Armand’s Secret

Spring has busted out in the Northeast of the continent we share, and I know the warmth and sunshine have put me in the mood for this week’s edition from our guest columnist. From no-longer-frosty Canada comes the Sunday Cuppa of Paul Curran.

Paul Curran, our esteemed writer.

Paul Curran, our esteemed writer.

Arm’s B-Train Fuel Tanker
Armand's Secret

This week I’d like to tell you a short story about a character called Armand who was a colleague of mine for many years and who could be quite an enigma. Here’s an account of trying to discover his secrets. Please settle in with a cuppa of your favorite beverage and a sweet, if you so desire.

Armand (called Arm) looked so average and was so laid back that he should have been a spy. He could walk anywhere and no one would even notice him – unless you knew who he was and then you paid very careful attention. At about 5-foot-7, thin with dark hair and always a 5 o’clock shadow, he moved with a looseness that appeared careless but really concealed a sinewy strength. He was the best, most efficient, incident-free tanker driver that we had. As the safety manager, he never ceased to amaze me. We could throw anything at him, and it would be done quickly and safely. One day when Arm had once again accomplished the impossible, I asked him how it was that he had become the most efficient driver in the fleet. He just grinned and told me his secret: “First I discover all the wrong ways to do each task and then what is left has to be the best way to do it.”

That was another of Arm’s attributes – he had a very wry smile that slowly curled up the left corner of his mouth and his eyes sparkled with humor. He loved to tell stories about himself that made him look silly. As the Safety Manager, I was tasked with doing a ride-along with each driver about once a year or so to make sure they hadn’t acquired any bad habits. Normally I would just pick a day when the driver was staying in the city, but wanting a break one day, I chose to go with Arm to Montreal, hauling gas with two drops from Ottawa on the way down and three drops from Montreal on the way back. Arm’s first trick was starting before anyone else in the morning – 4 a.m. The shift started at 6 a.m., but his truck was available, and so we were loaded and leaving Ottawa by 4:40 – no waiting for any other trucks. When Arm loaded he seldom moved unless he had tools or hoses in both hands. And every move maximized every step he took. It was like watching a choreographed dance – elegant.

So we delivered our two stops on the way to Montreal before either even opened – no cars in the way. When Arm backed the two trailers into each gas station, he had made a note previously exactly where his eye lined up with a landmark out his driver’s side window, so he parked perfectly with the unloading valves pointing right at the delivery pipes. Again, every step was thought through and every motion perfectly economical while achieving the task. About 9 a.m. we were rolling into the private distribution center in Montreal – just when most other drivers were finishing their first drops.

Gas Loading Rack Interior(Colors represent products on each arm)

The check-in and weigh-in were complex here, but Arm whizzed through with no pause. We pulled into the loading rack, and the meters to control the loading were antiquated – one button controlled five digits for volume per compartment, and a pause would switch digits (the meter started at 99999 and pressing the button quickly rolled the first 9 back to either 1 or 0 – then a pause and the meter switched to the second 9 which then had to be reduced to the desired number and so on). This was a very difficult system to operate, and Arm made no errors – getting it programmed the first try, and on each subsequent compartment. As we loaded, he told stories of loading here years ago and watching new drivers accidentally overflow the top of the trailer or short their loading. And, I noted, each time Arm learned something. It was becoming clear why he was so efficient. Every delivery and every mistake, his and everyone else’s, taught him something.

Uphill Multilane in Montreal

So we left the Montreal terminal and took Avenue George V back towards Rue Sherbrooke E. This was an uphill pull on a four-lane city street and, at a loaded weight of 140,000 pounds, we were quite slow. As we crept along Arm began to laugh and he told the following story. Apparently when he was new to fuel hauling, one of his first loads was on a hot summer day from this very terminal. The local teenagers had not missed the fact that huge fuel tankers were slowly groaning their way up the hill. Unbeknownst to Arm, a group of local kids had acquired a pail full of gasoline. On this hot day when the pavement glistened, the teens poured about five gallons of gas down the centerline between the right and left lanes on the Avenue. As Arm passed by the unnoticeable line of gasoline, one of the teens darted out behind the tanker and lit the gas on the road on fire. Arm looked out his driver’s side mirror and all he saw was a line of flames racing up the road behind him and quickly catching up to his tanker with 58,000 liters of gasoline aboard (about 15,000 U.S. gallons). His heart jumped up into his throat, and he assumed he had done something wrong and had only seconds left to live before exiting in a large explosion. That thought had just coalesced when the flames ran out of fuel and went out. Arm pulled over to the side of the road and once he had caught his breath and stopped shaking, he walked back to the area of the flames and spotted a number of teens running away through the park. He also discovered the empty pail with gas residue and upon inspection could see where the gas had been spread on the road. He chuckled as he recounted his story.

