25 Reasons Why Trucking is Better Than it Used to Be

Posted: August 1, 2014 Today’s Trucking

By David K. Henry

I was an eagle swooping down from the mountain top, the wind rustling my feathers as I flew lower. Truth be told, I was in a Jimmy cabover with a full load of eggs in my reefer and what my eagle eyes saw was a light at the bottom of the Pennsylvania hill that was probably going to change, and not for the ­better. As I flew downhill I realized it was going to be hard to stop in time…

That was 25 years ago. You’ll have to read on to find out how that episode ends but a: At least I’m here to talk about it; and b: Experiences like that have given me pause; time to reflect on ways trucking is a far better place to work now than it was in 1987. The list was easier to compile than you might think.

25. Quieter Cabs
The few times I ran team, by the end of the trip my wife thought I had a bad throat infection. Just trying to talk to your partner required shouting. Especially when you had a 2/50 air conditioner (two open windows and 50 mph). All radios had to have high output or you had to guess at what you were listening to. Today I can actually hear what a passenger is saying.

24. Radials
Early in my working life on the farm, in fact even before I had a truck license, we had stacks of tires. That was important because you never made it very far before you had to change one. In the late ’80s my goal was to make it a whole week without tire trouble. Now if I get a flat before I have 300,000 kms on my rubber shoes I’m very unhappy. Today, many tires last the tread life and beyond with no trouble.

23. Air Conditioning that Actually Cools, and Heat that Actually Heats.
The ­seasons were always upside down in trucks. The trucks pumped hot air in summer and frigid air in winter. Today I have climate control that adjusts without my help.

22. Air Ride
My back can tell you stories, none of them good. Originally dismissed as not being up to the task, air bags are everywhere now. “Can’t feel the road” was a common snort by some. Last I checked… no road feels good.

21. Cleaner-burning Engines for a Better Environmental Future
In the old days, many times you knew there was a truck ahead, you just couldn’t see it. Drivers would turn up their fuel pumps which produced immense clouds of black smoke and shortened the lives of their engines. Insects died in a four-mile radius and people ran for cover, thinking an explosion was about to happen. Today we only see steam when it’s lower than minus 15C and yet they still keep putting more restrictions on our engines. Truck exhaust today is cleaner than California air. Maybe we need to cut back on the number of politicians…

20. PARS/ACE/FAST Border Clearances
Anyone who did the trek in winter from Canada Customs to the broker buildings at Emerson, MB., loves this improvement. Years later I think I’m just now getting feeling back in my toes and cheeks.

19. The Comforts of Home
Not only bigger sleepers but comfortable, well-appointed areas built with drivers in mind. After years of crawl-in “coffin” bunks I wanted a bigger opening so when I finally got a truck with a large opening and six inches of floor space I was ecstatic. I need to slap myself sometimes when I start to complain as I’m watching TV, eating microwave-heated food from my fridge, as I put my table away.

18. GPS
These days, with GPS I can quickly get into a really bad spot. I trust my GPS and so without watching signs, I effortlessly manage to find truck-unfriendly places while being oblivious until it is too late. On the other hand, with GPS, I can see my total miles and know exactly if I am going to be late and by how many minutes.

17. Cell Phones, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Texting
Today I get notifications on my phone regarding weather and traffic problems or road closures. I used to rely on the CB. The problem is what is good for one driver is not always good for another. Or a dispatcher; “Radar shows that the snow is ending just past you.” Yeah, like 500 kms ahead.

16. Budd Wheels
It used to drive me nuts when a tire man didn’t care how your Dayton wheels were installed. I’m sure it was hard on your tires to wobble down the road, but some were convinced it wasn’t.

15. More Horsepower
It was flat out embarrassing to be passed by a hippie in a VW bus going up a hill. Meantime, we were doing zero to 60 in six miles.

14. Auto Slack Adjusters
They don’t solve all braking issues but they help.

13. Single-stick Transmissions
Two-stick transmissions took skill to shift smoothly. Done right it was good, but lose your spot and accidentally put both sticks in neutral and you were forced to stop and try again.

