Mark has some time to kill in Saskatchewan and comes across a local paper advertising a truck roadeo that weekend. Mark enters, but right away he’s labeled as a city driver and wonders if he’s even welcome here. Mark does the written test and is surprised to learn he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did. Even more surprising is that the old man who looked to be struggling with the test the whole way got the top score.
After the written test, the drivers were escorted back into the room where the driver’s meeting had been held. They were told to make themselves comfortable and a short while later the first driver was called out and taken out into the parking lot to do the second part of the competition, the pre-trip inspection. Goldrick was the third driver called out and Mark watched him walk across the lot with one of the judges and begin his inspection. He was smooth, methodical and seemed to be able to do the check in his sleep. After just a few moment, Mark moved away from the window and focused his attention on the drivers left behind in the room, all of whom had an opinion on how the inspections needed to be done.
“The pre-trip is the hardest part,” one overly large man in the corner said. “Every one of us probably does a great pre-trip out on the road every day of our lives, but here everything is by the book. Something you might not care too much about on your own truck is a fail on this inspection. You can’t overlook anything.”
The other drivers nodded and muttered their agreement. Mark took the advice to heart.
“You gotta think dirty too!” someone else said.
Mark raised an eyebrow, but the others were again nodding in agreement.
“Around the turbocharger, hoses, power steering pump, gear box…anywhere fluids should be inside rather than outside.”
Mark thought that was good advice too.
“I came in second one time because there was a dirty window, a worn wiper blade and a reflector missing. I thought, I can still see through the window, it wasn’t raining out and I was driving during the day so all that stuff shouldn’t matter.”
A few chuckles circulated the room.
“I was wrong.”
Mark nodded, understanding how exacting the pre-trip inspection was going to be. He couldn’t take anything for granted or overlook anything. If something even looked like it might be wrong, he needed to bring it to the attention of the judges. The door to the room opened.
The old man stood up. Then as he ambled toward the door everyone else in the room, except for Mark, wished him well.
“Thanks fellas,” he said, tipping his faded ball cap.
Mark moved back to one of the windows that overlooked the parking lot and watched Mitiuk go through his paces. He seemed to stumble along, walking past
things, then go back once or twice before moving on. Then, to Mark’s disbelief, he struggled to get down on his knees to look underneath the truck. There’s no way this guy is getting a high score on this part, Mark thought. This is where I move past him.
An hour later, the door opened and someone called out, “Dalton.”
“Good luck, buddy,” someone said.
“Thanks,” Mark said. “I’m probably going to need it.”
When Mark reached the truck, he hesitated waiting for one of the judges to say “Go” or “Start” or something that would let him know it was all right to begin.
“Anytime you’re ready,” someone said at last.
Mark took a deep breath and began. When he pulled back the cowling he systematically scanned all of the engine’s vital areas, making sure he got the biggest potential problem areas by remembering the word COP: Coolant, Oil and Power Steering. And then, because he’d used the word COP, he reminded himself that pre-trip inspections were the LAAW: Leaks, Air Compressor, Alternator Belt, and Water Pump Belt/Compessor.
That little trick helped him get through the engine compartment without a snag and when he was done, he moved on to what was underneath the truck.
Just a moment after he got down on his knees he saw a stain on the pavement underneath the steering box. It was an obvious sign of a leak in the box itself, or along one of the hoses that fed the box fluid.
Mark noted verbally, then indicated that since the fluid level was still good, this was a leak that needed to be fixed, but wouldn’t keep the truck off the road.
With a nod from one of the judges, he took out his flashlight. Although it was a bright sunny day and he could see pretty clearly under the truck, it didn’t hurt to show the judges that he did a thorough inspection. And so, with his flashlight shining light into the darkest corners, Mark checked the axles and hub oil seals.
When he got around to the brakes, he noticed something was wrong.
“There’s one slack adjuster out of alignment,” he said.
“Just one?” asked a judge.
Suddenly Mark doubted himself. Had he missed something? He checked them all again and came back with the same conclusion. Only one of the adjusters was out of alignment. “Yeah, just one.”
The judge made a note and nodded. With everything under the truck checked out, Mark made his way around the outside of the truck. He used one of the mallets provided for the competition and did a thump test on all the tires. Some of them he had to thump a few times, but in the end, just one tire on the trailer was underinflated. He used his own pocket tire pressure gauge to verify the pressure and found it was at just 20 lbs psi.
“Oh, and there’s a reflector missing on the other side of the truck.”
Another nod. Mark then got into the truck, started it up and went around once more checking for any leaks in the glad hands or brake lines. Everything seemed to be in order and the truck’s regulator seemed to be keeping the pressure constant. He shut down the truck and hopped out of the cab onto the pavement. “Done,” he said.
“Wait over there with the rest of the drivers.”
“Thanks,” Mark said, and was on his way.
A short while later, they posted the results and while Mark thought he’d scored near perfect, he was shocked to find that he’d missed out on six points. What’s more, the old man scored the highest of anyone.
And several spots further down the list…
“Excuse me,” Mark said getting the attention of one of the judges. “I thought I scored really well. What did I miss to get 94.”
Mark nodded and the man flipped through some pages.
“There was a u-bolt missing on the trailer, a lug nut was loose and the horn wasn’t working.”
“Yeah, that was an easy one to miss because it wasn’t working, no one heard it go off during the inspections to remind them to check it.”
“No. You jumped out of the cab. You need to climb out with three points of contact with each step.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No, most of the others did it that way.”
Mark shakes his head, convinced the whole competition is fixed. After all, how does an old frail man outscore them all, including the defending champ?
Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Not his first rodeo.