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/

“Big Trucks are Scary!”

Interviewing a Non-Trucker about Trucking

Today I thought to have a chat with Ashleyy, a co-worker of my daughter from Winnipeg, MB.

Hi Ashleyy, what can you tell us about you? Are you familiar with trucks, or truckers and do you drive on the highway very much?

I do not drive on the highway very often at all!! I am usually a bit nervous on the highway, especially at night.

I don’t know any truckers nor am I familiar with trucks!

What is your background ? Have you spent most of your life in the city, and therefore mostly city driving, or have you spent time outside the city commuting to work or school?

I grew up in the city and never had to commute on the highway to school. I have a few friends outside the city so I do drive to their places sometimes but it’s never been enough to make me super comfortable on the highway. I would say I only go on the highway once every month or so.

Does the distance to your friends or the weather contribute to whether you go out or not?

Is there a certain type of truck that makes you more or less nervous? I’m talking like a longer truck being worse, or a gravel truck, or a truck hauling a box (van) trailer?
Does the cleanliness or graphics on the truck make any difference?

I don’t mind doing a drive to my friends but I am more likely to go in the day so I don’t have to drive at night as that is when I get super nervous. If it was really snowy or rainy I probably would stay home so as not to have to drive in that weather.

I don’t think I am more or less nervous about the different types of trucks, probably just the bigger it is the more scary!!

I don’t really care about if it’s clean or not, I mean unless it was super disgusting I might think it’s gross and they should wash it. Probably the graphics don’t make a difference to me. Unless I saw like one of those bobbly head things in the front with like a naked lady. Then I would roll my eyes at them. Not that I’ve ever seen that outside a movie lol.

There have been a few advertising billboards and tv spots encouraging car drivers to stay out of their blind zones and to give them more space; Does this help you?
What would make you more comfortable when driving on the roads around semi trucks?

Every time I am by a truck on the highway I get nervous that I am in their blind spot and they won’t see me and maybe try to switch lanes while I’m right there. I do not know where I got this idea, but maybe it was from those advertisements you are talking about.

All I know is I try to pass the trucks and try to go faster to get by in case I get into their blind zone. Also I feel like the wind gets trapped or something so I feel scared that the wind will push the car!

I think what would make me more comfortable was if I felt like I didn’t have to worry about being so small beside them and that they could crush me. While I technically  know about the blind spot I don’t know exactly where that even is so I just assume the can’t see me wherever I am unless I’m in front of them.

Those are pretty common concerns. Let me try to help a little. If you are behind the truck and can see a mirror on the truck, you can probably be seen by the truck. The exception can be when you are right beside the power unit. Every truck is a little different so the blind spots do vary. When you are directly in front of a truck (within a couple car lengths) the driver will not be able to see you very well either. With today’s streamlined trucks and lower hoods it’s not as bad as in the past. I have demonstrated to people riding with me to close their eyes at a traffic light before I stop. Then I pull close to the car, making it disappear, when they open their eyes they don’t see a car until the light turns green and a car magically appears in front.

Here’s a diagram that explains…


Passing quickly is a great practice, but obviously not so fast that will get you in trouble for speeding. Truckers love when a vehicle doesn’t sit beside them for a long time because of the buffeting winds that you were talking about. In slippery conditions those winds can blow a car around. Here’s an example with this. You’re passing a truck and a hard wind is blowing you toward the truck, then you get past the truck and the cushion of air provided by the truck is no longer there and you swerve to the left. Conversely, a wind pushing against the truck will not be felt by you as much until you pass the truck, then suddenly you get the full force pushing you towards the ditch.

Were these explanations any help to you?

Oh that is helpful! I didn’t realize that they couldn’t see you when you were in front of them too! Crazy!

Thanks for your help! Let’s work on some more questions for another blog!

Special Olympics and Injury

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Another week is coming to a close and I have some time to reflect on a couple different topics.

Saturday Sept. 10th is the annual World’s Largest Truck Convoy benefitting Special Olympics. Truckers across North America get together for the Convoy in their own jurisdictions on the same day. Manitoba is usually one of the largest in North America with over 200 trucks. The spectacle of them lined up and then parading around the Winnipeg Perimeter is amazing. Police and Law Enforcement block off the route so we can travel without interference. As a long time driver, this is lots of fun! There’s lots of air horns blowing, shiny chrome, cool paint jobs and kids of all ages watching.

The connections we make with the athletes is what it’s all about. One of them who I took on the Convoy a few years ago, texts me almost every day. She’s amazing and I love helping support her and her fellow competitors. They love what they do and really appreciate our help.

I have many T-shirts from different functions and the Convoy shirts and hoodies are ones that get many comments and interest from people who see it. They’re also the ones I have the most pride in wearing.

Contact me if you want to help with any size of donation to a worthy cause.   