12. Improved and Clearer Log-book Rules
Some will not agree, but how often did we hear… “We really need you to get that load there by tomorrow morning”? What was STRONGLY implied was “Use logbooks B and C, sleep tomorrow… maybe… and don’t be a wuss. You slept at least four hours last night.”

11. Satellite Radio
In the back of my mileage book I used to list all my favorite radio station frequencies for as many cities as possible. With the old dial radios, finding a station was an art. Some places didn’t have my kind of music and so I resorted to cassettes. Today, I still carry some CDs but now I can listen to whatever music I want on the satellite radio and when I tire of that, I plug in the MP3/iPod player.

10. More Four-lane Highways
But why do we still have some two-lane Trans Canada? Never made sense to me. Nothing like getting behind a Saskatchewan farmer on a two-laner with nothing but time on his hands as he runs 60-70 kph looking at his neighbor’s crops on the way to the coffee shop. Today, you have many more passing lanes and four-lane roads.

9. Fully Automated Manual Transmissions
I have really no idea how many gear changes I’ve made over 25-plus years in farm trucks and highway tractors, but two million changes is not unbelievable. Probably even more if you ask my right wrist. I even considered going to drive in England or Australia to give my right wrist a breather. There are quirks to the new transmissions but I’m sure they’ll get much better. Mine is an early generation and most days I really like it.

8. Larger Adjustable Mirrors
Makes blind-side backing not quite so blind. I admit that on occasion I forget to adjust them back so next time I look in the mirror I scare myself, wondering why the truck 4 four lanes over looks like it is beside me.

7. Truck-stop Restaurants with Healthier Choices and Better Food
In some of those old greasy spoons, they had to keep the music cranked up loud to drown out the sound of your arteries hardening and closing up.

6. Newer Warehouses with Easier truck Access
Fortunately for us, people don’t want 53-ft rigs running downtown all the time so the trend has been to site warehouse developments closer to suburbs and four-lane roads. Yes!

5. Satellite Dispatch that Provides all the Information a Driver Needs
In the past, we were expected to know what the dispatcher was thinking as we called in on pay phones from beside a busy highway. “Go to… crackle… Great… sczzz… Company in Elksczzz and pickup sczzz….”. “WHAT????”. “Why aren’t you ­listening!!!! D@#* drivers!!!” (that last part always came through clearly).

4. Female Trailers
A female trailer is one with side skirts. It’s no surprise I like this. I get better fuel economy and a nice clean skirt looks cute!

3. Better Truckstops, Cleaner Showers, More Efficient Pumps
In Canada we still haven’t mastered the art of having both sides pumping at the same time and don’t give me the BS about our weather. North Dakota does it and it works fine. But all-in-all, our truckstops are much nicer. Showers get cleaned. (I know they do… I actually saw a cleaner once.) Sometimes you can see the pavement and if your day ends at 3:00 p.m., you may be able to find a parking spot.

2. Auxiliary Power Units
They just make sense. Ask any mechanic and he or she will tell you most damage happens during idling. I never made any money idling in a truckstop. Still baffles me why some idle their trucks when the weather is so nice. I guess they have more money to waste than me.

Number-ONE Reason I say Trucking is Better Now Than it Used to Be was That First Incident in Pennsylvania
I’m still around and trucking. The only thing that happened was a cop saw me blow the light with brakes smoking.

Over the years, I had good veteran drivers who took me under their wings to show me what it meant to be a trucker. I try to pass that wisdom on to rookies today.

Trucking is constantly undergoing changes that would be too big  a challenge for other industries. While we are often quite unhappy with what we need to change, we continue to adapt and then thrive while doing so.

I am optimistic that as an industry we will continue improving what we haul, what we do it with, and for whom we do it.

Since I am ‘just’  a trucker I can’t always count so here are other things that have improved our trucking careers:

Drivers get better training today. They’re not just given a key, a pair of cowboy boots and told to “have at ‘er son!”

