You know the saying, "Where has this year gone?". Yes it's almost halfway to 2014. Soon days will start getting shorter...
June is such a great month for trucking.
The weather, while sometimes rainy, is pleasant. We're enjoying the abundance of warmth after a long winter. Bugs haven't started bugging full throttle yet.
Birthdays, weddings, truck driving championships...
Yeah, that's right. Truck Road-eo's. Where the skilled try to best the skilled. The skilled get schooled by the very skilled. You get the picture. Actually getting the picture taken while holding the first place trophy is pretty cool I'm told.
I need to give a shout out to Ken Wiebe of EBD. He is a machine in the Super-B class. He blows the doors off all of the competition (not really much of a competition for him) every year. Consistently on his game. There are great drivers in all classes but what stands out to me is that he is one of the nicest guys out there. Very soft-spoken and truly a champion in every sense of the word. He is the type of ambassador that we need more of in the trucking industry.
Twice I have finished in second place and once in third behind him (plus a couple times in lower positions). Every time I have competed at the Manitoba Provincial level he has always been first. I'm a competitive person by nature but I find that with him as a champion, I can live with that.
Having said that, I hope that tomorrow the 15th will be different. I dearly want to beat him. I will update all of you after it's all over. Maybe I'll embarrass myself with a poor run. The drivers in these events are so good that on any given day almost anyone can win. Everyone knows this, so the day is filled with good-natured joshing as well as tips on how to succeed. This is so rare in many places. The drivers here are the best in all ways. Truly professionals. That's why I love it so much. You don't find bad attitudes here. Nor do you hear a lot of whining. We go to have fun, show our skills and spend time with others who love what they do.
Thanks to all of the people who make this happen.
Wish me luck!
Off like a herd of turtles...
As I was merrily cruising along my way westward in “Grampa's Honk-Honk" (as my grandson calls my truck), contentedly puffing out environmentally-approved exhaust, I began reflecting on the struggles of the people who lived here in past centuries.
Specifically, I was thinking of the Teamsters of old. Not the Jimmy Hoffa knee-breakers, but the hard-bitten, hard-living men who endured hardships that today we can't even begin to imagine.
In this past month of May, I averaged 800 kms (500 miles) for everyday I was out there. Not bad for pulling turnpikes across the Prairies. Much more than an old-time Teamster. Depending on different factors, an oxen team averaged around 30-50 kms (20-30 miles) per day. That teamster would take approximately 25 to 50 days to accomplish what I do in 14 hours.
The numbers are staggering to me. Every person I know who is not living on the Prairies is amazed by the vastness of this land. At 500 miles per day it still seems like a long drive. Can you imagine what people thought back in the frontier days? On the Canadian Prairies, visibility to the horizon is usually about 30 kms. So most days the pioneers could see where they'd end up at the end of the day. No wonder some of them stopped halfway across these immense lands.
Days upon days of tall grass waving at them. No shelter from vicious storms. Rain literally stopped them in their tracks. Wild animals looking for easy prey. Natives who didn't appreciate more settlers and lying government types. No medical people for hundreds of miles. Death was a constant and familiar companion. Everything came into this land a few hundred kilograms at a time.
Yes, today we see lots of nasty situations and too often deathly accidents. We still deal with over-bearing governments who increasingly regulate every minute of our days. Equipment will sometimes let us down (unfortunately way too often since we are not as self-reliant as our forbearers) but we don't have to make our own steel wheels or wooden axles. We don't shoot our own food and cook it over an open fire while huddling in the sleet.
I love today’s simpler life. I have a small farm and enjoy growing things and looking after animals. I also love the fact that I'm not dependent on the old ways of living. I love driving across the Prairies at a speed at which people used to think was impossible to survive. I move 42 tonnes of freight at a time (approximately 170 wagon loads). My warm house, good clothes and abundant food is appreciated.
But, none of this would've been possible without the Natives, Teamsters and Settlers of old, who through thick and thin settled this seemingly endless land. We, their descendants, have a lot to be thankful for.
Take time to remember this as you move through today. Lets each of do what we can to make this place better for our descendants so they can look back to our time and be thankful for what we've done.
Off like a herd of turtles...
Throughout my future blogs, my goal is to provide some insight, humour, and the passion I have for the transportation industry. It's not enough to steer a truck, or do whatever job we have, as a robot. We never know when a simple word, a smile or action will change another person's life.
In the meantime... I'm off like a herd of turtles...
As always, I welcome comments or questions... please use the contact page...Have a great day!