 

Summer is almost over! Seems like only yesterday I was planting corn and hoping for good weather. Kids are back in school, nights are getting cooler and it’s time to prepare the ground for next year’s crop. Wait, I have no kids in high school this year! Crazy, it’s not just the summer flying by I guess.

Every year we lose more of our older generation, but this year I’ve seen more people I know, who are younger, or close in age to me, who are no longer with us.

I haven’t said much about this, but I thought May 10th was going to be my last day. I fell off a load in the rain and landed on the back of my head. I don’t recommend it. It was my 4th major concussion and I had no idea why I survived. I’ve had some injuries in my lifetime and the worst by far is a head injury. Head injuries aren’t easy to talk about and here I am 4 months later just going public now. I still won’t say much though, except this; There’s never a time to give up. We get stronger, more resilient, caring and empathetic when we battle through what we’ve been handed. Life isn’t easy. Some deal with injuries, others with sickness, whatever the case, don’t give up. Train yourself to keep moving forward so when bad situations arise you only know how to keep forging ahead.

I don’t know any other way but forward. It’s what I’ve been taught and learned in my life. I’m thankful for my family and friends and for my boss at LCG Equipment who care that I heal properly. Week by week the fogginess in my brain is clearing. I’ll also give a special shout out to John G, Editor at Today’s Trucking for being patient as I continue to try to write coherent sentences for him.

I’m alive. I’ve avoided death once more. Here’s why I’m still alive; To give hope to others in tough places. To be here for my family who need me, warts and all. To prove that giving up is no way to live.
Off like a herd of turtles…

Ice Roads in Reality

 

  • Ice gets thicker the more you drive on it. As you drive over the ice, it’s pushed down into the water through the air pocket. After you pass and the ice flexes back up the water freezes to the ice, creating a thicker ice road. Hence we start out with light loads and work up to very heavy loads as the ice thickens. It’s also not like testing ice when you were kids… “Randy, go out on the ice, I’m sure its ok”. If Randy disappears we know it’s not good enough. He was expendable anyway. (just kidding, we all made it home… sometimes we were still dry)
  • Different coloured ice. I never really noticed ice having so many vivid colours. My favourite was a very bright blue. Some of the transitions to another colour were as abrupt as a 3 year old getting his toy taken away.
  • It was easy on my truck. Yeah, I know, how can -40 be easy on my truck? Obviously my brain didn’t get close enough to a heat source right? Let me explain. I drive the Canadian Prairies in the winter where -40, especially this year, is not uncommon. On a regular highway I bounce along like Tigger at 100kph pulling up to 137,500 pounds. Canadian roads are not smooth (bet you didn’t know that! ;-(  ). North of Yellowknife on the territorial highway, the fastest I went was 70 kph. Loaded, on the lakes, the max was 30 kph. The road was usually glassy smooth. So, slower speeds + smoother roads = happier “Honk Honk”.
  • Give a guy a radio and lead spot in the convoy and suddenly he becomes a play by play announcer. “Watch out for the hill… rock beside the trail… 4 wheeler coming atcha… speed changes to 10 kph here…” Good gracious Nellie! I can read signs that say “Hill ahead, increase speed”. I also drive with my eyes open and I can spot rocks, speed signs and sometimes even other vehicles! Take your hand off the mic button… PLEASE!!!
  • They “freeze” the gravel roads. Silly me, I thought the roads were already frozen. Pretty tough roads eh? It’s -40 and the roads aren’t frozen? What they mean is they water all of the gravel roads to make them a sheet of ice which can be maintained better. Actually works great. Unlike Torontonians, they know how to drive on ice. A little sand or stone chips is all they need. No one is in a big hurry to go anywhere anyway.
  • I’m in awe of the natural beauty up there. It’s a very harsh climate, and surprisingly, it really impressed me. It’s a different kind if beauty than the mountains, trees and rivers that I’m normally attracted to. Watching caribou graze above the treeline, ravens floating effortlessly through the air beside your truck and little foxes scurrying around the scrub brush was simply amazing. How they survive is beyond my comprehension.

It would take too much time to describe being on the Ice Roads (Tibbitt to Contwoyto), but the most surprising thing to me was that it wasn’t all about working hard in a tough environment… I enjoyed it more than I expected! I can better understand why people work, and stay up there.

Rookie Lady places Third!

I watched Kelly weave her way through the serpentine, not with ease but with a competence that impressed me.

Every year there’s usually a rookie or two in the Manitoba Truck Driving Championships. This year there was 9. Almost a third of the field was made up of rookies. Unless they’ve had great instruction and read the rules package very closely, it’s tough being a rookie. The course is designed to make inches cost you your shot at a podium finish. It can be quite daunting to see the course for the first time. We are led on a walk through before competition but it looks very different from behind the windshield.

