...is when the shit well and truly hits the fan.
But first - how about this one, Klay?
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that once the load count was reduced, Tli-Cho was going to realize that they had to start getting rid of trucks. And that seems to be just what they did...
The previous night I had driven back with a frenchie called Mark, who told me that two Tli-Cho drivers had been fired. One's crime was to throw a cigarette butt out of the window at Diavik, and the other had supposedly only slowed down, as opposed to coming to a complete halt, at a stop sign while being marshalled from A to B, also at Diavik. You hear a lot of rumours on the road while you're all up there trudging along at a stately 25 km/h. Guys become bored, I guess, and make shit up for something to do and you have to take everything you hear with a grain of salt. The source of the rumour is significant, too -if it's some guy you've never met or some young kid who is always blabbing away anyway then you're likely to disregard it, I suppose.
I hadn't known Mark for more than a few hours, but he had a few things going for him. Firstly he's a Yellowknifer and knows the score. Secondly he seemed like a straightforward, genuine kind of person. More importantly, he told me that one of the fired drivers worked for the same company as him - and the other apparently was one of DJ's drivers. Both Yellowknife companies, and it wouldn't take long to discover whether the stories were true or not once I was back in town. I found that this year, because of the politics and so forth that was going on every day, the nit-picking that was going on both in town and at the mines, the reduced load count...it all got the better of me and really got me down. I was in a foul mood when I got home from trip #8 and it didn't improve much for a few weeks. And, for the record, both of these rumours about the fired drivers turned out to be true.
So here's my take. If I was Tli-Cho and I found out at the eleventh hour that a bunch of my contracted loads had been cancelled, and assuming there was nothing I could do about getting them back I'm now left with too many trucks and need to get rid of a bunch. What's the best way to do it? I would decide how many trucks I had to get rid of, select that many trucks that weren't local, call their drivers in to the office and tell them the truth. "Loads cancelled last minute. Too many trucks. Sorry, no more work." Obviously those drivers wouldn't be hapy, but shit happens and what could anyone have done about it? But Tli-Cho is now seemingly bringing up horseshit charges such as throwing cigarette butts on the ground and firing people over them. They are generating bad feelings, everyone is unhappy and on their tip-toes not knowing what someone will be fired for next (not holding their hands at 10 to 2 on the steering wheel?!) and you instantly have morale at rock bottom. I don't get it.
DJ was even rumoured to have lost a second driver. Remember a couple of trips ago I'd been running with Lee and Barry? Barry was a DJ guy, and he and Lee had apparently left Diavik together, both with backhauls. The rules around backhauls are slightly different than the norm - you are allowed to travel alone, for one thing, and secondly if your backhaul weighs less than 7500 lbs you are considered empty. This means that you have to be in a convoy, but you are allowed to do the 'empty truck' speeds - 10 above the posted limit, and 60 km/h in the hammer lanes.
Barry was supposed to have been caught in a hammer lane, without Lee, with a load weighing 7050 Kgs. When stopped he said, "Oh, but my load weighs less than 7500 kgs so it's ok". But. The limit is 7500 lbs, not Kgs, so he was way over the weight limit. Now that could I suppose be an honest mistake - it was Barry's first season and possibly even his first backhaul, but unfortunately Security wouldn't have accepted that as an excuse. We are all required to have a copy of the rule book in our cabs at all times, and it clearly states what the rules are regarding 'empty backhauls' so all he had to do was look. But more importantly, he was alone. By traveling alone he is saying, "Look, I have a backhaul and I know it", so if he knew that he also knew he wasn't supposed to be on a road that is clearly marked, "Empty Trucks Only In This Lane". I'd say he was either extremely
absent minded, or guilty as charged. I was to find out soon enough...
This flood crew pick up has an ice auger built right onto it, and it runs off a PTO.
Holy crap, once again I haven't even left town yet! Again I didn't write down what it was, but I was given a Super-B load of something-or-other to take to Snap Lake. For those of you that don't know, Super-Bs are a set of two trailers joined together by a second fifth wheel, giving you a second point of articulation. The 'lead' trailer is 32ft long and the 'pup' is 28ft. It means that while going forwards, a set of Super-Bs (or 'trains') will follow the tractor better than a 53ft rigid trailer, but going backwards...well, let's just say it takes practise! Jack-knifing in two different directions at once would be quite easy to do while backing up a set of trains! I'd driven them before, but not much. I was happy to be hauling them now because they pay a little more per load, and although I knew that at that stage I wouldn't be able to back them up to save my life, there is practically zero reversing on this job.
