clear. The fish plant had only one door for shipping at that time. No mater how many trucks went down for a load, it was first come, first served. If you were last, it could be all day before you get loaded and away. It was in the dead of winter, when the three of us took off for our loads. As you might expect, it turned into a race, to get loaded first and be at least ½ day ahead of the other two. It was cold that morning, just highballing down that old twisty coast road. Les got up front and stepped on it. He was going to load first and that was that. The wind was blowing onto shore and the waves were crashing up and onto the highway. Soon as the water hit the road, it would freeze into a coat of black ice. Les was so involved with his racing that he came onto a real tight curve coated with ice. The steering control was lost, and he sailed strait ahead, and out into the ocean. The vision was fantastic, water spraying like a PT boat, in hot pursuit. The whole rig was in the ocean. Fortunately, the parking spot in the bay was only about six feet deep.
Quite a sight, seeing a truck parked in the ocean and the driver wearing a winter parka looking at us out of the window. The water was up to the steering wheel and he had to Open the door and step out and start swimming for shore. We got him into a heated truck, and once over the shock, he started saying, DID YOU SEE THAT? MAN THAT WAS SOME TRIP. A lot of stories and razzing came out of that incident. One was, that once they got the truck back on the road again, every time it started up, pollywogs and seaweed would fly out of the stack. Every time we went out for a beer, the subject of his misfortune came up to the embarrassment of Les.
During the spring thaw in New Brunswick, you are only limited to a certain weight. It is referring to, the half load season. At this particular time, the office in Toronto assured all the drivers that the load ban would be finished by the time they got to the New Brunswick border, (WRONG & SURPRISE!) not so. When leaving on Saturday morning for Monday delivery, and because of the ban in Quebec not allowing commercial trucks to run on Sunday, we used to cross over into the USA at Cornwall, Ontario (just before the Quebec border) and travel to the state of Maine, crossing over, back into Canada at Calais Maine & St. Stephen New Brunswick. That way, we bypassed Quebec altogether.
With the ban unexpectedly extended, the trucks started to pile up at the border. With the scales open 24/7, you dare not go.
After sitting around for 4 1/2 days, and going broke, one driver waited until after midnight and had a local friend guide him around the scales on the back roads. He got a little to close to the shoulder; the truck sucked into the ditch, could not pull out. The mud was not too bad until he came onto an outcrop of rock, which did not give, and laid him over in slow motion. Needless to say, the proverbial sh** hit the fan.
Anyway, there is a whole story to this, including a good guy, and a bad guy troublemaker, of which I will put down on paper (?) sometime in the future. It is hard to believe, but this old farmer brought timbers and set everything up for lifting. It was only a little two ton truck. We thought that it would be a real joke. The joke was on us, --- He had a 5-speed transmission hooked up to his winch. We transferred the frozen load to another trailer, and then he anchored to a tree. He was winching so slow you could hardly see it move. His truck started to lift off the ground from the tension, and he pulled out the tree to where he anchored. After breaking the end off his boom, he took off to his barn, welded a new pulley onto his boom again, and was right back. This time he tied down to 3 trees, and started again.
In slow motion, he picked up the whole unit and stood it on its wheels. He then re-anchored and again in slow motion he pulled the whole unit out of the swamp and stopped in the middle of the road, perfectly.
I really could not believe that the total bill came to an astonishing, $125. The total damage to the truck was $12 to repaint some scratches on the driver’s door. The window was open at the time and the mirror just swivelled into the cab, pushed back out and not even a scratch. --- Would you get that kind of quality service today?
There was a hotel in Halifax that was a standard watering hole for truckers that had to lie over. It was down town and near the docks, and it was, THE BEAVER LODGE HOTEL.
The trucks could not load on Sundays, and lying around was boring at times. Nova Scotia said that if you ate in an establishment with a dining room, you could be, served with beer or wine. So about six to eight of us laying over would go into the dinning room, order one plain cheese sandwich, leave it in the middle of the table (to be legal) and drink quarts of beer till we were thrown out at closing time. The sandwich cost 50 cents divided by the number of drivers attending. Of course, we always drank legally on Sundays, with our required meal on the table. By closing time, the sandwich had dried out so much that the bread had curled on all the edges.
This one week end in particular. On Saturday, it was the final closing. The hotel would close its doors forever. As it came to the closing time, they went and locked the doors and gave us free beer until way into the early hours. Therefore, if you are closing shop for good, this is the way to say thanks and goodbye to your steady customers.
One last incident for this article, I went to the Clarks Harbour area, at the bottom end of the province for a load of fish. Just off shore, was a little Island, where the small fish plant was located? The roadway was all stones, like driving through a gravel pit. It was just a narrow trail out to the island. I did not pay to much attention to it. Water on both sides with about eight or nine feet of roadway width being out of the water, and about ½ a foot above the water line. It was a one-way trip until I got out to the fish plant.
There were three people out there waiting to load me. I was beat by this time and was going to flake out as soon as I was loaded, and had the paperwork. The loading was finished in super fast time, and then they jumped in their p/u truck and took off. I pulled away from the building, parked, and was alone on the Island now. I figured this is a nice quiet place for a few hours sleep.
Sometime later, a banging on the door woke me up. There was a person standing in a small rowboat beside my truck. He asked if I had planed to stay here until tomorrow before leaving. I said hell no, why? I finally realized that he was standing in a boat and the water was up to my wheels. What is going on here? He said if I did not leave now the tide would be too deep for me to get off the island. Where is the roadway? I asked. Follow me and do not stray off course. I was right on his stern all the way. Once we got across, he started laughing, and told me of others, not knowing, having the same problem. You people from Upper Canada do not have a clue about the sea.
There were many things happening on that job. Notorious blizzards in the winter, horrendous floods in the spring, but as always, the Maritimers were a people who took everything in stride and never left you stuck. It was a great time while it lasted.
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At times while in Halifax, I would go down to the docks to deliver, or pick up a load from the ships. On a number of these excursions, I would be invited down to the mess for a free meal and beer while waiting for my load. I never turned down an offer such as that, ever. I would get talking to the crew and start to pick their brains on what it took to work on a ship. They would tell me about all the ports that they had been to, as well as all the trouble that they got into. It sounded good to me.
Every time I went down to the docks I would get involved in question and answers. I had always been fascinated with New Zealand. I even had their newspapers delivered to my home. They were about a month old by the time I got them. My interest was drawn to Dunedin, on the south island. I was not too interested in the tropics. The south Island had mountains and 4 seasons, such as Canada does.
During a free drinking session on the ship Rhinestien, I found out that once you had your deep seaman’s card, you could apply for a job on board, working your way to New Zealand, and be paid for your time. This really interested me, and got my imagination into gear.
I was ready to move on to greener pastures again. I was between trips in Toronto and I thought that I would check out the seaman’s card business. I traced it down to the Canadian Immigration office on Front Street, next to the Union Rail Road Station.
After getting all the paperwork together, birth certificate, police record, and passport photos, I went back to the office to complete the final procedure, finger printing and registering. When I left, I was the proud owner of an official Canada, Seaman’s Identity Certificate, #A39308. Now the world is mine, mine.
I ran one more trip to the Maritimes, and when I got back on a Saturday morning, there were a few guys hanging around the office wondering what to do next. I suggested a going away drink. In a flash, a couple bottles of whisky came out from nowhere, and the party began. At 12:00 noon the hotel’s beer rooms were officially open for business. Seeing that we had used up all the available alcohol that was on hand, we immediately moved our business to the local bar. It was quite a day. I haven’t had a hangover like that in years. I had two days to get my head screwed on again, as I had made arrangements to drive new trucks in a convoy to Vancouver. It was a one way trip with pay and all expenses. There would be six drivers in this convoy hauling new trucks for the British Columbia government. Each truck had two others piggy backed to themselves. The front wheels were removed, strapped to the frame behind the cab and then the front axel mounted up on a portable fifth wheel on the truck ahead of it.
The leader of our gang, Morris J. flew in from Vancouver to guide this convoy back to his dealership. He interviewed drivers at his hotel. In the end, it seemed that I was the only professional driver in the bunch. The others came from all walks of life. One in particular, Scott R. was an ex bartender coming from Bermuda to visit his sister in Vancouver. While waiting for our interview we struck up a conversation, and during the trip we got along pretty good.
After all the recruiting was finished, all of us were to meet in the hotel lobby the next morning. Upon arrival we were then transported over to Oshawa, picking up the trucks from the General Motors distribution terminal. As soon as I found out where we were going, I recognized it immediately as the same terminal that I had drove from about 10 years previous, on my trip to the Yukon.
They still set up the departure with all the trucks lined up, and pre-pointed directly for the exit gate. Finally we were on our way. It was a slow process, getting into position and then getting out of town. Fortunately we could head north directly, and not have to go back through Toronto.
Later in the afternoon, we had just past through Sudbury, and Morris was looking for a place to stop over for the night. There was a small old hotel on the North side of the highway. I just can’t remember if it was Lively or Whitefish. I think it was the latter. Anyway, we pulled into the lot in front of the hotel, and parked under the only street light on the whole property. They only had 6 or 7 rooms in the place. We checked in and grabbed a quick meal before heading to bed early. The owner said that he would open the kitchen early for us, at breakfast time, to help with an early start. We doubled up with 2 to a room, on single cots.
We were up early, and ready to eat by five o’clock. One of the drivers had to go out and get his shaving kit; he came flying through the front door screaming, thieves, thieves. He was really cranked up. We got him cooled down enough to find out what his problem was. Apparently when he was climbing up into his truck, he stepped on a steel band strap. It sliced through his shoe, and stopped just short of cutting into his foot. He pulled it out and started to look around. There was strapping beside every truck. Looking closer it showed fresh tire tracks, passing and stopping beside each truck. Some one during the night, and under the only street light on the property, cut all the steel bands holding down the mounted tires and rims, stole them, and then disappeared. There were two complete wheels per piggy backed unit stolen. There were 12 trucks without wheels, and they drove away with 24 completely mounted 10:00 X 20 new tires and rims worth a small fortune. The cops were called and they took all the particulars, but did not guarantee anything. They figured that they would be gone into the bush somewhere, and with all the hundreds of miles of bush roads and all the logging trucks using them, the chances of recovery were pretty remote. After losing hours dealing with the police we were finally on our way again. Minus a lot of wheels.
Well from there on things started to smooth out and everyone was getting used to their assigned equipment. Morris wanted me stay at the end of the line and bring up the rear. He figured that if anyone had problems, I would be able to help them out. Also being the only truly experienced driver, I would be his best security to keep the others from straying off. It suited me to a “T” anyway. I have always preferred to run alone, so I would drop back about 2 miles and just cruise along behind and out of sight.
We made it through the granite hills of Northern Ontario, and after crossing the prairies we were headed to the foothills of the Crows Nest route, #3. Up until this point we had not had a problem since the tire episode. It was the first time for all of us, except for our fearless leader, at crossing the Crows Nest Pass, and on to the west coast. Any trips that I made to Vancouver were through the American side, crossing back into Canada at Blaine, Washington. We stopped over at Fort Macleod, Alberta for the night and then headed into the mountains first thing in the morning.
Well we were on our way again and were acting more like tourists than truckers. We stopped many times to take some photos. We spent some time stopped at Frank, Alberta where Turtle Mountain had a landslide and buried the Town. There are boulders there bigger than apartment buildings. You really have to see it to understand the enormity of it all.
We were moving right along now and heading up into the pass, one of the drivers had experienced banging and pounding when starting away or stopping. In fast curves, it felt as if the loaded trucks were going to fly off. He was getting pretty nervous about the whole thing. He stopped just beyond Creston and waited for me to catch up. When I got there he wanted my opinion on whether it was safe enough to drive. I checked everything out visually, and then suggested that we switch trucks for a time. He jumped at the offer and looked like a ton of weight had been lifted off his shoulders. I told him to go ahead and wait for me at the summit of the Kootenay Pass. It really did not take too far to find out the problem. Sailing into a tight curve, I thought that I was going to lose everything. The truck on back was floating around like it had never been tied down. I pulled over and found that the kingpin had so much slop in it that it was, in my opinion totally unsafe. Everyone was waiting at the pass for me. I had a good talk with Morris and said that it was not safe to drive. After quite a heated discussion, I talked him into stopping at Castlegar for repairs. We made it there ok, and found a good welding shop. After a lengthily inspection of all the couplers on all of the trucks, it was found that all of them were worn out, and could come apart at anytime. A few calls to Vancouver had them notified of our repair downtime, delaying our arrival by a few days. This was estimated to take 3 or 4 days to complete.
After checking into the hotel and getting settled in for a long wait, I immediately headed for the bar. The downing of a few beers seemed the appropriate thing to be doing during all of this newly acquired spare time. Scott came in and sat with me, for a couple of drinks, and then we went to the dining room for supper. We had a few beers together 3 or 4 times on the trip. During one of the sittings he admitted to me that he was an alcoholic. He was in Bermuda for a number of years, working as a bartender. The summers were the worst when most of the tourists were gone. That’s when there was nothing to do but pour himself a drink, just to keep from getting bored to death. I didn’t really think too much of it at the time. When I left the bar, he would get up and leave too.
This went on for a couple of days. The work on the trucks, were moving right along, faster than expected. My truck was to be done last, and would be an extra day. Morris was all hot to get going, and asked if I would not mind staying alone and following behind a day later. He said that I was the only one here that could be trusted alone. I said OK, providing he paid the hotel bills in advance and left me with sufficient spending money, including a good size bar bill. He thought about it for a moment then started smiling in agreement.
They all left first thing in the morning. I headed over to the welding shop about 10:00 am to check on my truck. They told me it would be ready some time tonight, and I would be able to leave anytime after. Good, I headed back to the hotel for a few beers and some lunch.
There was a great looking receptionist in charge of the hotel desk. I figured I had nothing better to do, so I struck up a casual conversation with her. She had a real strong English accent and I was trying to find out where she hailed from. All afternoon, I would wander out from the bar and come up with some lame excuse to talk to her. Later in the day the local newspapers were out and a dozen or so were dropped onto the end of the counter to be sold. This time while promoting my benefits to her, I glanced down at the headlines on the paper; --- "The sons of freedom are being released from prison to day."
NOTE; they are a branch sect of the Doukhobor clan. The sons of freedom were at war with the Canadian, and provincial governments, and would parade en mass down the main streets of town nude, in protest. That was when they were not blowing up government property.
Well I stuck my foot in my mouth this time, all I said was I guess that these jokers are going to start blowing things up again…… WHEN BOOM, --- ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE, she just blew up and went totally ballistic. She started screaming at me about how come the government can have atomic bombs and we can’t. I went into immediate shock, I had no Idea what was going on. She kept screaming at me, now that the men were home they can’t wait to seek revenge against the government. All of a sudden things started flying all over the room, she grabbed anything that was not tied down and started throwing them at me. What now? I don’t hit women. Out of nowhere came a big hand and grabbed me by the arm and threw me out the door and into the bar lounge. The door slammed behind me, but was not heavy enough to block the noise coming in from the lobby. It was my regular waiter that got me out of there, and saved me from a possible painful death, or even something worse. He set a beer down in front of me and said that he had better clue me in before things really got out of hand.
First that young woman out there is not English. She is the daughter of the leader of the group. She had practiced the accent for a long time, just so she could move freely around the country. The others have a Russian accent, and are usually looked upon with suspicion.
There is one more problem we have to consider, those trucks you guys are driving, they are in the BC government colours, and will make a great target for someone with an axe to grind. The others have all left so no problem there. Your truck is still here, right? When will it be ready? When it is, I suggest you move it out after dark and leave quietly. I answered with…. that’s a good idea, I’m glad you thought of it. I gave up any notion of trying to make time with that wild woman, and proceeded to carry on with my beer drinking schedule.
The garage called, just before closing time and said that it was ready to roll. The bill had been taken care of and it was mine when I wanted it. I grabbed my bag and thanked the waiter for his advice. He said that he would look after closing the book on my room. I got in the truck and slipped out of town unnoticed. I drove on for about 50 miles or so and checked into a motel for the rest of the night. Finally I can sleep with both eyes closed.
I was up and on the move again at the crack of dawn. I was alone and did not waste any time getting down the road. I passed Bridesville and was in a continuous climb up the mountain. The road had just been rebuilt and resurfaced. It was as smooth as glass. It just seemed like I was never going to make it. It went on and on, finally I broke over the top; pulled over to the side of the road to let the engine cool down, and to relieve myself.
I sat there for about ½ an hour, and then started down the other side. I made the first curve, the grade dropped a bit but nothing to worry about; I was starting to roll pretty good now, coming around a sharp bend, I found my self staring into outer space. I could see for miles and miles, across the valley and into the next mountain range. The road dropped dramatically and I was about 2 gears to high. I got it down one but was going to fast to drop another. I had to use the brakes constantly. Still I could not get slow enough to drop another gear. I had the weight of 3 trucks sitting on 2 axles of brakes. I went around a couple switch backs too fast and scared the hell out of myself. Even trying to economise the using of my brakes, they still started smoking like crazy. Here I go again, white knuckles and big knot in my stomach, the only way to truck. It was a long ways down, the brakes flamed a bit but mostly smoked. I guess the locals know what is happening when they spot smoke on the mountain road. Here comes another green horn that does not know his ass from a hole in the ground. Must be from back East.
I made it down safely and drifted into town. With the stink and smoke still coming from the wheels, the observing pedestrians were handing me dirty looks as if I were disrupting their lives. I parked to let everything cool down, and that includes my blood pressure. That is one of the hazards coming over a road for the first time and not knowing what is ahead. My face may be red in public but at least I am still alive, to try something stupid again.
I made my way into Vancouver from there, with no more incidents. I called ahead to get directions for the delivery point. I was picked up by a big new Caddy. The driver was Morris, dressed in a very expensive silk suit. I did not even recognize him at first, he was a real dapper Dan. He drove me to his office and we settled up financially. He was pleased about the way things worked out and sprung for the steak and drinks. After lunch he had one of his drivers drop me off at the YMCA, where I could get a new private room for $1.00 a day. I’m on my own again.
I got settled in and was expecting to see Scott there. He was not even checked in. I waited around till the next day, and still no Scott. I got his sisters phone number and called. She said that they were leaving town today for a couple weeks, and didn’t expect him for another 3 or 4 days. They had a beautiful apartment up over the Kitsilano Beach House.
I spent most of the day checking all the hospitals and finally went to report him missing. Well they didn’t have to look too far; he was in jail since the night before. Apparently all the drivers when finished with the trip all headed to the nearest bar for some drinks and goodbyes. They got into the hard stuff and Scott couldn’t handle it. He went a little crazy and started to tear the place up. The cops were called in and they proceeded to clean house. They all got thrown in jail.
Well he was out the next day. I picked him up in a cab, and we went out to the beach house. He was totally sober now, and quite civil to talk to. He gave me the grand tour of the place. The front window overlooking the beach was totally panoramic. It was huge, and also one way. You could see out, but not in. When we toured the beach itself, I looked back at the window and it was just a big mirror, and you could not see in.
We picked up a couple of steaks and cooked them up. The apartment had a fully stocked bar, all hard liquor. I never gave it much thought as to the drinks. Scott was drinking right along with me. It was getting late and I quit, and was going to call a cab. He said that if I wanted, I could stay over in the guest room. I said OK and went to bed. Scott stayed up and kept on drinking. I thought that he would quit when I did, the same as when we were drinking beer in the hotels. It was about 4:00 am when I heard noises coming from the front room. I got up and went to see what was happening. The room was in total darkness, with just a bit of light coming in the front window. I found Scott with a butcher knife, yelling and stabbing the wall. I flipped the light on and that seemed to shock him a bit. I got the knife away from him and got him calmed down somewhat. I asked what he thought he was doing. Can’t you see them? See what? Those giant bugs crawling up the wall. Oh man, the DT’s. I have heard guys say they were alcoholics, but they had nothing on this guy. He was totally spaced out and out of control. This is the real world of alcoholism. He finally calmed down and passed out. I went back to bed, but I did not get to sleep. I just kept an eye on the door, wondering if he was going to charge in any minute brandishing a knife.
