Mark returned from Mexico feeling like he needed a vacation. Sure, he'd spent some time on the beach, got a tan and made love to a beautiful woman, but he'd also had one of his most harrowing adventur...
Mark returned from Mexico feeling like he needed a vacation. Sure, he’d spent some time on the beach, got a tan and made love to a beautiful woman, but he’d also had one of his most harrowing adventures of his truck-driving career. He’d be able to recover from his physical exhaustion easily enough, but he’d also had his heart broken in Mexico and that would take a little more time to mend. He could use a vacation, but he knew that the only thing that could get him over a woman was WORK. It had worked before with his ex-wife and there was no reason why it wouldn’t work now.
So he called up Bud, eager for a good long haul.
“Hello?” Bud said.
“Bud, this is Mark.”
“Dalton? They have phones down in Mexico?”
“No. I mean, yes. Sure they do…but I’m back and ready to get to work.”
“Rarin’ to go, are you?”
“Yeah, you got a load for me? A long one?”
“You want to go south?”
“How far south?”
“Back to Mexico.”
Mark hesitated a moment, thinking. A really long haul like that would be a big payday, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to visit Mexico – especially in Mother Load – just yet. “How about something a little closer to home.”
“Okay.” A pause, as if Bud was searching through some papers. “I got a call from this plant in Scarborough that wants fast reliable drivers.”
“What are they shipping?”
“Not sure, other than it’s just-in-time stuff, so the money’s pretty good.”
Bud told him.
“That’s for me,” Mark said.
Bud gave him the address.
Mark followed Bud’s directions to a large factory in Toronto’s east end. He was met out on the loading dock by the shipper, a tall gaunt man who looked like he suffered from ulcers and the shakes. He was sipping a mug of tea, camomile Mark thought, by the smell of it.
“We make vacuum formed parts for the auto industry,” the shipper explained. “You know, door coverings, roof liners, things like that…And we ship them into Detroit.”
“Detroit? They still make cars there?”
The shipper looked at Mark as if he were stupid. Then, he said, “Well, they must since we ship hundreds of thousands of auto parts there every year.”
Mark just smiled at the man, trying to make it look as if he’d just been kidding.
“Now you must be good, or Bud wouldn’t have sent you,” the shipper said, starting down the row of loading docks. “I told him I need drivers who deliver on time no matter what, and you’re the only one he sent me.”
Mark felt a twinge of pride flutter up into his chest. “I haven’t missed a delivery time yet.”
The shipper nodded. “That’s fine.” They walked past several more loading docks until they reached a trailer with its door open and loaded with skids full of shrink-wrapped auto parts.
The smell of vinyl coming out of the back of the trailer was pungent. Mark could live with annoying smells, but what he did have a problem with were trailers that had seen better days.
“You want me to take that thing all the way to Detroit?” Mark asked. The frame of the trailer was rusted with holes eaten through on each side of the door. The inside had been knocked full of holes too – like the thing had once been used to haul loose boulders – each one plugged with globs of caulking, or covered by beer cans and rivets. Who knew what the wheels and axles looked like? Mark really didn’t want to know.
“I know, I know…It don’t look like much, but it’s in primo shape. Everything works perfectly on it or we wouldn’t be using it. In this business, we can’t afford a load not arriving on time for something dumb like mechanical failure.”
That made sense. The auto-industry worked on the concept of “Just-in-Time” shipping which made trailers like this one a warehouse on wheels. If the parts were late, or didn’t make it at all, the potential loss could be measured in millions. Still, this trailer looked pretty rickety…
“There’s a substantial bonus in it for you when you make the delivery on time.”
Extra money. Just the thing to convince Mark that the trailer was fine. “Then I’m your man.”
The shipper smiled. “Good. Now come with me to the office and we’ll get your papers.”
Mark accompanied the shipper to his office. The papers were all in order, and Mark signed for the load. But even before the ink was dry on Mark’s signature, the shipper was back stressing how important it was to get the load delivered on time.
