Run for the Hills – Part 3

by James Menzies


CASTLEGAR, B.C. – As promised, the next day, when I pulled into the parking lot, there was a Freightliner with a fully-loaded logging trailer in the adjacent yard.

I was told the combo weighed in at roughly 100,000 lbs.

However, our pre-trip inspection revealed a slight air leak that rendered the truck temporarily out-of-service in our books. So Roberts was back on the phone, and within minutes he had secured the use of another local Pete that usually hauls chip vans for DCT Chambers.

He also dug up a loaded flatdeck with about 84,000 lbs. of birch lumber that needed to be delivered to a local sawmill.

We had a real-life load on our hands that needed to be delivered to a real-life destination.

Today, I was under the guidance of MTI’s senior instructor, Mike Boultbee.

When we hooked onto the trailer, we once again noticed a technical glitch that would keep us off the highway for the time being.

The clamps on the recently-repaired electrical cable had been excessively tightened, pinching the red wire that controlled the trailer’s brake lights.

This discovery once again proved the value of thorough pre-trip inspections.

The mechanically savvy Boutlbee had started repairing the electrical cord, when Roberts supplied a spare cord.

We were soon on our way, through sporadic rain and gusty winds.

Although the flatdeck weighed a mere 4,000 lbs. more than the van I drove the day before, a third axle on the trailer provided considerably more drag.

I was surprised at the difference this made while being pushed down the hills and I was forced to apply considerably more throttle pressure on the uphill stretches.

Under Boultbee’s supervision, we dropped the trailer off at the mill and headed back to camp.

I had successfully completed a condensed three-day training course on running through the mountains – but there was still so much more to learn.

Observing other truckers in the Kootenays, it was clear that many have mastered this fine art of running loads through the mountains while other truckers make these runs on a wing and a prayer.

This was evidenced at the CVSA’s National Air Brake Inspection Day, when several trucks pulled into the scales with the smell of burning brake linings hanging heavy in the air.

I asked instructor Peters what the most common mistakes are for truckers running the mountains.

“The most common thing with drivers running into B.C. is improper pre-trip or en-route inspections,” said Peters.

He noted the brake checkpoints are there for a reason, and Murphy’s Law dictates that the one time you don’t take the time to verify your brakes are still in proper working order is the time you’ll run into trouble.

He also said driving too fast is a major problem in the mountains, and adds there’s no such thing as taking a hill too slowly.

Roberts agreed with his assessment.

“You need to go down a hill without using any brakes because the brakes are there to stop you, not to slow you down,” said Roberts. “If you’re in a gear that requires no brakes, then everything will be okay.”

And if not, he added, at least you’ll have the stopping power required to bring your truck to a standstill – regardless of the weight of the load you’re hauling.

If done properly, running B.C.’s demanding mountain roads can be an exhilarating experience. Peters put it in perspective best: “Some people bungee jump, others go skydiving. I teach people how to drive trucks in the mountains.”

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