He was out of it when I finally came out. I took off to the store to get some eggs and coffee. I was gone about an hour. When I came back he would not answer the door. I was yelling for him to open up. He finally came to the door and stared at me out of the little porthole window. I was starting to get browned off, and then started to yell and bang on the door for him to open up, but he just kept staring at me as if he had never seen me before. I didn’t realize that while I was yelling and banging that 2 cops had come up behind me and figuring I was trying to break in, put the clamps on me. Well it sure as hell took a lot of talking, but I finally got out of there without going to jail. He still would not let the cops in either, and just kept staring at them through the door. While they were busy and fully engrossed in what they were trying to do, I sort of drifted away into the park, and never seen Scott again. Now I can honestly say I do know what a real alcoholic is.
It was back to the YMCA again and a little piece and quiet. That didn’t last for to long. A couple other guys staying in the next room asked me if I new anything about trucks. I said a little, what is the problem? It will not keep running and has no power. If you have time would you mind coming down and take a look? We are leaving tomorrow for California, or hope to.
We got down to the parking lot and it was an old Bell Telephone truck, still in its original crappy green colour. The ladder roof racks and welding brackets were still on it. They had come in from Toronto. I checked it out and it was quite obvious what the problem was. The fuel and air filters must have been in there for the last year or so. I sent them over to Canadian Tire for the parts. An hour later, I had it running with all kinds of power. As usual this automotive rejuvenation required a drink in celebration. Here we go again. Their whisky bottle was emptied in about 10 minuets. Off to the bar across the street, where the rest of the day was spent. After getting thrown out of the place, we went back to the Y. Instead of going strait to bed, someone suggested a crap game. Well if you want to lose money in a very short amount of time, this is the way it is done.
The next morning brought me back to reality. I was almost broke, with no income and no ship for another 12 days. I’m screwed.
I took stock of what I had, and it did not look good. I owed a week for the room, and had enough to last about 5 or 6 days for meals. I sure as hell did not have enough to make it to the ship.
I paid off the room and then headed for the bus depot. The only thing that I could do would be to head back East to pick up another job. I thought of trying to get a BC licence to work here, but I did not have enough money for that either. With all the books and testing necessary, plus the truck rental, I was totally S.O.L.
It was in the last bus trip that I would ever take. The seats were too small for my large frame, with no leg room for a six foot +, man. There must have been an exodus epidemic, because by the time I got on, the only seat left was at the rear, against the back wall. With my legs cramped up, and my hips being crushed, I was finally on my way.
It was a long and tedious milk run trip. Stop and go from every village and hitching post he could find. It was after dark and I think it was Kamloops where we stopped for a short rest period and change of drivers. It was after midnight and everyone except my self were reclined back and snoring in concert. In my unfortunate case, being against the back wall, I could not recline. The guy ahead of me lying back took up the last couple inches of my leg room, sending me into leg cramps. The new driver should have been driving a lumber wagon on the prairies. He couldn’t shift gears worth a damn. We are in mountainous country and all hills. Every gear shift that he made was crashed and jerked. I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to.
We eventually made it into Revelstoke and had a rest stop at the terminal. I had had enough and couldn’t take any more of this livestock vehicle. I grabbed my bag and departed. I figured that walking had to be the better transportation than what I had just left.
It was just breaking daylight when I finished having an economy breakfast. I got directions from the waitress, to which way was east, to the Trans Canada Highway. I started hiking out of town in the given direction, and was wondering when some traffic would start coming my way. Finally a construction pick up truck came along, I stuck my thumb out for a lift, and he obliged by picking me up. At least there was sufficient leg room.
We motored on and he asked where I was going. Toronto, I replied, I have to get another job. We were driving up a steep mountain grade, and after about 30 miles he pulled up to the ledge of the road. He said that this was the best he could do for me. It was out in nowhere and he said that he was not going any farther. Why? I asked. He said do you see that bulldozer down in the valley? Yea. Well that is mine and that is where I am working. What do I do now? Well this road is not open yet, we are still building it. Guys wanting to go to Alberta usually hop that train, across the valley and ride the rails over the Rodgers Pass. Great, thanks for nothing.
Well what else can go wrong? I grabbed my bag and started walking again. Hours and hours passed and I was still climbing the mountain, getting fed up more and more. It was late in the afternoon that I saw another pickup at the shoulder of the road. I ran up to it and it was a surveyor, just packing up to leave. I asked if he was going east and he said yes, and was headed back to his construction camp, finished for the day. He gave me a lift, and got me over the pass and half way down. He slowed to a stop beside a little scale shack and a bush road. This is as far as I can take you; my camp is about a mile down this road. OK thanks. I got out and was totally alone again. This scale was used by the construction companies while building this road.
I was totally pissed of again and had been standing here for about an hour, when I thought that I heard a diesel engine. It was, and it was getting closer. It seemed to be coming out of the bush road. All of a sudden a B Model Mack came screaming out of the bush hauling a load of rough cut lumber. He saw me standing beside the scale, and started to pull on to it. I waved him to pass around it and he stopped. I was dressed in my drivers’ uniform and he took me to be the government scale man. When I explained why I was there, he sighed a relief. He was way overloaded and thought that he was caught. Once I explained that I was a truck driver hitching a ride, he said to jump in and at least he could get me into Calgary.
We sat and chatted, I told him what I had done, work wise including using 2 stick Mack Trucks. It wasn’t 15 minutes and he wanted to know if I would mind driving for a bit. He was really baffed out. He hit the sleeper box and was out like a light the second he laid down. I drove on to about 20 miles before Calgary, and then called him to drive. It would not be a good idea for a stranger to be driving someone else truck into town.
He took over and we drove into Calgary. He said that he had to get the paperwork for this load and if I wanted to wait in the truck, he would give me a lift out of town. I agreed. He was about 20 minutes and we were on our way again. His load was for Edmonton. I told him that I would be better off to go there too. I could go to Trans Canada Highway Express and possibly get a ride from there. They were all owner/operators and they all ran single with sleeper cabs. We headed north out of the city and on our way. It was around Red Deer, and the truck started to act up and die from the loss of power. We pulled into a service station where it finally quit altogether. The mechanic in the gas station did not know anything about diesel engines. The driver was at a loss, totally. He asked my opinion and I said I had a good idea, but needed a couple wrenches and an OK to work on it. He said to go ahead. I pumped up the primary pump and it would run for a few seconds then quit again. I then opened up the fuel filter container and found it to be full of rust and water. I pulled it out and it was totally plugged. Doesn’t anyone service the filters anymore? I asked the garage if they would possibly have a replacement filter and they said no way, but if we waited till tomorrow, he would order one from Edmonton. The drivers chin just dropped, and you could see his total disappointment. I got some more tools and disconnected the filter container from the engine, I took it inside and with a pail of solvent and a wire brush, I scrubbed the container until it was shining bright. I then remounted the container to the engine sealing it closed with no filter cartridge inside. I put a pail under the fuel tank and cracked the drain plug open a few turns until fuel started to drain. It was mostly dirty rusty water coming out. When the fuel started running clear, I shut it off. Disconnecting the fuel line from the filter, I had the garage air hose put into the fuel tank, wrapping a rage around it to hold the air in. Pressurizing the fuel tank with air forced the fuel up through the lines and pushed the dirty fuel out, until it ran clean. Reconnecting the fuel line and sealing everything up again, minus the fuel filter cartridge, I started pumping the primary pump until all the lines and filter were filled with fuel and all the air was out.
Try it, I said to the driver. The thing fired up right away, and the drivers eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. We were on the move again, and with more power than it ever had. I told him to get into the shop in Edmonton and get a cartridge installed right away.
He was so pleased that he drove me right across town to Trans Canada’s terminal. It did not take long to book a ride. I signed a liability release for the company and the driver. He was leaving for Toronto as soon as he had breakfast. He paid me for the miles that I drove, and then asked if I would drive for him for 2 months, while he took his wife back to Europe for a final family reunion. Done deal, I was back in business again, but New Zealand would have to wait for another time.
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It was around 1963 when I was looking for another job, and had stopped into a hotel for a sandwich and a beer. There was a flooring contractor sitting at the next table over from me. After the sandwich had disappeared by chasing it down with the second beer, we struck up a conversation. The subject went something like this ---
Apparently, this flooring company, CAMEO WOOD PRODUCTS, in the west end of Toronto, was a new co. and was expanding fast. They manufactured parquet flooring, and were in great demand from the apartment building boom.
Carl the owner wanted a truck of his own, so as to have control over the deliveries to the construction job sites. He was shipping a lot to Ottawa, Montreal as well as, in and around Toronto. He also had a steady stream of kiln dried, Pennsylvania Red Oak, coming in from Titusville Pennsylvania. Relying on the transport companies for on time deliveries just did not work. In the meantime, his machinery mechanic had come across this Leyland Hippo straight truck, bought it cheap, and then talked Carl into buying it from him, to haul his cases of flooring. He also set him up with a 3-axle pup trailer from Highway Trailer sales. He also drew a finder’s fee, of course.
The trailer was a tandem axle, about 20 feet long. At the front of the trailer was a pier type dolly (converter). There was no pin or fifth wheel, the axle connected, permanently to the trailer, on a swivel. The only connection to the truck was the standard tongue eye, to the coupler on the rear of the truck. It was the same as a doubles dolly, only it would not separate from the trailer. The dolly swiveled freely and had no locking pin. The connection to the truck was at the end of the platform deck, which was on the overhang; about 6 ft. from the rear drive axel.
The truck itself, was a real monster, it had 11:00 X 22 in. tires on disc wheels, a solid steel deck, and was bigger than an Autocar day cab. It had a leather drivers seat, and a 3/4 passenger seat. You could lie down across the seats with room to spare. It was almost 7 feet wide. The truck was originally, brought in from England for British Oxygen of Canada. They sent over two them with left hand drive, and I am sure that they were the only Hippos to make it into North America. They really did not do to well, in our high-speed environment. They were low powered, (about 140 hp.) coupled to a strait five speed transmission, and scaling out at over 22,000 Lbs. empty. After time, British Oxygen finally seen the light and replaced them with North American trucks.
They hired three different drivers for the job. Each lasted only a couple of hours. It seems that with the manual steering and all the manoeuvring involved hooking up to the pup trailer, with the 6 ft. overhang of the coupler, they could not make contact. Trying to lift the tongue up was just too much labour involved. Turning the wheel a couple inches, would swing the coupler about a foot or two. All three gave up and quit, and the trailer was still at the dealer’s yard.
Carl was getting pretty discouraged over the truck deal. He knew nothing about trucks, but he was a genius at woodworking machinery. He operated a company for others, in Austria, and finally came to Canada to try it on his own.
After we sat shooting the breeze for a few more beers, I was feeling a challenge coming on. I always took the trips that no one else would take, just to prove, that it was feasible. Trips into the deep north bush country were a favourite. It is the adventure of the new and unknown, that I am attracted by.
During our chat, I let on that I would like to try it, if they were still looking for a driver. He made a call and had it set up for first thing in the morning.
I showed up early, and ahead of time. Carl was impressed before we even started. Apparently, I was the first one to show up on time for an interview. He took me around the back of the plant and there it was this big iron horse. The first one of it's kind that I had ever seen. I did a walk around and opened the hood. Under the hood of this monster was a dinky little diesel engine. It really surprised me. I got it started up and drove it around the yard. I was having a rough time, with the strait 5-speed box, it needed more. He asked if I would like to try it out loaded. He had a load of flooring to go across town, and no way to get it there on time. Sure thing, I backed it in the plant door and the forklift had the truck loaded out in a flash.
Carl came with me and we headed across town. That little engine and 5 speed was really labouring to get rolling. We made the construction site just in time, and were unloaded in minutes. He was thrilled with the delivery. On the way back, he said he wanted me to work for him, and by the time we got back to the yard, I had told him that some changes to the truck would have to take place before I would sign on. He agreed and gave me carte blanche to go ahead.
This was on Friday and I was ready to give it a shot on Monday morning.
The first thing was to let the machinery mechanic know to his face that he screwed Carl on this deal. He said he could not give him his money back as he had already spent it. I made it perfectly clear that he was to stay away from the truck, and that it was my problem to look after it now, and if he wanted to do anything with it, he would have to come to me directly.
The first thing I did was to arrange for a used three-speed Spicer auxiliary transmission installed in the truck. The second, was to go over to the trailer sales and have them install a spring loaded balancing cable for the dolly tongue, so as it would sit up on it's own for hooking up.
All the modifications were completed, and I headed over to pick up the trailer. Carl insisted on coming along, just to make sure it was going to happen. We got there and I backed up to the pup trailer. I lined up the tongue with the coupler, and the cables did their job perfectly. I backed up and made the connection. Hooked up the light cord and air hoses and we were on our way. Carl looked like he had just swallowed the canary, he was grinning from ear to ear. On the way back, I noticed that the trailer was following in the truck tracks, and not cutting into the inside track of the turns. The 6 ft. overhang of the body and coupler made the trailer swing wider than usual. That was a good point for going around corners, but it could be hell in reverse.
We got back to the yard and Carl wanted to try to get the trailer loaded right away. Well now, it was a completely new ball game trying to back it up into the small loading door. Without a lock pin to keep the dolly from jackknifing, the 6 ft. over hang on the body, made a couple inch movement of the steering wheel turn into a 2 ft. swing on the dolly arm, and forced it to jackknife in a couple of feet. It took an hour of pulling ahead and backing up, before I had it down pat. That Armstrong (manual) steering really worked up a soaking sweat. I had to back in, and move it, every time the lift truck had a palette, then move out to let him pass behind and pick up another. The warehouse was small and lacking in space. He had to back into a slot, and then I would have to back in again so he could reach the deck. Having to back in and out for every skid was a laboring chore. Every second or third skid, I would have to pull out completely, to line the trailer up again. It was a long and slow process.
After loading up, tarping, (sheeting) and spotting the truck, for my first out of town trip, I headed for home to clean up, and grab a couple hours sleep.
My first trip was to Ottawa, it was still daylight when I left. It was getting dark now and time to turn on the lights. The truck lights seemed normal, and then I saw that the trailer lights were glowing so strong that they looked like floodlights. I could not figure that one out. As the night wore on, I pulled over for a tire check, and seen that the bulbs in the trailer clearance lights, were melting right through the lenses, and just before daylight they had completely burned out. I got home eventually, after using up a full box of bulbs.
There was a garage about two blocks from our plant. The mechanic in there was English. He had the problem solved in no time. He also thought it was a big joke. Unbeknownst to me, this Leyland had a 24-volt electrical system, and doubled the power to the Canadian lights, burning them out as fast as I could change them. Now what? After trying like hell, to find where I could come up with some 24-volt bulbs, a suggestion from one of the employees, (X-military) was to try Levy auto parts, on Weston Rd. They were dealers in war surplus equipment. I went in and told them my problem, and showed a sample of the size. He went over to a shelf and dusted off a box that had been there since world war two. It was a box of 24-volt light bulbs used in army tanks, overseas. It was the first call since the war for these bulbs. It cured the problem, and I was on the road again, after replacing all of the melted lenses as well.
I was getting used to this animal on all points except one. The top speed flat out downhill was 55 mph. It took miles and miles to get it there. With the trailer and truck loaded out, I was grossing close to 90,000 lbs. Even with the auxiliary transmission, and on the flats it was a chore getting any speed up.
The plant was stuck for some red oak, and they could not get a transport delivery on time. He sent me down for it, at Titusville Pennsylvania. I crossed over into New York State, at Buffalo, and headed west on US 20. I got over and picked up my load ok, and was heading back. There was an old weigh scale at Silver Creek, NY. Just before there, a State trooper pulled me over and wanted to check me out. I figured my problem was length, so I pulled into an empty lot of a motel, and turned and parked in a wagon wheel formation. I tried to make it harder to judge the length of it. He came and looked it over, and had never seen anything like it before, and the combination of straight truck and pup really fascinated him. That is when everything came apart for me.
First, he got my paperwork, and registration. Second, he got the measuring tape out and had me pull the truck out strait, for measuring. I was about 6 ft. over the legal length. He was alone, and needed me to hold one end of the tape. During his measuring towards the front of the truck, my end unexpectedly lost about 3 feet of length. He caught me anyway; I was still to long for NY State. I saved a few bucks there, from the lost length. Then there was the fact that I had no NY plates. I told him that I was under the impression that a private carrier, hauling his own product, did not require plates. His answer, --- you do here, my over length friend. Shot down again. He could not weigh me, as the scale shut down, and was not in service. It was a good thing; I do not think that he would be impressed with me scaling out at over 90,000 lbs.
He was really filling his book up, at this point. Now let me see your logbook. I showed it to him and it only had about 10 hours entered in the whole book. What is going on? I said that I got a new book from a driver at the Canada, USA border crossing. We do not have logbooks in Canada. He was still not impressed. Then he got the brainstorm about pulling a set of trains. I said that I am not pulling trains. I have one power unit and one trailer. He said that the dolly constitutes a trailer, making two connections. The tongue attached to the truck, and the dolly to the trailer pin. It was then, that I knew I had him on something, for a change. I told him that the dolly could not be, separated from the trailer, leaving me with one connection. So technically, it was not, considered as being a trailer, but a wagon. He really did not want to buy that. Then I told him, if he could get it separated, I would kiss his butt. This is one time I made sure that I could not lose a bet first. He screwed around for a good 10 minutes on that one, before giving up. That got me off the hook for that infraction.
Now what? He told me that I was under arrest, and then could not leave until all of the fines were paid and NY plates purchased. An oversize permit would be required, as well as any tax stickers necessary. Why am I under arrest? Well you are from a foreign country. All the fines have to be paid, before letting you go. Once you get home, you could ignore everything and be out of our jurisdiction. OK, but for now, I think it is about time that I had something to eat, I am starving. I have not had anything all day. There is a restaurant in this motel. It opens in about 1/2 an hour. You can stay here if you like, but I get to keep the keys, until you get this cleared up. I went in and registered, cleaned up, and had a good meal. This has to be the easiest jail time that I have ever done.
I called home and let Carl know what was happening, and that I was under arrest, officially, but not physically. I thought that he was going to have a heart attack. He could not apologize enough, and was scared over this. I just told him not to get over excited, and just wire me $1,000, and I will take care of everything. He asked about how, I was being treated. I told him it was pretty rough, I was sitting here, playing cards, eating steak and drinking beer with an off duty cop. I called my wife and told her what was going on, and told her I would be a day or two late for supper.
The next day, I got everything taken care of. I paid all the fines, bought a brand new set of New York plates, for the truck and trailer. Then had to stop in at the transport building in Buffalo, for a permanent oversize permit, head over to a local garage and get the truck certified for NY. Then back to the office to pick up the plates and permit. From then on, it was under the float laws, no running after dark. I had to park after sunset until sunrise. I was to long, and could not shorten up, to be legal in length.
I carried on for the rest of the summer, but the dragging my ass up and down the road in slow motion, was starting to eat away at me. I mentioned a number of times about how they should get rid of this rig, get into a proper tractor, and trailer. Nothing happened, so I gave my two-week notice, to quit and move on.
About 4 months after I had left, I ran into the office receptionist and we had lunch together. I was curious, as to how the truck was working out. She said that, they had run through 4 or 5 drivers, and none could handle the truck. They would get to a customer and could not back it in to a building for loading, in Montreal. They could not get backed in without jackknifing or hitting a pillar.
One driver left the truck in Montreal in frustration and took the train back to Toronto. She also said that Carl had gone ahead and ordered a new 1000 Ford Tractor and new Brantford flat deck, for me. He never mentioned anything about it to me, so I never knew what his plans were.
The old Leyland brought back to Toronto, never ran another trip.
This Photo is identical to the Leyland Hippo that I had here in Canada. The straight truck and pup trailer combination as well as the side racks, are the same. These units are in Stockholm, Sweden.
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"The name Peninsula Truck", derived, from the location of the Welland plant, on the Niagara Peninsula, in Ontario, Canada.
There was a short period in the fall of 1963, when a friend, (acquaintance) wanted me to operate his new Peninsula Tractor. I guess by the name, you have never heard of this brand of truck before.
A couple years earlier, SWITSON INDUSTRIES of Welland, Ontario, Canada, were big in the manufacture of vacuum cleaners, and actually, under a new name, they still exist today. Things were really going ahead great guns. Someone in authority decided that the company should diversify. A few suggestions came up. One in particular was to get into designing and manufacturing of a snowmobile. The craze was just starting to take off at the time. Another suggestion was to design and build diesel powered, class 8 trucks, and then try a giant front end loader.
After dumping the snowmobile idea, they decided to take on the truck project first. The transport boom was in full swing, and the demand was high. They built a single axle tractor CAB OVER ENGINE prototype. The same model that I drove, except that the one I had was a sleeper model.