Would you like another cuppa? Perhaps a sweet as our story unfolds?

And so the rest of the trip progressed, Arm continuing to amaze me with the efficiencies he had discovered and the stories he told. He got very high marks on his ride-along when I finished the paperwork at the end of the day. We parted ways at the shop and as time went by, my job of Safety Manager became more and more demanding and stressful. About a year later it all came to a head when I put a piece of equipment out of service because of needed repairs, and the company owners threatened my job if I didn’t release the equipment. I refused because it was dangerous by any measurement – pieces of the frame were literally rusted away leaving a very weak structure that could put the truck off the road at any time. They were very angry but backed off and had it fixed. I resigned as safety manager citing incompatibility with management and requested a transfer to a driver position. They obliged and I asked that my first run be with a seasoned driver to refresh my skills. Lo and behold, Arm was doing one of two loads into northern Ontario and dispatch gave me the other load. And so it came to be a year after the Montreal trip that I was trucking once again with Arm as my trainer.

Husky Truck Stop Hwy 400

Our trip went well, and I discovered muscles that I had forgotten pushing a pencil. The next morning empty and having driven most of the night, we pulled off Hwy 400 S, at the Husky north of Toronto for breakfast. We had been hearing on the CB for many miles that the 400 was closed by a major accident just south of where we now sipped coffee. I had brought a map into the restaurant so Arm and I could look at all the options for skirting the accident which was said to be serious enough to keep the road closed for the rest of the day. The only detour we could find would take us 3 hours out of our way.

Arm looked at me with an expression that was inscrutable, as if weighing something. Then he asked; “You’re not doing the safety manager’s job any more, are you?” I told him I was finished with that and explained why. He nodded and asked if I objected to breaking a few laws, guaranteeing we wouldn’t get caught. I just shrugged – I had had a reputation as a bad boy years ago. Arm took that as agreement and he grinned at me as he stood from the table. Apparently I was about to get the down and dirty as to some of Arm’s hidden secrets. “OK then. Just follow me and stay off the CB, we don’t want anyone knowing what we are doing.” At that we got into our trucks and I followed him from the parking lot which was jammed with waiting trucks stranded.

Oh-Oh

We went down one exit on the 400 and got off on a secondary road that was paved but had no shoulders. We went west for about two miles, and then Arm signaled a left turn where I didn’t see a road. Remember now, we were driving 80-foot long tankers – two trailers weighing 45,000 pounds (about 22 tons) empty. I followed and we turned onto a farm service road that had not been marked on the map – signs indicating 10 tons maximum. It felt like we were driving through the fields as we sailed up and down rolling hills with crops on both sides. After about 10 minutes Arm put on his left signal again and slowed. He tapped his brake lights to signal beware and I stopped and watched as he negotiated a sharp turn onto a very narrow dirt road. It required serious maneuvering and the turn was not finished when the road became an old moss-covered stone bridge that was marked “Weight Limit 6 Tons.” Dear Lord, please keep me safe. I followed, repeating the intricate maneuvers necessary to make it onto the bridge as I watched Arm exit the stone roadway. My window was down, and I could hear snapping and cracking as I inched across.

Loading Racks

Finally clear of the old bridge, we drove carefully along a single-lane dirt road with tree branches scraping both sides of the tankers. The road twisted and turned and after about 15 minutes it widened and started across fields once again. Then we passed a fruit processing plant and slowed as we turned onto a highway ramp entering the 400. There were no other vehicles on this major route – just us, because above us the road was closed. I got my bearings and found that we had traveled about 30 miles south and well below the accident. We were now only a few minutes from the Toronto fuel distribution center where we would reload and go our separate ways. Now I finally knew the dark side of Arm’s secrets and how sometimes he seemed to do the impossible. We were the only trucks in our fleet that got loaded that day and dispatch would forever wonder why.

