Mark was headed west. At the Salisbury Big Stop outside Moncton, he'd nearly caught a thief who had broken into Mother Load. He'd chased the guy through the parking lot and down onto the Trans-Canada,...
Mark was headed west. At the Salisbury Big Stop outside Moncton, he’d nearly caught a thief who had broken into Mother Load. He’d chased the guy through the parking lot and down onto the Trans-Canada, and just when he was starting to gain on the guy, a car pulled up on them. The guy hopped in and a second later they were gone…the guy and Mark’s stuff.
After that Mark wanted nothing else but to pick up loads, drive west, and make money. But just because that’s what Mark wanted didn’t mean things would work out that way. Sure, Mark was minding his own business, but trouble always seemed to have a way of finding him no matter how hard he tried to hide from it.
That night Mark was at a truck stop just outside Thunder Bay, preparing to turn in for the night. The temperature outside was just above freezing and the forecast was calling for a drop of five or more degrees before sunrise. That was colder than it had been the past few nights and Mark would have to start up his auxiliary power unit if he wanted to stay warm through the night.
There had been a time when Mark laughed at drivers who’d spent thousands of dollars on APUs when leaving the engine idling kept the cab just as warm without the use of any extra of special equipment. But then someone explained the numbers to him and he’d been sold. For example, auxiliary heaters use 5% the fuel of an idling engine, so the fuel that an idling engine uses in one hour can run an auxiliary heater for 20 hours. If you left your engine idling overnight for say, six hours, you could run an auxiliary heater on the same amount of fuel for 120 hours. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that an APU was a money saver, so Mark had had one installed years ago. As a result his idle time was down to less than 5%, which meant nearly all of his fuel costs went to hauling loads.
Mark turned on the heater and listened. It was a bit noisy, especially when he first started it up, but it would quiet down later on when it warmed up and everything was running hot. It probably wouldn’t hurt to get the thing looked at, but in the meantime the noise was soft and comforting – white noise that helped him to fall asleep.
Just after sunrise, Mark awoke refreshed. The cab was toasty and the auxiliary heater was still running, softly humming now as opposed to the hard grinding it had done when he’d first got it started. Mark got into his driving clothes, tidied up his sleeper, then climbed into the driver’s seat. The truck stop he was at had a restaurant, but he knew of this other stop down the highway that provided customers with free Internet access while serving the best chocolate chip pancakes on the Trans-Canada. He turned the key, let the glow plugs warm up, then scanned the gauges to check that everything was in order.
That’s when something strange caught his eye.
“That can’t be right,” he muttered under his breath.
He leaned forward for a closer look and tapped the glass, but the needle on his fuel gauge didn’t move. It was still all the way to the left – Empty.
That was impossible. He’d filled his tanks last night before turning in. They’d been full then, and empty now.
Mark turned off the ignition and got out of the truck. Maybe the tank was cracked or had a leak, or a fuel line was broken and the fuel had drained out overnight. If that were the case he’d be able to smell the fuel, nevermind see evidence of it on the ground, but there was no sign of
spilled fuel anywhere on the pavement beneath Mother Load. Mark got down onto the ground and crawled under his truck, but there was no sign of a leak or any damage to his tanks. He got back up and pulled the engine cowling forward to check all of his lines and hoses. All of them were in tact and dry.
He closed and secured the cowling then looked again at the tank, this time checking the cap on top of it. Aha! The cap was slightly askew and off-center. Mark tried to turn it, but it was stuck. Stuck as if someone had tried putting it back in a hurry, but gave up when the threads misaligned and the thing wouldn’t turn anymore.
For a moment Mark wondered if he’d put the cap on that way himself and the fuel had evaporated from the tank, but that was silly. Hundreds of gallons of diesel didn’t dry up overnight. Obviously he’d been robbed.
“Son of a…” he muttered under his breath.
How could one trucker steal another trucker’s fuel?
Mark let out a long sigh. He knew the answer.
To make money in the trucking business you had to either increase revenue or decrease expenses. Increasing revenue wasn’t easy because that meant new customers, something that took time and hard work. On the other hand, the money saved by cutting fuel went directly into a driver’s pocket and there was always some way to use less fuel. So,
if you paid nothing for fuel because you stole it, then just about everything you earned was profit. It was a brilliant business strategy, but as dishonest as a three-dollar bill. What made it worse was that to do it, you had to steal from a fellow trucker, a brother, one of your own.
Mark was furious. While he could understand, maybe even tolerate someone stealing loose change and CDs from his cab, stealing fuel out of his tanks was like taking food out of his mouth, money out of his pocket.
Mark didn’t know how, but he would even the score…after breakfast.
The chocolate chip pancakes were like comfort food for Mark, helping him forget how he’d been ripped off by a fellow trucker while he’d been sleeping inside his truck just a few feet away. After breakfast, Mark logged onto the Internet to check his e-mail. Like chocolate chip pancakes, the Internet was quickly becoming one of his guilty pleasures. From e-mail to Facebook, from Google to Myspace, the Internet was a way for him to visit friends, learn about the world around him, or just to pass some time during a reset. YouTube was Mark’s favourite for that, and he logged onto the video sharing site on a regular basis, always finding something to make him smile. He usually typed things like “stupid people” or “silly animals” into the search engine, but today he tried “stupid truckers” and
What he saw were clips of truckers driving the wrong way, getting caught under low bridges, or stuck in the mud. There were also semis in highway crashes and trucks that drove away without anyone behind the wheel. It always made Mark feel good to see other truckers in worse shape than he was. It was a good feeling, but today it was shortlived. That’s because before getting underway, Mark had to top up his tanks again, and as he did the anger he’d felt earlier came over him all over again.
Sure, YouTube could make him laugh, but paying for fuel twice made him mad…in every sense of the word.
-Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of Dalton and the Bandit