AWARDED `02 AUG. 23
When things were slow in the film industry I would drive for Van Kam, supposedly hauling freight but most of the time I hauled groceries.
I am a nomadic Canadian. By that I mean I move from town to town and job to job. Sometimes I change towns to change jobs and other times I change jobs because I change towns.
The longest I have stayed in one town is ten years, the longest I have stayed in one house is eight, and the longest I have stayed with one company is five and even then I shunted from position to position, Cat operator, assistant to the powder man, chokerman, but mostly off highway log truck driver.
I don't move as much as I used to because I am getting older and too lazy to pack. Also companies are more reluctant to hire someone my age and also companies are more reluctant to hire someone with an unstable work history. Although my vast experiences make me valuable as a versatile employee and some companies look for that.
One thing I can usually rely on when job hunting is my experience as a trucker. With a clean driving record and a clean drug test most companies will take me on if they need a driver.
The difference now is that with my experience I am more reluctant to drive. Where I used to be willing to drive for anyone and drive anything just for the thrill of driving I now only drive for companies that have half decent equipment, pay good wages and haul where I want to haul.
I have been burnt by too many companies, I can't begin to tell you how many fly-by-niters still owe me a final paycheck.
Most of my driving has been done in the winter because that is when the best money used to be. A driver could go North to a camp and get free room and board, with excellent meals, and pack away the paycheques until spring break.
In the winter of `96 / `97 I took a break from selling real estate to go North and make some big money and found to my dismay that the big money has gone out of winter logging. Since I was already up there, and I couldn't find a camp job, I took a job driving highway logging truck but it will be my last winter going North.
Now thanks to the Workers Compensation Board forcing off highway truckers to pull smaller loads and put in less hours per day the companies have sold their trucks, closed their camps, and hired contractors with one or two trucks and everyone has to fend for themselves when it comes to finding a place to live.
The big money is gone and so am I. There is no point in going North if there is no money in it. And I don't like driving South as there are too many regulations. I'm a truck driver not a secretary and, though I enjoy writing, I can't stand all the government paper work.
In the Spring of `98 I hung up my real estate license, after nearly five years of going broke, and for the first time in many years accepted a job driving truck in the summer. The following short stories are the chronicles of my trips.
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The alarm rang at three-thirty AM. I rolled out of bed and turned on my computer, threw on some clothes, went down the stairs to the washroom, then outside to give the Kenworth a pretrip, during which I unplugged the two block heaters, then started it.
Back inside the shop I threw some bread in the toaster, on the end of the work bench, and went back to the bathroom to shave.
By the time I finished breakfast the truck was warmed up enough to kick out of high idle then I went upstairs to check my E-mail.
I had an E-mail letter from my friend in Taiwan who was on a job assignment in China. I hadn't heard from her since Xmas. I answered her letter then shut the computer off and finish dressing.
We hadn't received the eighteen below that they had been predicting so the rig was toasty warm and the glass was free of ice.
Though it wasn't extremely cold I crawled through the parking lot in deep reduction to warm up the gears, rear ends and transmission, and wheel bearings, as none of them had heaters.
The streets were nearly deserted so I took my time building up speed, letting each gear warm the transmission a bit more and keeping the RPM low so the twin stacks wouldn't bother the townsfolk that were still asleep.
I went South through Quesnel and across the bridge to West Quesnel. Then North and up the hill to the Nazko highway.
Just West of the Bouchie Lake store a deer came up on the road, white tail bobbing in my lights. I kept far enough ahead of her so she won't veer in front of me but far enough back so I can watch her run. Beautiful. How can anyone shoot such creatures. Eventually she found a low spot in the snow bank and disappeared.
As I went through the corners and over the hills I could intermittently see two or three empty logging trucks ahead of me. Looking in the mirror I could see two or three behind me. Everyone was spaced far enough apart to avoid getting their windshields splattered by the salty spray (Pig Shit is the local term) off the tires of the truck in front. No one was in a great hurry. Gone are the days when the first truck in the bush is the first to get loaded. Now each truck has a scheduled loading time.
The weather deteriorated. Speed was reduced in relation to the visibility. The wipers were on steady to keep the heavy fog off the windshield.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark blob. Was that a moose on the side of the road? Whoops, keep your eyes on the road. I spun the steering wheel and straightened it out. It was a bit slippery in the corners.
Good thing I managed to keep it on my side of the road. A loaded truck went flying past in the opposite direction spraying pig shit all over my windshield.
I went through lots of windshield washer fluid that day, along with toilet paper.
An hour out of town on the winding pavement I went through a small settlement called the Nazko Community. I called on the radio to see if I was on the right road. No reply.
A few miles further on I saw a sign that said end of pavement. Again I called on the radio. Someone said I had gone too far. Someone else said keep going. I preferred the second answer to having to turn around in the dark.
At last the fog lifted and I found the turn off according to my latest instructions. I had missed the turn off to the Fifty-one Hundred Road that I was supposed to take and now came into the back end of the road.
I later learned that the Fifty-one Hundred Road had been built to take trucks around the Nazko Community.
I turned to the right up the Snaking River Road. My original instructions were to turn right off the Fifty-one Hundred Road at Twenty Mile. Shortly I saw a Twenty Mile sign but the only road was to the left.
At the Nineteen mile sign I saw an empty logging truck going the other way. Again I called on the radio. I'm was told I was going the wrong way. (Had I been going the right way the turn off at Twenty Mile would have been to my right.)
