Tall Tales and Short Stories

These are stories about different events in my life. Some are in fiction form due to the age of the writer at the time of the event in relation to the memory of the writer at the time of writing. Age does that sometimes. Enjoy the stories and provide some feedback.

Location: Fort Smith, Arkansas, United States

July 07, 2006

Lost and Found in the Great White North

After a long trip from Houston, Texas, to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, I looked forward to a shower and some rest. For the solo drivers, a load would rarely be ready when they arrived, so my anticipation was not unfounded. Team drivers always got the pick of the freight while singles had to wait, sometimes as long as a week. I expected a wait on this trip due to a blizzard was fast approaching, and the temperature had dropped to minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit. The wind’s chill cut through to the bone like a salt laced razor. A hot shower and a warm bed sounded just right.

That idea diminished when I drove through the gate of the freight yard. The only other truck around was the pup truck, a day cab truck used for hauling trailers around town to deliver or pick up freight. By the look of their tires, the trailers in the yard appeared empty. I knew I had not passed any teams heading south on my way in Edmonton, so I was bound to be put to use.

As I drove through the gravel yard, I could see that the permafrost had set in for the winter. The usually soft ground was as hard as rock; even the old ruts from the rainy season jutted up like plateaus from the old west. Snow from two months previous remained piled high on several older trailers. I pulled through the yard, found a place to drop my trailer, unhooked, and went inside for a nice hot cup of coffee.

“Good trip?” Frank, the Edmonton load supervisor, asked. Before I could answer, he added, “Warm up and then come and see me.” He didn’t hang around for a reply.

A stew sat warming on the stove in the break room and the mechanics offered me a bowl. It wasn’t bad really, too much spice for my taste, but it heated up my insides. The coffee tasted weak and thin; when I poured it into my cup, I could almost see through it. It wasn’t like the hard and thick coffee I like in south Louisiana. This pot seemed to have been made in haste, more for something hot than to keep the crew awake.

Finally thawed, I went to see Frank. Bob, a salesman, malingered in the hall. Frank’s office reeked of the typical Canadian offices I had seen around the country. Its cheap wood paneling contrasted with the pictures hung in plastic replicas of Louis XIV frames. The only modern thing in the room was a custom made computer sitting on a folding table.

“What’s up? You got me a load already?”

“Well, it’s like this. I have a load up in Vilna that needs to be in Denver in three days. Can you do it?” Frank asked.

“Where’s Vilna? I’ve never heard of that place,” I told him.

Frank pulled out his map and pointed to a little town located about an hour northeast of town.

“The plant is just outside of town. You turn on this road,” he said, pointing to a farm road that turned north just before reaching town. “Go north about two miles. You will cross some railroad tracks and the plant will be on the right. There’s a blue sign just before their driveway. It’s the only thing out there, so it should be easy to find.”

“It’ll be dark when you get there,” Bob chimed in, “but that plant is lit up like a Christmas tree. You can’t miss it.” (Famous last words.)

I grabbed my paperwork and went out to get my trailer, a fifty-three footer. Once hooked up, I pulled out of the yard into rush hour traffic. What should have taken an hour became two. As I neared Vilna, it became apparent that it had already snowed. Everything was white — the ditches, the trees, the driveways, even the barbed wire fences. Bob was right about it being dark upon my arrival. The darkness only served to compound the difficulty.

I found my road and turned north. Two miles later, the sky was lit up from the plant. I crossed a set of railroad tracks. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the snow had fallen heavier up here. The ditches were level with the road; I couldn’t find a driveway. “Where is that sign?” I kept thinking. “Maybe it is on the far side of the plant.” I eased down the road a little farther. Nothing. “Now what?”

I saw no place to turn around. Looking at my map, I realized the next town was at least fifteen kilometers down the road, but even then there was no guarantee of a place to turn around. I continued on.

Three miles later, I found a farm house on the left with a wide driveway and a road on the right, directly across from the drive. Slowing the truck, I eased onto the side road and proceeded to straighten up for a straight shot backwards — or so I thought.

