In 1985, while driving a gravel truck, I decided to look for a new job. A car hauling friend said, "Come work with us. They are looking for drivers, and you will get plenty of exercise." I applied, and they hired me. I told them that I knew nothing about hauling cars, but they said that was okay, they would train me.
At that time, you could only haul cars within the province you were licensed for, and since they were all over height and length, you could not haul from Friday midnight to Monday midnight. Great! That meant I had every weekend off! So I learned on company time, and while training, they paid for damages if I had an "oops moment." I enjoyed the work and drove for them for five years before buying my own truck and trailer. All in all, I drove car hauler for 30 years.
We all have had one trip that starts out great and then does a complete 180 by noon. This is one of those. In 1987 Canadian Auto Carriers asked me to haul a load of cars from Calgary to a new dealership in Taber, Alberta. I was excited. New dealerships aren't usually too picky if you have the odd paint chip, a missing floor mat or just a single set of keys. This always made my trips that much easier.
I parked the truck and went looking for the first car and was confused when I saw the odd shape. On the grill, it said SKODA. It was a very small car, and when I finally pried all six foot four of me into the driver's seat, I immediately looked around for the zipper to hold me in. The motor was a rear-engine, three-cylinder, water-cooled powerhouse with the radiator in the front. And, you probably guessed it, the rad hoses ran underneath and were the lowest points of the car. The choke was just a lever sticking out of the floor behind the driver's seat. The little round clutch, brake, and gas pedals were so close together that my boot could depress all of them at the same time. It was obvious to me that it was designed by someone who had never seen or driven a car before.
I finally got it started and drove it over to the loading area. This was a thrill in itself. The old trailers top deck only lowered to about 4 feet above the ground, which put the ramps on a steep angle uphill. The car was extremely narrow, so I brought the ramps as close together as they would go. The tire width was the same as the inside rail of the deck. Any miscalculation and it would fall between the rails onto the lower deck.
The next ten minutes taught me a lot about a SKODA. I got back into the rocket, pulled the choke, but nothing happened. I got some cables and found the battery behind the engine up against the rear seat, lending credence to my theory that the designer had never seen a car before. After boosting the engine, it roared to life, and I started up the ramp only to learn that it did not have enough power to climb it. So I decided to back up and hit it with speed. I felt like this was a one-shot deal. The motor was screaming, and I felt about as safe as Evil Knievel jumping the Snake River when I let her rip and headed for the trailer at mach nothing. (About 35mph). As I headed up the ramp, the hood lifted up and disappeared in a flash, and there was a disturbing noise from under the car as I transitioned from the ramp to the deck.
I was careful not to stop before I got to where I needed to be, then after wiggling out, I saw the hood down on the asphalt. Unlike a cat, that supposedly always lands on its feet, the hood landed paint side down. It was going to be a chore to buff those scratches out. What a job it was to get the hood up onto the deck. Since it was already scratched and I didn't want to lose it, I threw a ratchet strap over the hood and attached it to the fenders. After I got down, I saw a strange liquid (you knew this was coming) leaking from the car onto the hood of the truck. I guess the rad hoses were not as sturdy as the designer thought they were.
The next wonderful thing I found out about the SKODA was that unlike North American cars that have specific holes in the frame for tying down a car – the SKODA has none. So I got creative and tied it down with anything that looked more sturdy than the rad hoses.
After getting all seven cars loaded, I headed for Taber. Arriving in town, I asked at the gas station where the new dealership was, and he laughed and said it was the lawnmower shop just up the road. I drove to the shop, and the owner told me how excited he was to get these cars. I told him of the problems, but he said that was alright, he expected to do some touch-ups. He took the bills of lading from me and signed them clean and clear. The unload went much better, mainly because it was all downhill. After cinching everything down, I headed back to Calgary to see what my next adventure would be.
About three years later, SKODA closed all their so-called dealerships and sent the remaining unsold stock back to the manufacturer. I was lucky enough to haul a full load of these unsold cars from Calgary to Vancouver docks. The dust that rose when these cars were started was unbelievable. They had been sitting for so long. The most mileage on any that I loaded was 385 miles of test drives over 3 years. Not a big seller, and with all my years on the road, I can't remember ever seeing one.