It had snowed that night but the road crews had plowed and sanded. Though traction was good the snow banks made the road too narrow to turn just anywhere. Friendly voices told me of a plowed intersection where I could turn around.
The intersection was at the bottom of a dip in a tight turn. I backed into the side road, pulled ahead, and stalled the motor. A loaded truck came down the hill and into the turn. I turned the key. The motor didn't respond. Again I turned the key. Nothing.
The loaded truck was yelling at me on the radio. Again I tried. The key twisted, nearly broke, and came out of the ignition. Fumbling in the dark I managed to get the key back in and desperately turned it.
The loaded truck was sliding down the hill towards me. The motor rattled to life. At twenty above (Fahrenheit) I was sweating. Quickly I got it into reverse and backed out of the road.
The loaded rig went roaring by. He was cursing so loud I could hear him without the radio.
The clouds were breaking up and the edges were turning white from the light of the full moon behind them.
Back at Twenty Mile I turned up the "A" road. A steep climb up a windy hill for two miles, then fairly level to Five Mile, then a steep climb to Six Mile. Past a small camp, several loggers stay out all week rather than drive into town every night, and down the other side to Seven Mile. At Eight Mile I pulled into a turnout to let a load go by.
On the radio I heard that the road behind me was now blocked. The load I had met had gone in the ditch at Seven Mile. When I got to Ten Mile I changed the frequency on my radio, to the channel that was being used by the loaders, and arranged for a skidder to go to Seven Mile to clear the road.
I turned off the `A' road onto the `B' road and found an empty truck parked in a side road. I backed up to a wide spot and let a load come out. I started back in again but I had to wait. The empty truck that was sitting on the side road had sunk into the ground while he was waiting. A skidder came and pulled him out. While he was loading I turned around making sure I missed the holes where his tires had been.
It was a fairly mild winter and the ground was not frozen properly for good logging. If a truck stopped long enough the heat from his tires could melt through the frozen crust and find mud.
The loader man was fast. In less than fifteen minutes the `Butt `n' Top' had me loaded and I was out of the way for the next truck to start loading. I put the wrappers on (Lengths of cable with short pieces of chain on each end. Three of theses were wrapped around the load using cinches to draw them tight) so logs won't bounce off the top of the load.
Ahead of me, at Seven Mile, the other loaded trucks were waiting for the road to be cleared. I found a wide section of road and stopped while another skidder went by.
The two skidders build a road, by plowing a path through the snow, around the stuck truck and all the loads went by. From Six Mile to Three Mile, all the turnouts were filled with empty trucks waiting to get past the stuck load. Many of them were cursing on the radio. This delay could result in them only getting one load that day instead of their usual two.
We now had a convoy of loaded trucks to which was added the truck that was stuck, now that the two skidders had managed to get him back on the road, after the empties had gone by. Slowly the convoy wound its way down the narrow, twisting, and in some places steep, `A' road.
The sun was starting to come up. From the top of the hill, as we went past the camp and started down Six Mile, was a spectacular view. The Valley was still grey but the snow on top of the hills was reflecting the light. The clouds were trimmed with crimson.
Someone called on the radio, "Loaded at Five Mile for a bunch".
Some young whipper snapper replies, "When are you old fogies going to learn it's kilometers not miles".
Another voice retorts, "If you want metric go to Russia. This is Canada."
The youngster replies, "Canada uses metric."
A tart reply, "Fuck Metric. Kill A Meter."
The front door calls, "Loaded on the floor (four Mile) board, eight times."
Once onto the Fifty-One Hundred road the trucks picked up speed. In some corners their was a light skiff of snow and in others a light rain on the packed snow. All the corners were slippery. Some were sharper than others and came unexpectedly to a first time driver.
A sharp dip at Nine and a half Mile, gathering speed and holding it up the short grade left me at too high a speed for the unexpected corner at 8 Mile. The trailer headed for the snow bank while I, with sphincter muscles tightened, desperately turned the steering wheel, and stepped on the throttle to pull the rig out of its slide. I would remember to come over that hill slower on the next trip.
Just before leaving the Fifty-One Hundred Road and entering the pavement we stopped at the top of the hill to tighten our cinches, cut branches and put on our timber marks. With a can of spray paint or a large crayon we put the timber marks in four locations. I put one on each corner.
Back through town and weigh the load at the mill. We waited at the bottom of the hill to the log yard because a truck had run out of fuel half way up the hill in the middle of the road. Eventually someone brought him some fuel and the line of trucks moved forward.
At the top of the hill a loader picks up the full loads all at once. A smaller loader puts the empty trailers on the back of the trucks.
Going back to the scale, again the road was blocked. This time a load had spun out part way up the hill and was putting on chains. I turned around and backed down the hill. We fixed a tow strap to the back of my truck and to the front of his. I pulled him over the top.
At the scale I stopped for the empty weight and the forestry officer asked me for my drivers license. While I'm getting my weigh ticket the officer is writing me up a ticket for not having my timber marks in the right place. It seems that though I had four timber marks on this mill wants them located differently than the last mill I hauled into. They don't give you a first time warning just a fine for one hundred fifty dollars.
Finally I'm ready to go for another trip.
Five and a half to six and a half hours per trip, two trips per day. That's right, that was my first trip. I get to go through it all a second time today, and twice tomorrow, and tomorrow and ...
Why didn't I listen to my father and study medicine.
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