That’s about all we have room for this week folks, 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.

Coffee Makes the Wheels Go Around

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30 thoughts on “Armand’s Secret

    • Thanks so much for dropping by for a read and comment SD. I am honored. You are right, Arm was endlessly fascinating and I trucked with him whenever I got an opportunity. He was quiet and in a crowd would say nothing,but one on one he would tell some astounding stories and there was no doubt they were real. He was consistently in the highest revenue producers and I can’t recall a single accident or claim.

      Thanks again for the visit SD – please drop by again.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well Paul has Arm-retired???I’ll take that cuppa with cream this a.m. no sweets though. When I drive the Interstates from Florida to Georgia (Northbound) it is non stop trucks-semi-double trailers-tankers-you name it. Remembering that our goods are being transported back and forth (North and South) daily; I never mess with the truckers. If it is nighttime or early, early a.m. driving and they pass me (I am doing 80-85 mph already?). I always flash my high beams quickly to indicate clear come on over. 9- out of 10 truckers signal or reciprocate the acknowledgement. I have seen some stupid drivers in cars messing with these monster trucks and think let them go on and stop messing with them. Did you fine auto drivers courteous or Stupid the majority of the time? Brewing a fresh pot oh good I’ll be back. Gatorette.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your fresh coffee is ready Gatorette! I suspect Arm is still driving – he was a bit younger than I was. The biggest problem with cars was always that the drivers didn’t understand how a truck moved, turned and distances, to stop. Nor did they understand what a driver could see or not. For instance they would assume that a truck driver could see them if they were behind the truck – never happen. It was very very rare that I encountered a car driver who had attitude – it was inevitably lack of understanding. The most negative term I could use would be thoughtless. I always found that if I was careful to move in such a way that it was clear what I intended to do, most got the message.

      The high beams signal is a good idea, it clearly communicates to the trucker that you acknowledge his presence and wish to aid in his decisions while keeping yourself safe. Most appreciate that. Here in Ontario commercial vehicles are locked out at 110 km/hr – which is about 70 mph. That said, we typically allow heavier and longer trucks than the US does. Part of the reason for that is because it is so far between towns here and transports need to carry as much as is reasonably possible.

      Thanks so much for the visit and I’m glad you enjoyed the story this week. Please drop by again anytime. Have a great day!

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      • Oh I see-yes I’ll have that second cuppa with cream-Thank u. I was wondering about Tandem trucks in Canada-In The US parcel carrying are double trailers like the UPS trucks. Occasionally US Mail. I am fascinated with the Ice Road Truckers in Alaska and read Hugh’s book (top hauler/income maker-for Ice Road trucking). Some terrible working conditions like 60 or minus 80 Degrees F-desolate stretches of Ice Roads. They definitely earn their money! Anyway friend, enjoy your day…See you next week! Gatorette

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks very much Mark for the opportunity to guest post here. Let me get you a cuppa while you listen to today’s story. I hope this week brings you and your family and readers health and prosperity.

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    • Great to have you visit Beth. Thank you for dropping by. yes, Arm was a man with many secrets – he was endlessly interesting to chat with. Hope this week brings you health and happiness.

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  3. You always keep your eyes open, with that direct connection to your analytical center, Paul. That’s what makes you so darn interesting. And entertaining. Thanks for sharing the intriguing details of Armand’s Way here today, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mark. Indeed, Armand’s Way would be a good title as well. He is a fascinating man – a virtual learning machine, every single action or reaction or story added to Arm’s understanding of the world.

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  4. After a morning of household chores, shopping and cooking while listening to people’s stories on the MOTH radio, it is good to sit down after a light lunch and catch up on what’s going on in the world of blogging. Thank’s Paul for your story (enjoyed with a glass of wine and a bowl of crisps – I believe you new-worlders call them chips), and thanks for sharing your blog space, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good day Radicalrambler. Thanks so much for dropping by for a read and a comment. Great to see a reader from the continent. I am honored. I’m glad you enjoyed the story and I hope you come back for more. Mark is wonderful host and is very kind to allow me to post on his site. I hope the rest of your day goes well and that this week brings health and prosperity.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That must be some strong coffee to warrant a 1203 hazard sign, there Paul!

    I do love your trucking stories, although I cringed at the bridge — ouch! But like Cheryl, I am pretty nice to truck drivers. they’re bringing me stuff, and it is their job to be on the road — I will keep out of their way as much as possible.