The particular one that I drove was a real cracker box cab. The doors were very square with no curves in the design, anywhere. Without a no-draught window, for air circulation, the windows would steam up at the slightest sign of dampness. The running gear was the customer’s choice. In my case, it was a 220 Cummins, and a 10 speed Roadranger. The Roadranger was a special model, which I had never seen, before. The doghouse, (engine cover, inside the cab) was a full
box shape, it had no indentation to the floor to accommodate a swinging gearshift area. Instead, there was a gearshift mounted on top of the doghouse right beside the driver. The stick was about 6" in height, and had small 2-inch slots on the base for the gear selector’s guide. The slotted base plate was about 6 inches across. Like a little toy. The high range pin was a disc under the control knob. Up or down, for high or low range. Under the doghouse was a mass of airlines going to the transmission. All the shifting was air controlled. Once you got used to it, it was a lazy man's tranny. All gear shifting was with short wrist movements, less than a couple inches of range.
NOTE, --- I never did get to try it out at 40 degrees F, below zero to see how easy it would freeze up.
The truck was geared to go. There were not too many, that could keep up to it.
The weak point of it was the spring shackles on the steering. I myself, and a few others figured them to be too light. Any sudden and heavy shock may drop the front end right out from under you. However, being young, brave and foolish, (Or should that be, stupid?) safety came first, AFTER speed.
Everything about the truck was experimental, and fabricated by a vacuum cleaner manufacturer.
I was in the KINGSWAY TRANSPORT, garage in Toronto one day, for service. If I remember correctly, they did the warranty work for PENINSULA. There was a giant version, of this truck in for repairs, or service. It was a full tandem and was very heavy duty. Double-channeled frame, long wheelbase, and above all, an engine that was so big, it stuck out from under the rear of the bunk, by about, at least 2 or 3 feet. Constructed totally from steel; it was one heavy tractor, just deadheading.
The wheels were 11:00 X 22. That, at that time was humongous. The transmission was a 5 X 4 Spicer two stick, and the engine was, a giant straight 8 cylinder, ROLES ROYCE diesel engine. (Man, talk about power, --- whew!) The driver was an owner/operator on with Kingsway Transport, and hauled oversize steel beam loads to the new mines up north, at RED LAKE, ONTARIO, CANADA. I guess that with all that power and speed, he would just fly over those bush roads and destroy the trailer suspensions. However, in those days, the economic boom was in full swing, and most contracts were in a hurry, and cost plus. Something you do not see today. The hurry part is still there, but without the cost plus. I have no idea what the Horse Power was, but it was the biggest I had ever seen in a truck, at that time.
Now back to the unit I was driving, it contracted out to PRIME PACKERS of Toronto. I had loads of beef parts for delivery in Montreal. I had to deliver least 30 to 40 drops, of hanging beef and blocks of ribs.
After that episode was finished, we gypsy loads from the docks in Brooklyn, New York, and Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, back into Canada. There was quite an explosive incident on the docks on New Years Eve, after getting loaded out. That is another story, and will come up later.
During this short life span, they had built a newer and slightly larger cab, including a lot more refinements, such as the tractor shown here, included a new working no-draught window.
The front-end loader never got past the prototype stage. A final new model came out using the FORD C- MODEL CAB; they changed the grill, as well as the transmissions stick mounting. It had the same air controlled 10-speed Roadranger, short stick. I had seen in the first production model, but never knowingly seen one on the road.
The tandem dump truck, I never actually seen it on the road, but understand that it performed a working life.
They gave out a lot of easy credit in the beginning, to get the trucks into the public eye, but as usual, a few of the bad credit boys, screwed it up for everyone, and production ceased, forever. Construction then went back to the vacuum cleaners.
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It was more than 40 years ago when I was involved with the PENINSULA tractor. Nile D. had this tractor on with PRIME PACKERS, out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
After running my ass off for these guys, I had packed it in, and was cruising for greener pastures. (Again)
I was wandering around and dropping off resumes at various places. I certainly did not expect anything to happen before the first of the year, this being between Christmas and New Years. Nile gave me a call and asked if I could run a trip with his brother, before New Years. Not doing anything and having no ties with anyone, I agreed.
It was December 30th that we loaded a rush load of waxed turnips, (Rutabagas, to the Americans.) We loaded out of Blyth, Ontario, and then headed down into New York State. We had deliveries at five different stops between, and starting with Buffalo, NY. It was night time when we crossed the border, and headed to the customers on our list. We were to just unload and drop on their dock, and leave it for them in the morning.
We also had a half dozen bottles of premium, Canadian CROWN ROYAL whisky to include with each order. The bottle was to be buried in with the bags of turnips. Yea, right. We knew right away that the bottle would never reach the intended recipient. So to save some warehouse man from being led astray with the temptation of theft and possibly faced with incarceration, we saved him the trouble. It never got left behind. This included drops in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany. All orders were just left on the open docks during the night. We still had 5 bottles of CROWN ROYAL lying in the bunk.
We motored on during the rest of the night and into the morning. We ended up fighting the morning rush hour into our destination, the docks in Hoboken, NJ.
We worked our way around till we found out where our pick up load would be. As it stood, there were 72 trucks ahead of us, waiting for the same ship, a load of melons from South America. When we arrived during the day, (New Years Eve) the ship had not even arrived yet. It was very disappointing. (Browned off would be a better description.)
We were parked in line and had nothing but time on our hands, and of course there just happened to be a liquor bar on the other side of the fence. We decided to patronize the place, just to grab a bite to eat. (HA)
It was getting on in the afternoon when word came that the ship would tie up around 4 o’clock. When it was spotted, all hell broke loose. All the truckers in the saloon took off for their trucks in the hopes of getting loaded and away before midnight, New Years Eve.
We were all feeling no pain at the time, when Dave got a brainstorm; we are not going to get loaded if we don’t pull a fast one. We could be here for a couple days. Come-on lets go, hand me my travel bag. Doing so, he dumped everything out, and replaced it with 3 bottles of CROWN ROYAL whisky, along with his towel and some loose socks, just so the bottles would not rattle.
The ship was in the process of tying up to the pier. All the truckers were sitting in their trucks waiting in anticipation, hoping to get loaded New Years Eve, and not have to lie over the holiday.
Dave jumped out of the truck with his bag and said; let’s go. We headed right across the pier while the ship was still being tied up. There was a group of customs & immigration officers running up the gangway to clear the ships entry to the country. Dave and I jumped into the end of the group and ran up into the ship with them. I guess that they were so engrossed at what they were doing, that they did not realize who we were. We broke away from the crowd and headed straight for the bridge. Once there, we approached the Captain, and before I knew what was happening, Dave pulled out a bottle of whisky, gave it to the captain and told him we need our load today. PLEASE, we are stuck.
The Captain was shocked at the incident, and as the customs inspectors entered, he started laughing like hell, and yelled OK, as we took off down below. The customs and immigration thought that we were part of the crew, and the crew thought that we were part of the boarding party. On the way out, we ran into the first officer, and quickly offered him a bottle as well as describing our dilemma. Everyone on board was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. All rushing about, trying to beat out the holiday weekend.
We took off down the gangway, and began scouting out the stevedores lead hand. After about a ½ hour search we connected. After another explanation, with a bottle of CROWN ROYAL whisky, we made our point, and would appreciate any assistance they could provide. We had at least another hour before actual unloading could take place, so rather than give it all away, we should share in the booty as well. We were the one’s going through all this crap for management to get richer from our labours. #4 bottle was now dedicated to us, the slaves. Rather than go for mix to blend out the drink, we took swigs from the bottle direct rather than leave the truck and miss any chance of loading.
There was action on the pier now, and unloading was in full swing with lift trucks running around like crazy. There were 2 of them coming down the line, one on each side of the trucks. What is happening? They came along side of our truck and motioned to pullout and follow them. We were right on their butts. Pulling along side the ship they yelled get the doors open, NOW!
We opened up and they started to push pallet after pallet onto the truck and ended up with two machines pushing at the end. We were loaded in about 10 minutes, and told to grab the paper work and get out, NOW. Man did we move then. Another 15 minutes, and all our paperwork was supplied. We left, but made one small mistake, Dave just had to stop at the same bar for a drink and bowl of stew, before leaving.
We were just finishing our snack when a whole bunch of the stevedores came in after work. Many, many trucks were stuck till after New Years day.
One thing led to another and one by one, they approached us for a bottle of whisky, the same as the bosses received. The more they drank, the more they got buggy. One in particular was onto Dave, and was starting to get pretty snotty. Off the stool came Dave and caught the stevedore off guard, and then was going to hammer him, at the same time I figured that we, being the foreigners with no backup, were about to be crucified by the crowd. As things started to come to a head, the lead hand walked in and told them all to back off. DO NOT TOUCH. He probably saved us from a painful demise. He suggested that we cut our visit short and move on home before the holiday was a write off. Suggestion acknowledged; we took off, while about 50 trucks had to sit for another day.
We headed out for home and arrived New Years evening, in time for another party. Using the last bottle as our donation towards the festivities, I got plastered pretty good, and had a hangover for over a day. It was the last time I had ever seen Dave, and I was not looking forward to another meeting.
Off again, looking for another driving job.
PS; Sometimes, cheaters do prosper.
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Wimco Steel was a strange and sometimes wild place to work. The hours and aggravation were horrendous along with the pay for the amount of hours worked, was miniscule.
I was with Trans Canada Highway Express at the time, and was just crossing the Manitoba, Ontario border headed for Toronto. On the side of the road was a conventional B-61 Mack broke down. I pulled over and offered my assistance. The driver was under the hood trying to figure out what was wrong. I had him fire up the engine and the black smoke coming out the stack was thick, heavy and powerless. He had no idea as to the problem. I asked him what was the weather like behind him, and he answered that he spent the last 11 hours in a blizzard, and just came out about 30 miles back down the road.
I suggested we take the pan off the bottom of the oil bath air cleaner and inspect it. Sure enough it was plugged solid with ice & snow. I cleaned it out using a screwdriver & scraper, and then pouring some methyl hydrate through the screen melting the ice that could not be reached with the tools. I carried spare quarts of #10 mineral lube for my own breather, and used it to replace his lost oil. He was not aware of an intake flap that would redirect the intake to draw air from under the hood in bad weather. He was surprised at its existence and thanked me for pointing it out to him.
He fired up the engine and it ran powerful and clean again. While it was warming up, we sat in my truck, and having not seen a Wimco truck before, I began to pick his brain on the outfit. He told me that they could go anywhere in Canada hauling steel & returning with scrap batteries. I got all the info and said that I would go in and check them out when I hit Toronto.
When I finished up, I drove over to Regent Battery and asked if they had need for any drivers. I talked to Izzy for about an hour and he kept looking out the window at my truck. He then phoned up to Wimco Steel and told them that I was signed on and to line me up with a new tractor.
Upon arrival I was given a short road test on a B-61 with a 5 X 3 transmission. Flipping the two sticks around without crashing gears or using the clutch impressed him enough to cut the test short. He advised me that a new truck was being prepped at Mack and would be ready in another week to ten days. I used the time to give notice and to return a load to Edmonton at Trans Canada. I caught another driver returning to Toronto, sharing the driving, and making it a flying trip.
The truck was #119 - a B-61 Mack conventional cab, a 5 X 3 triplex transmission with a Davies (York) air lift trailing axle. No sliding 5th wheel. The trailer was a 38 ft flat deck with 36 in racks. No sliding tandems. It was the same rig as in my honeymoon chariot story.
To be one of the first to load you had to be in the plant by 7:00 am. The loading process would take all day, a piece here and a piece there. If you got away by 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening you were lucky, then was expected to be in Montreal 350 miles east for 1/2 a dozen deliveries, starting at 7:00 am. After that you were expected to pick up a load of scrap batteries for your return load. The Montreal trip paid $40 for steel no matter how many hours or miles involved. Picking up a return load of batteries paid an extra $10 dollars, making it a grand total of $50 for 45 hrs + 700 miles averaging 3 round trips a week. You pay all your own expenses on top of that.
Once into the routine, you lived in the truck from Sunday evening to the following Saturday morning, unless you got a long trip out west or down to the east coast.
If you were waiting all night for a load, you could run over to Hamilton for a load of steel at the mill. That was a flat rate of $10 unless you took a load of sheet steel for pickling, (in oil) dropped it off and picked up another load to return, an extra $10 = $20 for the round trip. It would take about 8 hrs.
We had one driver Kurt that pulled an "A" train, grossing around 142,000 lbs. He wanted to stay on nights only. From the mill to our plant paid $20 for a train load. This driver had it worked out at the steel mill to load 2 compete loads on the truck, and giving him 2 separate bills of lading, showing 2 trips. He would pull on the Steel Mills scale grossing over 1/4 million lbs. The tires would almost be flat. Each trip paid him $40 and ran 2 trips a night, giving him $80 a day. The power plant was a 250 hp Cummins with a 5 X 4 Spicer transmission. He could not get it much over 40 to 45 mph, loaded.
He did that routine for about 6 weeks when the bottom (literally) fell out from under him. It was the second trip this night, double loaded as usual. Pulling on the scales, got out to get his weigh ticket, and heard a resounding crash behind him. The Steel Mills scale collapsed and dropped down into the shallow pit. Pardon the expression, but the sh-t hit the fan that night.
He was really popular with the bill collectors also. We were officially employed by Regent Battery; the sheriff was after Kurt K, this day for a multitude of wage garnishees. Izzy sent him up to Wimco to find Kurt, and then he phoned up there to warn the driver. While I was loading, Kurt Came running through the front loading bay doors and out the rear doors, with the sheriff hot in pursuit. Kurt made a clean getaway. Dispatch having no sympathy for the finance companies set a load up for Kurt to the west coast keeping him out of town for a couple weeks giving things time to cool down.
There were all kinds of weird things happening on this job. I had just returned from a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, while Bob T. just came in from doing 3 rounds to Montreal, Quebec. We were both beat and ready to go home, when dispatch had two hot loads of 2 inch plate for the steel mill in Sydney, Nova Scotia, about 12 to 1,300 miles east. We were both beat before even leaving, but being the good guys that we were, we took off, stopping at the house on the way out of town to eat and shower.
We ran non stop, racing each other to stay awake, unloaded and started on our way back, running flat out. We made it as far as Amherst, Nova Scotia on the New Brunswick border. That was it; we were both dead to the world. We parked at the Irving truck stop and walked across the street to the motel. It was around 7:00 pm and the sun was just going down. When I got up it was just starting to break daylight, I banged on Bob's door and said lets move it. We went across to the truck stop for breakfast. We ordered our usual bacon and eggs, and the waitress said that what do you think this is breakfast time? We both said yes it's 7:30. She started to laugh like hell. They knew our trucks had been in the lot and we were in the motel. Well boys, do I have some news for you, it is 7:30 alright, 7:30 pm, not am. You have been here since the night before. We sure looked stupid. After eating we went over to pay the motel and he confirmed it, that we slept right around the clock. I asked why he did not throw us out in the morning. He said that if we were that tired he should leave us there for our own good. After a half hour all was believed, because the sun never came up, it was gone.
We practically flew non stop up to Quebec City, loaded scrap and headed for home, a day older than we thought we were.
Things at Wimco never did slow down; it was crazy all the time. My honeymoon trip in this truck was something rare, and that not too many people have experienced that kind of celebration.
I was doing so many trips to the west that it was decided to get me a reciprocity plate for Manitoba. It was cheaper than getting trip permits. Ontario at that time was using the gross weight system of 74,000 for a tandem-tandem configuration. Manitoba on the other hand was on the axle weight system, 10-32-32,000 lbs. Well steel coils or flat bundles and plate were hard to load properly for axle weight. Nine times out of ten we were off. The tractors and trailers had no sliders, and all axles were stationary, and you just can't adjust steel weight manually as with general freight
Most of the loads west were for Monday delivery. The scale at West Hawk Lake, on the Manitoba port of entry was open 24 hours a day. 4 crews working 40 hours a week, worked out to 160 hours. A week has 168 hours leaving the scale short a crew for 8 hours a week, and that was from 12:00 midnight Saturday till 8:00 am. Sunday morning. It was the only time you had to get an unlicensed truck or overload into the province.
We used to load out for the west on Fridays for Monday delivery. It is 1,200 miles to West Hawk Lake Scale. We would arrive at Kenora, Ontario about 30 miles before the Manitoba border. There was a small truck stop there where all the overloaded or unlicensed bandits used to sit and wait for the scales to close. There was usually 15 to 20 trucks sitting and waiting. I was there around 8:00 pm and had a 4 hour wait. While there, Jim D. showed up and met me in the restaurant. We had never met before. Actually I had been on the long trips since starting and never got to know all the drivers yet.
We sat there for about 2 hours talking and feeling each other out. We knew that there was a company squealer in the crowd, but had know idea at this time to whom it was. Jim and I talked small talk and were trying to see if each other were the one. It was in the dead of winter, and about -25 below zero F. and on the weekend trips we would have a bottle of rye in our bag, (for medicinal purposes). I was sitting around so long that I wanted a drink about now. After all this cat and mouse dancing, I came right out and told Jim that I had a jug and was going to have a drink, and that if he was the unknown squealer, I was about to find out, and I couldn't care less. He reached over grabbed my hand and shook it, saying I thought that it might be you. I have been dying for a drink too. We had a couple shots and began to relax. Since that night, we both became good friends for many years until his death. (From old age)
About 11:30 pm the convoy was getting ready to shove off and head west. It was about a 40 minute drive to the border. Jim and I waited till 12 midnight to take off. We let all the other bandits take the point. Just in case the scale went into unexpected overtime. If so we could fly by while they were all jammed in and occupied.
We both had loads for Winnipeg, 6 drops each. My load was to small machine shops with bundles of sheet steel. I had 2 calls that were in the basement of a warehouse, with no equipment to work with, having to unload the 4 x 8 sheets of steel by hand one at a time, sliding them down through a ground level window. It was -30 degrees below zero, and they did not send anyone out to help me unload. I spent all day unloading, and told Jim that I would wait for him back at Kenora. Running empty was no problem licence wise for a private company. We met that night and ran back together, having a good time.
There were many screwy things happening in the steel business, too many to mention here. There is one more thing though; an owner/operator named Benny Harrison had a cab over FORD leased to Wimco. He was 70 years old, no teeth, skinny as a rake, and drove an MG convertible sports car with the English country squire hat. He was crazy and was always trying to pick up women. (Age didn't matter) He cut the rate so bad to Vancouver, BC that we could not get the trip. He would load up and drive out to the west coast and then deliver 10 railcars of steel that the company shipped out. He would be gone for about a month, delivering and partying.
On one of his trips, he was headed west and was on the new Trans Canada Highway north Of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. A car spotted the name on the door and turned to follow along with 2 women in it. They blew the horn at him and motioned to stop and talk. He was right in his glory, thinking that these loose women were after his 70 year old body. He still had it.
Well they let the air out of his tires so to speak for it was my mother and aunt wanting to know if I was up north and in the area. When he found out who they were, and related to me, he really cooled off fast. He told me much later that he was really shot down and was starting to realize just how old he was. He finally saw the humour in the situation, and laughed about it. He also admitted with a sly look that they were a couple good looking chicks.
As I mentioned before, it was a crazy place to be working. You worked your butt off for peanuts, had temper explosions along with good unexpected fun. It certainly is not your average boring 9 to 5 type occupation.
Many more things happened, too many to include in this story, so perhaps I can add them later. Such as delivering loads to the docks in Montreal, when an uprising took place, other times when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated illegal activities, and made raids on the docks. There were many more experiences with the docks in Brooklyn, NY, Hoboken, NJ, and other locations.
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Some years ago, in 1964 I was working for Wimco Steel, in Rexdale, (Toronto) Ontario. We had an owner/operator there, that had a 1962 or 63, Hayes Conventional. He had a set of "A" trains that hauled steel to Montreal. It had a 318 V8 Jimmy, hooked up to a 4X4 Spicer transmission. The driver was a little short guy, and his nickname was SQUEAKS. He always chewed on a big cigar when he was trucking. He could not leave for Montreal without a box of 50 in the glove compartment.