I try to take time to talk to some of the rookies before the day starts as well as during it to try and help them. Those that I’ve talked to I watch with great interest to see how they perform under pressure.

I didn’t meet Kelly M. before she was on the track but I knew that she was a rookie and she had a great mentor who was competing in my class. I had a couple minutes to watch so I got to see her in the serpentine. The serpentine is made of 3 barrels in a row. You drive past all barrels and then reverse through them, weaving in and out. You have to back up far enough so when you go forward again you can weave through them again, just on the opposite side. Sound easy? Not so much! Why was I impressed with Kelly? Firstly, she was a rookie. Backing up and weaving around obstacles is not part of your daily recommended routine. Secondly, she wasn’t in her own truck (you never drive your own, trucks are supplied and everyone in your class uses the same truck, or a twin to it). Thirdly, she was driving a straight truck (a city type truck with a box on the back, only 2 axles total, no hitches) which reacts very differently from her normal semi. Fourthly, it was a tight course and a judge told me later that no one made it through without some sort of issue.

I wasn’t able to see her on the rest of the course but I had a good feeling that she would perform well. At lunch time I looked for her and told her that I was impressed with her serpentine. She was surprised, thinking that she hadn’t done that well but I assured her that she had.

After the competition we go to a semi-formal banquet where awards for first to third in each class, grand champion, team winners, as well as other industry awards are given out.

I wasn’t surprised that Kelly won third place in Straight Truck Class.

Let me emphasize how huge this was. Kelly, a rookie, woman driver won third place! This is the FIRST time in Manitoba history that a woman has made it into the top three in ANY class.

To say I was excited was an understatement. I was so happy for her.

She is a huge credit to her employer, Bison Transport. She’s exactly who we need more of in our industry.

Congrats Kelly!  

Typist to Trucker!

Daniel
Daniel (Strubes) Strubhar

Here’s an example of busting the image of a regular truck driver!

I have known Daniel (Strubes) Strubhar for decades. When I heard he was going to become a truck driver I thought I had heard wrong. Throughout his training and early driving career I still wondered if it was all a dream. I knew he liked driving and I had no worries about his skill; I just had a hard time picturing him fitting in with most drivers. Apparently it was a dream, his dream.

Here’s his story in his own words. Enjoy!

“After working in offices for give-or-take 25 years, I have been driving truck now for the last 3 years – took my driver training at 59 years old. I still think of myself as an office person who drives a truck, don’t actually feel like a “trucker,” and apparently – as I’ve been told several times – I don’t look like a trucker! Yet – much of the time I do enjoy driving, and it is nice getting to see, and get a feel for, areas of the US and Canada that otherwise would be unknowns.

Why did I switch to trucking? In all honesty, it was that I needed more income – that proverbial “bottom line.” Even though I have a bit of the explorer in me, I also have no problem with a 7′ x 7′ office cubicle, so it wasn’t “to get out of the office!” But the reason will be different for different people – that was mine.

How did I find the learning curve and the adjustment to trucking life? It was not easy, actually – the trucking world can have the stereotypical rough, harsh side.  However – there’s no reason anyone has to become anything other than what they are! Most of the time you are by yourself, so you are free to set the tone and tenor of your job however you wish.

What pointers would I have for anyone going into trucking? Here are a few, just based on my limited experience so far:

1) Treat the job with professional respect. Don’t think it’s just getting behind the wheel of the truck and driving into the sunset! It is actually a skilled profession – and treating it like that will allow you to be successful as a driver. Do a good job. And don’t think you’re going to get away from computers! My truck’s onboard computer is an essential part of my job. Learn to use it properly.

2) Don’t get discouraged with the learning curve. I read that it takes 5 years before the job has thrown you pretty much all the curves it has! Every mistake you make, every time you bump something, bend something – and nobody gets by without any errors – should be considered as just steps in the learning process. Try not to make mistakes of course – be teachable – but above all, try not to make the same mistake twice!

3) Never be in a hurry. You’re not in any marathon, it’s more important to be safe than anything else. (Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.)

4) Always keep a good attitude – toward your fellow drivers and your company (including your dispatch). It’s a job with many aspects that are going to be totally beyond your control. Find something useful to do with down-time – there will be some, and sometimes a lot! Learn to sit back and be a bit philosophical and/or see the humor in the situation, instead of getting uptight! Being uptight and stressed accomplishes nothing, and can make your job miserable unnecessarily.

5) Don’t let yourself be pushed by anyone into doing anything that you feel is unsafe, and don’t feel that you have to work and work with no break! Ask for regular home time – the truck is not your life, give your family, your friends and yourself the time that all of you need. Despite a truck driver’s often erratic schedule, he/she needs a life independent of the job, as much like everyone else as possible. Use technology, get a good unlimited phone/text/data plan, and keep in contact – just keep it hands-free!