“Like I said before, if you make it there on time, there’s a bonus in it for you. If you don’t, there’ll be a penalty against the company…” The shipper’s eyes narrowed into slits. “…and that would make it harder for us to pay out, understand?”
Mark was beginning to feel as if he was making a mistake taking this load. Still, he had to know. “When exactly is this load due?”
“Between five and eight.”
Mark was stunned. This delivery would leave him little time to eat, or even take a bathroom break. Still, he was sure he could do it, and when he made it, the extra money would make it all worthwhile. The realization slowly changed the blank look on Mark’s face into a smile. “Then I better get moving.”
Mark made good time through Toronto and was approaching London when he heard over his Cobra that the chicken coops at Putnam were open and anyone with a problem might do well to stay clear.
Normally Mark wouldn’t pay any attention to such chatter, but the condition of his trailer made him wonder. Although he’d had no problems with it so far, it looked like crap and that was the first thing the Transportation Enforcement Officers saw when a rig rolled through their scales. Mark didn’t want to risk any lengthy delays, so he decided to get off the 401 before the scales and detour around them. It might take him an extra 15 or 20 minutes, but it was a small price to pay to avoid a stoppage of three hours or more while some green hornet went through his truck with a fine tooth comb.
He was barely off the ramp and heading west on a side road when his mirrors were lit up by the flashing lights of an MTO cruiser. Mark pulled onto the shoulder and waited for the officer to appear in his window.
“You live around here?” he asked.
“Where are you headed, then?”
Mark thought about lying, but the man would be able to verify whatever he said easily enough. “Detroit.”
“You’re a little lost then, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am,” Mark said. “I was looking for a bite to eat, so I got off the highway, but…” He shook his head for effect. “There’s nothing around here.”
The officer looked unimpressed. “I want you to follow me back to the scales so I can do a proper inspection of your rig, you know, for weight and such.” He flashed a smile that was polite, if nothing else.
It took them 20 minutes to get back to the scales, and Mark was painfully aware that he’d already lost as much time as he’d been willing to spend avoiding the scales.
The weight of the rig was fine at 30,000 lbs. and Mark’s log book was all in order. However, the officer was concerned about an inside tire on one of the trailer axles and wouldn’t allow mark to continue on until it was replaced.
“That’s just great!” Mark fumed.
“Pardon me,” asked the officer, as a second officer miraculously appeared on the scene.
“That’s great,” Mark repeated, this time with a more thankful tone of voice. “I was worried it might have been.”
The officer shook his head. “You know, you would’ve been fine if you’d just come through the scales like you were supposed to. But since you tried to avoid the scales, that tire needs to be replaced.”
Mark smiled and nodded his head. “Thanks.”
Mark called the shipper and was promised a tire repairman would be there shortly. The tire man didn’t show up for an hour, and even when he got there, things didn’t go smoothly.
“What’s the problem?” Mark wa
nted to know.
“All I’ve got are lug radials and bias rib tires. You’ve got all rib radials on the trailer and the company that sent me wants me to replace what’s there with the same kind of tire.”
“But they all go around, don’t they?”
“‘Course they do, but the man who’s paying me wants it done a certain way, so that’s the way I’m doin’ it. Besides, having all rib radials is more fuel efficient.”
“Great,” Mark said, realizing there was no way to win this one. “When can you get the right tire.”
“Buddy’s on his way with one. I can get the axle ready and he should be here before I need the tire.”
Mark waited. The second tire man arrived 30 minutes later and the tire was replaced in just under two hours, for a total time off the highway of two and a half hours.
Mark got back onto the highway by noon and drove non-stop to Detroit. Luckily he had no trouble at the border and got through in record time.
He pulled into the auto plant just after seven, where a team of receivers were waiting to unload his trailer.
“We were wondering if you were going to show,” said one of the men.
“Haven’t missed a delivery yet,” Mark boasted.
“Yeah, but there’s always a first time, eh?”
Mark smiled, but there was something about the way the man had said it that left Mark unsettled.
– By the Book will continue in the June issue of Truck News.