Improved brake drums and shoes mean better stopping. Disc brakes, well as engine brakes that work, help. Sensors prevent most major engine failures. Customers understand logistics. Improved fuel and oil improve fuel economy. Heaters and refers keep product at the required temperature. Other big improvements include nitrogen in tubeless tires, better recaps that stay capped, low-rolling-resistance tires, LED lights, brighter, whiter headlights and last but certainly not least – companies, like the one I drive for , that have the willingness to run legal.

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Special Olympics Convoy – Manitoba 2018

David Henry – Athletes Choice Award

On September 22, the 2018 Special Olympics Convoy was hosted this year by Ile des Chenes, a small town of 1800 people, residing about 15 kms SE of Winnipeg, MB. 188 trucks were registered and 168 trucks were able to show up and support the Special Olympics Athletes.

The day started off cool and grey, but inside the TransCanada Centre there was nothing but smiles and warmth as participants registered and had breakfast served by MLA Bob Lagasse. MP Ted Falk and Mayor Chris Ewens welcomed everyone to kick off the event.

Moving the convoy to Ile des Chenes was a huge undertaking with a lot of unknowns. The committee showed their prowess by making it a smooth and successful transition. Tony’s Team Transport provided rides for the athletes to get them to the convoy. They also shuttled the drivers to and from their trucks to the centre. Tim Brown of Motor Carrier Enforcement mapped out the entire route and all access points to make sure the convoy and public were safe and efficient. Almost 80 access points had to be manned by multiple law enforcement units from many different agencies.

Most importantly,  there were many athletes (20 plus) at the convey proudly showing off their medals and enjoying their day! These amazing athletes are as driven to succeed as anyone, not for fame or fortune, but just for the love of their sport and competition.

Murray and Heather Manuliak of Bison Transport were awarded lead truck status for raising the most money by an individual entry. They work tirelessly year round for this event and this year they brought in over $3800.

Mario Tyshuk, also from Bison, captained a team of 22 entries who raised $4000, which was the highest fundraising amount from any team.

Bison Transport entered 29 trucks for the day, making them the largest fleet represented.

David Henry of REK Express, won the coveted Athletes Choice Award for his entry flying Special Olympics and Canadian flags on hockey sticks attached to his RGN trailer carrying Tonka toys and kids tractors (pictured above).

At the awards ceremony, Jennifer Campbell of Special Olympics was presented a cheque for $76,000. Donations are still being accepted at www.manitobaconvoy.com so expect that number to rise.

Law Enforcement Members
Mario Tyshuk – Team Award
Athletes presenting Athletes Choice Award

Suicide – You Decide

Suicide – You Decide

 

Suicide; Is it a life ending act?

Or is it a life-altering decision?

You decide.

Must I go talk to others?

Or should they come to me?

You decide.

“No one knows the thoughts in my head” I say.

“Some understand the troubles within my bubble” I say.

You decide.

Joy, caring, serving, Suicide.

Depressed, sad, withdrawn. Suicide.

You decide.

A deep void after suicide.

Strengthen, resolve to help more, or hide?

You decide.

There is no right or wrong to fix.

No question I’ll keep doing what I can! Now,

You decide!

David K. Henry dkh0718

The Beginning… Far from the End

May 15

   May 15 has been an important date for me for the last 27 years.

   In 1991 around 5 pm my life changed in a drastic way. At 23 years old I got injured in a farm accident and at the second hospital I was given no chance to be anything more than a vegetable. Working in my favor was that I was very strong, young, and always up for a challenge. Head injuries are complex. Compounded by a health system that as yet, was not very good at providing real meaningful help.

   I went back to work several months later, after my own rehab program of pain killers and pushing consistently beyond my limits. While I did improve somewhat, I was hurting bad for the next 10 years. Physically and mentally. I wasn’t honest with myself. I didn’t need help. I didn’t have mental issues. I looked fine.