He was a bit crazy, but a lot of fun. (In the steel business, there was a great shortage of fun)
Just to give you a little background on what happened at that time. Squeaks and his Hayes had a high-speed reputation, up and down the 401 highway between Toronto and Montreal. We were in the service center, east of Toronto one night, about 11:00pm, and as we were starting to leave, a Greyhound bus driver came over to us and asked, who is the driver of the Hayes? Squeaks piped up and said, It is me what do you want? The driver proceeded to tell him that he heard of his reputation, and that this, was one bus that he was not going to pass. (Bad thing to tell little Squeaks)
The bus left and we all took off behind him. The challenge, accepted in earnest, and whether the bus driver knew it or not, he was committed. The 401, was not completed yet, and it came down to one lane each way at Gananoquay, Ontario. The Hayes was rolling very fast by this time, and when Squeaks went by me, he was just chewing on that cigar. The smoke stacks, cut short just above the roofline. The trailer was for hauling steel only, and had short 30" racks. It was quite a sight in the dark, with flames coming out of the two stacks, about a foot and a half. It took about ten miles to pass the bus, (side by side) but he made it just as the road squeezed down to a single lane.
It could be hard to picture, but try it anyway; --- the short stacks on the truck were at the same height as the passenger windows, and only two feet from the bus. One of the passengers was a nervous senior citizen. The strait exhaust noise and flames in the dark, were only a couple feet away. What we heard down the road the next night was that the old girl screamed bloody murder at the bus company, when they got to the terminal. The driver was fired on the spot.
It was a great, memorable trip. Just great. If you see a great big HAYES coming up in your rear view mirror, and you notice that there is more smoke coming out of the window, than there is coming out of the stacks, LOOK OUT, it could be SQUEAKS.
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In 1964 I was hauling steel coast to coast; in a B-61 MACK truck. (Day cab, no sleeper.) When it came to sleep time, and being 6 foot 4, there really wasn't much choice in that 4 foot cab. I would have to pull over somewhere, lie down on the seat, roll down the passenger window, stick my feet out, and rest them on the mirror arms. Then pray that it does not start to rain or snow.
What could, and did happen one trip, it was in the middle of June, I was returning from the East Coast (CANADA). I delivered a load of steel to the mill in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In Canada, at that time, logbooks did not exist. I ran until I could not run anymore, and then pulled over on the shoulder of the road, assumed the position, window open, and feet out. I flaked out like a dead log. About 5 hrs later I woke up cold as hell. Went to sit up, and could not move. During the night, it snowed about 6 inches, and with the window open, I had about 3 inches all over me. I think every muscle in my body was cold and seized up, I could not move.
I then tried to get up for about 5 min., when I got my feet back in, tripped the door latch, and then kicked the door open. (That was only half the battle.) I wiggled my shoulders, and started to slide myself out the passenger door, the seat was still covered with water, and melting snow. I ended up sliding right out and dropped into a shallow ditch. It took about another 10 min. before I could get up. Eventually I got going again, but I could not move my neck muscles for 2 more days.
This is just a sample of the conditions we had to work with, and to give you an idea of the type of vehicle that was our HONEYMOON CHARIOT.
In the beginning of our married life, (new and exciting time) we just had a couple rooms over a hardware store. We furnished it with a few spare pieces of furniture. We even picked up a few wooden orange crates, covered them with fabric and were in the business of being married. We had a lot less money than furniture. For a car, we did not have one. I used to keep the B-61 tractor at home, that was our Sunday go to meeting car. Ha-ha.
I had a block of gear steel to go to Calgary, Alberta. It was one piece and weighed in at 41,000 lbs. Big rush. It was 2,300 miles one way.
The tractor and trailer, both, did not have any sliding tandems, to be able to adjust the axel weight. Ontario at the time was gross weight only, while Manitoba was on the axle weight system.
The overhead crane in our plant just set the single block of steel in the center of the trailer, and left to do other work. I got my paperwork and took off. I was legal all the way through Ontario, until I came to the first scale at West Hawk Lake, Manitoba. Not giving it a thought, I pulled onto the scale and weighed in. I was then, promptly invited inside, for an interview. I was told that I could not go any farther till I got my load distributed legally. Nothing serious, just move one twenty ton piece of steel forward about a foot. That should allow me to carry on.
I was a day and a half, away from my warehouse and crane, and about two days away from my customer and his crane. What now? Trying to talk civil to some of these scale people, at times can be a frustrating experience. They have the chrome badge, and in this case, they are god. After beating my head against a stonewall, for about a half hour, the scale man suggested I call his friend, who just happened to own the biggest tow truck in about a hundred miles. What can I do? I had to call him.
What a joke. He put his cables around the block of steel, and then was going to lift it so I could back the trailer up about a foot. Well all he did for about an hour was to lift his front end of his truck up off the ground. He got so mad at the end that he had the front up about five feet off the ground. He hit the clutch and dropped like a rock, banging his head on the ceiling and breaking one of his front springs. He jumped out of the cab and threw a proper sh** fit right there.
After things cooled down a bit, I told him, NO MOVE, NO PAY. I have never seen a face get that red, and that close to exploding, before or since, in my life.
I told them that if they let me go, I will go into Winnipeg to Dominion Bridge Company, and get them to move the block and check it out on their scale, before going on to Headingly, Manitoba scale, farther west. They had a giant overhead crane that could lift at least fifty tons. It was the heaviest in the province.
They agreed finally then I got my butt out of there very quick, before they could change their minds.
In a few days, I was there, and on my return trip, they wanted me to stop off in Saskatchewan, at IPSCO steel and pick up a load of 35-foot plate. I did so, and started back. Usually when you get back, you have to deliver your own load. I hit the yard, and was anxious to get home. They had not come up with the local delivery location yet, and I was beginning to get a little impatient. After a couple hours, they came out with the delivery sheet and said go deliver. I thought that I was going to deliver in town and lose half a day. I read the delivery destination, and it was Ocean Steel, St. John NB, on the east coast, over a thousand miles in the opposite direction.
I called old IZZY the owner, and explained, that I was gone 10 days, and was planning to take my new wife somewhere. He said that he wanted me to do the delivery, and no one else. I hummed and hawed, and did not have enough money to quit, and move on. Fortunately, he offered to sweeten the pot.
He said he would give me a couple hundred dollars cash, if I stayed. He said that I was to take my new wife with me, and have a honeymoon trip as well. It was a done deal. Phoned home and told her to pack a bag, because we were heading down east within 2 hrs. It shocked the hell out of her.
She had never really traveled much, before meeting up with me. Her life was about to take a dramatic change.
I got home, repacked my bag, loaded my wife and luggage into the little Mack and was off. Well being all beat out, and tired, we only got down the road about a hundred miles. I pulled off on to the shoulder of the road to try to get a couple hours sleep. Can you imagine how comfortable it is for two people in a 4-foot cab, trying to sleep? I was way over do, and went out like a rock. There we were, with two pair of feet sticking out of the window. A couple hours went by and I was just waking up a bit, when 3 trucks running together pulled in behind me. The drivers were walking along the side of the trailer, when they stopped, and one told the others that they had better get the hell out of there, because BILL has a chick in the truck with him. (Most of the drivers running the same corridor usually wake up someone that they know, sleeping, so they can get into Montreal before rush hour.) Knowing about my sweet short temper, they decided to pass on the wake up call this trip.
At that time, the expressways were scarce, and the trip was 95% 2 lane old roads. We made our way into Quebec, got through, and past Montreal. It was getting late and Muriel was very exhausted. I found an empty field, and parked for the rest of the night. The two of us slept sitting up, twisting around, developing many aches and pains. It was too cold to sleep on the ground. That 4-foot cab, with 2 people, was a hell on earth.
Next morning we found a restaurant, cleaned up as well as we could, and had a big breakfast. It seemed to ease the pain somewhat. On the move again, we were traveling along, without a care. I came across an old hotel (Fountain Blue) it was in French, and I do not know the spelling. Anyway, we thought that a snack and a shower would be nice, right about now. I pulled off the road, and parked. It was out in the country, and we were the only ones there. About 10:00 am. We went inside and sat down. The owner came over and asked what we would like. We started with a special sandwich and a beer. Well we were starting to relax, and was feeling good. We forgot all about the time, and did not realize how fast it was moving. The jukebox, by this time was running steady. We could notice that it was crowded for a time then thinned out again. We did not think too much about it. Everything was moving along smoothly, and by this time, we were taking advantage of the music, and were dancing right along.
We were so engrossed in ourselves, that we did not realize that time was marching on. The jukebox shut off and a small live band had slipped in and was playing great dance music. Slowly the place started to fill up and we started to notice that everyone was all dressed up in suits and ties, with the women wearing party dresses. We on the other hand, were wearing old dirty jeans and work shirts. We were dancing like Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers, with people moving aside and giving us the floor. When all this sunk in, we discovered that the day had passed and it was about 2:00am. It was time to get out.
We climbed into the truck and went about a mile down the road to an abandoned gas station. We both flaked out propped up in the seats. During the night sometime, Muriel had to go to the ladies room. We were both in a stupor. She climbed out and I automatically dropped down on the seat and by unconscious habit, my hand tripped the lock, locking my new wife out.
When I am over tired, or otherwise, nothing can wake me up. Eventually the sun came up and woke me. It was then that I realized that Muriel was missing. It scared the hell out of me. I jumped out, and proceeded to search for her. Thoughts of kidnapping went through my mind as well as other nasty things. On the other side of the truck, I found her sleeping, propped up against the fence, with a couple pigs snorting at her. Boy did I give it to her then. She retaliated by telling me that she banged on the door until she wore herself out, sat down on the ground and went to sleep.
Well the next day or two was quiet, conversational wise.
We got into St John and there was a little motel just across the bridge from the Steel Company. It had half a dozen small cabins. I acquired a cabin, so Muriel could go ahead, and clean up, while I went to get the load off. When I got there, they said I was early, and they could not get me in until morning, so I dropped the trailer in their compound, and bobtailed back to the cabin.
By this time, it was about 10:00am, so I cleaned up and told Muriel that I would go and get something for lunch. I had been in St John many, many times, and knew just where to go. I headed straight for the ships harbour. There was a lobster co. there and they unloaded live lobsters. They also had a big pot, always fired up, for cooking them if you wanted. I picked out three, at about a pound and a half each, had them cooked up and put in a plain brown paper bag. I headed back to the room, happy as hell.
I pulled in and parked for the day. I went in and told my wife that I had a special present for her. Gave her the bag, and she stuck her hand in and got a hold of the claw and pulled it out. One look and she threw the bag down and let out a blood-curdling scream. She had no idea what it was. It could have been the Lock Ness Monster, for all she knew. I was just too stupid to realize the reaction.
She calmed down finally, and we decided to eat the lobster (her first). To be able to eat them properly, you need the appropriate tools. I was used to using a hunting knife. I did not have one, so headed up to the office to borrow a butcher knife. I never gave it a thought, but with Muriel screaming, and me still looking like a fugitive from hell, calmly walked up to the office and banged on the door. The door opened a couple inches and the guy said what do you want? I need a butcher knife got one I can borrow? It will be just for a couple minutes. Man if looks could kill, I would have been dead on the spot. I guess they thought that I was beating up my wife, and was looking for something to finish the job.
After getting everything straightened out, they still would not let me in, or give me a knife. I had to prove it by taking the lobster up to them while I waited outside, for them to cut it up for me. That was lots of excitement for one day. In the end, she found out that she did not like lobster anyway. So I ate them all myself.
The next morning I told her, I would take her to see the reversing falls; I took off extra early, got the load off and came back, picked her up and headed over the falls bridge. The fog was so thick; you could hardly see the Bulldog on the nose of the tractor. As we crossed the bridge, I said that the falls were directly below us. Visibility being about 5 feet, she has yet to see the reversing falls. The way things were going; there was the distinct possibility that this marriage just might be short lived.
Well we started out, on our way back, at a real snails pace. That East Coast fog can be a real hazard sometimes. We crawled along for about 2 1/2 hrs, until we got to some real high ground inland, and finally ran out of it. It was clear sailing for the next day or so.
As we were heading northwest towards Quebec again, I started getting some weird noises coming from the engine. It was a real metallic sound, like a banging piston or something. I pulled over and went over everything; the gauges were normal and the noise cleared up. Took off again and it came back under load. Just across the St. John River, at the top of the hill, at Fredericton, was a Mack dealer. I pulled in and had a mechanic come outside and check it out. While he was under the hood working, one at a time the younger mechanics kept drifting out to offer the old man a hand. He would run them off. My wife, not being used to traveling asked me why the older guy would not let them help out. I said, that's another one on his way across the lot, keep an eye on him, and I'll bet he climbs up on the bumper and starts looking through the hood to get a look at the young, good looking chick in the truck. He did exactly that, and she could not believe it. The old guy knew why they were coming out, and he ran them off. As it turned out, it was a dried out fan belt, giving me the scare. He changed it, and we were on our way again.
A day and a half later, we pulled into Toronto, and the honeymoon was over. After giving it an awful lot of thought, she said that I was on probation, and did not know if she could handle the trucker’s lifestyle.
Here it is, more than 40 years later, we are still together and I am still on probation.
(That was only a single trip)
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It was the end of July, 1964 in Toronto’s East side, about a week after returning from our honeymoon trip. (By truck.) It was a Thursday night about 10:30 pm, and I was getting ready for a 3rd run to Montreal this week. I had the loaded truck sitting in the grocery store parking lot across the street, ready to go.
I think it would be better to give one a description of the location so as to understand this incident a little better.
It was near the corner of Dawes Rd. & Danforth Ave. in Toronto’s East side. We had a small 4 room apartment over top of a clothing store. Our front door was recessed in beside the store entrance, with show cased windows on both sides. There was no door window or peephole. You entered, and went directly upstairs into the kitchen, then faced a rear window overlooking the flat store roof. We had a couple clotheslines strung up out there also. Over the edge was about a 10 – 12 foot drop down to the back ally. There were no lights of any sort at the rear of the building, nor in the ally. It was pitch dark.
Off to the left was the second floor of the hardware store, with no windows. Then to the right, in the next building was a finance company, and next to that was Dawes Road. Directly across the street were 2 well used taverns.
It was just before 11:00 pm and I said my goodbyes to my wife Muriel, and my mother, who was staying with us for a time. She was waiting for her things to be shipped into Toronto and set up in her new apt.
They locked up and went to bed shortly after I left. Just after midnight, mom was awakened by some noises coming through the back window, which at the time was open to dispense the summer heat. She heard what sounded like someone using a crowbar, pulling nails.
She immediately went in to get Muriel up. She awoke to find mom standing in the dark beside the bed holding my 18 inch butcher knife in one hand, and my 2 lb ball peen hammer in the other hand. She whispered to Muriel to get up, and told her that some one is on the roof and trying to get in next door.
Muriel held the weapons while mom called the police. They remembered the kitchen window being open, (no screen, for climbing in and out with the laundry). They then stood one on each side of the window with weapons in hand waiting for something to happen. Just then a banging came to the front door; mom went to the top of the stairs and yelled, “WHO IS IT?” It’s the police, let us in. Mom answered, go to hell, if you are the cops, get your asses around the back and get those guys off our roof. You are not coming in the front door if I cannot see who you are.
She came back to Muriel and with one on each side of the window, stood there in the dark ready to take on any intruder.
A chase ensued across the top of the roof and there was screaming and yelling going on like crazy. The 2 guys trying to cut their way into the finance company were finally nailed and cuffed.
Muriel whispered to mom that there were 2 shadows coming towards our window, knife and hammer ready for anything, one called out, “are you ladies still there?” They did not answer, “You phoned the cops, we are coming in”. Thinking it was still the burglars, as the first cop put his head through the window, mom stuck the BIG BUTCHER KNIFE in front of his face, and Muriel held the steel hammer over his head. He was in plain cloths, and yelling NO-NO, we are the police. The uniformed cop threw in his police hat for a quick ID, while the plainclothes cop dug frantically for his identification.
OK, hold it right there, the window is as close as you are going to get, you're not coming in. What would you have done if they came in? We would have used the knife and hammer on them. (Cop) you’re not supposed to do that. Mom answered with, “What are we supposed to do? Invite them in for a cup of tea?”
(Cop) Well we will just come in and use the stairs down to the street. Mom answered with a definite NO WAY, you got a ladder out there from the ground, you just go back the way you came, and take the ladder and those idiots with you………. So they did.
The bad guys were hauled off and charged, not realizing that was their life saver. My mother and father, during the depression (the dirty 30’s) were butcher & chef on the great lakes ships, and mom was well schooled in the use of the BIG BUTCHER KNIVES. Muriel had a hot temper, from earlier rougher days of her life, and would not hesitate to use the hammer on an intruders head. No one has ever made it through our home without an invitation. (Including me.)
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In the winter of 1964/65, old Izzy brought me down from Wimco Steel to look after a new truck for his own use at Regent Battery. He had ordered a new INTERNATIONAL, D-2000, (day cab) for the job. This tractor had a 220 hp Cummins, and a 4X4 Spicer transmission. With 2 small backbreaking bucket seats, and with the engine halfway into the cab, the 2 gearshifts ended up between the seats. There was nowhere in that cab, that you could lay down for a nap.
Regent Battery was his recycling business dealing in scrap batteries, lead, brass and copper. They would bring in scrap batteries from all over the country, break them down, and separate the lead plates from the casing and ship them off to a local smelter. The same thing happened, with the brass and copper. Once the metals smelted down, and poured into moulds, cooled, and separated, they were then, called PIGS, or INGOTS. If you were telling another driver down the road, what you had on, such as a load of brass pigs, you had to take time out and explain what brass pigs were. Some had strange ideas as to what you were trying to describe.
The usual runs were into the Province of Quebec. Montreal and Quebec City, being the main drop and pick up points. The odd trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the west, was available just to break up the routine.
One trip in particular, was in January, during a violent snowstorm. As usual in the trucking industry, this load just had to go. Also as usual, they gave you a life and death reason why. Without this load, the whole world will collapse, and I was the only one who could save the day. (Does that sound familiar?)
It was a Tuesday night, and the storm warnings were on full alert. I was expected to be in Montreal, for 07:00 am the next morning. It was a real trip getting there, with cars and trucks lining the ditches, or as in one case, piled on top of each other. It took me all night to cover the 350 miles to Montreal. I had been sitting around until almost 09:30 am, before anyone showed up for this rush load. As it turned out, they did not bother to even open up that day. The manager was angered, that I demanded he get this load off, so I could go and make a pickup at another scrap yard. His excuse was that running a lift truck was not his job, and he did not care. I explained to him, forcefully, that it would not be my job to call an ambulance to get him back up off the floor either, and that I could not care less, if they never showed up. I guess that the threatening explanation, helped him to quickly remember how the lift truck operated, because I was unloaded and ready to leave in less than a half hour.
The streets were a total write off. Fortunately, I only had about a mile to go, along side of the old canal. The scrap yard was inside an old CAN-CAR building. They used to build railroad cars there. The rail car building shut down, and space leased out to different business. After waiting another hour for the front-end loaders to clear away the snow, I finally was able to pull inside the building. The truck was caked with snow and ice. The building was warm inside, and the snow only took a couple minutes to start melting off. I sat listening to the radio for a few minutes, before getting out. As I stepped out onto the fuel tank, the snow and ice were melting and running off, making my foot slip out from under me and I went down like a rock. A chunk of timber was sticking out from under the tractor a couple off inches. As I went down my heel caught on the timber, bending my foot forward as all my weight came down on it. The pain was so bad that I could not breathe, for what seemed an eternity. I was out of sight, where I landed, and no one knew what happened. Finally, one of the loaders came over to help pull the tarp, for loading and found me on the floor. He called the others to come and help. It took a good hour before I could move around on my own again. I turned down the offer to call an ambulance, figuring just a severe strain.
They finished loading the scrap batteries and tarped the load down for me, and then I was on my way.
It was about 3:30pm and the rush hour was in full swing. Mostly snowploughs and front-end loaders were trying to open the roads up. Just a few blocks away, in Upper Lachine were PEG’S Motel. Where truckers, and all the local gangsters hung out. I made my way up there, and talked a front end loader driver into digging me out a parking spot, so as I could stay over night. He said OK, on the condition that I bought him a beer after work. I agreed and he promptly went to work on a spot for me.
Once I settled in, and then cleaned up, I headed for the bar. After a few beers, and chatting with a couple of drivers, that had to lie over, the pain started coming on strong and heavy. I checked my left boot and could not even undo the leather laces. The swelling was really getting bad. I thought that I would have to get the boot cut off. Well the guys tried talking me into going to the hospital for a check up. When I was a kid I had a terrifying experience with a doctor, and there was no way in hell that I wanted to go to a hospital. Well a couple more beers did nothing to help the ever-increasing pain. I finally let them call me a taxi. It took the cab another hour to get there, so in the meantime it would not hurt anything to have a few more beers to kill the time, if not the pain. The cab finally showed up and I was on my way.
