His adventure as a livestock hauler over and done with, Mark gave Bud a call, looking for a new load.
“Hello?” said Bud.
“Hey Bud, it’s Mark.”
For Pete’s sake, Mark was getting tired of this. “Market Value, the driver against whom all others are judged.”
“Wow, aren’t you full of yourself today?”
“Did you hear how I saved a lamb on my last haul?”
“Yeah, I did actually. The company was pretty impressed and they’d be happy to have you back.”
“That’s nice to know, and I’m thrilled that it all worked out, but I don’t think I’ll be carrying animals again any time soon.”
“It’s a lot of extra responsibility that I’d rather not have. I’ve got a hard enough time getting my loads to their destinations on time without having to keep them alive.”
“I hear ya.”
“Besides, I really don’t want to have to think twice every time I stop into Harvey’s and order an Angus burger. “
“Alright, then,” Bud said. “How about a load that’s big, dumb and heavy?”
“Big, dumb and heavy,” Mark said. “What are you gonna give me, a busload of dispatchers?”
“Oh, you are sooo funny. What you need is to take your act on the road.”
“But I already am on the road.”
“Then don’t quit your day job.”
• Bud called back a couple of hours later. “Dalton?” Mark couldn’t resist giving him the business. “Yeah, who’s this?” He could hear Bud let out a sigh. “It’s Bud.”
“Sorry, the only Bud I know is heavy. Three-hundred pounds or more.”
“You want this load or not?”
“What you got?”
• It turned out that the big, dumb and heavy load was a trailer of reinforcement steel bars that needed to go from a steel mill just outside of Hamilton to a bridge under construction near Winnipeg. It was a nice load, a bit on the heavy side, but Mother Load had more than enough power for it. As long as he kept his speed at or below the limit, he’d be fine.
At the yard, Mark saw several trailers that were already loaded and awaiting their rides. Obviously there was plenty of work here for a driver who wanted it. However, the condition of the trailers themselves was a bit more telling. The rigs looked to be older models, with plenty of rust on the steel and an overall appearance that said “old and tired.”
Still, a company that produced steel wouldn’t be this busy if they didn’t have a track record of producing a quality product delivered on time, right? Mark parked Mother Load and went into the shipper’s office to collect the paperwork.
“Your dispatcher told me to say, ‘Dalton who?’ Does that mean anything to you?”
Mark had to force himself not to smile. “Not a thing, other than that guy is crazy.”
“I don’t know,” the shipper shrugged. “Seemed alright to me.”
“You got a bill of lading for me?”
• Because of the condition of the trailer, Mark took his time doing his circle check. Sure everything was worn, but it was all in perfect working order and everything looked right. There were eight bundles of rebar on the trailer, four up front and four behind. Each bundle was banded by steel straps and the bundles were held down by eight heavy-duty straps, four straps over each set of four bundles. He tugged on each of the straps a couple of times and couldn’t help but feel like a car buyer kicking the tires at a dealership.
Mark didn’t have a lot of experience with such heavy loads, but he did have plenty of years on the road and with that experience as a guide, everything appeared to look right. And, this company had been shipping steel for years themselves, surely they knew what they were doing when they sent a load out.
Mark made some notations in his log book, then hooked up the trailer. All the connections came easily together and locked up tight. With six hours of drive time still left in his logbook, he could still get a lot of miles under his belt before the day was over.
• Getting through Toronto was tough. Traffic was stop and go and with such a heavy load it wasn’t easy to do either. Mark tried to keep Mother Load moving slowly so he wouldn’t have to use the brakes or use first gear so often, but keeping a gap between himself and the vehicle in front of him seemed to be an invitation for everyone to cut in front of him – even when it wasn’t especially safe to do so. Later, north of the city on the open highway, Mark was careful with his speed. He kept the needle of the speedometer right around 100 km/h and the entire rig seemed to be happy at that speed.
But the rest of the drivers on the highway were another matter completely.
One hundred kilometres an hour was just too slow for the majority of drivers, even those with 18 wheels under their control. Mark understood that he was moving slower than most, and that people would want to get by him, but no one seemed willing to wait for a break in oncoming traffic. Drivers of cars, vans, and even small trucks were constantly risking lives to pass him and gain a few feet of highway.
At first he tried backing off every time someone was trying to pass, but after a while he found he was constantly trying to get his rig back up to 100. Eventually, he just kept his speed constant and if people wanted to get around him so bad, then they could do so at their own risk.
It wasn’t long until someone decided to play daredevil. Mark was steady at 100 while oncoming traffic was busy enough to make passing difficult.
No problem for a driver of a Honda, though. Despite the solid yellow line. Despite a tanker truck approaching in the southbound lane.
And despite the highway opening up to two lanes in less than five kilometres, this driver wanted in front of Mark…now!
“Wonder if he’ll make it?” Mark wondered aloud as he watched the Honda pull out from behind him and begin his pass. The car obviously didn’t have as much power as the driver thought because it seemed to sputter in the passing lane, taking way too long to creep up Mark’s side.
“Give it up, buddy,” Mark said, keeping his speed steady.
Still, the Honda continued with the pass. The tanker was on them.
Finally, the car found another gear and quickly shot past Mother Load.
But the gap had closed too quickly and the Honda cut right in front of Mark, nearly clipping Mother Load’s left front corner.
Mark turned right to avoid a collision, driving onto the shoulder causing the trailer to fishtail behind him. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling – tons of steel moving back and forth, jerking the cab one way then the other.
It was the tail wagging the dog. Then something shuddered on the rig. Mark could feel the whole thing wanted to go right, but managed to muscle the steering wheel to keep all 24 of his wheels on the ground. The Honda was gone.
Drivers continued passing him, honking their horns and giving him the finger for driving so dangerously. Who cared if it wasn’t his fault, if he’d been cut off, and he was actually doing a fine bit of driving just to keep his rig under control?
After a few hundred metres on the shoulder, Mark signaled left and pulled back onto the highway. He brought it up to 80 and kept it there a while, taking deep breaths and wiping the sweat from his face, head and arms.
People were still honking at him, but he cared even less now. He was going to keep it straight and slow for as long as it took for his heart rate to get back to normal.
– Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of The Blame Game.