Virgin Territory — the Beginning

Our special string of September Sundays of cuppas with Paul Curran continues as Willow of willowdot21 makes the most of her break from hosting his weekly guest post at her place on the other side of the big pond. Take it away, my loquacious Canadian friend.

If We Were Having Coffee

Coffee Break at the Antrim Truck Stop, Arnprior, Ontario

Paul Curran

Your Barista – Paul

Welcome to Willow’s weekly coffee and tea garden. My name is Paul, I’ll be your barista today, and I’m happy to be here once again. For the next few weeks Willow will not be able to access her internet dependably, so we’ll be meeting here at Mark Bialczak’s Little Bitty in Syracuse, New York. Please come in and go through to the backyard. Mark, his wife Karen and their pooch Ellie B have prepared a nice, comfy place for us outside on the newly mown lawn of the Little Bitty, so I can tend to your needs for a cuppa, and sweets. The weather this morning is cool at about 66 degrees Fahrenheit with overcast skies. As usual, I’d be pleased to bring a pot of whatever beverage you prefer – we have a wide range of teas and coffees to satisfy our worldwide readership and adult beverages for those who wish something stronger. We can relax with a cuppa and calorie-free electronic sweets while we discuss the affairs of the week both personal and/or worldwide. Ellie likes to be patted, so please indulge her when she greets you. How has your week been?

I went for a walk down memory lane Friday night, visiting a place in space and time that I haven’t seen for 35 years. It started when I happened upon an old Conway Twitty (Country and Western) song “Tight Fitting Jeans.”

Free with Tractor Purchase

Conway Twitty

Back in 1980 at the ripe old age of 21, I had just purchased my first truck, a used Kenworth Tractor from a character called Mac. I bartered hard for that truck – borrowing from 11 different places, including a seller’s mortgage. It came with a contract and two old Conway Twitty cassette tapes – which I suspect were just overlooked when the truck changed hands. My new pride had been owned by Mac’s brother, and was painted the bright orange of a local carrier. It was only about 18 months old, and no effort had ever been made to make it pretty. Lordy, that truck was ugly, but in my eyes no vehicle had ever been more beautiful.

It was a cold February day when I turned the Kenworth into my new employer’s yard in Maine to pick up my trailer and do the necessary paperwork. The afternoon sun was a yellow heatless ball in the sky that diffused light over the snow-covered landscape, leaving a feeling of emptiness contrasting with my excitement at my new truck and new job. The inside of the truck gleamed and smelled of Armor All and pine air freshener as I opened the door and stepped down onto the yard that would become so familiar over the next six years. There would be many memories made here – both joyful and painful. None of that had happened yet as I walked through the cold and into a new life in this small terminal in an obscure town in rural Maine.

Would you like another cuppa? Perhaps a sweet? Fill up as we have a lot of driving to do. After spending the rest of that day doing employment paperwork and writing tests and discovering a whole new world, I left with my trailer to head for northern New Brunswick to load the next evening. It snowed hard on my way and the wheels were often breaking grip and spinning as I got used to the traction and lightly feathered the fuel pedal, finding the sweet spot that kept me moving forward without sliding. Locating the shipper was a challenge, but I persevered and eventually the fish plant came into view through the veil of snow. I told them to load it the way they would any other truck, which covered the fact that I had no clue how much to load where in the trailer. That would come with experience. There was no manual.

Slippery

Slippery

Closing and locking the trailer doors with my load of frozen fish safely stowed aboard, I signed the paperwork, climbed into the cab and set out down the highway. I had never hauled a load even close to this heavy before (having learned tractor-trailer hauling bread) and the experience was edging on overwhelming – the truck had a life of its own. I was used to being the boss over the truck – go now, stop now, turn now – that was not the case with a full heavy load. Grossing 45 tons (about 40 tons metric), the inertia was the biggest factor in handling – pressing hard on the fuel pedal resulted in a deep rumble felt in the bones and the high pitch whine of the turbo, just at the edge of hearing range, and very little change in speed; pressing on the brakes produced the sound of braking and no noticeable reduction in speed; turning the wheel just caused the front end to slide on the slippery road while the truck continued straight. This felt like riding the back of some out-of-control monster. It very, very quickly became apparent that this was going to be a steep learning curve – provided my fear could be conquered.