Regardless of what profession we choose, many of us begin with a passion for our work. As a truck driver and as a writer, I started out with a real passion. As a child I wanted to operate anything with a motor and wheels. It didn't matter what it was. Farm tractors, mowers, cars, whatever made a noise I was begging to run it. I've even been known to operate a blender in the kitchen!
Sometimes our passion gets tested. For some it's the employment circumstances that dull or destroy it. Accidents, relationship troubles -- there's too many things to list. Whatever the cause, life changes the direction of the road ahead without giving us notice. Some never find the road again and wander aimlessly through the rest of life.
On holiday recently, I met a man who, despite the great tragedy of losing a daughter, soldiers on, keeping the passion alive. As a father myself, I was moved by his family's story.
As a young man, Abraham loved music. As many have done, he had his own band and worked at perfecting his craft. As his children came along he worked at passing his musical knowledge on to them. His younger daughter especially showed promise as a singer. When the children were young, he and his wife had their own restaurant and true to their passion they cleared out some tables and made a stage. From the time their little girl was nine, their little band performed in front of the customers. Abraham honed their skills and encouraged them to really put their heart into their music.
Unfortunately, the economy tanked and they lost everything. They made the choice to pursue music full-time with their family band. Their young girl was the lead singer and as many say, it took years to become an overnight sensation.
This true story is depicted in the movie "Selena", starring Jennifer Lopez. I was touched by the movie and her music, especially in the late nineties after Selena’s death, so when the opportunity came to visit the family museum, I jumped at the chance. I had the honour of meeting Abraham Quantilla at their place in Corpus Christi, Texas. It's a humble place. No fancy building or gaudy signs. In fact, without GPS it would've been easy to pass without noticing. As we browsed the small museum, I asked an older gentleman a question and discovered it was Abraham himself. Seeing our interest, he took us on an unforgettable personal tour. He showed us where Selena recorded music, including where some movie scenes were filmed. We listened to a 6 1/2 year old Selena singing with her father accompanying on guitar. We watched some of the videos that they produced. Throughout the tour I was struck by Abraham’s
humility and still-burning passion. He's very candid and honest about successes and poor decisions.
Today the whole family is still involved in music in some way. Suzette, the older sister, carries on Selena's fashion lines, organizes the family business and AB (brother) still tours with his own band. Chris Perez (Selena's husband)
also has his own band.
There is an underlying sense of loss as Abraham speaks of his late daughter but he doesn't let it overpower him. This humble, unassuming patriarch presses on with a nobility that I admire. I'm sure Selena would be proud of them. I know I was touched.
I daresay most truckers and entertainers live and work with a passion. So many days away from home pounding the pavement requires this passion. Otherwise the abuse dished out by the highway of life will drive us off this journey and cause us to lose both our way and our purpose.. Abraham Quantilla continues to show that an unexpected hairpin turn in life can be negotiated and that the fires of passion can continue to burn.
Thank you Abraham.
• Ice gets thicker the more you drive on it. As you drive over the ice, it’s pushed down into the water through the air pocket. After you pass and the ice flexes back up the water freezes to the ice, creating a thicker ice road. Hence we start out with light loads and work up to very heavy loads as the ice thickens. It’s also not like testing ice when you were kids… “Randy, go out on the ice, I’m sure it's ok”. If Randy disappears we know it’s not good enough. He was expendable anyway. (just kidding, we all made it home… sometimes we were still dry).
• Different coloured ice. I never really noticed ice having so many vivid colours. My favourite was a very bright blue. Some of the transitions to another colour were as abrupt as a 3 year old getting his toy taken away.
• It was easy on my truck. Yeah, I know, how can -40 be easy on my truck? Obviously my brain didn’t get close enough to a heat source right? Let me explain. I drive the Canadian Prairies in the winter where -40, especially this year, is not uncommon. On a regular highway I bounce along like Tigger at 100kph pulling up to 137,500 pounds. Canadian roads are not smooth (bet you didn’t know that!). North of Yellowknife on the territorial highway, the fastest I went was 70 kph. Loaded, on the lakes, the max was 30 kph. The road was usually glassy smooth. So, slower speeds + smoother roads = happier “Honk Honk”.
• Give a guy a radio and lead spot in the convoy and suddenly he becomes a play by play announcer. “Watch out for the hill… rock beside the trail… 4 wheeler coming atcha… speed changes to 10 kph here…” Good gracious Nellie! I can read signs that say “Hill ahead, increase speed”. I also drive with my eyes open and I can spot rocks, speed signs and sometimes even other vehicles! Take your hand off the mic button… PLEASE!!!