Eventually I made my way to the registration desk, filled out a bunch of papers and then had to; practically crawl over to a chair along a blank wall. There must have been at least 30 chairs in the row. If you had to crawl on your hands and knees, to get there, you were on your own. It seemed that if I had collapsed, or something, they would just step over my body and carry on. The fact that it was a French hospital, and I was English, made communication that much more scary. I guess that, if you let out a loud painful scream, it would not matter what language it was, they would understand. They may leave you there, BUT THEY, WOULD UNDERSTAND.
A couple hours past and finally, someone showed up. He asked my name, then said follow me. He was halfway across the room before he noticed that I was not right with him. He turned and said hurry up; I do not have all day. The statement that I returned, did not matter what language he spoke, he knew EXACTLY, what I meant. Finally, I made it to the elevator, and we were on our way up. We went down the hall and ended up in the X-ray room. I went through all the necessary positions and routines. I was then told, go back to the lobby on my own and wait until called. I dragged my butt back down to the chair and again entered into the waiting game.
About a ½ hour passed when the medical genius returned, and in a surprised voice, asked me, do you know you have a broken foot? I could have killed him right there and left with a clear conscience.
Immediately a wheel chair showed up, and the civility began in earnest. I asked why, are you taking this serious now. He said that out of the 30 people in the row, there are probably four or five real problems. Most of them are just lonely and looking for attention, and they have to, one at a time be separated.
By the time I was finished, I had a cast from the tip of my toe up to my crotch, give or take a half inch. They also had plans to keep me in overnight until the plaster set. No way was that part of my game plan. It took a lot of talking, but I promised to stay overnight at the motel, to let the cast dry. They phoned to make sure that I had booked in for the night. They were reluctant, but finally agreed.
An hour and half later I was on my way. They had a hell of a time trying to find a pair of crutches to fit my 6’ 4” body. There was one set eventually, that fit. Shortly thereafter, I was back in the bar, being showered with free drinks, for returning as a wounded, and patched up, conquering hero.
After all the celebrating, I finally hit the sack. The morning brought in a day of bright sunshine and clear, but cold skies. I knocked on the cast to make sure it solidified, it did and I was on my way. The truck had already, been dug out of the snow, as if it was extra special. The front-end loader cleared my path for me. He also left a note with the desk, thanking me for keeping my word for the free beer, and after seeing the cast on my leg, he said that he would come back in the morning, and made sure that I had no obstruction, getting out.
I could not do any thing without getting help from all the drivers. Even the local bad guys helped me to get out to the truck.
It was a little awkward in the beginning. I was in the seat, and had to lie on my back to get the left leg in the cab. (It was straight out, and in the cast.) When I swung around and sat up, the left leg was on the left side of the clutch. I was in neutral and got it started. Now this needed a little planning. I poked the left crutch down along side the cast, and let it lean against the driver’s door. The right crutch, I poked down to the floor on the passenger side and leaned it on the passenger door.
Here I am the brake and throttle, controlled by my right foot. The two gearshifts are controlled by my right hand, and now how about the steering and the clutch? Well, I took the left CRUTCH, holding it in my left hand, pushed in the clutch, then put the 2 sticks in gear, with my right hand, then letting out the clutch, with the CRUTCH, got it rolling. From there on, I used the throttle to power shift, without the clutch. I could do that until I had to stop. I would have to use the CRUTCH on the clutch, to stop, then again, to get rolling. At times, I would have to steady the steering with my right knee. A little awkward at times, as there was no power steering, it was the old manual type, you know, it was sometimes referred to as Armstrong steering. (Do you understand all this?)
Anyway, I made it out of town, about 60 miles, to just before the Ontario-Quebec border, when the dreaded Quebec version of the D.O.T. (Department Of Transport, Ontario), (R.T. BOARD) stopped me. I sat there and talked to him with the window down. He demanded that I exit the truck. I explained why that would be a problem. No way, I must be another trucker shooting a load of bull to the government. OK, I am on my way out. I opened the door, flopped back on the seat and swung the cast out the door, and was just going to drop to the ground, when he just about crapped himself. He yelled to stay in the truck, and I complied. Guess that he figured that if I dropped, he would have to pick me up and possibly be liable for a lawsuit. It was great, seeing a shocked and scared look on a government man. That does not come around but once in a lifetime. He wished me Bon Voyage, and then told me in fluent English, to get the hell out of there. Therefore, here I go again, clutching and crutching, my way down the road.
It was another 300 miles home. After four more hours, the strain was starting to get to me. I was at the second service centre from Toronto. They were an hour apart. I finally had to call for help. I was never so tired in my life. I called home and asked my wife to phone my friend Bob T. and see if he was in town. (He was another trucker and good friend.) She called back and said that he just got home, but would come out if required. My mother had a little Ford Falcon at that time and said that she would pick Bob up and bring him out to me. OK, great. I will meet with you at the next service centre, the last before Toronto. 60 miles down the road.
My mother drove my wife over to Bobs place to pick him up. It was 2 or 3 miles through the city in the opposite direction. She got there and picked him up, then headed back east to meet up with me at the service center.
I had run steady and never stopped. I got to the prearranged location, and figured on about an hour wait. No way, in about 10 minutes they showed up. I could not believe it. The car pulled in behind me and I saw in the mirror, Bob jumping out and practically run up to me. He said for me to get the hell out of the truck and let him get out of there. Apparently, my mother scared the crap out of him. That little Ford was up and over 100 miles an hour at times on the expressway, and his knuckles were snow white from hanging on for dear life.
He warned me, that if Helen’s little boy, was ever hurt again, DEFINITELY, DO NOT CALL HIM. He said that, I could die first, because he was not ready.
By the time, I hobbled over and into the car, Bob was long gone with the truck and load, and I did not see him again until the next day.
One good thing from this is that when you terrify a friend, and he is STILL your friend, he is really worth keeping.
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1964 while with Wimco Steel my life was a non stop excitement. Something new and different would come up every trip. Never while working for Izzy was it ever boring. We were also known in the industry as Izzy’s Gypsies.
This one trip in particular, I had taken a rush load of steel plate to Sydney, Nova Scotia practically non stop. I headed back to Fredericton, New Brunswick to pick up a load of scrap automotive batteries for Izzy’s recycling yard in Toronto. The truck I was driving was a B-61 Mack conventional cab; no sleeper. Sydney was about 1,300 miles one way. I slept over the steering wheel or cramped up on the seat. By the time I had returned to the Quebec / Ontario border at my regular fuel stop, I was totally beat out, exhausted. There were no log books in Canada at this time. You ran until you could not stay awake, flaked out for a couple hours and then carried on.
There was a small gas station in the village of St. Zotique, Quebec. It had 2 gas pumps, and 1 diesel pump, on the corner of the small building. When fuelling up, the property was so small that my tractor and 36 foot trailer covered 2/3 rd’s of the front of the building. The owner had come here with his wife and kids to start a business. He only had enough money for a load of fuel, and a week’s supply of food, for the whole family who moved into the gas station.
He was a great mechanic and progressed at a steady pace. Izzy had set up a fuel account with him, and we just pulled in fuelled and signed out.
On this particular trip, I pulled in and was ready to fuel up when Real (French pronunciation) said that I could not fuel up today. Why? What’s wrong? Well Izzy owes me about 3 thousand dollars for fuel and I cannot carry him any more, I’m going broke, and will lose everything if I don’t get my money.
Well I did not have enough fuel to get home, and I was tired and dispositionally ugly. I asked Real, would it be worth a steak dinner and a bed at the local hotel if I got his money for him. He said he would add all the beer I wanted with the steak if I could pull it off. You got a deal.
I asked if he knew of a local Sheriff or Bailiff that he could call. He said yes, he was a friend of the family. Well I told Real to give him a call and to get him over here right now. He did so, and the bailiff was here in 30 minutes. It was really good because the bailiff had a real heavy French accent and spoke broken English. I told Real that I was calling Izzy and demanding him to pay his fuel bill to keep me and the truck from being impounded. It’s not like Izzy was struggling financially, because he had money coming out of his ears, and just liked playing games with all the creditors.
I advised the Bailiff and Real that they were going to impound the truck and load, and that it would not leave the province of Quebec until they received full payment on the account. Will you back me up on this? Yes was their answer.
I called Izzy collect, and started talking fast and in a very angry mood. What the hells going on? You did not pay your fuel bill here. The Bailiff showed up and put the clamps on the truck. They seized and put a lien on it for failure to pay. If you think that for one minute that I am going to jail for you, you are crazy. If I do, and when I get out, you will see me as you have never seen me before. Now get me out of this. His response was that; they can’t do that. I responded with what are you talking about? They already have. Here talk to him yourself, the bailiff got on the phone in his heavy French accent and corroborated what I said. I grabbed the phone back and screamed at Izzy; you have 30 minutes to get me out of here, and then hung up.
Real and the bailiff were visibly shaken at the proceedings. I on the other hand was too tired to be upset. I told them to relax, that I think that Izzy knows me and my temper enough that he will come through on time. Fortunately, just around the corner from Izzy’s yard was a Canadian Pacific Telegraph office, and it was only 20 minutes later a call came in that Real’s money was in. They could not believe it.
I told him to call ahead to the St Zotique Hotel and tell them that I am coming and want a beer, steak and a bed in that order. It was a regular truckers hangout, and was only a 1/4 mile down the road. By the time I pulled into the lot, parked ran up the front stairs, and into the bar, a quart of my favourite beer was sitting at the table waiting for me. As I grabbed my first sip Leo (the owner) yelled out; how do you want this porterhouse steak cooked? Your room is ready when you are. No charge.
I was really beat. I downed a couple quarts of beer had a great steak and then flaked out till the next morning.
In the end, Real got his money; I got a well deserved meal and rest, and Izzy’s credit carried on. When I got home Izzy asked if all was OK with me. I said yes for now, and then all was forgotten.
That was his way of operating. He also respected me and valued my work, and was quite aware of my explosive temper at times. Work wise, I always gave him my best, and he always made money by me, and in return he pretty well looked after whatever I asked for. He would scream allot, but eventually he gave in.
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Izzy, at Regent Battery, had the contract and owned the trucks. I spent 5 years at Griffith Labs, and set everything up, drivers, trucks, service and suggestions when required.
In 1966, Izzy sent me up to the Griffith Laboratories, in Scarborough, (Toronto) to organize and set up a company fleet. I took my red B-61 MACK to Griffith's, and then started a plant-to-plant scheduled run (Toronto - Montreal). A year and a half later, we acquired a dry bulk tanker to service one particular customer in New England. (USA). The tank was designed, and built by Truck engineering. (King Trailers) The product hauled, was breadcrumbs, or called breading, for fish products. It was equipped with twin compressors that could run in either series or parallel. That way, it could not only blow off the light powders of flour or breading, but had the force to blow off a load of heavy salt. The blower, powered by electric motors, plugged into the customer’s service at 600 volts. It was a lot quieter running system than a gas engine. It would run instantly at outside temperatures of well below zero Fahrenheit.
When we took delivery of the new units, I began scouting for a driver to operate it. Being on the Toronto-Montreal run for the last few years, you tend to meet drivers on the same route and schedule as yourself. It really gave me a chance to pick, and choose from the best drivers out there.
One driver in particular, stood out and above the others. We had been running together and he was just the type I was looking for. He was an exceptional driver, and could get a unit into some very tight places in Montreal, without damaging anything. He was diplomatic with all of his customers, and never had a problem that he could not cure. He was just what I was looking for.
I approached Bill with an offer he could not refuse. It was a great family run company, offering uniforms, benefit plans, social clubs and events. The greatest thing about the company was that even the president would listen, and talk to the drivers about any of our suggestions, for improving the service and customer relations. Bill jumped on my offer and we both came up winners.
Griffiths had a personality test, required by everyone before signing up. If I remember correctly, it is an A.V.A. test. It consisted of about 10 or more pages, and could be intimidating. There were other people, who were exceptionally qualified to do what they applied for, and still this test rejected them. It seemed as though this was the company bible, and there were no exceptions.
Bill past with flying colours, but remained with one problem. All of our tractors were equipped with two stick transmissions. Bill had never used a multi-transmission before. He wanted to beg out of the job. He had such a high score on the A.V.A. test that they did not want to lose him. They asked if I could train him, and would I do so? Yes definitely, was my answer, and then he was hired with full pay rate. Good people can be very hard to come by.
We ran double for a couple weeks, with the COE MACK, and tanker. Not the best of time for a trainee, the dead of winter, and snow storms almost daily.
Our first trip was to pick up a load of salt in Goderich, Ontario. It was snowing a real blizzard, and the temperature was well below zero. I called Bill and had him meet me at the yard, about 8:00 pm. I started out driving and instructing him on the two stick shift pattern. It was his turn at the wheel. Between the heavy snows blinding his vision, and missing gears, as well as having confusion between the two sticks. He was grinding and missing shifts, and was getting frustrated, and then began to lose his temper. I drove again for about an hour, and then switched back after he regained his composure. To make things easier for him, I jumped in the bunk and closed the curtain. I always felt that after instructing a driver, he would learn much faster on his own, without a pair of eyes watching his every move. Between the blizzard, and the shifting, and stopping a couple times, to be restarted, he picked up on, it quite well. I sort of faked sleep, and gave him a chance to swear at himself in private.
I had no fear of his driving he was exceptional. He just needed some shifting practice. He also failed to notify me of one thing that got us into a situation and almost freezing to death. His wife was notorious for cooking up homemade beans, Bill’s favourite. It was in the snowstorm and around 2:30 am. I was in the bunk, and during one of his frustrating fits, he started to cut the air with the most horrid smell.
I just could not believe it. It was bad enough that I could no longer stay in the bunk. He just could not stop. We looked at each other in disbelief, and then started laughing. He still carried on polluting the air. Finally, it was bad enough that we had to open both widows all the way down. The cold and snow flowed into the cab. It was almost another hour, before his dinner wore off. The can of pop on the dash froze solid. I swore that I was going to attach his next pay cheque for danger pay. Eventually, he picked up on the shifting procedure, and then became a long-term driver.
The company had purchased this tanker unit for the benefit of a particular customer, Booth Fisheries in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA.
Bill had been running steady and they needed an extra load in a hurry. I went along with him for this trip. Therefore, we could get there none stop. We entered the United States at Gananoque, Ontario, at the 1,000 islands bridge. Normally we cross over in very short order. This trip, in the US Customs, we had an officer that seemed to be worried about spies, or bad guys getting past him. We had been crossing there for years with no problems. This trip, he made us go inside and take the third degree. We put our uniform jackets on and went inside. We were both Bill, and had identical styled uniforms, with our first names emblazed on the front. He interrogated us for quite a while, then popped a question, are you brothers? Twins? How am I supposed to know, if you are telling the truth or not. You could switch jackets, and not tell me.
We were dumbfounded, started to laugh aloud, and could not stop. --- I was 280 lbs and six feet four inches, Bill was about a hundred pounds lighter, and half a foot shorter. I asked, are you serious? He started to throw a fit, screaming loud enough to bring in officers that are more curious. I quickly remembered where we were. It was in no man's land, out of Canada, but not allowed into the US yet. This is one place where your rights do not exist, until allowed in to the country. Things were starting to get a little hairy around there for a time. Eventually a superior officer interceded, and we got things straitened out and finally on our way. You could use the movie “TWINS” as a comparison, between Bill, and me, with Arnold Swartzenager, and Danny Devito. (Those were the original twins)
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Before the actual scheduled trips could be set up, a testing period was implemented. We had to test our new loading silos, along with the operating of the tanker trailer itself. This is a whole new field for us to explore.
During this period, the customer, Booth Fisheries in Portsmouth New Hampshire were still in the construction stage, building this new ultra modern plant. In the meantime we were exploring the workings of our new equipment, experimenting with loads of flour and salt.
My first chore was to go to Lou's Tank Lines in Toronto for a wash out, and sanitizing. Taking delivery of a new food grade tank trailer required certification before the first load. You never know if any construction filings, grease or contaminating objects were left behind. It cannot be afforded to take the chance.
The first trip to Midland, Ontario at Robin Hood Flour proved to be a learning experience. The new tank just barely fit through the doorway. I needed guidance to stop at the right location, lining up with the loading hose.
The 3" hose was hooked up to the receiving pipe at the rear of the trailer, and the flour was blown into the tank under air pressure. Two of the five hatches on top of the tank were left open. There was a giant sock in each one, and had to be pulled up and lying across the tank top. When the product was blown into the trailer, there had to be a filtered exhaust for the air to escape while holding the flour in.
The hatch was about 30 inches in diameter with a removable retainer ring on the inside. The sock itself was the full width at 30 inches wide and stood about 6 feet high when filtering and exhausting the air pressure. It looked like the Jolly Green Giant's condom.
When the amount ordered was loaded, I had to climb up top of the tank and lift the sock up vertically and knock the accumulated flour back down into the tank, and then fold the sock down to the inside of the tank and close up the hatch. In the meantime I am wearing a dark blue driver's uniform, and with all that flour floating around in the air, I was starting to look like a walking talking snow man. Not only that, but being in the heat of the summer and working up a sweat, the flour dust would get mixed on your skin with the sweat, turn into a paste, and then start to rot right away. (Just ask my wife.) Within an hour, if you stopped for a coffee, you would find yourself sitting alone, as any others around you would slowly drift away to another spot, trying to avoid the stench. It was one of the pitfalls of exploring a new venture.
2 weeks of experimenting went by, when upper management, at Robin Hood Flour, along with my company Griffith Laboratories got a brainstorm and decided that a loading demonstration was in order. (I guessed that they figured they needed a well deserved pat on the back, along with a free meal.)
NOTE; The flour companies were always competing for Griffith Laboratories business, for Griffiths were Canada's largest users of flour, even more so than any bakeries in the country.
I was notified of the demo load, and suggested I wear a clean uniform & tie, to impress the higher echelon. I arrived at the requested time for loading in Port Colborne, Ontario. Backing along side the dock, and on the railroad tracks to where the 3 inch hose was hooked up to my rear loading pipe. I opened up the front and rear hatches, spreading out the filter socks on top of the tank.
Managements grand demo tour was to take place near the end of the loading period. The parade of dark suits was moving along side of the trailer on the dock. I was sitting in the cab watching this display of backslapping and brown nosing. As they stood near the back of the tank, (6 of them) the loader lost his attention to the loading, and let it go just a little too far. As the crowd was taking in this glorious demonstration, the rear six foot sock plugged up with flour from overloading; the pressure blew the sock out of the ring, strait up into the air about 10 feet, and exploding about 300 lbs of flour, plus at the same time the loading pipe was still pumping it out the open hatch.
The loader hit the kill switch but was too late. On this bright, clear July day there was an unexpected snow storm. (Flour) I of course rolled my window up pronto, while watching all the black suits & hair quickly transformed into white ghosts. I was so impressed that I got a gut ache from laughing so hard and long. All the talking turned into a deadly quiet for a couple minutes, and then all hell broke loose, these genteel business people started yelling and swearing so bad it was hard to separate them from an outraged gang of truckers. It was a great sight.
It took a couple more hours to get the tank reasonably dusted off, and the socks stowed away. It was a couple weeks later that I was passing through vice presidents row in the office, that I saw our lead representative, I gave him a smile and in return he shook his fist at me and then started laughing like hell, and then bought me lunch.
This tanker business gave us quite a few unexpected incidents.
Once the flour run was finally established, I had hired, and trained Smitty to take over the tanker while I prepared to set up another run; a dry van to Chicago.
About 3 or 4 weeks into the tanker operation, Smitty was becoming quite used to the routine. The problem at that time was that the rear loading was manually timed for the amount of weight required. There were no scales on the property and we had to go to the local scrap yard to weigh in and out.
On this particular day they overloaded the trailer so much that even the 2 socks were full and would not lie down. The only thing that could be done was to head back and shake the load down while driving. You have to pressurize the trailer to unload any overload, and that is impossible with the socks out and hatch open.
Smitty was running down the road while these two socks stuck up 6 feet in the air. There was so much flour dust coming off the top of the tank that it looked like it was on fire and the smoke was trailing.
