Mark takes a load of steel rebar from Hamilton to Sudbury. It’s very heavy and he takes it slow, and that encourages drivers to take risks getting by him. After one particularly close call, he’s forced onto the shoulder.
Mark continues on, leaving Sudbury for Winnipeg. On curvy Hwy. 17, a minivan tries to make a dangerous pass in the oncoming lane. Mark tries to get out of the way but some quick turns of the wheel sent his trailer spinning, forcing his load to break free and spill into the ditch.
Before long, cars streamed past and drivers slowed down to gawk at the mess on the side of the road, then they sped up to get on with their lives. Mark noticed one of the drivers passed him with wide eyes and a cell phone pasted to his ear. The police, no doubt, would be showing up up any minute now.
“Better take a look now, then,” Mark said aloud. He climbed down out of the cab of Mother Load and walked around the front of the truck. “Ah, geez…”
There was rebar everywhere, looking not at all like steel rods, but more like drinking straws that had fallen out of a box onto the floor. Unlike drinking straws however, the bars were twisted and bent, belying the fact that each one weighed hundreds of kilos rather than mere milligrams.
A lot of heavy machinery would be required to get everything back on the trailer. And time…It would be hours before any special cranes could be brought to the scene, and then the road would have to be closed while the clean-up crews worked. Mark would be lucky if he was back on his way by nightfall.
‘One step at a time,’ he thought.
Mark accessed his flares from a steel box on the back of Mother Load and set them up behind his rig. Already, traffic had backed up and a line of cars stretched over a hundred metres behind him. But despite the number of cars that were now on the road, none of them belonged to the police, which gave him some time to check the rest of his load.
As he approached Mother Load from the rear after setting his last flare, it was obvious that whatever had been holding the rear portion of his load in place had given way. That part of the load had emptied three of its four bundles into the ditch, leaving a single bundle behind. The four bundles up front were still in place and seemed secure.
“Something let go,” Mark said under his breath.
He climbed up on the trailer to inspect his load more closely, and quickly discovered the cause of the spill.
“There’s your problem,” he deadpanned.
The remnants of the four straps that had been stretched over the rear load had broken, their frayed ends looking like well-worn hairbrushes in the midday sun. But while two of the straps had frazzled ends all the way across their width, two of the straps looked as if they’d been cut almost halfway through before the rest of the straps was ripped apart by tremendous force.
For Mark, it was like finding a smoking gun in a murder investigation. Obviously two of the straps had been damaged before he’d set out with his load. It didn’t seem impossible. After all, the straps were used to secure steel and there must have been times when the product had sharp edges that wore on the straps.
Now, if he had done a thorough circle check prior to heading out, one that included him climbing up on top of the load to inspect the entire lengths of strapping, he might have noticed a problem and asked to have the straps replaced.
But seriously, who could have imagined a company that moves tons and tons of steel every day using straps that weren’t a 100% capable of handling their loads?
Mark thought about that a second longer.
Never mind 100%, the straps should have been strong enough, and in proper working order, to give them the ability to handle two or even three times their loads.
Mark called the mill to let them know what happened.
The man on the phone, the shipper who’d given him the load, seemed annoyed by the call, but not incredulous. Mark had expected the man to say something like, “What? You’re kidding! How did that happen?” but all he did was sigh and say, “Where are you? We’ll arrange for a crane.”
As Mark was giving the man his location, the police arrived on the scene.
“Morning,” Mark said, as the OPP officer approached.
“Someone’s having a bad day.”
Mark conceded it was a fair assessment of the situation. “That would be me.”
The officer craned his neck and looked over Mark’s shoulder at the lines of steel scattered over the ditch behind him. “Any idea how we’re gonna get that stuff back onto your truck?”
“The company’s sending a crane and a crew.”
“How long will it be before they get here?”
“Couple of hours at least.”
“Right,” the officer said, turning to walk away. “Then I guess I’ll try and keep traffic moving till then.”
In the distance Mark could hear a helicopter approaching. No doubt the scene would make interesting viewing on the nightly news.
It was three hours before the crane arrived, and then another two hours to pick each length of rebar off the ground the set it gently back onto the trailer.
“Looks like you’ll be ready to go soon,” the officer said as the crane and its crew were halfway through the clean up.
“Hopefully, yeah,” Mark said.
“Well, before you go, I need to talk to you…”
Mark knew what was coming. “…In my cruiser.”
Inside the police car the officer asked Mark about what had happened and made notes as Mark explained about the oncoming car, how he swerved to avoid it, and how the worn-out straps gave way.
The officer seemed to be on Mark’s side the whole time, but that didn’t affect the final outcome one little bit.
“I don’t doubt that there was a car coming at you. And you probably did a terrific job avoiding a collision and keeping the truck upright and on the road. I also don’t doubt that the way the load was secured to your truck was suspect, or at least could have been better…but in the end, it’s your truck, your load and you are responsible for what happens to it. So, I have no choice but to give you these tickets.”
One was for careless driving, and another was for having an unsecure load.
“But I was cut off.”
“I believe you, but I need proof. You don’t have a video camera on your truck, do you?”
“They’re not that expensive anymore. A lot of drivers have them now…for situations just like this.”
It was too late now, but Mark would be getting a dash cam as soon as he found one for sale.
“If you want,” the officer said, “you could try fighting the ticket. You never know, I might not be able to make it to court that day.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
A short time later, the last piece was set into place and the work crew set about banding the rebar into bundles with new metal banding. Then they secured the bundles to the trailer with four brand new heavy duty straps.
“All done,” the crane’s crew leader said when they were ready to leave.
“Great,” Mark said. “Thanks so much for you help.”
He handed Mark an envelope.
“The bill for our service.”
“Can’t you send it to the mill?”
“They told me to give it to you.”
“They said the load was your responsibility.” A shrug. “To be honest, I don’t care which one of you pays, that’s just how much it is.”
“Do I have some time to pay?”
‘Good,’ thought Mark. ‘Time enough to sort this mess out.’