Reefer Madness Part Two

by Edo van Belkom

The story so far …

Mark takes a reefer load of frozen beef from a company called BETTER BEEF in Regina Saskatchewan. As he heads for the docks in Vancouver, he notices he’s being following by a truck belonging to BEST BEEF, one of BETTER BEEF’s bitter rivals.

By the middle of the afternoon, Mark had reached Swift Current, Saskatchewan, home of junior hockey’s Broncos. After missing out on lunch, Mark’s stomach was telling him that it might be a good time to stop for a bite to eat, so he pulled off the Trans-Canada into the first greasy spoon he saw that had a lot big enough for trucks.

After shutting down Mother Load, Mark did an inspection of the reefer, checking the inside temperature against the set point (which were within a half degree of each other) and the amount of fuel in the reefer tank (just over three-quarters full). When he was sure everything was running fine, he headed off to the restaurant for lunch.

He ordered a chicken sandwich and fries and washed it all down with a hot cup of coffee. But instead of heading back to his truck right away, Mark hung around the restaurant, waiting to see if he might need to visit the bathroom before getting back into his truck for six more hours. Turns out he did, and when he emerged from the bathroom 10 minutes later, he felt lighter, refreshed and ready to hit the road.

As he exited the restaurant, Mark could hear his reefer unit humming from across the parking lot. The diesel engine on the chassis was running smoothly and everything seemed to be fine.

Until he got in a little closer.

While the diesel engine was still going, all of the temperature controls were off.

How could that be? Mark wondered.

He glanced at his watch and figured he hadn’t been inside the restaurant for more than 30 minutes. Of course, something could go wrong with a computerized control system in a matter of seconds, but something told Mark that this wasn’t a simple mechanical or even computer malfunction. A quick inspection of the controls proved him right. The controls were off because they’d been turned off.

Mark didn’t understand. He’d heard of drivers switching off other driver’s reefer diesels at night to cut out the noise so they could get some sleep, but why would someone want to shut off the controls. What’s the benefit of that? He didn’t have an answer. So instead of dwelling on the matter, Mark simply turned the controls back on and dialed the set point in at minus 40C. The interior temperature read minus 32C, which meant the load was still frozen solid, but had lost eight full degrees in half-an-hour. That change in temperature had happened a lot faster than Wojek had told him it would, which meant that in the event of a shut down, Mark would have more like an hour and a half before the load began to spoil. That was good to know, especially since Mark had a feeling there might be more things going wrong with the reefer on this trip.

He watched the interior temperature gauge slowly begin to count down to minus 40C, and when he was sure it was going to reach the set point, he decided to head back onto the highway.

“Just my luck,” he muttered as he climbed up into his truck.

Or was it?

In the lower left corner of his outside mirror, Mark noticed a long black rig parked off in the opposite corner of the lot. The big yellow BEST BEEF letters on the side of the trailer were unmistakable.

“Wonder if he’s having as much trouble with his equipment as I am?” Mark thought out loud. “Maybe I’ll ask him later if I see him.”

A few moments later, after making himself comfortable, Mark put Mother Load into gear and headed for the highway.

Behind him, the BEST BEEF rig got back on the highway too.

He reached the outskirts of Calgary by dark.

Usually, whenever he drove through Alberta, he made sure to stop at a steakhouse for an inch-thick T-bone, but his experience at lunch made him wary of an extended meal away from the truck.

Instead, he opted for a cup of coffee and an apple fritter, saving any full meal he might have for the morning and daylight.

The lot at the truckstop was big, easily accommodating 100 trucks or more. But as much room as there was, Mark wasn’t about to take any chances. He drove to the farthest corner of the lot and parked his rig next to a stand of trees.

That way, he’d be far enough away not to bother anyone, and the nearby trees would act as a sound cushion, absorbing some of the noise before it could bounce back and make its way across the lot, disturbing all the sleeping drivers.