He was planning on going a few more miles and then try to shake the socks down and empty them into the load. He was looking for a place to pull over, when this guy in a convertible was blasting his horn, and shaking his fist at Smitty. It was a bright red car with the top down; well actually it used to be red. This guy's car was full of flour inside and out, and even he was snow white, and screaming obscenities. Smitty thought that to stop and apologize would be futile if not too dangerous, so left the convertible in a cloud of dust.
There is one smaller incident that I think is worth mentioning.
When Smitty and I were running double for 2 training trips to New England for Booth Fisheries hauling a tanker load of breading. We were loaded to the gills, and had to detour down the old road for a distance in Massachusetts and coming out again at the Mass 10 Truck stop. (Gene Murphy’s place.)
During the detour on the old road, it was all narrow, twisting and hilly. We were dragging our butt over the hills with only 225 hp to play with at full gross. On this section there was a line-up of traffic accumulating behind us with no space to pass. One nut case in particular had no patience (or brains) and kept pulling out and in, trying to pass. Eventually we made it to Gene Murphy's truck stop, the Mass 10. He followed us on to the property.
Smitty went on into the office to wait while I fuelled up. The guy went after Smitty and was screaming at him about holding up the traffic, and was in a fighting mood. Now I am about 6 foot 4 inches tall and scaled in at about 280 lbs. Smitty was about 1 foot shorter and 100 lbs lighter than me. Smitty told him that he was not driving and that I was at the pumps fueling. The guy said that he was going to clean my clock. As I was coming in through the door Smitty told him that "he was the one driving, you go talk to him." He looked up at me to speak and I said WHAT DO YOU WANT? He hesitated, turned and walked briskly out the back door in silence.
I asked Smitty, what was that all about? He just laughed and said that it was his turn to by me lunch. It was sometime later that I had learned what really happened.
I seem to be on a roll here so may as well tell one more incident during our learning experience with the dry bulk tanker.
Not knowing what to do with the socks when plugged up and needed cleaning, we had no idea as to how to go about it.
One evening when I was dropping a load of breading (gravity load) my wife and my mother took the flour infested socks next door to the plant where there was a commercial Laundromat. Not having any Idea as what to do, my mother said that we should shake the dust free from the socks first. Well my wife is 5 foot, and she is snapping or trying to, a 6 foot sock. The dust started to fly and covered parked cars in front of the Laundromat. Then it started to rain a bit, changing the flour on the cars into a paste. After the washing and drying they brought the socks next door to me while I stored them in the trailer tool box.
One of the parked cars was there every day. The next day was hot and dry. The flour dried and curled in flakes, at the same time lifting the paint. Also the washer was plugged with flour paste, and heard later that the owner through a sh-t fit, but did not know who did it. After that we found an industrial cleaner to take over the chore.
This was just a couple more things that happened in this crazy world of trucking.
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Things were moving along steady. I had the Toronto, Montreal interplant service, running without a hitch. The Tanker was running steady to New Hampshire. I was now setting up the Chicago run. Delivering to a customer, and then reloading at the Chicago plant for material we used in Toronto. The branch plants would supply each other with specialty products.
On this particular trip, I had delivered a load to General Foods. From there, I went over to our Chicago branch for my return load. I spent the rest of the afternoon, waiting for my load. They were still assembling, and checking it before being loaded onto the trailer. I was in the cafeteria, at the time watching the news on TV while downing a coffee. It was about some riot, taking place in town. There was some burning and looting going on. The fire trucks and police were having a busy time of it.
My load was ready, and I was finally on my way. The rush hour was in full swing, and the Dan Ryan Expressway was a disaster, for traffic. I made my way south at a snails pace. Once I hit the Chicago Skyway, and headed towards Michigan, the traffic seemed to thin out dramatically. The sun was setting in the west as I climbed the skyway, and in my rear view mirror, I saw the sun blocked by black smoke from the fires, and getting dimmer. That was the first time that I realized the severity of the situation.
I made my way around to the 76 truck stop at Sawyer Michigan and pulled in for dinner. From the bridge in Chicago, to the truck stop, I did not have the radio on. I was listening to the tape player. It was while I was eating, that all the riot news came on over the TV. The episode in Chicago was nothing to what was happening in Detroit. It was wild, and deadly.
I spent just over an hour there, and figured it time to get the lead out and move on. I had the radio tuned in, and it was just, one constant newscast. It would be a couple more years before we had the use of CB radios. It was either the newscast or the truck stop chatter that brought you up to date.
It was pitch dark out now and the traffic was thinning out, and I was feeling like I was the only one on the road. I saw taillights up ahead, and as I got closer, I could see that it was a convoy of troops heading east, towards Detroit. I stayed out in the passing lane and continued to pass. Just ahead was a roadblock. It was at Sargent Road, on I-94. The army had posted a checkpoint and advised all, not to go any farther. I pulled in to an empty lot just off the exit ramp. Within an hour, a dozen or so trucks and cars joined me in the lot.
There was myself, a livestock hauler, a bedbug driver and a car haul. We seemed to have connected, and were exchanging info. I was getting a little dry and due for a snack of some sort. Across the street was a Dinner Club. It was Wynn Schuler’s. I walked over to the entrance, stepped in and asked the restaurant’s maitre d’, if it would be possible to take a seat at the bar, and have a snack. He was in full tuxedo and very formal. To my surprise, he agreed, as long as we did not go into the dining room or occupy tables. It was strictly a formal establishment.
I called to the other drivers and told them it was ok. With the dress code, we were really out of place, but accepted.
We sat around and talked for over an hour, it was getting late and I said that, I do not know about you guys, but I have had enough, and I am going home. Is anyone coming along? It was a no go, and I was the only one to get up and leave.
I fired up the Mack, and took on the ramp and headed down I-94 to Detroit, Michigan. I caught up to a military convoy, loaded with troops. I was really motoring by now, pulled out to pass some army trucks, and ended up staying in the passing lane. There was no break in the convoy. I must have passed hundreds of trucks. There were no other civilian vehicles on the road. I seemed to be the only one.
The radio was constantly giving reports on the riots. I came into town at full speed, and had the Ambassador Bridge to Canada, directly in sight. By this time, I could hear guns going off, and wondered if I would catch a stray. The army had another roadblock set up just not to far from the bridge. They stopped me and wanted to know, what in hell was I doing here, and why. I told them that I lived on the other side of the bridge, and I was heading home. Like hell you are, the bridge is closed and we are under martial law.
He kept me around for quite a while wondering what to do with me. Finally, He said that he was going to give me a military escort, north and out of town. The bridge at Port Huron Michigan, to Sarnia, Ontario, may or may not be open, take your chances, but get out of here.
Well I did not argue with the guy. He sent two armed trucks to escort me. With one in front, and the other in behind, they took me close to the north end city limits, and then I headed for the Blue Water Bridge.
It was about 60 miles up to Port Huron, and I was the only one on the road. Finally I made it onto the bridge, went to pay my toll. The customs man almost had a fit, he was reading a magazine, and did not realize I was there. I scared the hell out of him. He asked where I just came from. Detroit, why do you ask? It is not possible, they are under marshal law, and everything is closed. Well they threw me out anyway. He told me that I was the first one over the bridge, in the last seven hours.
Once over the bridge, it was four hours to Toronto, and home. I was wide-awake, by now, and I never even thought of stopping for a sleep. The company wanted to suspend all trips until things cooled down. I was on my back with another load on the second day. When you stop and think about it for a moment, some countries have this happen on a daily basis. This happened once in 24 years, in Detroit. We are still living in what has to be the safest part of the world.
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Well January is here, and all the rush loads up to and over Christmas, have died down. It is time for a vacation. My wife and I prefer to holiday in either late fall, or dead of winter. As long as the little animals (kids) are still in school, it is much more relaxing for us.
This year we decided to try Barbados, and it was the first week in January that we arrived. We had a young friend from work, along with us. He wanted to meet the woman of his dreams. (Of which he did.)
I had prearranged, for a rental car, a convertible. In my first attempt at right hand driving, I came close to having killed someone.
We had decided to make a trip across to the other side of the island, and get in, a little sight seeing. I thought I was doing quite well with the change over, until I came up to a hill as I was passing another car. Guess what? I pulled out to pass, and forgot to pull back in, by instinct; I was on my side of the road. I drove over the top of the hill, and saw that I was heading for a head on collision, where I pulled a hard right into the field. I do not think that there was enough clearance for another coat of paint. It was that close.
The other driver through a sh** fit. He wanted to kill me bad. He quickly cooled off, after calling me a few well-deserved names. You know them, the usual truck driver names, @#$%^&*. I guess he may have noticed that I was about a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier, once I got out of the car. I apologized for my driving stupidity, and he left hurriedly, mumbling something about crazy tourists.
We had the young fellow with us, and I promptly made him the dedicated driver for the balance of our stay. It is very hard to break a habit after more than a couple million miles on the same side of the road.
If I ever made it to the UK, AUSTRALIA, or JAPAN, --- It will definitely be, a chauffer driven trip.
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The winter of 1972 found me looking for another job for my first truck as an owner/operator. I had just finished a fast hard season hauling asphalt for Liquid Cargo Lines. The season came to an end when the January freeze settled in. They wanted me to stay on and haul bunker "C" for the winter. For me the rate was not worth it. So I moved on.
A young fellow that I had worked with at Griffith Laboratories was on his own now and had been hauling a few loads of lumber into Franks Transport, in Alliston, Ontario. He told me that Rick supplied the trailers and was looking to find an owner/operator to haul for him. He had half a dozen trucks of his own, and was all "R" Model Mack's, the same as mine. I checked it out and then signed on.
It was a new experience for me, hauling lumber that was rough cut and random lengths. It was a real pain in the ass, as it was hardwood and had to be tarpped. There were 2 stacks of loose boards with different lengths, and the tarp was the old heavy canvas weighing around 250 to 300 lbs. You had to get the loader to lift it up on top of the load with his lift truck, and then you were left alone to tarp and fend for yourself.
I took the first load over to Michigan and had the proper papers for customs clearance. No problem there. I picked up a return load for Ontario. This was a real screw up for me. The American shipper knew nothing about export papers and left me alone with the load and no paper work. What now. I had no idea as to the procedures for clearing this particular load. I was not even told to what customs broker to use. I tried to phone Frank and got no answer. He had no office staff, or even a receptionist to take calls. He was also a playboy type that used to race snowmobiles on the circuit. I understood that he was at the show up in Muskoka, at a prominent motel. I finally found out where he was and then had to wait for a response for over 4 hours. I was not impressed.
He finally gave me the information that I needed to clear the load at the Canadian Customs. I was never advised that the driver had to do all the export papers for his customers. Once I knew the brokers involved, I had no problem after that. I did my own clearing at the borders. There were very few American lumber shippers that had the experience with exporting their product. It was up to our transport company to look after that. It was one reason why American drivers did not want to haul into Canada. The International shipping to another country scared most of them off.
I carried on for the most part of the winter. I refused to haul to the docks in Brooklyn, NY, and New Jersey. I was fed up with the run around and the grease thy palm attitude. I just did not want any part of it anymore.
Rick had 3 loads for the docks in Brooklyn, NY. He wanted me to go, and I said NO WAY. He assured me that it was all set up, just in and out, no sweat, everything else was looked after and I was not to be concerned. He was committed to his customer, and was really pushing. The other drivers were, a young guy with no experience in the ways of the docks game, and 2nd, the local company kiss ass. Enough said on that one.
Because of the younger driver I finally gave in, and said OK, but no greasing thy palms. No sweat, it is all taken care of in advance.
The 2 of us took off right after loading and tarping the kiln dried maple lumber for Holland. The Kissy boy would not run with us, he went home to sleep.
We took off after supper, ran all night, and were on the pier first thing the next morning. We had to be photographed and drivers license registered before being allowed to enter the shed for unloading. That was at about 08:00 am. We entered the shed, and were the only thing in there. It was humongous, and empty except for the two of us parked in the middle. It was about 10 minutes later that a foreman showed up and started to tell me how good and fast his crew could operate, and that both trailers would be empty in about 15 minutes. I told him that I was impressed and would be looking forward to a demonstration, and then he left.
That was his first visit. The second visit was about an hour later, and again described how fast his men could unload. I then told him that I always new that the lift truck operators on these docks had to be the best. He quietly stood around for a few more minutes (expecting a response) and then left again.
The kid asked me what was going on, and I explained to him the facts of life about certain shipping rituals. Lunch break had come and gone and we were still alone in this humongous empty shed. Two thirty had come and gone with the foreman returning one more time, repeating the same spiel again. Once again, I agreed on their proficiency in unloading, but that was all. You could see his face starting to change colour, then he left again.
In the meantime, I had the kid untie the tarp ropes and let them hang loose. Then open the chain binders and unhook one end of the chain, letting the chain and ropes just dangle loose. It was now going on 10 minutes to four o'clock, and they close at four. The foreman came back and was screaming at the top of his voice get those @#$%^&* tarps off the loads, NOW.
I had warned the kid in advance that there may be a confrontation, and told him that if we got unloaded, to just pull the tarps over and drop them to the floor, and then yank the chains off as fast as possible, and just let them drop. As fast as they unloaded the bundles of lumber, just throw the tarps and chains loose back on the deck of the trailer, and don't wait to fold or stack them. There were 4 lift trucks flying in and had both loads off in 3 or 4 minutes, then headed back out. We had to keep dodging them, as in their haste we could have been (accidentally?) struck.
We threw the gear on the deck and drove like hell out of the shed, stopping at the gate for the papers to be signed. It was now 4:00 pm on the dot. I could see the operators flying down the roadway on the other side of the fence. I did not have a good feeling at that sight. The kid was right on my tail. We headed off the property and rather than go up the ramp onto the expressway, we turned left and headed north under the expressway. The upper level was stop & go, in the dead of rush hour.
We drove for about 20 blocks and found a spot under the expressway to park. I said that now we will fold up the tarps properly, and chain down the 4 X 4 timber runners. It seemed to be a good spot for waiting out the rush hour. We were both starving and just happened to be parked in front of a Puerto Rican Bar. While eating, I explained to the kid why I did not want to do the docks anymore, and what the procedures were expected of you. It was a tradition, if you want to be polite about it. I just couldn't be bothered anymore.
About 3 hours later when all the traffic cooled down we took off. We were both pretty tired and found a pull off area to flake out for a well deserved sleep. When the morning broke and I was just raising my head above the window, I spotted the squealer heading south with his load for the same docks. That was the last time I had ever seen him.........Hmmm?
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After the docks episode, I was hauling into Michigan and Pennsylvania pretty steady now, loading both ways and getting to know the regular customers on first name basis.
Bob L, the young guy that steered me to Franks had lost his truck in a fire, and was looking for some work to fill in. He stopped by my house and we talked. I told him that I could not really afford to hire a driver at this time.
It was still in the dead of winter, with lots of snow this year. My tractor had a Granning air ride tag axle, but was not equipped with the third air lifting bag. For traction, I could let air out of the suspension, but could not lift it. When bobtailing, I would back the rear tag axle up onto a curb. I would then have a short piece of 2 X 4 and jam it under the guide block. When I pulled ahead the block would settle onto the chunk of 2 X 4 and the rear axle would ride about 16 inches above the ground. It road a lot smoother that way, but with the weight hanging off the rear, it would lift a thousand lbs off the steering. You had to be careful when driving in snow. It had lots of traction but slick on steering.
I had some personal business to take care of and could not do it while on the road. I told Bob that if he wanted the work, I could let him drive for me while I took care of business. He ran a couple of trips and then was loaded for Guelph, Ontario. Guelph was only about an hour and a half from home. The customer had closed for the day, and that gave Bob a chance to get home for a good meal, a cleanup and sleep, with plenty of time to get back to Guelph before the lumber yard opened in the next morning. He dropped the trailer in a secured area, and after seeing me lift the axle a couple times, decided to do the same for bobtailing home. He got it up off the ground OK and headed down the highway. He lived just one street off the exit ramp. This particular ramp was the Southbound Don Valley Parkway in Toronto. The ramp was a tunnel under another Passover. This tunnel had quite a curve inside it, and being night time and in the winter; it had a coat of black ice on the pavement. Bob came into the tunnel curve, and with the axle lifted and the steering extra light, the steering response was lost. The truck would not turn with the curve and slid straight ahead and into the concrete wall, ripping the left fender headlight out and fracturing the left fibreglass fender.
(It was an R-Model Mack, fibreglass hood & fenders, 1 piece.)
I lived only a couple blocks away at the time. Bob called from home and explained what happened. I told him to bring the truck over so as I could see the damage. He was really shook up over the incident, and did not know what to say. It was still drivable but with one headlight less. I told him that he was going to finish the trip. Unload and bring the truck back for repairs.
He jumped in the truck and bobtailed home. He was living in an apartment building on the ground floor. Parking on the street right beside the apartment the truck was just a few feet away from the window.
It wasn't 3/4 of an hour when my phone rang again, it was Bob. He was really upset, and said that "you aren't going to believe this", and I answered "try me".
Bob was just sitting down to supper and there was a loud crash outside his window. Jumping up and looking out, he was horrified to see a car crashed into the back of the tractor. It was a Nash Rambler station wagon, with a woman driving and a young kid in the back seat. The cops were called right away and were there almost immediately.
Apparently the woman was driving down the street when the kid was acting up. She more or less stood up a bit turned and was in the process of smacking the kid to straighten him up when she drifted to the right and ploughed into the left duals of the tractor. The car was completely written off. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. In the meantime it was only a 5 minute drive for me to get there.
It was hard to believe the damage to the car and only knocking the left rear mud flap off. Bob was parked legally and was not charged with anything, but the woman on the other hand was charged with dangerous driving, and a couple other things. While the police and the woman were occupied in discussion, I happened to look down the tandems for alignment, it just did not seem right. The force of the accident pushed the left side of the tag axel forward a couple inches, throwing the alignment out and shifting the frame a bit. I showed it to the police and was added to the report so as to show the damage for insurance reasons.
Bob was really depressed by now. I told him that they build these things every day, and the main thing is that no one was physically hurt, but you are still going to finish the trip.
The axel was still up in the air so getting back to the load was no real problem. The load was parked on the customer's property anyway. He delivered the load and brought the truck back home, and in the meantime, I had made arrangements to get the tractor into Bus & Truck Collision shop.
The frame had to be realigned; brackets replaced and had the fender repaired. During all this time I had scouted out another company to put the truck on with. Franks at that time still had no office staff to take calls. He was always out somewhere entertaining customers or playing with the snowmobiles. It was a pain in the butt trying to get information when needed. It was time to move on.
Bob finally got over his traumatic experience, and I had signed on with Trojan Freight Lines as their first truck on the road. It was a brand new company that was going to be owner/operators only. Fortunately I signed on with Trojan before Bus & Truck repainted the tractor and had time to change the colours to the new Trojan Freight Lines colours. At least I got to save on one expense.
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2nd TIME AROUND
In 1978 Muir's Cartage in Toronto, had a contract with ASEA (Swedish General Electric) in Sudbury, Northern Ontario. They were having driver problems, and found it hard to control him, 250mi. away. Approached by Muir’s to act as their replacement, for the ASEA contract, I offered to go up and try it out for a month. If I were satisfied with the run and equipment, I would take it over and purchase the truck. Of which I did.
The run consisted of 44 calls, over a distance of 2,600 miles, once a week. It was a regular milk run. I would go into bush camps, mines, as well as saw mills, and the different contractor’s sites. I would pick up electric motors, turbines, etc. for overhaul and return them on a following trip. The territory covered was from Sudbury-North Bay, up to James Bay and over to the Manitoba border.
It was quite an experience, in and out of the bush roads, dodging moose jumping out in front of you on the
icy roads, and blizzards, with wind chills as low as 75 degrees below zero F. You may not see anyone for 1/2 a day or more. Coming across someone broke down, or just plain lost, would break the routine. There were no phones or help lines. I had a supped up CB that got me out of trouble a few times.
I spent three years on that run, and during that time, many different experiences happened. One in particular, was ---
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I had the engine block heater plugged in, and I had a new Hot Box installed that trip. It was exceptionally cold that morning. I got up, went out and fired up the Hot Box, and made sure the block heater was still getting hydro. By the time, I got showered and ready; I went out and started the old girl up. It was grunting and groaning, but started OK. A couple guys were out there trying to get going, but did not have any luck. To cold, was about 43 degrees below zero, F.? I had a quick coffee & toast, and was ready to take off. If you hustle, and run steady, it is about a 3 hour run to Long Lac, in good weather.
