Photo courtesy of blogger, Bronwyn Joy (Journeys of the Fabulist)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Photo really has nothing to do with this post, but it’s a great picture, isn’t it? Maybe it should be captioned, “Working to Keep Blogs Afloat!”
By: Paul Curran
Regular readers will remember that my career bounced between driving transport and managing/learning – often in unpredictable ways, at unpredictable times, and with unpredictable outcomes. This story unfolded during one of my driving stints and highlights the surprises that are sometimes encountered on the road.
It was 2:00 am in Kansas City, Kansas as I swung a wide right from 55th St South onto Inland Dr. In the right mirror the trailer rolled smoothly around the turn 50 feet behind me, the tires just inches from the curb. This territory was new to me, and I was pleased that I had found the correct road with no unexpected detours. In my refrigerated trailer (reefer), there were 42,000 pounds of frozen crab meat, packaged for the self, from the cold North Atlantic waters off Nova Scotia, 2,000 miles to the east. Now all I had to do was find Inland Cold Storage at 6500 Inland Dr. – should be a simple matter of following the increasing numbers until I was there. A quick glance at the 22 gauges glowing from the dashboard showed all systems within nominal ranges.
I flicked the high beams up now that there was no oncoming traffic and found that I was driving in a tunnel of trees overhanging the road. It was apparent that trucks had been down this road before as there was plenty of clearance. However, the south side of the road was built up with large private homes, some with pools, and it did not seem to be an industrial area. That was puzzling, but I was sure I had the right road. With a shrug, I looked for street numbers and found I had a ways to go yet. Soon the houses disappeared and a large railway yard appeared running parallel to the road on the right. Now there were no buildings to check the address, so I continued to drive, assuming that I would encounter a building. Wrong.
After a few minutes, I rounded a slight left bend and found myself in a working rock quarry. Hmmm. I came upon a manned weigh scale in the quarry and asked the operator where Inland Cold Storage was located. With a wave back down the street indicating I wasn’t the first to ask, he said: “Back there” and continued his work. Not overly enlightening but I turned around and headed back down the road.
There was still no traffic at all – the quarry must have been using an alternate access- so I turned on all my lights: headlight high beams, fog lights and aircraft landing lights (shhh, those are very powerful but illegal), determined to find the building I had apparently missed the first time. Missed. A. Building. Harrumph.
I did a quick check: mood-alert; vision- focused and sharp; street – correct; address – correct; State – correct (there is a Kansas City in Missouri as well); lighting – brilliant. All systems “Go”. Now where was the building?
There were no street lights, but I had hundreds of square yards lit up like daylight with my lights – even the voltage meter on the dash had dipped with the power output of so many lights not designed to be used together. The truck crept back down the road as I scrutinized every foot of the road sides, looking for a driveway to a building that must have been hidden from me. On the right, I saw that the gravel shoulder widened until the edge went out of sight. I turned the truck slightly onto the gravel and the lights shone on a small dark shack about 12 feet by 12 feet that had a sign, in small letters: “Inland Cold Storage”. No way 42,000 pounds of crab were gonna fit in there. The shack sat in a wide graveled area which had a mountain behind it. I parked and jumped out and walked over to, then around the shack trying to figure out how it played in this mystery.
As I rounded the final corner back to the idling truck, a car appeared beside me. A smiling face shone from the window as I walked to the car. The man, in a security uniform, spoke first: “You new here?” Apparently my confusion showed. I replied: “How did you guess? I’m looking for Inland Cold Storage, have you seen it around here?” He started to laugh: “That’s why I know you’re new. Want to go for a short ride? I’ll show you where you have to deliver.” I checked out his uniform and his smile and the security name on the door: “Sure, where do I put the truck?” He responded: “Just shut it off, lock it up, and leave it there.” So I did.
I jumped in the passenger’s side of the car, and he turned and headed towards the mountain behind us – driving directly at a huge rock face. In the side of the cliff, there was an even darker semicircular area. As we got closer, it formed itself into a tunnel entrance. He waved to the right and said; “You can park there on the right until 6:00 am and then you can come in. Don’t come in any earlier, oxygen is an issue inside.” Ummm, OK.
