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Hands On Trucking – Part 1

After a short stint as a shunt driver in a huge truck yard in the Vancouver Area where he solved a murder, broke up a smuggling ring, and gave a widow some money she had coming to her, Mark had set ou...

After a short stint as a shunt driver in a huge truck yard in the Vancouver Area where he solved a murder, broke up a smuggling ring, and gave a widow some money she had coming to her, Mark had set out on a long, long trip to California and through the southern United States. He was back now, hoping his luck would hold out and he’d get another long haul to some far flung place so he could make some money and enjoy the open road. Sounded great. Trouble was, he’d first have to get that load from his dispatcher, Bud.

So he called him up. “Hey Bud, it’s Mark.”

He waited a beat, then came the inevitable, “Mark who?”

Although it had been funny at first, cute even, Mark was getting tired of this routine. “The Mark who’s been working for you for 10 years now! The Mark who’s name shows up on your damn caller ID each time I phone you! The Mark who’s been your best driver and helped you outta more tight spots than all your other drivers combined!”

“Mark Zolinski?”

Mark was dumbstruck for a moment and couldn’t say a word. But then, as he thought about it, all he could do was laugh. “Very funny, Bud.”

“Oh, Mark Dalton. I thought I recognized your voice, but I couldn’t be sure.”

“Right,” Mark said with another little laugh. “Listen, I’m back from the states and I’m looking for another long load.”

Mark could hear Bud sucking air in through his clenched teeth. “I don’t have much in the way of long hauls right now,” said Bud. “Maybe in a week or two when a couple of plants we haul for re-open…right now all I have are loads from rail yards and warehouses to distributors. Stuff like that.”

“You mean city stuff?” “Basically.”

Mark didn’t like driving city routes as much as he liked the open road. Highway miles were a piece of cake compared to turning tight corners and backing up trailers into impossibly tight spaces. And with such short hauls almost as much time was spent waiting for your trailer to be unloaded as it was driving to your destination. But work was work and if Bud didn’t have anything else then Mark would be out of work, and he hated doing nothing more than he hated short-haul trucking, so he agreed to take on a few loads.

“Okay, I’ll take a load or two until something longer comes along.”

“Hey,” Bud said. “You sure you’re not Mark Zolinski, helping me out of a tight spot with all these short loads?”

“Bud,” was all Mark said.

Bud laughed.

The loads were for ceramic tiles and hardwood flooring that had to be taken from a depot at the rail yards in Vaughan to a small warehouse in Mississauga. There were a bunch of loads and they had to be completed within the next two days. It was a fairly easy gig, even with most of the driving being on city streets.

By the time Mark got to the depot, it was three in the afternoon and he’d probably only be able to get a single load to the warehouse before either the depot or the warehouse closed for the day. Loading up was a snap with two forklift drivers sharing the job, fitting 12 skids of Chinese-made hardwood flooring into his trailer and putting his rig close to its weight limit. Thankfully, he wouldn’t be going far, or over any scales. The sooner he could get to his destination and off-load the better.

The drive to the warehouse went without incident and even the run up to the loading dock was easy with all kinds of room to turn around in the yard and about 12 feet on either side of the loading dock.

If the rest of the loads go this easy, Mark thought, he’d be able to get them done in no time at all.

After backing up to the dock, Mark shut off Mother Load and jumped the short distance from the cab to the ground…and felt something go wrong in one of his knees. The bones seemed out of alignment when his foot hit the ground and there was a grinding feeling in the joint. Pain exploded in his knee and for a moment Mark saw stars. He gasped for breath and managed to lean up against his truck to keep himself from falling to the ground.

‘What the hell happened?’ he wondered. ‘I didn’t jump more than a foot or two.’

But the thought was overwhelmed by the pain in his knee. He couldn’t move his knee and when he did, it felt as if a knife had been shoved right through his bones. He stayed where he was for several minutes, catching his breath and feeling the ache in his leg slowly subside. Soon, it was down to a dull throb. He could barely bend the knee, but at least he could put enough weight on it to walk. Suddenly, the short walk from his truck to the shipping door seemed like a kilometre or more.

He set out on his trek, putting one foot in front of the other, in front of the other, in, front, of the other…

Finally, he was at the steps leading up to the door. He tried to raise his bad leg to take a step but that only hurt more. Then he set his bad leg and raised the other, and was able to limp up the steps.

He opened the door and managed to step inside.

“Hello?” he said. There was no answer. In fact, there seemed to be no-one around, at all.

“Hello?” he said again.

“I’m coming,” came a voice off in the distance.

Mark found a stack of boxes piled three high and sat down. Although he’d taken weight off his leg, it still hurt, but it was a different kind of hurt. Something was wrong with his knee that wasn’t going to heal itself in the next couple of hours. A minute or so later an older man with white hair and clean clothes approached.

“What do you got?”

“Hardwood. Twelve skids.” Mark handed the man the paperwork without getting up from where he sat. He pointed at a large roll-up door. “I’m backed up to that door there.”

The older man looked left and right and said, “You came at a bad time. All my guys are in a union meeting right now and I don’t know when they’ll be getting out. We close at five so your load’s going to have to wait.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Mark said.

“Nope, I wish I could help you, but I’m busy in the office. I’m missing calls right now as it is.”

“So I’ve got to leave my trailer here?”

“That, or you could unload it yourself.” He paused, possibly to gauge Mark’s reaction. “Get you out of here faster.”

Mark was in no condition to unload his trailer when he’d be lucky to be able to walk back to his truck, climb up into the cab and use his one good leg to operate the accelerator and brake pedals.

But he had more loads to deliver and if he started waiting to get his truck unloaded, he’d be losing money. So, if they had a forklift handy and a nice big space to put the skids, it might not be so bad.

“Alright,” Mark said. “I’ll do it. Where’s your forklift?”

“In the shop.”

“Where’s the shop?”

“Brampton. It’s being fixed. But we do have a couple of pump trucks you’re welcome to use.”

This was getting better by the minute. Unloading hardwood with hand operated lifts would be the death of him. But then, even detaching his trailer so he could drive Mother Load away would be an ordeal.

“Alright,” he said, massaging his now swollen knee. “Bring me one of those hand trucks.”

The shipper quickly returned with a Blue Giant. “Put them over there,” he said, indicating an empty aisle wide enough for two rows of six skids each. “I’ll be in the office if you need anything.”

‘Like some help?’ thought Mark. But by then the shipper was gone.

Mark grabbed the Blue Giant and worked through the pain.

He was done just before five. His knee felt like it was on fire and there wasn’t a comfortable position for it.

“You’re all done,” the shipper said as he appeared just before the clock struck five.

“Where are all your guys?” Mark asked.

“Meeting just ended,” he said. “So they went home.”

“Nice,” Mark said, wondering why there wasn’t a union for truck drivers like him.

-Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of Hands On Trucking.

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