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Getting familiar with turnpike doubles

Well, I’ve done my first month pulling turnpike doubles out west, otherwise known as long combination vehicles. It’s been an interesting month to say the least, and from a business (money) point of view it has more than met my expectations – but boy, does it involve a lot of work.

Setting up the trailers and converter takes around 20 minutes on a good day; on a bad day it could take all day. That’s just a straightforward hook-up in the yard, but add all the other variations into the mix and life gets a bit complicated.

The job I do isn’t a pin-to-pin trunk, I go out with trailers that may have a couple of drops on them, for example one may have Regina and Edmonton loads on it and the other Saskatoon and Edmonton. The heaviest trailer must always be at the front, so assuming that the Regina-Edmonton trailer is the heaviest the procedure on arrival in Regina goes like this:

I pull into our drop yard and drop the rear trailer, pull the converter forwards and drop that, park the front trailer, then put the converter in front of it.

As that trailer will now be the heavier one it will have to be the front one, so I just dump the converter in front of it without lining it up properly as it will need to be moved to get things coupled up in the right order on my return.

So I make my delivery, return to the yard and drop the trailer, hook onto the converter and back it under the trailer, then when I’m sure it’s all lined up properly, I pull the pin and pull it forwards a little.

Now I hook onto the other trailer, back that into the converter, once that is all connected I then back it under the back trailer, dolly up, do a thorough pre-trip and set off.

If I’m delivering the front trailer there’s an extra step involved, as I have to drop that somewhere that it won’t get in my way before doing the next steps.

It sounds easy enough, nothing that should cause a guy too many problems, except that we all know easy on paper and easy in the real world are two things that don’t often happen together.

In this case a bumpy yard can have a huge impact on things, especially when trying to line up the converter.

As we all know, the shorter the trailer, the quicker it comes around. Well a converter is as short as it gets, you only have to look at the thing the wrong way and it jackknifes around.

Getting the converter lined up is the most important part of the whole process, as when it’s in line, all you have to do is line up the two trailers and it will all go together nicely, but an inch out and you’ll be at all kinds of funny angles trying to get it together and if that converter needs repositioning, the front trailer has to be dropped first and that isn’t going to be an enjoyable experience.

I was taught a few tricks by the instructor during my training; simple things like leaving enough space when you pull the converter out ready to connect to the front trailer so you can walk around the back of it.

The temptation is to leave it under the back trailer, just forward of the king pin, but then if you haven’t hit it dead square with the front trailer and need to adjust it so that the eye fits the hook and you need to go around the other side to pull it over, you have to walk around 53 feet of trailer to get to the other side.

Lining up eye and hook is not as easy as it sounds; they’re quite a tight fit and a quarter inch out and you’ll need to move the converter.

With a single axle it’s possible to move them by hand if there’s no weight imposed on them from the trailer, but a tandem set-up will not budge, so another trick I learned was to use a ratchet strap to pull the converter in the direction you need it to move.

It’s a much safer way than using a bar, one slip with a bar and you could end up with no teeth and having just spent a fortune at the dentist, I’m not prepared to take that chance.

Now that all that work has been done I have to go out and actually drive the thing and that is an experience.

I’d never done any real oversize work before, so having more than 100 feet of trailer in my mirrors was quite daunting, even going down the road in a straight line and making a turn was even worse.

But it only took a few days of nervousness before I found myself automatically positioning the truck in the right place to make a turn, so much so that coming out of the Husky at Headingley, Man. and making a left turn to head east into a single-lane construction zone with a stop light on one side and barriers on the other side I got complimented over the CB on my driving by a driver waiting at the stop light.

He said that he thought I’d never make it around and that it was a very skillful bit of driving. I thanked him and he replied that it shows that there’s no substitute for years of experience.

I then told him it was only my second week pulling turnpikes and I heard no more. I think he may have thought I was joking.

Beginners luck, I guess.


A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.

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