John F. Kennedy Airport, New York, NY
Not only are we trucking slackers, we are trucking wimps.
Two Arctic-temperature January loads into Canada was enough to remind us that we take a winter holiday for a good reason and that our new drop deck trailer — more on this in March, but yes, we are taking the final Owner Operator leap — will be equipped with a rolling, meaning flip-of-a-switch-style tarp system.
Folding frozen tarps is not fun. MacGyver untarped, not tarped, just UNtarped two loads — loaded in Southern California he untarped in Mirabel, Quebec and loaded in Louisiana, he untarped in Medicine Hat, Alberta — in sub zero temperatures.
Heading into Quebec our contact at the delivery warned us about the temperatures.
“It’s like the Arctic here,” he said. Montrealers were digging out from under the biggest snow dump in more than 40 years. A strong wind gave us ice cream headaches for just climbing out of the tractor.
Winter driving is hard on everyone and everything. It’s hard on the drivers, the trucks, the freight, the warehouse people at the shippers and the consignees. It is miserable.
It’s a pain to just get out of the truck. In some places, like Minnesota, Montana, Maine and Canada, 50 pounds of down padding is needed to ward off the cold. Feet must be jammed into boots in a too small mud room space, the front seat of the tractor. With two of us in the truck, every square inch is filled with down coats, boots, hats, mitts, barely enough room for us. We must carry extra water and food supplies in case we are stuck in a blizzard. We need more bedding to keep warm, flannelette pajamas, well I need them. We carry extra windshield wiper fluid, Windex, airline de-icer and alcohol, some of it is carried inside the tractor, to keep the fuel from gelling in the cold.
Nothing is easy, everything is frustrating. Just walking in snow is enough to make me throw up my hands when my ass hits the concrete. Slip sliding along. The snow is invariably over ice, footsteps make mini mogals. We have crampons in the tractor to prevent falls. Digging them out from the bottom of the closet I sliced my finger. And, we need extra bandaids and Polysporin. They also help with dry skin at the corner of my fingernails which crack and painfully tear.
And it’s dark. In upstate New York, it doesn’t feel like daylight until eight o’clock in the morning and it seems to be dark at 4. In Canada, the days are even shorter. And when it’s dark, the truck feels like a black hole. It’s harder to make MacGyver his dinner sandwiches, or find anything because everything seems to be black. The condition of the roads only adds to the misery.
It’s a good thing we all keep better in the winter because showering requires more effort than it seems to be worth, dragging winter clothes into the shower room, stripping down, snow, diesel fuel, and grease melting to the floor. Showering, then putting everything back on to walk back to the truck. By the time you climb back into the tractor, the extra effort means we feel like we need another shower.
When you buy something in January, groceries, a coffee, a little retail pick me up, remember that the reason you are enjoying these comforts of life is that people are out in terrible weather, snow, freezing rain or ice fog bringing this stuff to you. In addition to the ordinary stuff, the toilet paper and shampoo, trucks bring virtually everything from medicine and medical machines to industrial chemicals and parts so workers can pick up their paychecks at their end of the week. Our last two loads were a pipeline inspection tool and a sugar cane crusher.
While we pull loads in and out of Canada and through the Northern states, we are not sentenced to those winter freight lanes, we mix up our loads to take us from winter to summer in two days where we can thaw out below I-20.
To prepare for the winter season, MacGyver opened up our Schneider National parting gift. Two weeks after our last load for the carrier, in September 2009, their Winter Training Manual arrived. A real gift. A booklet of tricks and tips for surviving winter.
Schneider recommended, before shutting down for the night, filling the air tanks, then pumping the air down half way, by pumping on the brake pedal. This way if the air system’s governor freezes, it will freeze in the open position, still able to feed air to the airlines, which control the brakes. Because, unbeknownst to us, Quebecois have a two-day New Year’s Day holiday, we waited an extra day to deliver. We were thrilled, thanks to the Auxillary Power Unit, which keeps the batteries charged and the engine coolant circulating and warm that the truck started with the first turn of the key. Whew!
Heading into Alberta a week later, our winter luck ran out. We stopped overnight in Shelby, Montana, 30 miles south of the Canadian border for 10 hours. We used the same shutdown procedure on the engine, however, the APU was not pumping heat into the tractor.
MacGyer inspected the APU’s little diesel engine and discovered that the air intake to the heater was filled with ice. I don’t know what he was doing out there, but within 10 minutes hot air was blasting into the tractor sleeper. My hero.
“A few years ago, I didn’t know anything about engines,now I can fix things,” he said, marveling at his ability to diagnose the problem and find a solution.
But, winter teaches drivers to be slow to gloat. When we woke in the morning the engine started, everything was good. He pushed in the brakes to pull out of the parking space and NOTHING. Nothing happened, we didn’t move. Stuck. Frozen to the ground maybe? No, the trailer brakes were frozen.
Here’s where I sprung into action, in a tactic only a woman can use. I noticed a truck at the fuel island. I thought, that looks like a driver who knows winter.
I’m not embarrassed to say that I played the Florida card. Yes, even though I grew up between the Monashee and Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia, on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, where mountains of snow, avalanches and freezing temperatures were the winter norm, I specifically told him we lived in Florida and had loaded in Louisiana.
And Neal, a real Canadian, a nice guy, decided to take a look at our trailer brakes. He crawled underneath and started banging on them with a sledgehammer. We knew that the sledgehammer was the tool of choice to fix this problem, but we weren’t sure which part of the brakes to bang on and where exactly to pry them apart with a long screwdriver.
It took 20 minutes, the sledgehammer, air line de-icer, the long screwdriver, Neal, MacGyver, some swearing and we were freed.
The message to me was clear. Time to leave the cold, and not just to the southern US. It was time to really leave the cold.
We delivered in Medicine Hat, deadheaded to Calgary, picked up a load to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. MacGyver found a load
90 miles away that delivered in Belle Glade, Florida and we headed home to Port St. Lucie.
I am writing this from the Departure Lounge at JFK in New York City. We are heading to Thailand and Hong Kong via Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
More from Ferrari World where MacGyver will celebrate his 50th birthday.