   So I won’t let myself forget the mistakes I made in that decade. Not to beat myself up, but to be a help to others who are struggling, thinking they’re fine, but dealing with hidden injuries. I won’t forget my inability to talk about my issues. Stumbling through my wilderness, alone.

   My story doesn’t end there. In 2001 another trucker ran over my truck in a truckstop near Tallahassee Florida. My third major head injury (first was sports related as a teen) but this time the medical system started to help me. I realized I needed help. That phase of life was learning about myself and my injuries. Being painfully honest with myself.

   My interesting journey began 27 years ago today. My goal is to help others, to show that speaking out will free you to make improvements to your quality of life. I will continue to get my message out to anyone who will listen.

   You are worth it.

   #SurviveToDrive

 

March 23 – Reflecting back to my Ice Trucker Days

I haven’t been on the ice for 2 years now but I’m still always in contact with my buddies from up there. The environment is harsh, but the drivers are tough.

Check out the article I wrote for Today’s Trucking last year. Enjoy!

https://dev-todaystrucking.pantheonsite.io/in-print-on-thick-ice-inside-the-real-world-of-ice-road-trucking/

New experiences

 

Thirty times I have seen fall change to winter while I hold a steering wheel of some kind. I’ve been in classic rides, oversize, off-road monsters, parades, convoys and your run-of-the-mill working rigs.

I’ve seen a lot, but I haven’t seen or done it all. Every day has something unique.

This week I did something I’ve never done. Not in all those years of grabbing gears.

I’ve thought about doing this. I have talked to others about it. It’s a very common practise, but not for me.

This week I took the plunge.

I had a dog as my navigator. It’s nothing really that warrants a special article, but there were a few things that stood out.

We generally treat dogs (or any pet) better than ourselves. Here’s what I mean. I think nothing of running hard for a few hours, making a really quick stop, and then hammering out more miles. As most drivers, I get paid by the mile, so miles is what matters. Not with a dog though. Stops become a time to walk and play a little. No way I want to keep a dog in a truck and not let it run a little during the stops. Hmmm. Not a bad idea for the human either.

Here’s another example. At night, just before bedtime what do you do with a dog? A short walk and bathroom break is important. Can you guess if I made less miles because I spent a little more time during stops? Nope. I still did all the miles I needed.  

I look after myself better now, than I used to. I need to. It’s the only way I can survive after the injuries and wear and tear of life. Yet, I’m still more concerned about how the dog is looked after than myself.

We can be great at helping others, and making sure our pets are looked after, but not so good with ourselves.

I’ll use this experience to continue along my way towards better health. Stops may involve more smelling the flowers and looking at the beauty around me. I may kick up my heels and be excited to see other people. Maybe there’ll be a short walk before bed to get some fresh air before sleep.

The dog is at home and I doubt if she’ll go for another ride but it was enlightening.  

Thirty times I have seen fall change to winter while I hold a steering wheel of some kind. I’ve been in classic rides, oversize, off-road monsters, parades, convoys and your run-of-the-mill working rigs.

I’ve seen a lot, but I haven’t seen or done it all. Every day has something unique.

This week I did something I’ve never done. Not in all those years of grabbing gears.

I’ve thought about doing this. I have talked to others about it. It’s a very common practise, but not for me.

This week I took the plunge.

I had a dog as my navigator. It’s nothing really that warrants a special article, but there were a few things that stood out.

We generally treat dogs (or any pet) better than ourselves. Here’s what I mean. I think nothing of running hard for a few hours, making a really quick stop, and then hammering out more miles. As most drivers, I get paid by the mile, so miles is what matters. Not with a dog though. Stops become a time to walk and play a little. No way I want to keep a dog in a truck and not let it run a little during the stops. Hmmm. Not a bad idea for the human either.

Here’s another example. At night, just before bedtime what do you do with a dog? A short walk and bathroom break is important. Can you guess if I made less miles because I spent a little more time during stops? Nope. I still did all the miles I needed.  

