The 2 large bright green, cone shaped, industrial coffee grinders sat primly on their flatbed trailers– each hanging 2 feet over each side. They measured 12 feet wide and 9 feet high – legal height but over width by four feet and requiring permits. In fact, wide enough to also require escorts. The problem was, it was Friday, June 27 at 4 pm, the government was closed for the next 2 days and the grinders, which had come by ship from Germany, had an appointment at a new Mother Parkers Coffee plant in Toronto on Monday, June 30. And we had no permits. That was 1800 kms (about 1200 miles) or 22 hours driving. And Tuesday was Canada Day, so even if we got the permits Monday, we wouldn’t be able to deliver until at least Thursday – 3 days late (permitted loads cannot move on holidays).
Mike, John and I stared out the office window at the two trailers sitting in the terminal yard. The coffee grinders started back unblinkingly.
Mike started: “So, what do you guys think?”
Translation: Take the loads without permits.
I looked at John, then at Mike: “What’s in it for us?”
Translation: We’re taking all the risk, how will you repay us?
Mike: “I’ll keep you busy for a minimum of a week.”
Translation: I know you only get paid by the mile, so I’ll give you priority on upcoming loads – no waiting time.
This was good because waiting time for a dispatch was not paid – only loaded time. It could make the difference between a great pay period and a poor pay period. I looked at John and he nodded. Fine, I guess this was a go.
“OK, Mike, we’ll do it, but you had better keep your promise.”
He swore he would, so John and I picked up the paperwork from dispatch and walked out to check the loads.
We left the yard at midnight, counting on the Kelly Lake scales being closed. They were and so were all the other scales en route – the weekend before Canada Day was usually stretched to the holiday by government workers. We ran only at night with no Over Dimensional signs, no escorts, no flashing lights, and no permits. When we met oncoming trucks, we turned on our back-up lights to illuminate the load width. Luckily we also had fog through to Montreal – which hid the size of our loads from prying eyes.
Early Monday morning, we were parked at Mother Parker’s waiting to unload. It was a new plant so it took a while for the construction workers to get us emptied. Finally at 2 pm, I called Mike and asked for my next load. He asked me to hurry over to Phillips Cable and load two 9 foot reels of cable consigned to Johnston exporters in Toronto. This wasn’t uncommon to have a shipment go through two or even three sets of hands on paper between the shipper and the receiver. Mike would tell me the destination after I was loaded. I expected to go back to Halifax or at least in that direction as I had an ACLZ – a flatbed trailer that belonged to the container company who had shipped the grinders from Germany.
After I loaded – two big reels of cable as thick as my wrist, standing on edge on the trailer- I called Mike back and he told me that my paperwork would be at the City Truck Stop Fuel Desk on my way out of town. He then informed me that one reel was going to Phoenix and the other to Seattle. Yikes! I pointed out that the company truck had no valid US registration and the trailer belonged back in Halifax. He wanted to know if I could do the run – and being one to never turn down a challenge, I agreed. That would be 3,600 kms (2,236 miles) to Phoenix and then 2,286 kms (1,420 miles) from there to Seattle- a total of 5,886 kms (3,656 miles) or 72 hours of driving to get empty and then there would be the trip home.
Two days later – July 2 and far ahead of schedule – I pulled into Mesa, Arizona and took a motel room, parking the truck with the license plates facing away from the road so my lack of US registration wouldn’t be obvious. I hadn’t crossed any highway scales – thanks to a small book that showed all their locations and the routes around them. One detour from New Mexico to Arizona took me through the Zuni Reservation on a dirt road and down a winding, hilly road that was quite surprising – but no scales. If I had been caught, the truck would have been impounded and I would have had fines in the thousands of dollars.
I got up early the next morning at 4 am to get breakfast at the attached restaurant and get to my delivery in Phoenix before the traffic got heavy. As I was eating breakfast, about 15 uniformed men came in and sat down to eat. As they chatted, I realized they were truck inspectors and they were setting up a truck inspection between Mesa and Phoenix as soon as they were done breakfast. I left my food, paid my bill and hurried back to my room to collect my luggage. As I was leaving the room, more inspectors came out of the room next to mine and headed for the restaurant. Sheesh! I walked fast to the truck, jumped in and headed out – that was a close one. I would do my paperwork and truck check when I got to the delivery.
When I got the first cable reel off, I pulled out of Phoenix and stopped at the first truck stop to ponder life and replace the breakfast I had left in Mesa. Today was the third of July – everyone would be closing early for the fourth long weekend. I had 1400 miles – or about 28 hours of driving to get to Seattle – best case delivery would be Friday afternoon, July 4th, and that was without stopping. If I could get empty, I could reload in Canada on the weekend where it was not a holiday. Hmmm, a large carrot. So I called the customer in Seattle and asked to speak to the receiver. Frank came on the line; I identified myself and explained my situation. I asked if he would come in for an hour or so on July 4th to unload the single reel of cable left on the truck. He said absolutely not, that he had plans with his family, and it was a holiday weekend. I asked him if $150 would be of help to his family, and he asked what time I wanted him there. I told him 2 pm and said good-bye. I called my dispatch, told them I would be empty at 2pm Pacific time Friday and asked for a reload – they told me to call back Friday morning my time. With that I went back to the truck and headed out – following my handy-dandy how-to-get-around-the scales book.
