Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator Just in Time – Part 2

by Edo Van Belkom

The story so far: Mark Dalton returns to Toronto and checks up on his post office box where he receives both bills and checks. Everything is in order, but when he drops into a nearby coffee shop he meets up with Johnny Jones, a young driver who Mark had helped get his first rig.

Johnny is being stiffed on a pair of loads to the tune of $6,000 and is in danger of losing his rig, his wife and everything else he’s worked for. Unsure of just what he can do, Johnny asks Mark for help.

“You’re not the first owner/operator this has ever happened to, you know,” Mark said, serving up Johnny Jones a second cup of coffee. “And you won’t be the last either, and that’s what really sucks about this whole thing.”

“Stuff like this ever happen to you?” asked Johnny.

“Early on, plenty of times.”

“So what happened?”

“You either get smart, or find another job,” Mark said. “I guess I got smart.”

“No, I mean, what happened when you got screwed?”

“Oh, well,” Mark began. “It happened a different way each time. Even though I got burned more than a few times, at least I can say I was never cheated the same way twice. Not too many can say that.”

Johnny smiled and lit up a cigarette. Mark took a sip of his coffee and settled down to tell a story.

“When I first started driving, right after I got divorced from my wife, I was eager for any kind of steady work I could find. I took on a bunch of loads from Toronto to Chicago and back again a couple times a week. I thought I was doing great, until I realized that because I was being paid by the book rate, I was getting ripped off big time.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, from the plant in Scarborough to the destination in Chicago was 591 miles on the hub, but the book says Toronto to Chicago is 490 miles. After you’ve done five trips, you’ve given the company one free ride.”

“So how did that one end?”

Mark shook his head. “I quit that company and found some other loads.”

Johnny sighed, and Mark couldn’t blame him. That sort of solution wasn’t going to help him any.

“Another time a company I was carrying for put out the word that they were looking for loads. So, I put them in touch with a broker I knew. After they got in touch with each other, the company did a credit check on the broker and everything looked OK. They started taking on loads and everyone was happy. But a few months later this broker went bankrupt.” Mark shrugged. “These things happen in this business, but this company starts charging me five and six per cent of my loads to repay them the money they lost dealing with this broker.”


“That’s right,” Mark nodded. “Just because I knew this guy and put the two of them together, the company figures I should be on the hook for their loss.”

“So what did you do?”

“Hired a lawyer and sued the bastards.”

“And got your money back?”

“No.” Mark shook his head. “This lawyer was a bigger crook than the trucking company was. He just took my money, promised he’d take care of it, and never did a damn thing for me. I found out a few years later he’d been disbarred by the Law Society. Felt good to hear it, but it didn’t help me any. I never did see any of that money.”

“So I guess a lawyer’s no solution,” commented Johnny.

“It sure isn’t,” said Mark. “Even if you win you lose since it’ll cost you twice as much in legal fees to take the cheaters to court.”

Johnny took another sip of his coffee, this time draining what was left in the cup in a single gulp. “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or anything, Mark, ’cause you’ve been a big help getting me on the road and everything. But all you’re telling me is bad stuff that happened to you and none of it is a help to me. Do you have any ideas about what I should do, or not?”

“Yeah,” said Mark. “I got an idea.”

They took their coffees over to the pay phone by the washrooms and Johnny called up his broker at JJ and G. “Hey, Tony, how’s it going? This is Johnny Jones.” Johnny looked over at Mark and Mark gave him the thumbs up. “Have you had any luck finding those missing bills of lading?”

There was a pause. “I know you’re busy,” said Johnny, “and I appreciate the fact that you’re still looking for them, but I could really use the money.”

Another pause.

“I know you can’t pay me until you find them, but I did hand them in to you.”

“You say you handed in the bills of lading, but I haven’t been able to find them. I’d like to take your word on it, Johnny, but I have to have the paperwork before I can pay.”

Johnny was holding a hand over the phone whenever Tony was talking so Mark could instruct him during the call. “Ask him for another load,” Mark said.

“All right, if you say you’re still looking for them, I guess I’m just going to have to trust you on it. In the meantime, I sure could use another load.”

“That’s what I like about you,” said Tony. “Not only are you loyal, but you’re hard working too. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you a primo load this time, complete with an on-time bonus.”

Listening to this Tony talk, Mark wondered how he was able to sound like an insurance salesman when he was only handing out loads.

Johnny took his hand away from the phone and spoke into the mouthpiece. “What’s the load?”

“Broccoli,” said Tony. “You go down to Florida, bring it back by next Tuesday, you’ll be rollin’ in dough.”

Mark shook his head. “It’s too far and not time-sensitive enough.”

“But won’t the broccoli go bad?” asked Johnny.

“It’s not enough.”

Johnny adjusted the receiver. “I was hoping for better.”

“What do you mean?” said Tony, a little indignant. “That’s a good load.”

Johnny looked over at Mark in a bit of a panic.

“Tell him the only thing you know about reefers is that you like to smoke them at parties.”

Johnny told him.

Tony laughed at the line. “All right,” he said. “I shouldn’t do this since these kinds of loads usually go to more senior drivers, but I know you’re in a bind and I want to help you out.”

Johnny and Mark held their breath.

I got a load of car parts needs to be picked in Flint, Mich. and delivered into GM in Oshawa Friday morning. If you think you can get to Flint and back by 11 a.m. Friday, you can have the load.”

Mark moved away from the phone. “Bingo!”

“Yeah, yeah, OK. Sounds great,” said Johnny, scribbling down the details.

A few minutes later, he hung up the phone. “All right, so what do we do now?”

“We go to Flint,” said Mark.

“But I thought we’d go in the morning. I got ’til Friday morning to be back in Oshawa.”

Mark just shook his head. “For what I’ve got in mind, we’re going to need every extra minute we can spare.” n

– Next month: Just in Time – Part 3

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