I look after myself better now, than I used to. I need to. It’s the only way I can survive after the injuries and wear and tear of life. Yet, I’m still more concerned about how the dog is looked after than myself.

We can be great at helping others, and making sure our pets are looked after, but not so good with ourselves.

I’ll use this experience to continue along my way towards better health. Stops may involve more smelling the flowers and looking at the beauty around me. I may kick up my heels and be excited to see other people. Maybe there’ll be a short walk before bed to get some fresh air before sleep.

The dog is at home and I doubt if she’ll go for another ride but it was enlightening.  

Thirty times I have seen fall change to winter while I hold a steering wheel of some kind. I’ve been in classic rides, oversize, off-road monsters, parades, convoys and your run-of-the-mill working rigs.

I’ve seen a lot, but I haven’t seen or done it all. Every day has something unique.

This week I did something I’ve never done. Not in all those years of grabbing gears.

I’ve thought about doing this. I have talked to others about it. It’s a very common practise, but not for me.

This week I took the plunge.

I had a dog as my navigator. It’s nothing really that warrants a special article, but there were a few things that stood out.

We generally treat dogs (or any pet) better than ourselves. Here’s what I mean. I think nothing of running hard for a few hours, making a really quick stop, and then hammering out more miles. As most drivers, I get paid by the mile, so miles is what matters. Not with a dog though. Stops become a time to walk and play a little. No way I want to keep a dog in a truck and not let it run a little during the stops. Hmmm. Not a bad idea for the human either.

Here’s another example. At night, just before bedtime what do you do with a dog? A short walk and bathroom break is important. Can you guess if I made less miles because I spent a little more time during stops? Nope. I still did all the miles I needed.  

I look after myself better now, than I used to. I need to. It’s the only way I can survive after the injuries and wear and tear of life. Yet, I’m still more concerned about how the dog is looked after than myself.

We can be great at helping others, and making sure our pets are looked after, but not so good with ourselves.

I’ll use this experience to continue along my way towards better health. Stops may involve more smelling the flowers and looking at the beauty around me. I may kick up my heels and be excited to see other people. Maybe there’ll be a short walk before bed to get some fresh air before sleep.

The dog is at home and I doubt if she’ll go for another ride but it was enlightening.  

2017 Part 2

Part 2

I’d had my eye on a company for several years. I did some hotshot work for them in the early 90’s and watched them grow in size. I never applied for work there because I loved the coast to coast type of trucking, plus running the Ice Roads in NWT and they were mainly in the upper midwest USA and prairie provinces in Canada. I knew the second generation was now running the business and many of the older drivers were still there, which was a good sign.

I walked in, resume and driving abstract in hand, hoping to talk to someone but not expecting it. I was shown to a board room and to my surprise I spent the next 2 hours talking to the President of the company. I was floored that he would spend that much time interviewing a driver.

Over the next few days I applied at another company as well and prepared to get back to work. My motto is to work where I want to work, not just where I can get hired. Not everyone can do that but I have enough experience and a clean driving record to be able to make that choice.

I did my research and decided to come to work for that first company and I’ve been so thankful for such a great place to work. I was interviewed for that length of time because the owners are really particular on getting people that fit into their company.

It’s been an amazing 8 months. Physically and mentally it’s been very hard but I have put my focus on continuing to recover. Some things have suffered as I continue this journey such as keeping my website updated, some projects at home or visiting friends. If it hasn’t paid my bills, or involved my family, it’s probably been delayed. Learning, and staying within my limits is important for good health.   

I knew between Christmas and New Years I would take time to rest so I just kept turning the miles under my tires. I didn’t look at the numbers, just did what I could and I was surprised in the end.

I couldn’t have been as successful as I have been without the company, family and friends behind me .

Now I’ve had several days of just R&R and it’s been wonderful.

I don’t know if it’s a very compelling story, but I’m proud to be here. I’m thankful. It’s been another year of gritty determination.