• They “freeze” the gravel roads. Silly me, I thought the roads were already frozen. Pretty tough roads eh? It’s -40 and the roads aren’t frozen? What they mean is they water all of the gravel roads to make them a sheet of ice which can be maintained better. Actually works great. Unlike Torontonians, they know how to drive on ice. A little sand or stone chips is all they need. No one is in a big hurry to go anywhere anyway.
• I’m in awe of the natural beauty up there. It’s a very harsh climate, and surprisingly, it really impressed me. It’s a different kind if beauty than the mountains, trees and rivers that I’m normally attracted to. Watching caribou graze above the treeline, ravens floating effortlessly through the air beside your truck and little foxes scurrying around the scrub brush was simply amazing. How they survive is beyond my comprehension.
It would take too much time to describe being on the Ice Roads 2014 (Tibbitt to Contwoyto), but the most surprising thing to me was that it wasn’t all about working hard in a tough environment… I enjoyed it more than I expected! I can better understand why people work, and stay up there.
Yesterday I participated in the World’s Largest Convoy, benefitting Special Olympics Manitoba. This year we went from a record high 141 last year to 170 trucks. There were trucks in that convoy that I didn’t even see because even parked, the lines were too long.
This was my second year participating and I plan on many more.
As with any charity event, the questions come up; why participate? What is the real benefit to the charity? To me? My company? There’s one answer to all of these questions and the short answer is the smiles.
When the athletes’ smile splits their face in two as they honk the horn. The joy evident on their faces
as they hand out participation certificates to all drivers. A smile I don’t see in person is when they compete as athletes, but I see the glow as they talk about their experiences past and future. The smile on your own face when you see their smiles. That’s right, the smile on your own face as you have a small part in making their lives better is more than worth the time and effort.
I don’t claim to know much about what the athletes’ challenges are like every day or in competitions. The ones I have met are superb people. They’re dedicated, hard-working and fun to be around. They definitely deserve being called “Special”.
Thank you to everyone who makes it possible for us to be along in this wonderful event.
Off like a herd of turtles...
If you've ever played baseball, or even just tried to catch a ball, you know that fielding a curveball can have rather unpleasant results. If you're lucky, which usually is the case with me... I mean this in the way that I have lots of luck... just not usually of the good variety... the ball curves away from you and no harm, no foul. Right. What is it like to have that happen? I don't know because I'm swinging for the fences as I get hit in the umm, tender area. Tough he-man that I am, I walk it off, pretending it hit me in the hip. Stiff upper lip and all that. At least that's how I hope the others see it. You know that inside I'm screaming like a little girl who just had Barbie's hair cut by her brother. (Honestly, it wasn't me Mom!)
I've played hockey, come off a hard shift, puked my guts into a garbage pail and two minutes later played my next shift. Another time I tore the PCL in my knee in a spongy tournament on ice, and finished out the day. Since that wasn't a movie, we didn't win the tournament. I've played with, and watched many others do exactly the same. Some of us are too stubborn to quit even when our bodies are yelling at the referee to stop the game. Not smart, but some of us are definitely goal-oriented. However, there are some things that can't be walked off. Been there. Done that. Got the scars to prove it. July 4th was one of those days for me.
I had been peddling a load through Alberta and into BC that had several stops, with no trailer height docks. I'm old enough to know that climbing in and out of a trailer that is approximately 50" high, can be a danger. I consciously climbed carefully in and out for five stops but it was all for naught. I twisted and slipped the wrong way and that was all she wrote. I tried to "walk it off".
Actually I tried to drive it off, and told my dispatcher that I thought that I could still sit to drive. I made it five miles to a truck stop. The whole way I was seriously contemplating stopping my rig in the middle of the road and bawling like a hungry baby. I parked at the truck stop and called 911 for an ambulance. A cab ride wasn't going to cut it.
Several hours, a CT scan, and two doctors later I was diagnosed with two herniations in my lumbar region. Good thing I was only 1200 miles from home. My truck, Grampa's Honk Honk, is resting comfortably 1400 miles from home now. It took me five days to be able to sit long enough to fly home. It took another seven days to be able to type an update on my laptop. Physio and rehab has begun!
In the meantime, I get to catch up on all of my favourite TV shows, books, and websites. I recommend www.confessionsofaworrywart.com by Susan Orlins for some great writing.
Off like a herd of sleeping turtles...