At 1 pm the next day, I pulled in front of the Seattle Tacoma Box Company’s yard and was doing paperwork when a car stopped in front of the truck. An older gentleman walked back to the truck as I jumped out. It turned out he was the owner of the family business – a company that specialized in crating products going to Alaska. I explained that Frank was coming in at 2 pm to unload, and he just nodded. We talked until Frank arrived right on time. The owner left and Frank and I unloaded the reel in about 15 minutes – I paid him and pulled out.
Dispatch had given me a load of water slides from Kelowna BC to load Saturday and return to Toronto. I had about 500 kms (310 miles) – 5 hours empty- to go load and 17 hours to get there. That allowed me 11 hours to sleep and an hour for a shower and food. Perfect. Now, our company had no rights to haul in British Columbia, but Customs did not enforce those laws and there were no scales between the US border and Kelowna.
Saturday morning, I was waiting at the shipper’s plant when they opened at 8 am. The slides were fiberglass and were going to the new water park at the top of the 410 in Toronto. The full load weighed maybe 3 thousand pounds – which would not even be noticeable on a truck designed to haul 55,000 pounds. An excellent load, as I got paid by the mile and the better time I made, the more I earned per day.
Because it was a regular weekend in Canada and our company had no Canadian authority in Western Canada, I chose to cross back to Toronto through the States – a trip of 4128 kms (2565 miles) or about 42 hours driving with this light load. This was complex as the ACLZ trailer I had was plated with a Maine license plate. My load had to go in bond through the US so the proper shipper and receiver had to be recorded on the paper work. As Canadians my truck and I were fine for customs, but the trailer was illegal – as an American piece of equipment cannot haul point to point in Canada, even through the US. Once I was loaded and down the highway towards customs, I stopped out of sight in an empty parking lot and made a few adjustments. One of the peculiarities of trucking is that the trailers bear virtually no part in the paperwork – just their country of registration. The insurance is carried by the tractor, all the legal liabilities lie with the tractor, and any and all paperwork is made out to the tractor. The trailer plates cost only about $10 and are good for at least 5 years without any renewal stickers. They are plated basically to keep track of them. Tractors now, are plated yearly at a cost of $5,000 -$10,000 depending on the areas they drive. So, no one paid much attention to trailer plates, and as a result, the registration paperwork was often missing from their holders. So, I pulled my handy dandy milk crate of trailer license plates from the side compartment, chose a Nova Scotia trailer plate from my collection that had come from picking up plates found in parking lots and maybe from other places , and swapped out the trailer plate. This was totally illegal but in no way traceable. I removed the registration from the holder and hid it in the tractor for future use. So, when I pulled up to the border at the Washington State crossing to bond the load, I had a Canadian trailer.
I plotted my route to avoid what scales I could, and as I was driving down a two-lane back road towards Spokane, I crested a hill – and to my surprise, there stood the Grand Coulee dam. That was amazing, one of the largest concrete structures in the world and the largest electricity producer in the US, just sitting there on a back road. And driving
Anyway, it was July 4th weekend, and so when I rejoined interstate 90 at Spokane, I did not expect many if any scales to be open. I would take I-90 all the way to Buffalo. Across this northern route there was only one scale open and that was in Missoula Montana – impossible to circumvent, but a state that allowed a truck to buy a single trip permit. I stopped at that scale and bought a $70 permit, the scale master was a great conversationalist and we spoke for about an hour. He had taught jungle tracking to Green Berets in Vietnam. He showed me his bullet holes where he had been shot twice.
I had a bit of a problem in Bismarck North Dakota when I went looking for fuel. It turned out that none of the company fuel cards had fuel stations in North Dakota, and I was in dire need of fuel. It was the middle of the night and I convinced the young lad at the fuel desk of a local truck stop that because the card I had worked at Chevron and they took Chevron cards, that my card was OK. I charged $400 worth of fuel, which the company eventually got billed for as the card didn’t actually work – as I suspected. That solved, I carried on.
Early Monday afternoon, I crossed back into Canada at Buffalo and was in Toronto delivering that afternoon – 6,500 miles (10,460 kms) in exactly one week – a personal best and about 50% more than my log book would allow. Mike had kept his promise. And in return I had generated over $13,000 USD revenue with additional costs of only $150 for unloading and $70 for a trip permit in Montana. – even though the tractor was not registered in the US and the trailer was illegal for the back haul. I would load back to Halifax – a load for export – another 1200 miles (1,800 kms) for a 10 day round trip total of 8,900 miles (14,000 kms). A good paycheck indeed.
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