Good success!”

CTM Truck and Bike Show June 4 2016

I attended the CTM Truck and Bike Show at the Red River Ex Grounds on Saturday. It was a great show!

Dave Mackenzie and his gang of diehard supporters put on a show that continues to get better every year.  While it wasn’t an overwhelmingly crowded event, the attendance was consistent and steady throughout the day.

Representatives of several trucking companies were there along with several different suppliers and some unique vendors, such as a gentleman who makes amazing wooden models.  Several enthusiastic rockin’ bands provided music that appealed to many interests.

Every Mackenzie-run production requires something special, so Big Daddy Tazz MC’d the event, Chrome and Steel Radio was there and Marc Springer from Shipping Wars brought his larger-than-life personality. Fionn MacCools sponsored a chicken wing eating contest, Champion Towing flipped a full semi from its’ side back onto its’ wheels and several amazing local bobtails showed their shiny sides.

It was an enjoyable, affordable show with a good grassroots feel to it.

Kudos to Dave Mackenzie who is a tireless and enthusiastic supporter of trucking.

The digital version of his magazine is at www.canadiantruckingmagazine.ca or find one in your local truck stop after the 15th of every month. Check it out!

 

Driven to succeed

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“IDK if you want to mention I’m a cancer survivor or not.”

 

After a long telephone interview Angela Price sent me this message. I was blown away. Angela is a newer truck driver with just over a year of experience. Her road to trucking was definitely not like many the veterans complain about. She did not go from driving a small car to a semi in a short 6-week course at a questionable school.

Life has presented her with enough challenges that surviving cancer wasn’t something that came up right away. This self-proclaimed Country Girl has done many things in her life so far. She’s raised a child who’s now a university student, done bylaw enforcement, casino security, card dealer, just to name a few of her jobs. Angela has done what’s needed to provide for her family.

She was looking for a change in her life and after having been a “co-pilot” with a trucker friend occasionally, she decided to try trucking. MicroSkills accepted her resume from a long list that included an aptitude test and started her with some courses.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Do you think you have a challenge?

No money for heat in her house. No running water. Barely able to get to school. Would you give up yet? There’s more. After seven or eight weeks of courses, the funding dried up. No money to continue into practical training. Angela bears no ill will, it was just a fluke that at the time she was taking her courses the money wasn’t there to finish.

Angela heard of Ontario Truck Training Academy where Yvette Lagrois could possibly find money to help. Lagrois was able to work a miracle for Angela to continue her schooling.

Yvette had this to say “Angela has the spit and vinegar to be successful in this industry. She decided to succeed ahead of time, this put her in the headspace needed for the transportation industry. It’s critical that people choose trucking and understand the jobs that they will likely be doing upon graduation. That allowed for her to concentrate on what we were requiring her to do, to listen, to demonstrate and think independently. We are very proud of Angela. We are a school that will work hard to find funding for those that are good for trucking, to OTTA this is how government funded should work.”

There’s no question that Angela was focused on becoming a truck driver. From the time she started the process until she was driving a truck for pay was over 2 years! Many people don’t survive competing for funding, not to mention her own personal trials on the way. When asked if she would do it again there was no hesitation in her willingness to do it all over.

Angela is thankful for her mentors and friends Kaelin and Joanne Mackenzie (current Trucker of the Year) and the schools for her training. “School is important. It really helped me with city driving because I’m a country girl.” “I use what I learned in school everyday…”

Angela also has a trait common to many women drivers, but sometimes too uncommon for rookies. She’s not interested in driving unsafe equipment or bending the rules. Even if it means losing a job she enjoys. Angela got her current job at Ajax Auto Wreckers by just walking in off the street and applying. Fortunately, her future boss sensed she had a positive attitude and had just got a new 2016 Kenworth and put her in it. She enjoys hauling scrap and her boss treats her very well but it can be very demanding on her time.  

Trucking can present some challenges on the home front and even though she is a local driver it still affects her. The hours can be variable so it’s tough on relationships and planning things together. On the other hand Angela says this I would like to say that it has also been good for my family life. My daughter loves to be my co pilot when she can. It has given us hours of one on one conversation and she also has a better understanding about commercial driving and the difficulties and dangers of careless passenger cars. I think it should be a requirement that all passenger car driving applicants spend a few hours as a passenger in a Class 8 truck before they write their G, or class 5 license.”

Away from the truck Angela enjoys spending as much time as possible outside. Follow her on Twitter @skinnybitch_ang and you’ll see posts of her with family and friends fishing, swimming, camping and geocaching.

 

When asked what she loves about trucking she said, as a true country girl, “I love the sunrises”. She went on to say that she loves it all. She loves being a trucker. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will succeed and be a tremendous asset to the trucking industry.