Trip 1 Calgary to Anaheim California. Day 1

IMG_0315August 31st 2018 .

Calgary Ab to Great Falls MT .

335 Miles 

If Your’re good at something you don’t even enjoy, imagine how good you would be doing something you Love ?

Moving all your stuff into a truck is a never-ending task and even when I thought I was done, I still had doubts.  Not only if I had forgotten an important travel document but even thoughts of whether or not I’m doing the right thing?  So with all these thoughts still circling my mind I arrived at a grubby looking yard where my home and source of income was parked .

The truck itself was seemingly in good condition and all fitted out with basic conveniences for life on the road.  Microwave, full fridge, high cab with a large bunk and numerous power outlets for mobile phones or computers.  Combined with large areas of  storage for clothes, food and all other things required for up to 10 days on the move.  This is one area where things have improved since my time away from driving. These highway trucks now are fitted out with many modern comforts to make the drivers down time more like a stay in an RV rather than a back of a truck.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I had driven an older version of the same truck years ago so the changes were immediately noticeable .

After a quick briefing on the new electronic log system that is now controlling commercial drivers working in the US ( Yet to be introduced in Canada only driving  – surprise!) I left the yard and headed south to Lethbridge, Alberta, where I would be picking up a full load of frozen fries ( chips to my English friends) .  Roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive south of Calgary.

Glad to see certain things don’t change.  Despite arriving 30 minutes before my appointment time, I  got on a loading bay some 2 hours later and then only after I went into shipping office to inquire why ?  A simple case of the morning shift not telling the afternoon shift,  who was next  to be loaded was the cause of my delay . Time well spent arranging and cleaning the interior of the truck.  Mentally noted for future visits.  I was pleased that I kept calm and patient, unlike in the past when plenty of blood pressure rising. shouting and yelling would have occurred.  Progress? Or just getting older? Either way I left the plant fully loaded  3 hours later than planned,  but loaded all the same.

First task? Weigh the load, or to be more exact, weigh each axle to ensure that I am under legal limits for the US.  No surprise here, axle weight limits for the US are different to the limits enforced in Canada, so I headed to a nearby weigh scale to ensure I wouldn’t be in trouble at the first government scale I got called into.

First challenge? Sliding the trailer axles allows the driver to distribute the weight, in order to keep each axle legal.  Easy? Well used to be.  An hour later and testing my newly found calm patient approach, I managed to get my load legal for the US.

Finally on my way, heading south, towards the border. Second challenge ?

Border crossing as a non Canadian citizen means extra paperwork, extra questions and more time.  I was surprised however,  how quickly this was done, a few  simple forms, a ten minute question and answer session and 6 dollars later, I was on my way into the US with my load of frozen fries. Happy Days ? ( I later found out I could have avoided this delay altogether and completed the forms online prior to me getting to the border! What a Muppet!)

As previously explained in my earlier blog, all of these delays at the yard, the shipper and the border was time spent at work, by me, that I don’t get paid for, as I only get paid for the miles traveled . Name me another job that this is the case.  Every job has its pros and cons, however I do believe this is one major cause for the driver shortage here.

Still south on interstate 15 into Montana, brings me to my overnight stopping place in Great Falls. The flying J Truck stop, provides clean ( ish) showers, hot food ( we will get to the hardships of eating on the road another time )for the me and fuel, a windscreen clean of the summer roadkill and a place to park for my truck .

I decided to cook in my cab tonight.  Something I am conscious of now as part of the aging process, is I have started to watch what I eat on a more regular basis.  I am not saying I have turned into a berry eating health freak, but the pounds have slowly been gaining through my 40’s decade and driving a truck all day provides little in the way of exercise to stop this process continuing into the next decade.

So armed with a microwave, toaster and tin opener, I soon settled down to a light British favorite of ” Beans on Toast “. Walked my dog for half an hour before settling down for a sleepless night as I wasn’t yet used to the noise of the fridge motor on my trailer working overtime to keep my load in its preferred frozen state.

Back on the Road . Happy Days? So far yes.