His lights shone into the tunnel, which had no illumination, and we drove inside the mountain. The entrance and the tunnel were huge – easily 15 feet high and wide enough for 3 transports to pass. Huge rock pillars lined both sides of the tunnel and beyond those were wide ledges about 4 feet off the ground – with no apparent use. We turned a corner and drove into a lighted portion of the road.
The security guy indicated smaller tunnels off to the sides that contained dry storage for RV’s and warehouses. After what seemed miles of driving and chatting we came to the end of the tunnel which opened up into a huge empty area that disappeared into darkness beyond the headlights. The guard explained that the underground temperature stayed in the upper 50’s F all year around. The freezer cooled through vents drilled through the rock to the top of the mountain. To the left was a concrete block wall between the pillars with a standard transport dock and an office sitting on the dock. He explained that this was my delivery point and to report to the office at 6:30 am.
We turned around and he drove me back to my truck. At 6:00 am sharp, I was driving into the mountain. My appointment had been made by the shipper, and I was a day early. If I could get unloaded anytime today, I could drive tonight and reload a backhaul tomorrow morning anywhere within a 500 mile radius.
With that in mind, I pulled into the open area to the right of the freezer and shut off the truck. Grabbing my Bills of Lading and Customs Clearance, I jumped up onto the dock and walked to the office. The supervisor was just opening up, and I had to wait a minute before he took my paperwork. I explained that I was a day early and would appreciate it if he could get me unloaded today. He replied that he was already overbooked but if I could wait until the late afternoon, he could squeeze me in. This was fine because with only 3 hours sleep, I could use some more. I parked where instructed, shut off my reefer unit (all engines had to be off underground unless in use, and the insulated trailer would hold the cold easily at this temperature), and lay down in the sleeper for a good snooze.
At about 3:30 pm, there was a knock at the truck door, and when I looked out, a warehouseman indicated that I should back into the dock. This accomplished, I approached the office, and the supervisor advised me they would start unloading shortly. The last of the other trucks for the day were just pulling out, and other than me, the only people left were the dock crew. I asked where the washroom was, and the supervisor indicated the other end of the dock. I walked past the rear of my open truck just as the crew was setting the unloading ramp in place with a forklift. My load was on pallets so I did not have to touch it. I spoke for a minute with the lead hand, who had my paperwork, and confirmed the number of skids and cases, then continued to the washroom.
The washroom door faced the dock area and was set in a standard wall-like building. When I opened the door, I found a complete washroom with a shower, all sitting on a concrete floor with three walls and a ceiling of rough cut rock. Apparently, they had just cut a room out of the stone, put a wall and door on the open face, run the plumbing and then concreted over it to make a floor. I checked my watch, and it was just before 4:00 pm. As I sat inspecting the ceiling and walls, I noticed that there were a small number of little pebbles scattered around the floor, which seemed odd.
Suddenly there was a deep rumble that permeated the floor and walls. It increased in strength until the vibrations could be seen rippling through the stone. Small pebbles began to drop from the ceiling and the walls. I jumped off the toilet, intensely aware that I was a long ways underground in a cave that was now shaking and pieces were falling from the ceiling – granted, pieces no bigger than the end of a pen – but still pieces. I flung open the door of the washroom with my pants still around my knees and saw the whole dock dancing up and down. As I pulled my pants the rest of the way up while stumbling along, I also noticed that the dock workers had stopped work and had gathered facing the wash room door. I stopped to fasten my pants and do up my belt – and I can tell you that the world looks much saner when your pants are up and fastened. Miraculously, the shaking slowed and then stopped as I stood facing the dock crew.
The men standing there suddenly burst into laughter and started clapping. Apparently I had made their day – not quite sure why yet, I took a bow and gave them a grand flourish. The lead hand walked over as the other men went back to work finishing up my load. He grinned and explained that these storage caverns were cut from a limestone seam that extended into the mountain. This section was still a working mine at night. They drilled blast holes all day, then detonated at exactly 4:00 pm and hauled limestone out at night. Whenever new guys like me appeared, the reaction at 4:00 pm was guaranteed and generated much amusement for the dock crews.
Load delivered, I drove humbly out of the mine, noticing as I went that mining equipment was now operating on the ledge alongside the roadway, which apparently was another road system for the miners.
Back under the open sky, I headed east towards my next load and challenge.
Paul Curran and I love to hear from our readers. You may comment on this post, comment on my Facebook or Twitter pages, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For this post, photo credits are embedded in the images themselves.