As I drove along Highway 17 in Northwestern Ontario this past Sunday I marvelled at the number of ‘accidents’ enroute. Now before you hit overdrive and get to my conclusion, let me help you out. I marvelled at the lack of accidents. What I did see were many close calls. I’ve spent most of the last six years pulling double 53’ trailers in the Prairies so I haven’t been on 17 as often as in previous years. In 27 years I have worn down my tires from coast to coast, from Mexico to the Canadian Arctic and, in my opinion, Hwy 17 is by far the worst stretch of highway in North America. Moose, deer, rude drivers, tired drivers, and governed trucks all trying to navigate a two-lane road through, over and around the Canadian Shield. I don’t know the stats, but I do know many people lose their lives there, almost on a weekly basis. Whatever the numbers say, it’s far too many. I have known several who are no longer with us. I was glad to see fairly heavy enforcement on Sunday, but it’s like trying to pull 100,000 pounds with your brakes on. No matter what the police do, there’s too much two-lane, too many drivers and an astounding lack of courtesy. I have always said that I won’t just point out problems. I will also suggest solutions. Unfortunately, we all know the solution to this problem and it lies within each of us. The speed limit is 90 km/h. Most traffic runs close to 100. If you see someone trying to rub dirt off your taillights, let them pass you easily at the next safe opportunity! Why do we need to remind professional drivers of this? If you are that person, what are you accomplishing? I’ll tell you: more fuel used, putting yourself and others at risk and stressing yourself unnecessarily. There isn’t ONE positive result from it! I let many people around me as I cruised along at a safer speed. Guess what? I passed them at Truck stops and caught up to them at the weigh stations. The change starts with each one of us. Each person with safety in mind makes a difference. We can’t change the road conditions. We can’t make the hills and curves better. We can’t drive more than one truck. We CAN change our habits. Be the difference on the highway! You may survive because of it. I know it, because I was once a very impatient and aggressive driver. If I can change, I know you can too. Off like a herd of turtles…
I made my first trip in almost 3 months this week. It was very short, but I got a good idea of how I feel being back in the seat. The first day I didn't think I could make it to destination and back. The second day, now at destination, was a little better. The third day I idled "Grampa's Honk Honk" back into the yard. Did I mention that I was only on a 2 day trip? Big Daddy did keep the customers happy though, so mission accomplished!
I'm actually pretty happy with how it went. Going back to work after a long layoff is never easy. Take 3 months of holidays and you'll be slow back at work, never mind after 3 months of rehab.
I'll do another trip before I write too much about my new seat that I had installed. Preliminary results are good.
I'm very thankful that I work for a great company "Penner International Inc" who have, and continue to be great to drive for. I'm also very glad to have an awesome 2013 Freightliner Cascadia that the bank lets me drive for them.
Most importantly, I'm blessed to have family and friends who care about me, as I do them. I try to be someone who is worthy of that.
Off like a herd of turtles...
aka... "Big Daddy"
Just a short update today. Feeling a little older. The oldest daughter of one of my best friends just got married. Time flies... Life is always an interesting journey. I've been working... very slowly on my video from the Special Olympics Convoy. I can make a lot of excuses but I know that I'm planning to finally get back in my truck "Grampa's Honk Honk" so I've been trying to make sure I'm ready. Talk about an interesting journey. It will be just shy of 3 months since I was injured. I'm not at 100% but I have to try easing back into work anyway. Off like a herd of turtles...
I finally have the chance to sit down and reflect on the past 2 weeks.
It has been interesting.
First of all, I competed in the Manitoba Truck Driving Championships on the 15th of June. I have competed several times in the past in the Super B Train class ( a Super B is a lead trailer with 3 axles underneath and a 2 axle trailer hooked on to the fifth wheel of the lead so there's 2 pivot points. Gross weight is 63,500 kgs, or just under 140,000 lbs). I do like a challenge seeing as I never pull Super B's anymore, except in competition. My first year I did compete in the class that I normally drive but who wants it easy?
As predicted, Ken Wiebe from EBD Enterprises spanked us. I was happy with my performance but it fell short of what I needed to do to best Ken. I will go out on a limb and predict that he will successfully defend his Canadian Championship in September.
I'll put up a video of the event when I have it edited.
The next day I was off and running again, this time to Toronto on a special run. I can't talk about it now, but I had a good time running on Highway 17 through Northern Ontario. Such a beautiful, scenic highway. It is one of my favourite places to drive.
I just arrived home from a quick trip (2 days) to Medicine Hat and back. Medicine Hat is one of the areas devastated by floods right now. Incredibly high water and whole areas wiped out. Rebuilding will take a long time to complete. The water came from the mountains and first washed out roads and communities in Canmore, Banff, Calgary and High River. This water will continue to flood other areas downstream. The main Trans Canada highway between Calgary and Golden BC has been closed for days disrupting traffic to the coast, to put it mildly. Incredible destruction. It's still too soon to see the extent of the damage and how and what will need to be done.