It had stopped snowing now, and as I turned onto a rural highway I realized it was late and I was the only vehicle in sight. There was about a foot of snow on the road, completely undisturbed by any plows or traffic. The weight of my load made traction excellent and waves of virgin snow rolled off my tires as they cut through the storm remains. This was starting to feel more comfortable – the deep rumble of the engine, good traction, straight road, no traffic and a sky full of stars above a landscape of pure white. I remembered the Conway Twitty cassettes and plugged his greatest hits into the deck. As Conway crooned about tight fitting jeans and roses, the miles of empty highway rolled past and I began to get a taste of what my next few years would hold –the new sights and experiences to come.

Empty

That’s about all we have room for this week, so it’s time to settle in with another cuppa and pat Ellie B. Sweets anyone? Please join me in thanking Mark, Karen and Ellie B for their invitation to tea. We are all honored that you dropped by today to visit. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and the conversation, and please look around at Mark’s other posts while you’re here. Have a great week. We look forward to seeing you for tea and drinks here for the rest of the month of September.

Need Coffee

Funny Dog

Anyone See my Coffee?

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37 thoughts on “Virgin Territory — the Beginning

  1. Thank you so much for the opportunity to guest post Mark. I am honored to have this chance to write my stories. This one addresses my very first trip as a new owner-operator – a memorable time for me.

    I hope all is well with you, Karen and Ellie. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Barb. I did my first fiction post a few weeks ago and I asked my readers to critique my writing style. I got some excellent advice, some of it from published authors, and I used that advice here. It is starting to feel more natural. Contrary to what many may call intuitive change, much of the advice actually brought me closer to the voice that I know is inside. I can feel it getting stronger and more centered. Thank you so very much for dropping by and for the high praise. So many here, like yourself and Mark, are professional writers and it is such an honor and pleasure to get your feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for a most entertaining Sunday morning cuppa tale, Paul. I felt like I was slip-sliding along that Maine road alongside you, taking in Conway and turning into every skid with my hands and a sympathetic lean, as a good passenger should! This is my favorite of the month here so far, my friend. I so appreciate your Wayback Machine storytelling touch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so very much Mark – I figured I need to improve on last week’s Ha! Thanks so much for the opportunity to guest post and the compliment. “Wayback Machine” – ha! – now there’s a blast from the past – Professor Peabody and Sherman wasn’t it? From the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s where I borrowed my pet phrase the Wayback, Paul. I won’t deny it. I was reminded of that when I saw the new-fangled movie two years ago. By the way, I hope you didn’t mind that I actually put the cut in where you could watch Conway’s video right on your post here. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is perfect Mark. My intention was that the reader could listen to the song as they read the post – sort of background, a play in the “virgin” in the title – a brand new experience.

        Like

    • Thank you very much Van for dropping by and leaving a comment. Yeah, the big thing with trucker’s food is that the driver’s pay for it. You see many truck drivers drive company trucks and they eat where the food is best. When they stop, they are more likely to fuel as well on the company dime. So, if a truck stop serves good food at good prices, they could get a driver to stop for, say a $10. club sandwich and while he is stopped he will put in $200 worth of fuel. The food is the draw and the fuel is the pay off. That’s why the food is usually so good.

      Thanks so much for rolling by with a comment. Please come again.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment Willow. Yes, it is a challenge when you are new – there are a number of new drivers killed every year before they can get used to it. The trick is learning to work with the inertia of the load and add to it, subtract from it, and make changes far in advance of necessary stops, turns, etc. – basically ride the monster. That was 45 tons – 90,000 pounds. Much later in my career, I drove B-trains that weighed in at 140,000 pounds (70 tons) and that was an order of magnitude more challenging – riding those puppies took a lot of forward thinking – stopping had to be planned a long way in advance and every trick possible used for acceleration – i.e. starting onto highways on ramps that sloped downwards, running down hills to get a boost up the next hill, pacing stop lights so you arrived as they turned green, etc. Getting caught going slow at the bottom of a hill (say stopping for construction, etc) was death – it meant a long, slow climb in a low gear because even the 575 horse power engines we used could only add a small amount at a time to the inertia of 70 tons. It meant sniffing all your wheels (30 of them) when you stopped so you could catch a brake that was overheating before it malfunctioned.