When I tried to stop, my brakes locked up and the truck started to slide. I let off and then feathered the brakes to a stop. Shifting into reverse, I tried backing up. All eight wheels spun. When I let off the fuel, the truck lurched forward and started down a hill. No brake would help now.

I reached over and switched on my rotating safety light, used for hauling oversize loads, because I didn’t want anyone turning out on to the road with me barreling down out of control. Next, I turned on my spot light and tried to see where this road ended, or whether it had any turns out of view of my headlights. What I saw was the bottom of the hill with a steep rise going back up the other side. Carefully maneuvering the spot light, while piloting with the other hand, I tried to find the top of the next hill. It looked to be at least a mile away.

With that knowledge, I had one choice: gas on it. Gain as much speed as possible in order to get up the other side. With the road frozen, I knew that my truck could not get the traction it would need to reach the top.

So, there I was. One hand on the wheel, one shifting gears, another hand turning on lights and flashers, while a fourth worked the trailer brake to keep it following straight. One small slip and into the snow bank for good. When I reached the bottom, the truck clocked eighty miles per hour. Up, up, up and slower, slower, slower, finally reaching the top. I slowed to thirty-five, but I made it to the crest. Now what?

The road leveled out on the top, I stopped the truck. I turned all of my flashers and rotating lights off. Turning on the spotlight again, I looked to see what lay before me. Darkness. Not a light in sight, not even the stars. All I could do, I was doing. Putting the truck back into gear, I started out into the unknown. Surely someone would come along who could show me the way out of here. I prayed the road didn’t dead end.

After a few minutes of driving, headlights appeared out of the darkness. As they approached I turned my emergency flashers back on to try to flag the driver down. The driver never even slowed. So much for friendly Canadians. Off with the flashers and down the road I went. Another minute or two and another set of headlights. This time, I stopped near the middle of the road and turned on my flashers. The pick-up slowed to a stop.

“Cahn I hep yu,” a French Canadian asked.

“Yes sir, I’m lost.”

“Wul, wur yu go-ing,” he asked, his accent got thicker as I suppressed a laugh.

“I’m trying to get into the peat plant,” I told him.

“Oh, that’s back duwn tha rood.”

“Yes sir, I know that. The problem is I missed the driveway and am trying to get turned around. Is there a place to turn around up ahead?”

“Ya, dis rood duz a T, yu cahn turn ‘round der,” he sayed with a smile, a toothless smile.
“Let me ask you something and don’t think I am too crazy. Is the road level there at the T or does it have a slope like it does back behind me?”

“Oh ya, it duz have a bit uv a sloop. Wait a minute and I will shoow yu out uv here.” His hands gestured in circles; I hoped that didn’t mean anything ominous.

The Frenchman turned around and started down the road. I followed as best I could. I don’t think he realized that I pulled a fifty-three foot trailer behind me, because he never slowed for turns or curves. The trailer dragged through the snow banks as we went around the corners, snow flying in the air looking like a fresh blizzard. It turned out to be a good thing, though. The tractor would slide a bit as I made the sharp turns on the frozen road and the trailer’s dragging would slow me down, keeping the truck from sliding off into the ditch on the other side.

After about ten minutes, we pulled into the back side of Vilna. When we came to the main road, the Frenchman pulled off to the left side of the road and I eased up on his right side. I thanked him for his assistance and offered to pay him.

“Nooo, I don’t need nu moonie. I wuz happy tu help.”

“Sir, it would have cost me ten times this amount if I had to call a wrecker. Please take this,” offering him a twenty dollar bill (American).

He took the twenty and gave me that toothless smile again, then drove off. I turned onto the highway and found my way back to the plant. As I came up to where the entrance should have been, another truck pulled out onto the highway. “So that’s where the entrance is,” I thought to myself.

It took me the rest of the night to get loaded and the trailer set to the proper specs for travel. When I pulled out of the plant the next morning, the little blue sign was clearly visible, right up against the fence.

Two days, and no shower, later, I sat in Denver waiting to be unloaded.


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