There are plenty of “First Times” in trucking. Like when you get in a truck with a gearbox you’re unfamiliar with, I got a job with the Scottish side of an Irish firm who were running two Mercedes trucks.
Back then, Mercedes had a system called EPS, electro-pneumatic shifting. The trucks still had a clutch pedal, but the gearshift was a small thing that looked like a joystick. It took a bit of getting used to, but I always think these things are designed to be used by a driver, so how hard can it be. Another first was with that same company when I had to get on a ferry, I was a dayshift driver, but when one of the two drivers who did the Belfast and Dublin run were on holiday, a dayshift driver would cover their shift. That was another first for me, the Irish run was nightshift, so I had to get used to sleeping through the day. If the driver was only off for a week’s holiday, by the time the week was up, I was just getting used to nightshift when I was back on days.
We shipped out from Stranraer, so getting there and into the ferry port was the easy part, then I had to go on the scale so the ferry company could get an accurate weight for the truck. There was a keypad on the scale, at just the correct height for the drivers to lean out the window and enter the truck registration number. But, some of the numbers and letters on the keypad were worn off with use. This was not a problem if you were a regular user of the scale, but for a first-timer, in the dark, and trying not to hold up the trucks in the queue behind you, it seemed like an eternity before I figured out the correct buttons to press.
I’d been told you got a free meal on the boat, and that was another easy part, get parked up on the freight deck and follow the rest of the drivers up the stairs to the driver’s diner. The food was great, just hand the guy your drivers pass and fill your plate with as much food as took your fancy. When the boat docked in Belfast, I drove off and followed the instructions one of the regular drivers had written on one full side of an A4 envelope to the first delivery and pick up. The warehouse was only a couple of miles away and quite easy to find, so when I unloaded and reloaded at Belfast, I set off for Dublin, I hadn’t gone very far when I started to realize, I’d missed a turn somewhere.
By the time I got somewhere to turn around and get back to where the written instructions had told me to get off that road, I had lost some time. The cab phone rang when I was still a fair distance outside Dublin. It was the clerk from my next drop in the Dublin office, and he knew their day was screwed up when I told him where I was. Losing the time meant I was running into the rush hour traffic on Dublin’s outskirts, so that held me back even more. My first-night screw-up wasn’t held against me though, and I went on to hone my skills on the Irish run to the point where I actually got there on time.
The Irish drivers were a great bunch of boys, and just like most drivers were only too happy to help you out. In the early days, if one of them was going into Belfast at the same time as I was going back home, they would ask what way I was going to go on the way back up. They would often say, “Oh, you don’t want to go that way, follow me, and I’ll show you a quicker way.” Then they would turn onto a back road that was pitch black. With their intimate knowledge of these roads, I could only sit and watch the taillights disappear up this narrow twisting road at high speed into the darkness.
But it was another lesson learnt, find your own short cuts as your experience grows.