      There is no way to “book” teach any of this- it all has to be felt as one rides the inertia. Survival depends on a steep learning curve. I survived, some don’t. 😀

      Thanks so much for dropping by Willow, I know it is challenging to find Wi Fi in your current situation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks CM! So glad you could drop by for a read and a comment. I’m working on making my writing more expressive, so I’m delighted that you felt like you were in the truck too – that was exactly what I wanted – to have my readers feel what I was feeling when it happened. I am honored that you came to visit and enjoyed the piece, Thanks so much for coming back each week.

      Like

  3. Your writing is certainly improving and your voice is getting stronger, Paul. I commend you for continuing to practice the craft. I’m a die-hard writer, and I know there’s always room for improvement. It gets me right in the heart when people write with no dedication to bettering their abilities.
    You took me on quite a journey with this one. And now I kind of want a fish sandwich. 😉 I love that the truck was orange. Did you keep it that color? That’s my favorite color. It’s so bright and cheerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mel! Sorry it took so long to get back to you – this message seems to have appeared mysteriously. Ha! Thanks so much for the compliment – much appreciated. As to the truck – yep it stayed orange – I was too poor to change it, just starting out. To be honest I rather liked it too. The funniest thing was that when I ran into the Bronx and Harlem the truck got a lot of attention for the color. I made some good friends because people would come up to me and compliment the color. I had my CB handle – Phantom – painted on the bug deflector on the hood and that attracted some attention as well. Ahhh, the memories – they all come flooding back. I loved that old truck and man would it boogie. It only had a 375 HP Caterpillar engine when most were running 400 HP, but that design was very powerful and it could blow by anyone loaded similar. I had the transmission removed and the gearing reversed in the top gear – that was possible with the older transmissions and gave the transmission what the lads called a “homemade overdrive” or an “XO” . Would it ever scoot. The big problem with it was the fuel mileage was terrible – about 4.5 miles per gallon – and it ate tires from driving too fast. Ha! I learned to slow down – never having had that kind of power before, I had to get used to it. I wrecked it in a head on collision about 2 years after the time of this story – a car crossed the center line and hit me on a turn at night in Newfoundland. Killed the other driver. Sigh.

      Anyway, thanks so much for the read and comment Mel – I am honored.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds like it was a great truck with some great stories. I hope you get some time to write some of them. Sorry it had such a tragic end.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow!! Great post. I have always wondered what it would like to be a trucker. I saw one Highway 99 going towards Bakersfield the other day that was driving like he was in a hotrod. He was kind of scary, but he sure did have some driving skills. He must have had an empty trailer to be able to move like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi SD! Thanks so much for dropping by for a visit. Yep, when you’re used to handling them loaded, empty feels like a race car. We used to do some pretty impressive maneuvering empty. The big problem with fancy stuff is that it is not defensive – it depends on everyone else staying out of the way and that seldom occurs. Fun on a track but not so smart on the road. Mine would do 105 mph empty after I got it set up the way I wanted it (changed transmissions to a 14 speed Spicer airshift double over). Thanks so much for the visit and compliment SD. Please drop by again.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How much easier would your world have been with GPS at your side? Too little, too late, I’m afraid. Another fine peek inside the cab. I couldn’t have done it, brother. Don’t know how you did. A friend of mine just flipped his concrete mixer on its side. In the photo he sent, it looked like a wounded animal with it’s legs sticking out. No injuries.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Mark! Thanks so much for rolling in for a visit. It is such a pleasure to see you here. Yeah, cement mixers are very top heavy. Our loads varied in stability – but most had a lower center of gravity than a cement mixer. Those guys have it hard with an unstable load and then they are expected to drive on and unload on very uneven ground, even on hillsides and steep grades. They do roll over nicely – meaning the extended drum usually keeps the cab from crushing and injuring the driver. We hauled some unstable stuff, like swinging beef, that was challenging- but not as bad as cement. On the flipside, I once hauled a 45′ X 8′ by 2 inch thick piece of solid steel – weighed 72,000 pounds and the whole load was only 2 inches high on the flatbed. Bwahahaha! Talk about something that cornered amazing – better than a sports car. I just had to keep the chains tight.