When he had Mother Load in just the right spot, Mark inspected the reefer to make sure everything was running smoothly. He still had more than a half a tank of fuel for the reefer, but the interior temperature was off by two degrees at minus 38C.

It wasn’t much of a difference, but because the night was going to be a warm one, he decided to defrost the coil so the refrigeration unit could work at peak efficiency through the night.

The coil took less than 20 minutes to defrost and when he switched the unit back on, it immediately began working to get the interior temperature down to the set point of minus 40C.

Excellent, thought Mark. In the morning, he’d order a breakfast to go, top up all his fuel tanks and he’d be back on the road along with the sun.

There was nothing left to do but call it a night. Mark was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow and he slept like a baby until morning…

He awoke to the sound of silence.

Not silence exactly, but silence accentuated by the peaceful sounds of birds chirping and the distant shhhhhh coming from the vehicles rolling down the highway across the lot and on the other side of the truck stop.

Mark took a deep breath and enjoyed the moment. It was so peaceful … too peaceful. In fact, something was missing. Something, like the sound of his reefer’s diesel engine running.

“Shit!” Mark said, scrambling out of his sleeper and nearly tumbling out of his truck in his rush to get outside.

A quick check of the trailer revealed that the reefer unit wasn’t on – neither the controls, nor the generator. Nothing. It was if it had all been shut down, especially since there was more than enough fuel left in the tank for continued operation.

Mark took a look around and saw that the lot had filled up during the night and there was a box-trailer pulled by a Kenworth parked right next to him, not more than ten feet away.

Obviously the driver of that rig had shut down the unit last night so the noise from the thing wouldn’t disturb his sleep.

Well, Mark wasn’t about to let him get away with that. He pounded on the door of the Kenworth, demanding an explanation.

“Come on out of there,” he said. “I know you’re in there, and I know what you did, too.”

Slowly, the Kenworth began to rock back and forth and seconds later there was someone looking down out of the cab at Mark.

“You shut off my reefer?” he said.

The door to the Kenworth popped open and the man inside it slowly got out, his movements hampered by the veil of sleep that still hung over him.

“Did you?” Mark asked one last time as the man was climbing down.

At last he turned to face Mark.

And Mark knew he could have been a bit more cautious in his dealings with unknown truckers. The man had to be six-foot-five, two-hundred and fifty pounds. He wore a tank top that showed off the tattoos down the length of each of his arms. His hair was cropped short on top, but was long in the back with one of the worst mullets Mark had ever seen.

There were rings in and around both of his ears, on each of his hands, and his boots were tipped with what looked to be chromed steel spikes. The buckle on his belt suggested the man’s name was Vernon.

“What’s your problem, man?” he said, stepping forward and casting a shadow upon Mark.

“Uh … ” Suddenly, and for one of the few times in his life, Mark was at a loss for words. “My reefer,” he said at last. “It’s off.”

“I know. I parked here around three in the morning, hoping the sound of the engine would help me sleep. It did, fo
r a while, but I woke up when you shut it off around five.”

“I didn’t shut it off.”

“Well, somebody did.”

“And that somebody wasn’t you?”

Vernon just looked at him.

“Thanks,” said Mark.

Vernon sneered at Mark, then climbed back into his truck. Mark looked around for another possible suspect, and considered banging on the door of another truck, but he didn’t want to push his luck.

Besides, it didn’t matter who had shut him down, what mattered now was starting it up again and getting the temperature back down to the set point.

He went through the steps, just like he’d done before and the reefer unit responded perfectly.

Nothing wrong with this unit, he thought. And luckily, the interior temperature wasn’t off by more than 10 degrees.

Another disaster averted.

Mark breathed a sigh of relief, then offered Vernon a free breakfast if he watched over his truck while he went into the restaurant to eat.

Vernon agreed, and Mark headed for the restaurant wondering why, if he had to be so lucky, all that luck had to be bad.

The answer was waiting for him inside.

– Mark Dalton returns next month for more adventures in part three of Reefer madness.


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