 

Week 1

white dump truck near pine tress during daytime
Photo by 500photos.com on Pexels.com

Why go back on the road ?

Well I guess the simple answer is because I want to. I want to see whats changed in the past ten years. I want to understand why, in my opinion, the most under valued job is taken for granted by most and its value to the economy ignored by all ? Why is the shortage of truck drivers a real threat to economic growth in Canada today?

Like most things in Canada, trucking companies are very much linked to our large neighbours to the south.  Second only to China, Canada is a major trading nation for the States.

As there is such a shortage of drivers, finding a job should not be a problem. This proved to be the case. Through a contact of mine I talked to a company based in Toronto, but with trucks working out of Calgary.  Following a brief interview over a cup of coffee, a job offer was received, followed by numerous forms to be completed in full, all to satisfy the US department of transport.

So off for a drug test I go ! Part of working in the States, requires all drivers to be drug tested and screened as part of their employment requirements. Calgary has many labs, all studying people’s pee to see if they are drunk or stoned at the time of their test.  In a country that is about to legalize the use of cannabis,  I can only imagine this number will  increase in the future.  Probably the first reason why there is a shortage of truck drivers, everyone is smoking pot and cant pass the Pre employment drug test!  No such problems for me, fill the cup up to the line, sign the forms and the results are forwarded to the company within a couple of days.

The whole hiring process is completed by a test drive and then forwarding all travel documents to Toronto head office. Within a few days I had managed to get myself hired as a truck driver.  Although I have held a licence for over 30 years, I hadn’t actually driven a truck much at all in the last 10 years so clearly the driver shortage has made the whole process very easy and there was almost a sense of desperation in many of the local companies I contacted.  I got the feeling that they would hire anyone who had a license and could donate quality pee to the Lab.

However, I decided to go with my first choice of the companies I contacted.  Firstly, I wanted a company that only ran south to the States.  There are a number of companies that only do Canada work.  This is fine weather wise for around 5 months of the year and for those who cannot travel to the US because of a  wide range of  offences prevent them doing so.  As you may have heard, winters here can be a little on the chilly side and as we are already at the time of year when temperatures are  dropping  daily.., winter is not far away.  Other reasons for this choice include roads in Canada are terrible ( apart from the tourist sections around Banff, Alberta) Most are full of potholes, bad repairs and many are still gravel.  Now given the fact that the majority of drivers here get paid by the mile (something that’s not legal in the UK ) your wages can take a serious hit in the winter. Parked waiting for the latest snow storm to pass or waiting for the snow ploughs to finally clear the roads.  On the mountain roads of Alberta and British Columbia, even the main highways can be closed on a regular basis during winter months, snow storms, avalanches and ice storms all mean regular travel disruption.  Things don’t improve that much in the summer.  Construction and tourist having a similar result .

Truck stops in Canada, while improving in recent years, are generally sparse, poor quality, dirty and somewhat limited in choice of food on offer.  As most drivers are on the road for at least a week, a place to have a clean hot shower, do some laundry, watch a movie, get a haircut, with a large selection of food choices as well as reliable wi-fi connection( useful for those of use who blog on a regular basis )  and even get  any required work done on your truck, becomes important.  All of these basic services are available at regular  intervals throughout US road network .

I think I may have come across  more reasons for the driver shortage.  Strict border crossing requirements to the US and poor roads in Canada contributing to the problem. Maybe all the new taxes received from the newly legalized pot industry could be spent on improving the roads and installing basic road side services?

My choice of company run refridgerated or frozen goods south to California and return to Western Canada with produce.  The weather here also contributes to the fact you can only purchase fruit and produce grown locally for around 3 months of the year .

Now running reefer ( refrigerated trailers) is not my first choice and is not without its issues thats for certain.  Most pick up and delivery points involve a long periods of sitting around waiting, even if you arrive on time and obviously you don’t get paid for this delay.  I would have preferred to run flat deck truck, more money in general and way more interesting work.  However, certainly to start with, reefer will do just fine.

So there you have it.  After ten years absence, I am once again heading back out on the road.  Back in the saddle. What an idiot ??