      Yep, GPS would have been nice. But I was doing long haul, so I had a minimum of navigating in cities. For the local guys GPS is a God-send. The technologies have changed so much now with satellite tracking, GPS, cell phones, system monitoring of everything from axle weights to tire pressures to real time fuel consumption.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Mark. Please drop by again. .

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, thank goodness some coffee’s left. Whew.
    What a wild wheelin’ tale.Frozen fish would be much different than loads of loaves. (No way was that truck ever ugly – besides having a bit of toughness on the truck probably helped ease in the new owner. (And you had music to get you started in the right direction). This could be the opening to a book, Paul. Great casual style that pulls the reader right along ( and gives a bit of education,too)
    Don’t park to ling – waiting for the next load and road!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phil! Of course there’s hot coffee for you. And we got some fresh cakes and sweets in this morning too – help yourself. Thanks so much for loading up a comment Phil – I am honored. **BOWS** What you say is true: frozen fish is a whole different kettle of fish than bread. A full load of bread wouldn’t be more than 5 tons or so – mostly the racks. When you see the outside of the truck and it looks similar , it doesn’t occur that the inertia would make such a huge difference. It is day and night- let me tell you.

      Thanks so much for the compliment on the style – I’ve been working on it using the feedback i got on the Gramps post. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it. It feels right – a little closer to the voice inside.
      thank you so much again for dropping by – I really appreciate it Phil. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Such a gracious host, too. Curious about the bread racks – do they anchor to the truck or each other? Probably have little wheel brakes, but bound to shift? Not like heavy frozen fish crate shift, but still. Besides rack rattle. I hate rattles when driving. (And those “soft” sided 18 wheelers freak me out – what if the stuff decided to shift sideways…shiver and they want to make the truck able to be even longer here. Trucks may not be an issue, but foolish car drivers not paying attention are)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Phil: There were couple of racking systems for bread Phil. The most common one now uses injection molded plastic trays, each of which holds either 9 or 10 loaves. They have fold-down wire metal arms that snap up to allow loaded trays to be stacked on top of each other. They are typically piled 14 or 15 high and called a “stack”. There are dollies that are put under each stack for moving them in stores or on docks. Typically transports are loaded by using a two wheeled lift to pickup the stack and set it in place in the trailer. A trailer holds 4 stacks across and about 25 deep – so about 100 stacks or 14,000 loaves of bread. And you are right – it is a special skill to haul that without damaging the bread. Hitting bumps hard sends the trays airborne and they will fall on one side,. crushing the bread. Braking too had will cause the stacks to overlap forward and upset or crush. And the holy grail of all messes can be created by braking on a hard bump- as the trays are airborne they slide forward inside the trays of the next stack. A bad driver can destroy 3 or 4 thousand loaves in one trip. The big trick with hauling bread is that it is almost always done on a scheduled run – which means the driver has the opportunity to learn every bump and turn and stop. In the spring when the frost is heaving the road, the bumps will migrate from day to day and you have to learn the pattern.

        Yeah, longer trucks reduce the emissions per pound and increase efficiency. We have them here in different configurations. On the major highways it is allowed to pull two 53 foot trailers with one tractor – called an “LCV”, long combination vehicle. They are assembled and disassembled in marshaling yards just off the highway ramps – they are not permitted on regular roads. We do use “B-trains” or “super B’s” (I can see your brain buzzing now — Ha!) that are typically a 32 and a 28 foot trailers hooked behind one tractor. They are permitted on all roads and are heavy – allowed up to 140,000 pounds carried on 30 wheels. I drove one hauling gas for years Here is a picture:

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  7. Goodness, it sounds like driving that heavy “monster” would land you sideways over the side of a cliff, but I guess it didn’t, or you wouldn’t be on WordPress in 2015. I can only imagine how many close calls you’ve had. I wouldn’t drive my sedan in one inch of snow, much less a semi. And decaf coffee for me please–it’s nearly 3pm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kerbey! Awesome to see you here visiting. One decaf coming up! Thank you so much for dropping by. You know once you get used to the huge inertia to a heavy load, it becomes second nature and you can add to the speed or subtract from it in increments that keep you and others safe. One of the keys is to allow lots of space to the vehicle ahead so you have time to change speed if needed. Once you get into the swing of it and it comes natural and can be fun. You get a good run at a hill and you can back right off the fuel and the inertia will carry you right over the hill. It’s kind of like stored energy that you are always working with – adding or subtracting. We generally kept brakes in excellent working order so it was possible to stop fairly quickly if needed and I have had to lock up the wheels upon rare occasions when someone came through a stop sign in front or some such foolishness – it has to be done very aggressively and without any concern for it will often damage the equipment to stop like that. When I had my own I got very good at anticipating stops or slow downs, etc and I could get 250,000 miles from a set of tractor brakes (about 2 years) or the equivalent of 9 times around Earth. Careless city driving by a novice could wear out a set of brakes in 20,000 miles.

      Driving a heavy load becomes much like dancing – there is a rhythm and a beat and you can learn to move smoothly and in tandem with the truck by understanding and anticipating its next action. Some dances are very complex, like mountain driving, constantly changing demands, and some dances are simple repetitions like driving the plains. It gets to be fun once you get the rhythm Kerbey. 😀 You get so wrapped up that it feels like you stretch out and inhabit the truck from bumper to bumper – you “become” one with the truck. I can recall hopping out at sunrise one summer morning to grab a Coke after driving all night, turning and seeing the size of the truck and being thunderstruck at how huge it was. When you are apart of it you know exactly where everything is but the comparisons are all with other vehicles and road sizes,etc – and not human to truck.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and unloading a comment Kerbey. Please drop by again. 😀

      Like

      • As I read through halfway, I thought “this sounds like dancing” and lo and behold, then you wrote the same thing! I try to avoid the interstate, but when we make our Kansas to Texas drives, I can’t tell you how many times I witness sportscars jumping in front of trucks, and I wonder WTH are they thinking? Do they have a deathwish? I get so riled up. I like the image of the sunrise and the Coke (you know I love Coke). It must be a sense of self-satisfaction to look at that beast and know you are the (hopefully capable and alert and caffeinated) captain. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s true Kerbey, it is very satisfying -actually more than that. It’s almost as if it is fulfilling some unwritten human need to expand yourself into something larger, be it a cause or a passion or a vehicle. It’s like we’re scalable and can (and have need to) become that which is greater than ourselves. – either literally or figuratively. And the bigger the expansion and the greater the detail , the more “right”: and fulfilling it is. I used to love backing B-trains around obstacles and into very tight places (for unloading purposes) – the finer the control of the expansion, the greater the sense of fulfillment. And it becomes a part of the dance on the road to fit into the traffic and safely navigate even when others are playing poorly in the sand box. The choreography can be quite beautiful by times. Anyway, you got it Kerbey – it is an art form as much as a science. 😀

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  8. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee – August 23/2015 | willowdot21

  9. Hey Paul! Always love your stories and the way you tell them!! BTW – my mother loved Conway Twitty & I was made to endure him often LOL 😉 Where else you posting these days besides NoBlog, CM, and WillowDot? I haven’t been on near as much as I’d like & you can be hard to keep up with 😉

    Hi Mark!!

    Hope this finds everyone doing well!

    Like

  10. Hey Sadie! Awesome to have you drop by – I am honored. Thank you so much for the compliment and I am pleased that you enjoyed the story. The beat of Conway seems to go well with trucking. I’d actually never listened much until I got my first truck. The ballad style also fits well with trucking. You’ve pretty much got my regular haunts down pat. I’m, putting together something for Mama Mick Terry for next month and I really have to do something for Cordelia’s Mom – it’s been so long I hope she hasn’t disowned me. 🙂

    Such a pleasure to see you out and about Sadie – How are you doing? I hope everything is OK.

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