Off like a herd of turtles...
This morning I got up, showered, made coffee, and bacon, and then walked out to my gardens. Now
I'm sitting in my zero-gravity chair listening to the birds chirp as I work on my website. Ok, maybe I'm doing less work than surfing but I can tell the story the way I want, right?
I realize that I don't like using my website to report all of the mundane facts of my existence but it's notable today for a specific reason. I'm hearing birds chirping outside my window. Yes, my window is open as always since I love fresh air
and we do not have air conditioning. The notable fact is this; the house is quiet. Real quiet. I have a large family. One grandson who loves to come and mess up, er, play here, especially when Grampas's Honk Honk is here. No talking, TV, washing machines, vacuums, lawnmowers or even snoring. This does happen occasionally on a weekday for a few hours if my wife is working outside the home, but not usually on a Saturday in the summer. My wife, mother, and some kids are off on our annual vacation to New York State. The ones left here are all off working, or socializing.
I'm here, wishing I was on vacation with the family and wishing I could be more active. Walking a few hundred metres across the lawn is enough to make me sit down and recuperate so neither option is one I could handle. So, I'm listening to birds chirp, enjoying a beautiful summer day and doing all the rehab I can handle. Normally for me this means I push too far and then I need to lie down for a spell. ;-)
(As an aside, my wonderful therapist at Ste Anne Physio is doing a fantastic job on me. She's been a huge help in helping me understand my injury and what to do.)
I'm not complaining. People get critically injured and die everyday. Parents lose their children, their livelihood, their ability to enjoy the mundane things. I'm glad that I can see the little blessings. This is what life is made of. The little things bring the most joy when they're recognized for what they are.
I started learning this when I almost lost my life years ago. I still learn everyday. I could point out hundreds of examples but it's not necessary. There's the saying "When life hands you lemons...". Lemons? Is that bad? If you're still above ground there's something to be thankful for.
I'm not saying it's all easy, just not bad. Feel the emotion for every circumstance, examine every pro and con and then you'll see the blessings. When you're on the road, it'll also make it safer for the vehicles and
people around you. ;-)
Off like a herd of sleeping turtles...
I'm not sure if it's just me but I've been seeing a lot more cabovers these days. Is it my mid-life truck crisis?They're showing up on the road, in truck shows and in magazines. It's not like they had completely disappeared from the asphalt ribbon but the trend was to get away from them and get into more driver-friendly conventional trucks. Manufacturers responded by not making them for North America. If they don't sell why build them?
I was one of those guys that couldn't wait to get away from a cabover. My first semi driving job
was hauling eggs from farms and to supermarkets in NY, PA and the Delmarva Peninsula. My wonderful ride was a 1978 GMC Astro Cabover with a 250 (or 290?) Cummins mated to a 9 speed tranny. It seemed like it was 10 feet
into the drivers' seat and about a mile across the dogbox to the passenger.
That was important because I was newly married and holding hands was important (among other things). That was a good truck for keeping people apart. I don't remember the size of the bunk but I know if I rolled over I hit either the back or the seats. With the extra burgers I carry around my middle today it wouldn't be easy to get into the seat and then on up to the bunk, never mind both of us in that cramped bunk. I'll bet I have more wiring in my doors today than that
truck had in total. Still didn't work well. We've sure made progress eh? I had a truck with bad wiring and 26 years later that's even more of an issue but that's a topic for another time.
At the time I didn't love the truck. In fact, I quit once after I blew a red light because the brakes quit (only car coming was a cop... good luck eh?). Added on to that, the seat was horrible and overall the truck was not in the best shape. If they wanted me back it had to be maintained better, with a new seat and brakes that worked. Anyway, long story short, I got back into the truck until I could get into a "better" ride.
I didn't know how good I had it. Sure I got more power, a hood and no reefer to worry about in 110F
What I lost was maneuverability, quietness and a better ride. Sometimes I look back nostalgically on that old Jimmy and wonder what it would be like in a cabover that's made today. I do know that if I had the option today of buying a brand new cabover I would entertain the idea but I would require no dogbox and an 80" bunk. Oh, and my favourite DD (Detroit Diesel) power. Maybe I'll find an old one to restore... when I`m rich enough... (yeeeaahhh... trucking does NOT equal rich, so that was a bit of sick humour and daydreaming)
Until then I'll keep looking for them at shows and wherever I can see them. I am hoping there'll be one in Headingly MB at the annual House of Chrome Show August 16-18 2013. See ya there!
Off like a herd of sleeping turtles.