Never give up. Maybe it’s easier to quit but I don’t know about that. What I do know is that in my 50 years I should’ve died a couple times. I’ve had serious injuries and severe depression that has threatened my life. I’ll deal with issues as long as I live.

I have learned many things in my journey. I’m a better man because of the hardships.

Thank you for reading.

2017 Part 1

Hard to believe we’re almost ready to turn the page on 2017!

I think I can safely say that almost every year, especially the last 30 or so, have been … interesting. Injuries, rehab programs, return to work, all while raising a large family

2017 started off with me in a Return to Work rehab program at the Wellness Institute in Winnipeg, MB. I was to spend the first three months of the year trying, and ultimately succeeding, in rehabbing from my latest head, neck and back injury. 2016 had closed out with me thinking I would never be able to work again so graduating from the program was exciting, and nerve-wracking. I feel better, but will I be able to sustain the gains I made while I go back to work in a tough environment? The last part of rehab is re-entering the workforce. You can get to match the physical requirements of the job in a return to work program but there’s nothing like the real life test of working day in and day out.

 

Driving a truck with oversize loads isn’t an easy job physically or mentally. Long periods of sitting, eating properly is a challenge (and expensive), times of intense action when loading or unloading, plus the stress of maneuvering a larger load through traffic and under bridges. I’ll write more on this at a later date.

What got me through life to this point is my ability to focus on the task at hand. Overlaying everything is the responsibility I feel to provide for my family and to be an example of perseverance in the face of hardship.

The joy I felt at the completion of my work rehab program was tested when I returned to my employer, only to be told that I was no longer wanted. For the 11 months post accident I was told by employer that “get to 100% and I’ll welcome you back”. What became apparent later was that he didn’t like me going on Workers Compensation. I don’t think he ever thought he would have to face that I would recover and want to work again. Every obstacle he threw at me to “prove” I wasn’t 100% was shown to be incorrect.

April 3rd, my first day ready to work was crazy. The boss had left town after refusing to meet me, or talk to me, and texted me my dismissal. I walked away, spent some time composing myself, and then started my quest for a new job. I loved doing heavy haul, and working for that boss, but that door was now closed.

To be continued…

Unwrapped

A tribute to Sylvia!

Living can appear to be a chore

Struggles. Hardships. Health issues.

Heart broken.

Time passes by. We battle within. A choice needs to be made.

Do we want life? Do we wish to die?

Before we make the decision

We wrap ourselves

Getting hurt isn’t fun.

We wrap a layer around our heart.

Afraid of more pain.

Withdrawing. Secluding. Sensitive to any perceived change.

Then comes a miracle. Walks on two legs.

Someone who finds a crack in your armour.

Peers inside. Recognizes danger. Takes action.

“Hello!” echoes inside through the chink.

How did you let this happen? Scary.

Can’t let anyone in! But…

The “Hello!” is like a refreshing drink in the desert.

Feels nice. Soothing. Maybe we won’t die.

Words follow the “Hello!” No idea what they were. Caring. Motivating.

Still awed by the “Hello!”. Drinking in the calming effect.

Slowly the growth of that goodness keeps cracking the wrap.

You emerge a little at a time.

Blinking in the sunshine. Tentative. Are you sure you won’t be hurt?

Life begins to happen again.

You see beauty once more. Happiness regains the upper hand.

How do you thank the unwrapper?

Unwrap others yourself.

Look for the crack in a person.

You be the “Hello” into their dark, deep chaos.

Maybe you can be a help.

One more brought back from the brink.

All because one saw the tight wrap, the hurt in you,

And drew you out. Saved your life.

David K. Henry June 2017

On Thick Ice

written by David K. Henry

  “Four North on 49, last one is wide”

  “Ok, Convoy we have a wet spot right after the portage and security is making sure we’re staying at 10, then we’ll be back to 25 at the half K sign. Keep your spacing in the slow zone”

  The instructions over the radio sound like a convoy operating with military precision, and it is that very thing. Mine resupply in Canada’s Arctic is an operation that lasts approximately 2 months in late winter. It is busy, closely monitored, and has no room for error. About 85% of the “road” itself is floating on water, with anywhere from 500 to 800 trucks cruising on top; the main stretch is 400 kilometres long branching out in spurs to various mines.