I left town at 12.40pm on Feb 19th with the same Mark from last night, another Mark, and an old timer called Dennis who is known as 'Gretsky' who was hauling tankers filled with oil. We had a good run to Lockhart, supper, and then Gretsky and I went on to Snap Lake, arriving at 2am. Dispatch told me that I wouldn't be unloaded until day shift came on at 6am, but that was alright because I had planned on getting some sleep anyway. My only concern was that the weather was starting to get bad and I wondered whether the road would close. Still, nothing I can do about that. There was one problem that most definitely was mine, though - the marshall who picked me up from the ice and guided me into the dispaych area wanted me to park my truck across the parking lot at 90 degrees to the way we usually parked there, and that meant backing up! I told him he had to be kidding and that I didn't know how to back up trains but he insisted I tried, so there followed an amusing few minutes where I was constantly going back and forth on the radio between the work channel where the marshall was watching and waiting patiently, and another channel where I was speaking to Gretsky who was in another area of the mine. Gretsky was giving me instructions on how to reverse them ("Ok, if you want your pup to go this
way, turn the wheel that
way...no, the other that
way!"...) and they were good instructions because not only did I manage to do so, but for pretty much the rest of the season I ended up pulling trains and when I had a minute (and the room!) I'd practise, remembering what he'd told me, and I would now say that although it might not be a pretty thing to watch, I can at least back up a set of Super-Bs. Thanks Dennis!
Me and my Super-Bs at BHP
I had set my alarm for 6am, and when I got up there was a full-on blizzard in progress, but to my surprise the road had not yet been closed so I was hoping to get unloaded asap and get the hell out of dodge. One problem with that plan was that Gretsky's load was going to take up to 7 hours to offload and he was the only other truck there so even if I was unloaded quickly I'd have to wait for another truck to turn up, be emptied, and leave before I could. But first things first. There were apparently two more tankers on their way from Lockhart, but both
had spun out on portage 1 and so the road was blocked anyway.
By 7.30am the road was officially closed north of Lockhart due to the weather. One convoy of tankers was still supposed to be on their way into Snap Lake, and another that had left Lockhart and were headed north to Diavik/BHP had been told to park up on portage 46.
By 8am Gretsky was unloaded and parked beside me, and ten minutes after that the relevant people came to collect me and take me to be unloaded. Only they didn't unload me, they just made me drop off my trailer (I'd been waiting since 2am for that
?) and hook up to a tridem step frame, which they then loaded with a genset in a seacan. By the time I was all squared up and my paperwork was done the road was open again, so off I went. I was alone because Gretsky figured he'd be better off waiting for the next convoy to unload so that he could run back empty with them, rather than having to travel slowly with me at the loaded speed.
Filling up my main compressor line with methyl hydrate in the shop.
I had lunch at Lockhart with a tanker driver who like me had pretty much decided that this would be his last season, that the job simpy wasn't fun any more. Apparently the tanker yankers in particular were being harrassed by the Dept. of Transport on the Ingraham Trail, and I myself was really only having fun and felt as though nothing had changed when I was traveling with other old timers.
Because I was traveling alone and could leave whenever I wanted I decided to sleep for an hour before I left, and eventually arrived back in YK at 00:30. By the time I'd taken the chains off my backhaul and got back to the office it was 1.30am and I must have bumped into Simon somewhere because we agreed that we'd go back to the office at 6am to see Tom about our next loads.
There didn't seem much point in going home to shower etc because I'd only have ended up with a couple of hours sleep, so I slept in the truck at Carl's yard. I was still on a downer, very unhappy at the way the season was transpiring, and considered sleep to be more important at this point!
One for you, galute!
These tankers were at Diavik all season. Not sure what their story is...
In the next installment....I find out what happened to Barry who'd been caught loaded in the hammer lane, and a driver in my convoy gets lost!!