Well I knew it was going to be a pain in the butt trip, when I let the clutch out to get going, and found all the brake shoes were froze to the drums. Other drivers were out with a hammer banging on the slack adjusters and brake cams, and getting nowhere. I had a rack trailer and carried all kinds of survival gear. I also had a tiger torch. (A propane flamethrower) I fired up the torch and had a flame of about 3 feet. I held it to each drum for about a minute each, and the brake shoes snapped free. I was rolling in about 10 minutes. I helped free up the driver parked next to me, as well. After all his pounding, and getting nowhere, he willingly bought the coffees.
I took off west bound, and was scraping frost off the inside of the windshield, as I was driving. (Very cold) I had alcohol in the fuel, and a heated fuel, water separator. I was not too worried about the fuel jellying up on me. About an hour and a half down the line, I could see some dim clearance lights ahead. As I got closer, I saw that they had stopped in the middle of the road. That was the first vehicle I had seen on the road, so far. I stopped and walked up to this cab over Peterbuilt. The engine was running and blowing white smoke and seemed to be slowing down, to a bare idle. I banged on the door, and a person in a light spring jacket opened up. He almost froze to death. He was from California, and had delivered a load of produce to Timmins, and this was his first trip to Canada. He was on his way to pick up a load of paper from Nipigon, to take back to California.
He had been there for about 7 hours, and I was the first one to come along. He was in deep trouble. First, a wheel bearing on the trailer dried up and collapsed. The duals pulling away from the trailer ran into, and over the snow bank, leaving one end of the axle on the ground. His fan clutch on the engine was air controlled, and froze up in the locked on position, and was blowing cold air over the engine, dropping the water temperature to well below 100 degrees F. The heat gauge would not even register. He had his bedding wrapped around him to try to keep warm. Finally, by this time, the engine almost stopped; the fuel was starting to freeze up. I would hate to think what would happen to him in another couple of hours.
Well first, I got him in my cab to get warmed up. I always carry an old hydro parka in case I have to work on the truck. I gave that to him as well as 2 pr. wool work socks. I also carried a spare toque that my wife made for me. I left him to warm up. I grabbed a jug of Methyl Hydrate, and dumped it in his fuel tank. I got the RPM up slowly as the alcohol burned its way through the filter. I got to the compressor and disconnected the airline, and then poured a pint of Methyl Hydrate into the line. It started to burn its way through the air system. It was not to long before the engine fan finally cut out, and the heat started to rise. After awhile the fuel started flowing full again, and with the heat coming up, I lowered the cab back to the down position. I had a hard time getting it up, and then the fluid was so cold it would not return to the jack. Next, I got out the tiger torch, fired it up again, and heated up the cab jack enough to let the oil flow again. I got it down and locked.
I had a piece of scrap tarp in my trailer, I took it out and fitted it over the front of the radiator and down over the bumper to the front axle. (The tarp is a windbreak for the oil pan, as well.)
Meanwhile, the driver is starting to warm up, and was going to help me, I made him stay put. He was only wearing penny loafers, and could freeze his feet in no time. Well we got everything going again, and even his heater was throwing out some warm air.
Next, I climbed into my trailer and retrieved a chain about 8 ft. long. I carry about 20 to 25 chains and traps to secure the equipment that I pick up and deliver. I got the chain and hooked the one end to the cross members under his floor. I took my hydraulic jack and jacked up the axle until it was level with the other end. Then I wrapped the chain around the axle and hooked that end up to the floor cross member also. It gives it the peg leg look.
Now I have just one more chore to complete. How do I get the set of duals back onto his truck? It took a little extra thought this time. I ended up joining 4 chains, end to end, then hooking onto the wheels and anchoring the other end to my tow hooks, on the front of the tractor. I dragged them back from the ditch side of the snow bank, to the top of the snow bank. (It was about 6 ft. off the ground.) By this time, he was pretty well functional again. I had him back up to the snow bank with his back doors open, and we both climbed up and pushed the wheels down into the back of the trailer. He pulled ahead and closed the doors, and we were ready to roll. He was some shook-up, and could not believe it.
He went ahead and I followed behind, keeping an eye on the rear trailer axle. It cleared the ground with no problem and made it into Long Lac. A garage there works on logging trucks, so his repairs were nothing they could not handle.
I retrieved my chains and left him the old parka, so he would have it a little warmer during his first trip to Canada.
Well I told him that it was time to settle. I think that he had visions of a couple thousand dollars. When I told him, the hotel restaurant was open, and that I was starving after all that work, he was going to have to spring for breakfast. I had quite a hard time trying to convince him that, that was my price. I thought he was going to kiss me. It was a good thing for him that he did not. Overall, I lost about 3 hrs, and still, just barely, I made my pick up on time.
A year of hard running, and sleeping across the seat of a small cab, and motels were enough. I came past the Mack Dealer while on the way home one day, and they had the identical machine to mine, on display. I threw out the anchor and went back to check it out. At the same time, in the shop, there was a new truck being striped down? The sleeper box, the extra fuel tanks, as well as a premium stereo system, were being removed permanently. The buyer wanted the running gear, but not the extras. I looked over all the parts on the floor, and mentioned that they were all the things that I needed. The truck that I was considering was basic.
The sales representative saw me give the accessories the once over, and his ears perked right up. All of a sudden, everything that I needed was sitting right in front of me. Before I left, I got everything I wanted, and only paid less than cost. They would have been stuck with everything, had I not dealt. I compared my price with the same equipment, with a dealer in Toronto. There was no comparison; I was a way ahead of the game. With that, I ran for another two years, one trip per week at 2,600 per trip.
Asea is a worldwide company. The shop that I was dedicated to in Sudbury was beginning to have service problems.
This service shop had been specifically built, to serve the local mining community. On my route, I would pick up burned out electric motors, and returned them to the shop for rebuild. Usually, by the next couple of weeks or so, the repaired motors would be loaded onto my truck, and then, delivered during my next circuit.
It was a seven million dollar service shop. That would be petty cash to a company like ASEA.
The electricians were becoming lackadaisical. Their work was becoming mediocre. Returning a two or three hundred horsepower motor to the customer, should be ready for service on demand. The customer would shelve the motor, until it was needed to replace another failed one. It could be on the shelf for a couple years, before using.
The problem was that when the replacement was required, and installed, it would fail on the start-up attempt, forcing the company to return it for warranty work. The electricians couldn’t care less, if they had to do the job over again. They got paid.
Asea warned them that their work would have to include quality, and if they could not do it, the shop would be shut down. You have ninety days to clean up your act, or else….. The customer does not want warranty, they want it to work.
The attitude of the electricians was that of, you need us; you will not close a seven million dollar shop.
On the day ninety, they locked the doors for good. I had an indefinite contract for my truck. When the shop closed, so did my contract. I guess that you could understand my animosity towards the electricians. There were three in particular that did me favours, and got my motors out a week early. Those three, I arranged for them to get jobs with electric companies on my northern route. The others tried to kiss up, and get them contacts as well. I promptly told them that they need to go and rub rock salt up their ass to clear their brains. They cost me, big time.
I carried on for another month while the millwrights brought in, striped the place. I hauled material and machinery to other branches across the country.
It seems that my reputation preceded me. While doing this distribution, I was contacted by the Canadian General Electric Apparatus shop, located in Burlington Ontario, and then offered a contract to carry on, on the same route, in their favour, for an undetermined amount of time. I accepted, and signed on with them.
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Eventually, I sold the truck with a job, and moved on. I am one of those drifters that need change. Once on a job for a few years, it seems to get repetitious and boring. I just cannot stay put. I need greener pastures.
So as it was in 1986, when I showed up on the doorstep of Texaco Canada. It was in the lubricant division. They were having a hard time of it, finding experienced tanker drivers. They greeted me with open arms. I went in on a contract basis.
I started with a 4-drop trip to Nova Scotia, once a week to, Truro, Kentville, Bridgewater and Yarmouth. The truck was loaded with 65,000 lbs. of lubricants, such as cases, drums, pails, etc. (tri-axle trailer). I would leave Toronto, on Saturday morning for a Monday delivery in Truro. Then go like crazy to get Kentville & Bridgewater off the same day. I would motor on down to Yarmouth, layover till morning, and then unload. Unloading & reloading empty skids, drums and any returns. All freight was unloaded, and empty skids, re stacked by hand (hand bomb, only) When I finished up at Yarmouth, I would head up to Digby, and take the ferry boat to St. John, New Brunswick, and from there, head back to Toronto, arriving back before noon on Thursday.
After a time, I had that run down pat, and anyone could call ahead on any given day, and catch me within an hour on my route. I drove that run for about 6 months, and then was asked to take a trip up into the Northern Quebec bush camps. They were having trouble getting drivers to do that customer. They had lost two rigs, up to that point. Mention Lake Ottawa, (Lac Outaouais) Quebec and the drivers would shun you. There were no volunteers, so Old Bill, was elected to the run.
The tanker (5 compartments), was loaded with hydraulic oil, for giant Korreing tree harvesters. I would travel a couple hundred miles north of Ottawa, Ontario, then turn off the highway, onto a bush road for 100 miles to base camp, pick up a guide and then travel about 30 or 40 mi into the wilderness to reach the equipment. I was always the first large truck to reach the ever-changing sites. I had to be CAT dragged over humps and through muskeg more than once.
It seems that, that was not the only run, drivers refused. Sept-isle (Seven Islands) was another location, along the Quebec north shore.
The area, starting at Quebec City and going north east along the St. Laurence River to Havre-St-Pierre, across from Anticosti Island in the gulf of St. Lawrence. This stretch of road in the past had claimed a lot of lives and equipment. With the grades running at 13 & 14%, and one in particular, at 19% could be very nerve-racking.
The winter running required the drivers to be totally fearless, or at the least, half nuts. The one hill was so notorious that they eventually had to tunnel through the mountain to ease the grade. Once you started down, you were committed. Not all the brakes you had would stop you. Then suddenly you were in a dirty tight turn at the bottom. Miss the turn and possibly, you could just enter the mighty St. Lawrence River. Oh yes, ----- there were no snow ploughs after dark."
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AN EMERGENCY RUN
My truck now pulled a set of "A" trains. No one else wanted to pull doubles. The lead was a van, (cases, drums, pails, etc.) The pup was a tanker. (Special built to haul bulk grease, for the iron ore mills). During the delivery, the van was off loaded at the warehouse in Sept-iles, Quebec (7 islands). I would then pull the tanker over to a rail siding, and transfer the load to a tank car for delivery up to Labrador City. The Iron Ore Co. of Canada owned it all. The tank car would take 6 days to do a round. They screwed up one time, and forgot to hook up to the train. With no local storage available on site and with no storage back in Toronto, because they formulated the load directly into the tank trailer.
My truck now pulled a set of "A" trains. No one else wanted to pull doubles. The lead was a van, (cases, drums, pails, etc.) The pup was a tanker. (Special built to haul bulk grease, for the iron ore mills). During the delivery, the van was off loaded at the warehouse in Sept-iles, Quebec (7 islands). I would then pull the tanker over to a rail siding, and transfer the load to a tank car for delivery up to Labrador City. The Iron Ore Co. of Canada owned it all. The tank car would take 6 days to do a round.
They screwed up one time, and forgot to hook up to the train. With no local storage available on site and with no storage back in Toronto, because they formulated the load directly into the tank trailer.
Well all crap hit the fan. Not all these million dollar executives had a clue. The train could never get to Labrador City before running out. The whole mill system runs with conveyor belts. No grease, no go. OLD BILL, to the rescue. (Who else but a truck driver could save the day?).
During that time, I had called the Texaco gas station back at Port Cartier, where I had the tanker engine serviced. The mechanic had a brother in Lab City, and he took the trail up past the Manic 5 Dam. He had thrown five spare wheels in the back of his old pickup, along with tools of the bush and a good food supply. It took him two days to finally get through to visit. It was barely passable, and he gave me some landmark directions to follow, in the event that I tried to get through.
I kept checking in with Toronto as well as the local branch, waiting for some genius management decision as to what they wanted to do. I wanted to try that trip; it would be another new exploring adventure. Finally, it came down to my deciding, none of the others in management wanted to commit to a decision. I decided to go for it.
I took, the doubles back to Baie-Comeau, Quebec, I dropped the lead trailer at the local distributor, and hooked on to the pup and headed north. The first 150mi. was up and down hills like a yo-yo. However, it was at least paved. It ended at MANIC 5 DAM. End of the line. I pulled up to the gate and the security wanted to know where I was going. I’m headed for Labrador City, an emergency load. The trail starts on the other side of the dam. You cannot cross over the dam with a truck, you have to go down in the valley and cross over a bridge, then up the other side. Ok, which way do I go? He sent an escort car to show me the way down to the river. The roadway was only paved ½ ways down, and then gravel. He left me there and said that I was on my own, goodbye and good luck. I almost did not make it up the other side. It was loose stone and dirt, the wheels started to spin out, just like in snow. I locked up the differential on the fly, and began burning my way up. It was about 3 switchbacks in the climb. Making it over the top again, I headed for a big steel gate. I was to step out and wave at the camera up on a pole. I did so, and the gate opened, I waved thanks, and the camera nodded in return. I was on my way.
With Another 150/200mi. to go, I entered the world of bush roads and no roads. I went over creeks climbed hills at 4/10mph. Ran all night and went through a fly in fishing camp. They almost had a fit when they saw a tanker truck passing through the bush, with the clearance lights glowing in the black of night. I followed trails and home made signs.
I was warned about the town of Gagnon. It was a real shocker when I got there. The trail was rough and slow, ahead was a wall of granite. I stopped and the trail to the right seemed to run right into the bush and disappear. I made a left turn, and was coming onto a paved road. I came around a slow curve and into town. It was just like in the 1950’s science fiction movies. There were streets in order, as well as boulevards and paved,
parking lots, and driveways. There was not a building anywhere. It was as if an atomic bomb went off and vaporized everything in sight. It was an eye opener, if I ever had one. Scary.
Apparently, when the mines closed, the Quebec government chased everyone out of town, and then brought in a bunch of bulldozers. They went to work digging holes behind each building then pushing the buildings in and then cover them up. That way the government does not have to service the town.
I left Gagnon on an unexpected super paved highway. I could not believe it. I got the old girl cranked right out to the governor. It was about 10 miles when I seen a dark spot covering the road. I took it to be a shadow. On second thought, there were no hills or trees in this particular stretch. I slowed down and strained another look. Hell, it is a giant washout in the road. I stopped about 50 feet before the hole. I got out, and walked up to check it out. From the right shoulder, to ¾ of the way across the road, and about 20 feet wide, was nothing. It looked about 10 feet deep. Still, there was not a living soul anywhere. I was completely out of radio range, 2 ways and otherwise. There were about 4 or 5 feet of asphalt just floating in space. There was nothing underneath to support it. I checked it out for about 20 minutes, and then decided to squeeze around it. I am committed now, so may as well try to finish what I started.
I proceeded in the bottom gear, crawling to within an inch of the left guardrail. I moved slowly, nonstop. It is the feeling of doom that I had on the mountain cliff years ago; returning to me like it was yesterday. Looking out the passenger window, I could not see the bottom. Well seeing that I am here now, you know that I eventually made it through.
I had it rolling again, flat out. It was about 40 miles when there was another wall of granite in front of me, with an old crumbling cement silo off to the right. The beautiful paved road, just ended abruptly as it started. There used to be a mine there, Fire Lake.
There was a small homemade sign painted on the rock face. It looked as though it was almost, weathered off. It pointed to the left. I thought I would need a jeep to go over the rock face. I made it up, and it started to level out over the top.
I came upon the rail tracks from the Port Cartier terminal, but no road trail. I was sitting up on a high ridge overlooking a valley. Away in the distance, I could see a dust trail moving. It was just like in the movies, where you could not make it out, but it kept winding around and getting closer.
It disappeared for a few moments, and then all of a sudden, along the edge of the railroad track, on the shoulder, roared an old beat up Oldsmobile station wagon. It stopped in front of me as he came over the tracks. What a sight, the thing was loaded, inside and up top. It included his wife and three kids, with a Newfoundlander dog, a big black monster.
He was the first person I had seen since the fishing camp the night before. He jumped out and right into a conversation. He wanted to know if there was any problem, getting through to the dam. I was interested in the same information behind him.
While we made the exchange of info, his wife and kids had gone ahead and set up a charcoal BBQ. The thing was going great guns before I even knew what happened. At the same time, one of the kids had opened two bottles of Dominion Beer and brought them to us. After spending a day, lost in the bush, it was quite a shock to have beer and lunch served, on the spot. I called it “Newfie’s Super Service”, it could not happen anywhere else.
We spent a good hour there exchanging information and feeding our faces, while chasing it down with cold beer. Apparently, he was heading back to the island (Newfoundland), after quitting his four-year job at the mine in Labrador City. The only way out is to fly, or load your car on the train, once a week. He was in a hurry. He was not going to wait for the train for another 4 days. He decided to take a chance and drive out.
He told me about a skinny old Bailey bridge I would have to cross, and to be careful. He almost ripped the bottom of his car out, and had to unload the family and most of the load to clear the drop off the bridge.
We said our good-bys, and he was off in a cloud of dust. I crossed the tracks where he came over, and was running along the right side of the track. My left mirror arm was hanging right over the rail, while the left tires were just scrubbing the ties. On the right side, the truck was leaning away over to the edge, and it looked about 30 feet or so down to the muskeg. Ahead I could see a built out section of shoulder, to where I could swing out and make a turn to cross over the track again. It was about another 100 feet to go when I had the crap scared out of me. There was a 4-engine ore train coming up behind me. He spotted me and started blasting his horn. I made a run for the turnout and got there just as he would have hit me. With about a hundred or more ore cars, and coming around a blind curve, there would be no way he could stop. As he went by, he hung out of the window, shaking his fist and giving me the proverbial finger.
I got off the tracks, and then was drifting back into the bush. I was hoping that I was still on the right trail, and not some moose trail to nowhere.
After traveling for a couple more hours, I came up to the Bailey bridge that I was concerned about. Stopping, I got out and checked it over. The rise to the deck was too high. The approach to the bridge was partially washed away; the low-slung compartments on the tank trailer could not clear it.
There was a whole shoreline of large rocks. I started to carry them up one at a time to fill in the gap to the bridge. I spent over an hour building up a ramp. Finally I got it sloped enough for the tanker to clear.
By this time, it was starting to pour rain, and running on the rock and stone base was a slow crawling process. Finally, I had to pull over and grab a couple hours sleep. I was completely baffed out.
After my nap and 27 hours into the trip, I finally made it into the mine at Fermont. The roadway brought me into the mine property. I worked my way around the rail yard and the shops until I saw the main gate entrance. I pulled up and talked to the guard. I caught him totally unawares. He wanted to know where I came from, and how did I get onto the property. I explained to him, that I just came in from Toronto and was looking for the Iron Ore Company. He just stared in disbelief. He would not believe me. I showed him my Texaco ID from the Toronto plant, and even had to get him around to the front of the tractor to see my Ontario license plate. He was some shook up, and slowly, began to believe.
He gave me directions to the plant I was looking for. I pulled out of the gate onto a well-paved highway system, which took some getting used to again. There were highways all over the place, but none to the outside world. You still had to get in by train.
The first unexpected sign that I came to was a large billboard, WELCOME TO LABRADOR CITY.
The trip in, was not without its scary moment's. After all the trouble, and aggravation I went through, to get there and save their butts, I received the usual idiot stick, management question, what took you so long? Need I say more? The hardest traveling this manager ever did was to fly in, and out while being paid for it.
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The Quebec North Shore, (The St Lawrence River) in the winter can be very treacherous, at the best of times. The steep road grades mixed with snow and ice are extremely hazardous.
Normally when traveling to Sept-iles, or on up to Labrador, (a new road has been recently cut through). You would go northeast from Quebec City, and within 30 miles you climbed the first hills, of any size.
Most of the hills were bad enough in the dry season, let alone the winter time. A lot of the drivers were terrified of that road, and refused to travel it, in the winter. The other options, to miss not all, but most of the worst sections, were to travel on the South Shore till you came to Matane, Quebec. There, you found a ferry service, with ships large enough to carry loaded tractor trailers inside. You would have to reserve space before you even left home. It was a busy service, and the waiting list was long.
