My first driving job was for a local Delta, BC farmer, hauling fresh produce to Washington and Oregon. Now, some drivers claim that the reefer’s sound lulls them to sleep, but I found myself sleepless in Seattle and many other places. I made sure that dry vans were all I pulled in my next two jobs. Thankfully, those loads usually consisted of well-behaved pallets or immovable bales of soggy cardboard for recycling, but a few of the deliveries turned out to be quite memorable.
One dark winter morning, I arrived at a warehouse in a busy industrial area in Fife, WA, to make my drop. A regular stop, the loads always consisted of boxes of used clothing, shoes and toys stacked to the trailer’s ceiling. I found my assigned door and opened the trailer doors before backing up. Empty trailers parked opposite the loading bays did not leave much room to jackknife the rig. A grizzled driver was watching me from his truck at the next loading bay. “ You won’t make it from here. You have to pull out onto the road and back straight in,” he opined. He looked like he knew a heck of a lot more than I did, and I happily took his advice. Of course, I should have shut the darn doors before venturing onto the busy road, but I just didn’t know any better. Catching a break in traffic, I pulled out onto the roadway. I happened to look back in the mirror just as the trailer wheels hit the slight bump caused by the lip of the driveway. A cascade of cardboard boxes was descending from my trailer and spilling the contents all over the roadway.
“What are you - a man or a mouse?” I asked myself as I reluctantly got out of the cab to face the music. Expecting moth-eaten cardigans and scuffed platform shoes, the lifeless bodies of a couple of hundred used teddy bears of all shapes and sizes greeted my disbelieving eyes instead.
The Fates were definitely wagging their finger at me, and I was in no doubt which digit it was. As fast as I could, I desperately began stuffing the bruins back in their boxes while traffic zoomed by. Air brakes hissed as a truck stopped behind me.
“Must be Monday,” was all the driver said as he worked along with me - there are some truly nice people in this industry! As if by magic, a forklift appeared and started taking away the boxes and soon I was back at the loading dock. For some reason, I was given priority in unloading, and in no time at all, I joined the morning traffic on the I-5, happy to leave my newfound notoriety behind.
A few months later, I was sent on a delivery to Portland, OR. The usual cryptic set of instructions awaited me -a load of insulation, address, drop the trailer at door number such and such, and the truck keys are on the - well, you all know where the truck keys are! I picked up the sealed trailer in the late afternoon and arrived in Portland in the middle of the night, with no one around.
With the Teddy Bear Picnic fiasco still fresh in my mind, I gingerly backed the rig to the appropriate loading bay, leaving barely enough room to open the trailer doors. I opened the right side and gazed at the huge bales of pink insulation, tightly wrapped in plastic and stacked from floor to ceiling. As I turned my attention to opening the left door, I heard a faint swish of plastic followed by a large KABOOM directly behind my posterior. I was halfway across the yard before I stopped running. Freed from it’s plastic wrapping, the insulation was several times its previous size, and as I gathered it up, I marvelled at how heavy it actually was. Dropping on my head from that height, it would have definitely ruined my day, but at least I would have been nice and warm when they found me in the morning.
When I reported the mishap to the boss in the morning, he sounded indignant at my ignorance: “When you take the freeway exit, just hammer on the brakes, and it will shift the load forward,” he growled. Well, silly me, why didn’t I think of that?
The last company I drove for was a large nation-wide outfit, and the warehouse guys really knew their stuff. That’s why I was surprised when I peered inside a trailer I was to deliver to Calgary and saw the cargo of numerous glass doors and windows. Instead of the usual load bars keeping everything in place, 2x4s and other assorted scraps of lumber were tacked into the thin plywood walls of the trailer with nails.
“ A private customer wanted to do the loading themselves,” shrugged the forklift operator as he deposited a large motorbike strapped to a pallet into the last bit of unused space in the tail. The whole thing looked a bit hinky, but I made it through several red lights and a few potholes without incident. I had almost reached the freeway when a lone car on a side road tripped my light to red with little warning. What works with bales of insulation does not necessarily work with glass doors and windows; I managed to stop without running the red light, but then a deep rumble started behind me and went on for several agonizingly long seconds.
I found a safe place to pull off the road and had a peek inside the trailer. Vancouver’s Granville Street after the Stanley Cup riots came to mind as I surveyed the carnage. Only the motorbike sat unharmed on its pallet.
With some trepidation, I called the terminal manager with the good news. He did not sound all that surprised. “Is the bike okay? I’d hate to damage a guy’s bike,” was his only comment as I breathed a big sigh of relief.