  This is extreme trucking that few in the world get to experience. And it is essential to the economy in Yellowknife and the survival of the mines.

  Every year since 1982 a road has built over ice-covered water to bring supplies northward. It’s been there so long it is even found on most Global Positioning Systems. The route can change a little from one year to the next but usually not by much. Once established it will support anywhere from 3,500 to almost 11,000 loads in a single season.

  The skills needed to drive the route are familiar, but a demand to closely follow the rules is exacting. Some experienced drivers arrive in the north with a cocky outlook. Before you know it, they head home for good. The next driver may be a rookie with very little experience who takes to the job and returns for many successful years.

  The pioneers of this road, and the ones in charge, have tested and proven what works safely. If you follow instructions from your convoy leader you are less likely to make a mistake that will lead to a warning or suspension.

Long hours, little wiggle room

  You must drive for up to 7 hours with no breaks; all at 25 kph. When loaded northbound you must slow to 10 kph when you go on and off the ice and follow the speed limit religiously. Any deviance from the posted numbers will land you in hot water, which is not good if you want an ice road career. 27 in a 25, or 15 going on or off the ice will net you a 5-day suspension and loss of a safety bonus. There is very little wiggle room and for good reason. A ‘blowout’, where the ice cracks and water flows up onto the ice, caused by speeding or unsafe actions can shut a road down to really slow speeds, or in the worst case, the closing of the road for the season.

  All loaded northbound trucks are dispatched from Yellowknife in convoys every 20 minutes. A convoy consists of at least 2, but usually 4 trucks. The first 70 km is on a narrow territorial road that twists and leaps over and around small hills. Drivers are required to stay 1 km apart from each other so you rely on the leader calling out the mileage markers and gauging where you are in relation to that. You will have security patrolling that road and watching for speed and spacing.

  Try to imagine that challenge. Narrow road. Each truck with different weights. Twists in the road only allow for the occasional glimpse of the truck ahead. Convoy leaders calling out locations. Maintain your speed and spacing. It doesn’t matter if you’re perfect for 69 km; if you slip up in the wrong place you could end up in the ditch or getting suspended by the ever-watchful security teams.

  Some people can’t handle the boredom. Hour after hour of avoiding cracks in the ice, straining to see through the blowing snow, hoping your truck doesn’t die in the -40C, or need a regen, takes it toll. Speed and spacing is the mantra. Follow the speed religiously and keep 500 metres away from the truck in front. Security is everywhere and listening on the radio. They’re in a pickup so they can travel much faster than you. It makes it seem like they’re everywhere.

  You do this for 60 days straight. Legally allowed 16 hours on duty per day, it is exhausting. No days off required. Yes, that’s 112 hours per week! You get to the point that you want a road closure to get some extra rest or you voluntarily take a day off in Yellowknife.

Solitude, yet closeness. 

  Constantly in a convoy with at least one other person, except in special circumstances. The solitude, yet closeness to the same people can cause some to crack. No foul language, harassment or bullying of any kind,is tolerated whether from drivers or security or other workers. People who act like that are quickly weeded out.

  During the season you’ll probably spend some quality time stranded on a portage in a howling blizzard, trying to keep warm and hoping you don’t have a case of diarrhea. (There are only 2 areas that have “bathrooms”) Cooking in a small area, no room for exercise, no one to talk to, except by radio which is constantly monitored by the authorities and hoping the truck keeps pumping heat and that you’ll have enough fuel to get to the next fuel stop. It is nerve-wracking.

  The fear of plunging through the ice is hard for some to manage. This is despite the fact that no resupply truck has ever gone through the ice into the lake below.  An ice worker vehicle has, but never the resupply trucks. It’s an amazing safety record for the Joint Ventures who manage the road. Still, many drivers have gone home early, never able to get over the tension.