It was during a heavy snow storm that 3 trucks were loaded for the North shore. Reservations were made before we left, and confirmed. If in the event, that you could not get on the ship for any reason, break down, no reservation, or whatever, and you had to drive around, it would be over 500 miles and 16 hours driving at the best of times.
The ship’s hull was re-enforced with ice shields. The winter would send heavy pack ice to obstruct the ships progress. At times, it would be bad enough to add many hours to the crossing time. Even stop the crossing altogether.
I made the crossing twice. The first trip was with a tri-axle trailer. The trip was ok and uneventful. The second trip was a different story. The second time around, I was pulling the set of “A” trains. That was an experience, I would not forget for some time. With the doubles, you had to use foresight at all times. You had to plan for every move and turn you wanted to make, well before implementation. When you came into a one way parking lot, you had to scan within a half second where you were going to go. With an “A” train, there is no chance to back up and change your mind to where you want to go. Backing up was good for a few feet only, and if you were in a turn already, forget it, you were screwed.
There is no comparison between an “A” configuration and a “B” configuration. To compare them, would be like comparing night with day.
The second trip was with the set of doubles. The first trip was actually a godsend. It gave me the ship and docks layout. I knew what to expect and where to go beforehand.
It was near the end of January on this trip, exceptionally cold with heavy ice on the river. I found the parking area that I had planned for. The other two trucks were beside and ahead of me. We had to wait till morning for the loading. It was time to hit the bunk, and grab a few hours sleep.
The time came and the loading started, Spud was ahead of me and went aboard, I followed and drove in and was positioned on a curve. Cyril came in and parked behind me. Then we were surrounded with cars, campers and what have you.
The crossing was slow and rough. The ice was exceptionally heavy. After many hours over the schedule we finally tied up to the dock and started the unloading procedure. The steel deck and ramp were slippery as hell, from the blizzard in progress. Spud was spinning and burning his way out, we were not sure that he would make it. There was another problem that we did not count on, THE TIDE WAS OUT, and the ramp looked like it was vertical. The ship sat too low to be normally unloaded.
Spud finally cleared the ramp, and I was next. I had to get into a turning position to line up with the ramp, meaning a one way shot. I locked up the differential, and then wound her up. I was halfway off the ship, when the converter dolly leg (landing leg) jammed into the deck plate, like an anchor. The low tide made the angle of clearance to extreme for the “A” trains. I was really stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.
The ships crew really got shook up over this. While all their excitement, and screaming was in French, all of our comments and answers were in English. It was a sight to behold. With the blending of languages, even if you could not understand the other language, you still knew each other was swearing, like true truckers and sailors.
The ship was rocking up and down, while the tide was still going out, and not helping the situation at all. Finally we decide to split up the train. I cranked the dollies down on the tanker pup trailer, and pulled the pin. It was a no go. I just sat there spinning on the steel deck plate.
I then got out and opened the coupler to the converter, disconnected all the hoses and light cord. Still, I spun on the deck plate, which by this time had glazed over with ice. Spud backed down to me and we threw a chain to my front tow hooks and anchored to the rear of his trailer. With that he helped me to get out from everything. I pulled out and onto the pier. Spud then backed down and chained up to the converter, dragging it out from under the pup trailer.
In the meantime, I had dropped my lead trailer and backed down into the ship hooking up to the pup and dragging it out onto the pier. I dropped it and then proceeded to reconnect the doubles.
After that episode, I figured the hills in a snow storm had to be better for me, than this damned ferry. I never sailed on it again. Cyril Williams and I were the only two drivers to run the North shore all winter.
I have left with 2 or 3 trucks from Toronto, headed out on the same run. I would split away at Quebec City and head out on the north run while the others went the south route to Matane, and take the ship across. There were trips that I would get to Sept Iles, unload, reload empties and be on my way back. I could see from a high point on the road, the ship breaking ice out in the river still coming in. I made it home in at least 1 and 1/2 to 2 days ahead of the others. I did not blame or ridicule them in anyway. If you are not geared mentally or experience wise, stick to the route that you are most comfortable with.
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(HAVE YOU EVER HAD ONE OF THOSE DAYS?)
Back in the 1980's, I was contracted out to TEXACO CANADA. During this particular incident I was hauling an "A" Train to Seven Islands, on Quebec's north shore, and at times would run through the bush country up and into Labrador City, Labrador.
I was living in Barrie, Ontario at the time, and would commute down to Toronto to go to work. It was about 1 1/2 to 2 hour run, depending on the time of day. It was nothing really, as on one trip; I would be gone for 4 or 5 days.
I would arrive at work around 11:00 pm. I would take the grease tanker over to Bronte, Ontario (20 miles away) and pick up a load of Bunker oil. I would then bring it back to the package goods plant, unload on one side of the plant, and then move the tanker around to the other side of the building. The bunker was used in the manufacture of grease for the Iron Ore Company of Canada. With no storage for this product, it was formulated and pumped directly back into the tanker trailer, and then delivered direct to the customer. The whole manufacturing process would take from 12 to 18 hours.
On this particular trip, I was late getting loaded, and coming back it was a horrendous morning rush hour, and I had the makings of a good migraine coming on. It was the beginning of a bad temper day.
The unloading pipes were positioned under the warehouse dock. I would back in, hook up the hoses, and pump the load off with the trailers own engine and pump. I had been complaining to the company for some months now about the trailer's 3 inch hoses. They were getting old and rotten, and I wanted new ones. As usual big corporation management was not willing to put out the money for replacement. I guess that the powers that be have to justify their own pay cheque, by not spending.
In this case the production kettles that I was to unload in were still in use, and I had to wait another hour before they would be empty. The slow burning fuse to my temper was now lit. Next the boys upstairs in production had to go on their 15 minute break, which in the big time oil companies means 1/2 hr minimum. The temper fuse is now being fanned, raising the temperature a little more. The fittings to the product receiving pipes were not properly cleaned and the caps were frozen on. An open torch flame would have cured the problem in just a few minutes. Unfortunately I was to unload in a no flame zone. A hammer and chisel were now the tools of choice to take along, crawling under the dock on the tar infested ground. After 20 minutes of hammering, swearing and hitting my fingers with the hammer, my fuse was really starting to gather speed. In the meantime the laboratory supervisor came out onto the dock wearing his business suit and a crispy clean white lab coat. He stood around for a while saying nothing, just watching what I was doing. He left after a few minutes.
It was now time to pump the load off. I fired up the engine, put her in gear and started pumping. Some idiot upstairs in the production room failed to open one of the kettle receiving valves. The back pressure on the old hoses forced a blow-out. There was hot black bunker oil spraying all over the place. (Note - A teaspoon of oil on the ground, spreads, and looks like a gallon of oil.) I hit the kill switch and shut everything down, but not before the warehouse dock, the trailer, a 20 foot circle as well as I was sprayed with black bunker oil.
I was just getting over the shock of the incident when the management genius in the white coat came out again; stood on the dock, looking down at me asked "are you having a problem? did something go wrong?" I just stood there for a moment, dripping in oil and then went totally ballistic. Reaching down to a 1/2 filled 5 gallon pail of oil hose drainings, I picked it up and threw it at him. He screamed and took off for the office while I climbed up onto the dock and right after him. I slipped in the oil and he got away. I headed for the dispatch office and went crashing through the door (not bothering to open it first, and ripping it off its hinges.) One of the office girls dove under the desk. I guess they thought that a tornado had struck. I paused for a second and told my manager where they could insert their job. Continuing out the other door and into the parking lot, I got my car and roared around the block to the truck. After loading all my possessions into the car, I headed for home.
There are two things that can cool me down after a temper fit; one is to take my handguns out to the range and shoot off a dozen or so 357 magnum rounds. It seems to have a soothing effect. The other is to go for a long highway drive which seems to work. I never get erratic or speedy when driving, no matter what mood. In this case it was a 2 hour drive getting home. I was 4 days early getting there. I explained to my wife why. I then showered and went to bed. In the meantime the fleet manager phoned and wanted my wife to get me up and talk to me. She told them that if they wanted to get me up, to come up and do it themselves, because she wasn't about to. Otherwise she would have me call them in a couple days. They never bothered coming up.
Eventually I went in to see them, and they were all kissy-kissy. They took me around to the truck and showed me that it was all cleaned up and fitted out with about $10,000 worth of new premium high pressure petroleum hoses and all new fittings throughout. I took the rest of the week off and eventually went back on the same run.
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The Time spent with Texaco Canada was a lot of fun, hard work, and never-ending incidents. There was never a dull moment.
Eventually Texaco had some heavy duty financial problems, resulting in the sale of the Canadian division. The purchase was made by Imperial Oil Company of Canada. I spent a couple more years contracted to Imperial Oil. It was never really the same after that changeover. I moved on and contracted out to Shell Oil, to fill in until they finished building their new plant in Brockville Ontario. The present plant on the Toronto waterfront, was being dismantled, and disposed of. My stay over there was supposed to last for about 6 to 9 months, but ended up almost 2 years.
The gypsy in me was starting to get pretty restless by now. It was time to move on to greener pastures. Up to this point, the 3 oil companies were all in the lubricant divisions. No fuels or chemicals were involved.
Some time later, companies were finding that experienced drivers were becoming an endangered species, especially in the dangerous goods commodities.
My long time friends of 40 years, Bill and Bob, were at this time Owner/Operators. They were both contracted to Trimac Tank Lines. This company has running authorities in all of Canada as well as the United States. They hauled bulk chemicals, such as acids, latex, you name it. If it flowed from a tank, it could be transported, dangerous or otherwise.
They were still in the market for experienced operators, and they were getting harder to come by, as time went on.
My friend’s kept bugging me to sign up. The rates were good and there was another operator who was in the market for a new truck. He had put his present machine up for sale, with the job, if qualified. I tested out the truck, and then applied, qualifying with flying colours. The truck was already painted in the company colours, licensing and safety inspection made it ready to roll in very short time. I made the purchase and the 3 musketeers were back together again.
I ran trips that took me to places that I had never been to before. It was here that I added the non visited States to my list, completing all provinces, Territories, and States, between Mexico and the Arctic, in a truck. With the exception of Hawaii, I just couldn’t get the truck to stay afloat long enough.
It was one of these trips that I had a serious incident occur.
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A couple years ago, I was hauling dangerous chemicals, such as PCBs, spent acids, and all kinds of weird liquids. They were to be loaded up anywhere in Canada, and transported to a disposal centre, where they would either incinerate it or clean and separate the product, for reuse.
The trailer was a single compartment, (straight bore) with the discharge valve at the rear of the tank. (Hose hook-up for unloading) The valve was manually controlled. (Open & close) There was also a spring-loaded emergency shut down valve just ahead of it. It opened by pumping up a hydraulic jack unit. When the control valve activated, the lost pressure would instantly release the spring tension and drop the valve closed, cutting off the product flow. There was also a hydraulic line traveling up the side of the tank to the left front trailer fender, terminating just a couple feet from the driver’s door. If necessary, in an emergency, and you cannot get to the shut down at the rear of the tank, you grab the stem on the front fender, and bend it to break it off. This will open the hydraulic line and let the fluid out, releasing the pressure, and closing the emergency shut down valve, instantly.
On this particular trip, I had a load of contaminated acid, for recycling. The plant was near Montreal, Quebec. Some products have a tendency to jell up or solidify, even at high temperatures. This load was one of them. To compensate for it they preheat the load to over 300 degrees F. and load
it into an insulated tank. If for some reason the product cools down to much and starts to solidify, you attach a steam hose to the heat coils in the trailer, and bring the temperature up to the flow point. Then unload.
I pulled into the plant, and found a place to park. There was one truck ahead of me unloading. With this type of load, you hook up an airline from the tractor, load compressor, (mounted on the truck) to the top of the tank trailer. You pump air into the tank, until you get the pressure up high enough, then open the valve and force the load off with air pressure. (Eliminating moving parts in dangerous fluids)
I did not have a load compressor on my truck at this time. Usually these plants have an air supply that you can hook up to, for unloading. Unfortunately, this was a plant with an attitude. They would not let anyone hook up to their air supply. I was standing around, talking to the other driver, (unloading) and worked out a deal, for him to hook up his compressor hose to my trailer when he was finished, and supply me with air pressure. It would save me sending to one of our local terminals for another truck and driver to come out, and possibly, having to wait for up to 6 or 8 hrs, for one to be available.
The first driver finished and pulled ahead. I backed up to the receiving pipe. It was sticking out of a brick wall. It had a drain canal between the wall and trailer; it was about 3 ft. wide and 18 in. deep, draining into a catch basin, inside the building. In this particular location, it was up to the customer to hook up the hose and unload the tank. It was up to me to supply the unloading air pressure, of which I did via the other truck. They had an empty storage tank inside the building that had just been repaired were going to use. It had the capacity to hold the complete load with room to spare. I tried talking to the unloading receiver, but it was a lost cause. He hated drivers, so it seemed, and he knew what he was doing, so he thought. I went over to the other driver, and we chatted, and a 3rd waiting driver came over and joined us in conversation. We were well out of range of the unloading zone, and did not require suiting up. (Don rubber, acid proof gear & respirators) The unloading, was in complete control of the receiver.
Well about 10 min. passed, into the unloading and everything seemed to be moving along smoothly, I just happened to look over towards the rear of the trailer, and it did not seem right. The receiver had gone inside the building to monitor the flow into the storage tanks. Another minute passed and I directed my attention to the rear of the trailer, and I just could not believe what I saw. I yelled to the other two drivers and a couple of employees in the yard to get out. The acid hose, not hooked up, was under pressure. It was spraying off the brick wall like a high-powered fire hose. Everyone disappeared out of site, in a flash. You really do not want to have your next shower in hot acid. No one was there to control anything. I took off toward the truck, planning to break the safety shutdown plug. As I approached the front of the truck, a river of hot tocsin acid flowed out from under the tractor. It was heading directly towards me. I pulled to a screeching stop. It was my fastest ever. The flow was under pressure, and the canal could not control that kind of volume. The storage tank was spewing it out also, adding to the problem.
There was a 3 foot high retaining wall along side of the trailer, (to create a separate stall from unloading & shipping) The adrenaline was sure working this day, I jumped over the wall, ran up alongside it, then jumped back over again and landed on a small dry strip behind the rear trailer tires. The acid was shooting straight back and into the wall, then spraying off to the sides for about 20 feet. With my back to the trailer, I slid my arm around to the rear of the trailer and stretched until I could barely reach the emergency shut down valve. I gave it a smack, and it worked. The flow was then, completely shut off. I looked down and the product was a couple of inches from my feet. I made a last leap to the small retainer wall, and cleared it completely. I was not prepared, for that high-speed body moving, at this stage, of my life. I guess that when being chased by a river of hot acid, you tend to move a lot faster than usual.
I made my way out to the end of the yard; I could still smell the fumes. Then out of nowhere, came a giant front-end loader with a bucket full of sand. He dumped it on the river of acid, containing its flow. Then another loader came and did the same thing. They had the scene under control in a jiffy. In the meantime, the fumes set off the alarms and they started coming from all directions, in acid suits & full tanks of oxygen. The cleanup began.
Our Mr. Unloader was not as knowledgeable as he thought he was. When he hooked up the discharge hose, he should have used a stainless steel coupler. Instead, he used a brand new coupler that was an acid proof plastic material. It would have worked fine, except that he did not take into consideration that the load was hot, and over 300 deg. F. As the product was moving through the coupler, the hot acid melted right through the plastic, and it burst.
They would not let me near my tractor for about 4 more hours, testing it for tocsin fumes. I called in to my local branch, and they dispatched the safety supervisor immediately. By the time he got there, every thing was under control, and the cleanup, in progress. I told him word for word what happened, and that I was starving, after expending all that energy. He promptly rushed me over to the Chinese restaurant, where I almost ate them out of stock. It was at my company's expense of course.
As far as the receiver is concerned, I have no idea what the future held for him with the chemical company.
What should have been an uneventful unloading, for about 2 1/2 hrs, stretched into a 21 hr. hyper experience. Then for the next while, the trips were routine and uneventful. ---- Until the next incident.
I spent a number of years with these people, travelling coast to coast, in both Canada, and the United States. Trimac even gave me some time away from tankers in another dedicated division, hauling PCB’s in a 53 foot tri-axel van. The load picked up from anywhere in Canada, was then delivered to the disposable incinerating plant, located in the northern Alberta town of Swan Hills.
I spent a number of years with these people, travelling coast to coast, in both Canada, and the United States. Trimac even gave me some time away from tankers in another dedicated division, hauling PCB’s in a 53 foot tri-axel van. The load picked up from anywhere in Canada, was then delivered to the disposable incinerating plant, located in the northern Alberta town of Swan Hills.
Some of the contaminated oils and other items had been in storage for many years. The safety precautions hauling these items were very stringent. There was a definite game plan for each move, and had to be followed to a “T”. The liabilities for these loads were tremendous, and there was no room for mistakes.
As far as the company was concerned, I was rapidly approaching my own contamination age of 65, and was to be disposed of as soon as possible. The only thing that was not required was for me to be sent to the incinerator at Swan Hills, for final disposal. (At least not that I was aware of.)
I guess that it was destined to happen some time. I was just not ready for it at this time. It really does not make sense, on one hand they cry out loud for experienced operators, and on the other, they are kicking the experience, out the back door. Usually these rule makers, are too young to even know about greying hair, they automatically figure it to be an expiry date, and the time to get rid of……
Well it was time to move on to greener pastures. I put the truck up for sale, with the option of the job going with it, if the purchaser qualified.
The truck did sell, and I headed north to the bush country. I have had enough of the big cities, time to relax and make a drastic change in my lifestyle.
THIS IS NOT THE END,
BUT THE START OF SOMETHING NEW.
(Left Photo) THE WAY IT WAS,
AND NOW THE WAY IT IS. (Right Photo)
My friend’s young son pulled one of my photos from the computer, modified it, and then sent it to me as my retirement gift.
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IS RETIREMENT ANY LESS DANGEROUS?
I have completed 50 years and millions of miles over the road and lived to tell about it. When retirement came around, we left the big city and headed north to a retirement community. (Safety in the bush country)
We have been living here for better than 5 years now. Driving around town can at time be a harrowing experience. I was happy not to have to compete for space in the BIG CITIES RUSH HOURS. Trying to get a dangerous load to it’s destination without being dragged into a ROAD RAGE situation and possibly killing some one, or being killed.
You can relax in the North Country if you can dodge the moose and bear attacks from out of nowhere. There is a very good chance that you can survive those attacks, and live another day.
Lately I have encountered the most horrendous and dangerous life threatening situations in my driving career. The dangers are greater than traveling on any turnpike or city street rush hours.
SENIOR CITIZENS ATTACKING; --- (By car)
Just this morning I was almost run down, while walking down the sidewalk. I came up to a laneway and started across the entry, and then something told me to stop. I did and a van came barrelling out of the lane and onto the street, almost hitting me, and cut another driver off to get into a parking spot. The driver could hardly see over the steering wheel. He had his head turned directly to his passenger and was yelling as if she were deaf.
He then promptly threw a disabled sign into the windshield, and then proceeded to give her hell for something while speed walking to the store, ignoring the surrounding traffic. Scary.
Then on the way home from the little shopping trip, another white haired, and half bald guy who could barley see through the steering wheel of the new Cadillac he was driving, sailed through a stop sign, making a right hand turn in front of a car who had the right of way. The other car slammed on the brakes, skidded to a stop, and the Caddy carried on as if nothing happened, leaving the other driver in the middle of the intersection screaming obscenities.
The one period in each month that I refuse to drive, is when all the pension cheques come in. There is always a stampede to the beer and liquor stores. To drive on the streets at that time, is worth your life. Other than the hazards of the roads around here, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Get these seniors away from a motor vehicle, and they can be a lot of fun.
Oh yea, look who is talking here, a white haired, old senior X truck driver. Scary, right?
Catch you later, if I survive, --- Diesel Gypsy.
This happened a short time ago. The lucky woman driver ended up with a broken wrist and needed a good bath. This happened at South River, Ontario, Canada ---
The North Country may have a few hazards, but I still think it is the best place to live.
Take care; drive safe, --- William (Diesel Gypsy) Weatherstone.
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I must give credit to my mentor in this project. He stresses that he remain anonymous. I must give him credit for any thing that I have accomplished in the computer world. Without his help, I would still be communicating with smoke signals. I will refer to him as PIERRE LA TOQUE, a real friend. --- William Weatherstone
Copyright ©2002-2006, William Weatherstone, --- All rights reserved.