You heard it here. I’m calling the recession over, trucking-wise, at least. Volumes appear to be up everywhere and companies are hiring drivers again. I’m not too worried about a double dip…we been down so long it looks like up to me. But before we inhale the fragrant winds of prosperity that are soon to blow over the arid landscapes from Surrey to Etobicoke, Laval to Dartmouth, Brandon to Cornerbrook, Yellowknife to Megantic, we’re going to be smarter with our sheckles and zlotys this time, right? Admittedly it’s still slow though. I just talked to one guy who had to wait 7 days for a backhaul out of Kansas, until he finally found one in Oklahoma that got him back to Ontario.
Got to drive a 2009 ProStar last week and really liked it. It came with an Eaton Yale ten speed Autoshift which made me realize how profoundly good these automatics are getting. Only 50Ks on this unit but the drive train was wholly responsive backing up, not much lag time or slippage and a lot less free roll when hooking or stopped on a grade, unlike the last generation of sloppy automatics.
This truck’s on a regular run between Toronto and Val D’Or, Que., and the full moon nights were spectacular and the ideal weather made for sublime driving conditions: April Fools and fat moths hatching in the conifers and splattering into the windshield this early in the year, ravens.and crows making a stand on the highway And highway 101 hasn’t heaved too bad from Notre Dame du Nord to where it joins with 117. So nice to be driving without much traffic through the hills around Marten River and Temagami, and the full moon just made the experience richer, like a divine light illuminating this astonishingly beautiful country of ours.
I rarely get up to Val D’Or these days as I’m a relief driver bidding weekly on the slots as they come up. Accommodation in a classic hotel—the Continental—which contains the ghosts of prospectors (the town’s name means “gold mine”), as well as groups of young Cree hockey players running in the halls (Val D’Or is host to the world’s largest kids’ aboriginal hockey tournament in the world, and it seems scheduled every time I get to town).
Not much sleep for me, but the town was coming alive in the warm weather. That’s a sign of a healthy community when a cross-section of the populace is milling about on the sidewalks and the doorways. Just one long main street that contains 25 taverns (most are country and western oriented) and five barber shops. And the economy is rebounding too. Forestry is still in the toilet but the zinc and gold mines are ramping up and the sense of optimism is palpable.
offering coffee and comfort to famous Polish Canadian Avro Arrow test pilot in Barry’s Bay
But maybe I should write about the schizophrenic nature of the contemporary trucker. The old order of the mashed potato farmboys and their self-important unquestioned racial pedigree is being challenged by other ethnicities and truckers of different skin tones causing untold trauma on channel 19. Yes there are bad drivers among new Canadians, as there are among those who can claim generations of British Isles and European descent. Bring on the driver shortage, I say, and we’ll all eventually learn to work together.
People of the Valley: Back to the Lander father and son team at Morning Glory Farm somewhere near Killaloe
And what about that Michigan militia that was planning to kill police officers so they could foment a revolution? The whacky right is just as bizarre as the militant “new left” of the 60s and 70s that had a similar mindset. This is the politics of intolerance and rebellion that’s bulwarked by the angry talk show hosts that flood the airwaves-the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys that are legion, yelling and stamping their feet on the Fox radio network nightly like spoiled children. And their Tea Party followers who have nothing to offer except negativity and absurdity. The paradox is that the country with the most personal freedom is a Petri dish for fringe groups that will stop at nothing to bring down the world’s most important democracy for their own selfish neo-conservative ends. There’s another militia in Michigan that is training to stop an invasion from Canada—no kidding. Yeah, look out, we’re coming to get you with our socialized health care and used trucks.
Lastly, I was going to write about the myth of the logistics industry which is really nothing much more than a pseudo-science couched in jargon and obfuscation–a back-slapping coterie of logistics specialists who reproduce themselves geometrically. It’s not all bullshit but some of it certainly is. Logistics is the science of moving goods in the most efficient manner possible between point A and B , and it’s nothing that our benefactors weren’t doing all along without the aid of fancy software. I’m reminded of scholar Hugh Kenner from Harvard telling me that his grandfather was stationmaster of the C&O railyard in St. Thomas, Ont., and the fact that he had to keep the entire yard set up in his head all day. He’d know what rolling units were going out when, and where they were dropped. Without relying on computer programs he was able to plot the day’s moves and set up trains using the least energy without making redundant moves, not unlike what a good dispatcher or yard man does today. And what do you do when the computer crashes? Write it down and call the IT person? Like I said, I’d like to write about the myth of the logistics industry but I better know what I’m talking about before I do so.
Yours Truly at the Val D’Or depot docks: Another big load of potatoes!
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs