Mark is on his way to a huge truck yard near Vancouver. He calls Bud, but his dispatcher has no loads for him and none on the horizon. When Mark reaches the yard, there are cops everywhere investigating a murder. Mark parks his trailer and manages to wedge it into a very tight spot. The yard manager sees Mark park his trailer and is so impressed he offers Mark a job as shunt driver to replace the driver who’d recently been killed in the yard…
An hour later, Mark was sitting behind the wheel of an Ottawa tractor while another shunt driver stood by the open door explaining the operation of the truck to him.
“Now you’ll be doing five or six moves an hour, 60 to a hundred moves a day, so you’re going to have to become familiar with the controls that let you pick up and drop a trailer from inside the cab.”
“You mean I don’t have to get out of the truck?” Mark asked, liking the job already.
“Not to grab a trailer, but you’ll be getting out of the truck every time you place a trailer, walking 50 feet to the back of the trailer to open up the barn doors, then 50 feet back to the tractor to take it to a loading dock. Then once it’s loaded you’ve got to walk 50 feet to close the doors, then 50 feet back to the tractor. That’s a hundred times a hundred feet with 200 door openings and closings every shift.”
“I see,” said Mark, suddenly feeling tired.
“You’ll get a feel for the yard after a while, but you’re going to want to keep all the regular carriers close to the loading bays and send the less regular ones farther down the line.”
Mark nodded. That made sense. “And keep all the inbound loads together so they don’t get mixed up with the other trailers because it’ll cost you a lot of time if you’ve got to start digging out a trailer that should have been right by the door in the first place.
“Right,” Mark nodded.
“The moves you have to make come up on your screen there. The move at the top of the list is the one that’s got top priority, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the next moves you’re going to have to make because you’ll save a lot of time by planning ahead.”
When he didn’t say anything more, Mark smiled at him, grabbed the wheel and turned it left and right. “Seems straightforward enough.”
“Like everything in life, most of it’s common sense.”
“Anything else I need to know?” “Uh, let me think,” the man said, rub-bing his chin. “There’s a couple things you should look out for. One is critters.”
“Critters. Be careful when you open up a trailer, especially ones coming in from Mexico. Local trailers might have a raccoon or feral cat inside them, but the ones from Mexico can have black widow spiders and deadly snakes inside them.”
‘There’s something they don’t mention in the job description,’ thought Mark. “What’s the other thing?”
“You said there were two things to watch out for, one was critters. What’s the other?”
“Oh, yeah, right. Other drivers.” Mark chuckled.
“Don’t laugh,” said the man. “You think we’re all brothers here, doing the same job, but it’s not like that at all. You can tell a driver a hundred times where he’s got to leave his truck and every time he’ll play stupid and drop it wherever he feels like, blocking three or four trailers while he’s doing it.”
Mark wasn’t laughing anymore. He’d dropped trailers anywhere he pleased dozens of times before without giving it a single thought – until now. “I can see how that’d be a problem.”
“Then there are guys who will bring in a damaged trailer and hide it in the yard, then try to blame the shunt driver for the damage.” Mark shook his head. That just wasn’t right.
“And you have to watch out for drivers trying to steal new trailers out of the yard. It happens every once in a while and guess who gets blamed for it.”
“The shunt driver?” “Bingo!”
“Is that what happened to the guy who died?”
“You mean Billy?”
It was the first time Mark heard a name. “Yeah, did he get mixed up with someone trying to steal a truck?”
“Don’t know. One of the other shunt drivers was opening up the barn doors of a Wabash yesterday and there was Billy, dead as a bolt.”
“Had he been missing long?”
“Nah. He finished his shift and his wife didn’t even know there was something wrong until the police called her.”
“He was married?”
“With one kid and another one on the way.”
“Do you think it was an accident, or somebody killed him?”
“That’s for the police to figure out. All I can say is that there are plenty of shady drivers dropping loads off in this yard and with so much traffic going through here on any given day who knows for sure what’s in every single truck?” “A shunt driver would know.” “Maybe. But Billy was a straight arrow. He worked hard, was good at shunting and he even liked the job. Can you believe that?”
“You don’t like it?”
“I like it fine, especially since I don’t have to deal with scales and borders. Heck, I don’t even have to get my licence renewed if I don’t want to since I never leave the yard.” He laughed, then hopped down off the truck and waved to Mark. Mark returned the wave, then set his sights on the controls in front of him. When he felt sure he knew what he was doing, he turned the key in the ignition and suddenly the tiny cab roared to life. It was a strange feeling, being so close to the engine and able to feel it course with power. He gunned the accelerator several times and felt the 240 hp Cat engine race beside him.
“Alright,” he said, shifting the Ottawa into gear. “Let’s move some trailers.”
There were three trailers on his screen needing to be moved. The first was an easy one since the trailer was very close to the loading dock it needed to get to. The second one was a little bit tricky because he had to move another trailer out of the way to get at it and then move the first trailer back into position so it would be out of the way of traffic moving in and about the yard. So far, so good.
But when Mark scrolled down his list at the rest of the moves, he saw that the trailer he’d already moved twice was needed at a loading by on the other side of the yard.
“Okay, I get it,” he said aloud. “I’ve got to plan ahead and see what’s coming up, not just what’s at the top of the list.”
With that in mind, Mark started looking at the list as a whole, making the most of his time and getting quicker with each new pick-up and drop-off he did.
After a couple of hours of moving trailers, Mark realized that there were parts of the yard that seemed a bit unorganized. Trailers from different carriers, shipping containers and the odd straight truck were parked in the northwest corner of the yard and none of them ever came up on his list. It was like a corner of lost souls all huddled together in the hopes of one day being picked up by a three-axle, 10-wheel saviour that would take them out of their tiny corner of the world so they could escape the yard’s fences and see the world that waited for them beyond the front gate. Mark stopped the Ottawa and gave his head a shake. He’d been shunt driving half a day and already he was daydreaming about lost souls and escaping trailers.
“I need a break,” he said.
And as if on cue, he could hear the melodic toot of the coffee truck’s horn as it signaled break time. Mark put the truck in gear and headed for the front gate. When he got there, several other drivers were standing in line at the side of the truck. Mark shut off his tractor and joined them.
“What’ll you have?” asked the coffee man, whose name was likely ‘Rosie’ judging by the name on the side of the truck.
“Steak sandwich, coffee, a yogurt and an apple.” Rosie smiled. “Coffee I got. Sandwich too, if you don’t mind ham and cheese. The other stuff, I’ll see if I can bring them tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. Then, realizing he was probably talking to the guy who knew more about the yard than anyone, he asked, “You been the coff
ee man in this yard for a while?”
“So you knew Billy, then?”
“Since he started. One of my best customers.”
“Nobody seems to have a bad thing to say about him.”
“He was a great guy. Kept to himself, loved the job and never missed a single day in twelve years. They offered him a job inside, but he didn’t want it. He just wanted to drive that stupid-looking truck all day long.”
“Did he ever say why he didn’t want the job?”
“Matter of fact he did,” Rosie said. “He said he couldn’t pull himself out of the yard just yet.”
“Huh,” Mark said. Then, “What do I owe you?”
Mark looked at the sandwich and coffee in his hands and doubted he’d ever be one of Rosie’s regulars. Nevertheless he paid up and sat in his truck, eating and thinking. Why couldn’t Billy leave the yard for the office? And, did that have something to do with his… murder?
Suddenly, shunt driving got a whole lot more interesting.