Lessons learned from a broken window

by Al Goodhall

My last road trip of 2018 was supposed to be a simple one, a straight run between terminals from southwestern Ontario to Winnipeg and back. But sometimes even the simplest of plans go off the rails for the most unlooked for of reasons; that’s the nature of the trucking business. When that happens it’s a reminder that theory always meets reality at the same point that the rubber meets the road in this business. This is the story of a broken window.

I was rolling along Ontario’s Hwy. 17 northbound, about 40 kilometers south of the town of Wawa on Dec. 27. I was heading into a winter storm that had been forecast. That in itself was not a big deal. It was not the first heavy winter weather I had ever encountered, and it won’t be the last.

I was well prepared for it and in a sense, actually looking forward to the driving challenges ahead of me. At this point, I rolled down my driver’s side window to clear some snow that had started to accumulate on my mirror. The window would not roll back up. Great!

I pulled over at the first available safe space on the roadside and proceeded to try and free up the window in order to close it after determining it wasn’t something as simple as a blown fuse. This is the point where the train went off the rails. I broke the window in my efforts to free it and close it. The safety glass disintegrated into thousands of pieces. I wish I had a picture of my face when that happened. It would have illustrated stunned disbelief.

So, for a few minutes I sat on the side of the road with no window in my driver’s side door in the sub-zero temperature with a winter storm building around me and stretching for several hundred kilometers in front of me with the only thought in my head being: now what?

I did what every driver has to do at this point: drive. I put on my toque and winter jacket and headed for Wawa ahead of me, formulating a plan in my head as I drove. The one godsend was that this happened on a business day during business hours.

On arrival in Wawa, I dropped my trailer at the Esso truck stop, bobtailed into town and picked up some clear vinyl and Tuck Tape at the local building supply store. I fashioned a patch over the window opening and at this point contacted dispatch and filled them in on my problem. I knew I could get to Thunder Bay that day, so all I needed was for dispatch to set me up at the Freightliner dealer the next morning to fix me up.

That was the plan we put together. It worked. I rolled into Santorelli’s truck stop with seven minutes to spare on my clock that night. My temporary window held up through the heavy snow and kept the cold at bay. By noon the following day I was leaving the winter wonderland of Thunder Bay with a new window in place.

This little story is repeated time and time again across the trucking industry in so many different forms. It speaks to creativity and ingenuity. These are qualities that you find within every successful trucker.

They are the stories that you only usually hear around the table in the truck stop as we share our experiences. This is the reality of where the rubber meets the road. Drivers have to roll with the punches and often formulate contingency plans on the fly, dealing with issues as they arise.

This isn’t something a driver learns through mandatory entry-level training. Creativity and ingenuity are innate qualities good drivers possess and are developed through mentorship, coaching, experience, and empowerment. There remains a lot to unpack from this little story.

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