  A good portion of the road is above the treeline so it is like a barren moonscape. Harsh, but beautiful. It’s wonderful to see the animals roaming, or flying around. Here the authorities are extremely strict. All of the land belongs to the natives and nature is king. If you throw a breadcrumb out the window to feed an animal you will be immediately sent home and banned for life. It’s the most important rule. Leave the land as you found it. The parking areas and the roads get scraped at the end of the season and disposed of in a safe manner. The same portage, or land crossings are the same ones every year and are quite narrow. No more land is crossed than is absolutely necessary. You are never allowed to approach wildlife, or honk your horn to get them to move. Burial grounds are gone around at slow speeds to respect the ancestors.

Road work

 Construction of the ice road starts as soon as there is enough ice to support an amphibious vehicle that maps the thicknesses of the ice using ground penetrating radar. These radar sleds are towed up and down the ice constantly until the season is practically over. This data is used to determine the weights allowed and where ice needs to be made better or thicker.

  In an area of poor or thin ice, a crew will go out with a truck-mounted auger. Usually they set up in the middle of the 150’ wide road and drill holes several yards apart. Others in the crew take special water pumps and suck water from the hole. Like flooding a backyard rink, they pump water over the ice, one side at a time. Traffic will pass by at 10 kph on the dry side. There are many crews constantly repairing the road 24/7. It’s a great system and they do a tremendous job, all at temperatures that would frighten most sane people.

  On any large body of water, pressure ridges can rise up and form as the ice freezes. This is where ice pushes together forming an impassable peak. The crews work hard to reinforce the ridges and shave them with graders. Traffic here can be reduced to 5 kph on a bad one. On rare occasions the road will have to go out of the planned route to find a better place to cross the ridge.

  Everyone sees the toll that heavy vehicles take on the roads made of cement and asphalt or stone. It’s no different on the ice. A loaded truck will cause the ice to deflect up to  3”, creating a wave effect. Have ever watched a train at a crossing and felt the road move up and down and the rails flexing? It is the same idea on the ice, except the “solid” roadbed is a minimum of 39” of ice. The approaches to portages are rarely straight in, but rather curved to allow the wave to dissipate away from where you need to land. All of this flexing also causes cracks in the ice. These cracks can swallow a tire if you’re not careful so you watch to avoid damaging your equipment.

  Sometimes as you’re passing near a crack, the flexing causes a snowball, or soccer ball to pop up and skid across the ice. These chunks can literally be as big as basketballs and if they haven’t broken totally free, can present a real hazard. The ice workers highlight them with reflective paint so they’re easier to see. If you’re sleepy and one fires up under your truck you will certainly sit up a little straighter for a few minutes!

Keep moving

  There are no special trucks for up here. Each trailer is loaded to the maximum allowable, either by weight or space. A super B unit on the ice with full weight allowable can be permitted to 67,000 kgs (3.5 tonnes more than most jurisdictions). Every vehicle must be stocked with emergency rations, spill kits, and have a working VHF radio. Extra insulation and belly tarps are used to try and keep the cold out.

  One main rule is to never shut off your engine. If you are in Yellowknife fueling, you can to check oil, but the hard rule is to leave your truck running. At -40 or -50, it doesn’t take long for it to freeze and not restart. No one wants to take the risk of freezing, while trying to re-fire a truck.

  At the end of the season you feel relief and may swear you’ll never come back. If you’ve made it the whole season with no suspensions or incidents you’ll walk a little prouder. But just making it is an accomplishment no matter what. The bonds with the other drivers is never forgotten and will continue when you go back home.

  It’s brutally tough, monotonous, frigidly cold like you’ve never seen before, rules strict beyond belief and the pay is decent.

  Don’t worry, you’ll come back for another “last” year just to do it all over again.

 This article was in the February 2017 issue of Today’s Trucking.