    Enjoy your Sunday Paul, and thanks Mark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for dropping by Elyse. Glad to hear you enjoyed the story. The weight limit sign was not as bad as it looks. The bridge looked almost identical to the picture i found, except it was much shorter. That meant that the whole truck was never on the bridge at once. That was of no difference to the dept of highways, but I figured it kept the stress on the bridge much lower.

      I’m impressed that you recognize the UN code for gasoline – 1203. It is rare that anyone not involved in fuel transportation knows that. I chose that picture of the coffee truck as it fit the trucking/coffee theme of the post. That is an American based Truck stop company – Pilot – who has their own tankers and haul their own fuel. They use the rear of their tankers for their advertising. The big truck stops tend to do that. It would be uncommon to see a Pilot tanker placarded 1203 as the vast majority of their sales and hence loads would be diesel – 1202. That said, if he had even one compartment of gas in a diesel load, the rule is that it gets identified as the most flammable – which would be 1203.

      Have a great weekend Elyse!

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    • Thanks so much for dropping by CM. My guess is that the teens were surprised as well. Pranks like that often seem much better intellectually than they actually turn out to be in real life. Contrary to general belief, watching Yosemite Sam set Bugs’ burrow on fire with gas does not prepare one for setting gas on fire as it runs down a public road. Ha! We used to train regularly by actually putting out real gas fires started and controlled by fire training officials. It is a very deep and primordial reaction when the flames are shooting up – hard to prepare for that unless one trains regularly. I had no idea I even had amygdalae until fire lit them up like Christmas trees. Ha!

      thanks so much for the visit CM.I hope all is progressing well with you and yours (house hunting, wrist healing, etc).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ha! I love this, Paul. I know exactly what you mean about the spies, they can be so elegant in the way they move, so silent and in the background, you wonder what they’re up to. They make us think, “You’re not quite one of us are you? You must be a secret agent or something?” 🙂

    Where I live we have many little bridges and back roads, some a hundred years old. I always hold my breath driving over them. I can’t imagine driving a truck across them, but a bit of risk sure does sound like fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi IB! Thanks so much for dropping by.for a read and comment. You know, I wrote about Arm as I truly saw him (except for a name change – and he was french with the same number of letters in his name and a three letter nickname – and that truck is one of 4 identical sisters, of which one is driven by Arm – no way to tell them apart without looking at the serial number or unit number). And knowing what he did he really did strike me as someone who marched to the beat of a different drum – always getting everything done and then some, but never for the reasons we assumed. And you know it hadn’t even occurred to me that he was one of a group – and now that you mention it , I can see it clearly. In fact I’ve been accused of belonging to the FBI and the CIA and of being a professor and a radio personality and minister. I may be a spy too – OMG! Bwahaha! That reminds me of an hilarious story – I gotta tell you. When I worked for a major retailer in Ottawa as transportation manager,I had about 80 direct reports and one was an ex-special services military guy. Similar to your navy seals, His name was Frank and he was about 350 pounds, 6’6″ and not a bit of fat on him. I had only seen him angry once- and it was deserved – otherwise he was a huge teddy bear. He had bright orange hair and a full beard and when he laughed you could hear him from a long distance. Anyway he had a regular delivery in Hamilton – about 300 miles from Ottawa – and he arrived early one evening with the intention of parking in the locked compound and going for a beer. The store was in a really nasty part of town – as the company was wont to do in order to get low income customers with their value brand. So, Frank set out on foot to hunt down a beer and lo and behold he came upon an open bar. He walked in and sat at the bar, two stools down from a pair of women. As he sipped his beer,he looked around and realized that all the patrons were paired up with members of the same gender – and some of the men were showing an interest in him. Frank slid down the bar, settling himself on a stool next to the women. Turning to the closest he asked: “Excuse me are you lesbians?” The woman nodded and took a drink as she watched him. Frank then asked: “Does being a lesbian mean you like women?” Again came the nod. At which Frank replied in a loud voice: “I like women too! That means I must be a lesbian!”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great adventure, as usual, Paul!! Arm sounds a lot like my husband – doesn’t say much in a crowd. but one on one could amaze you . . . it pays to know the roads & the actual occasional limitations 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sadie! And thank you for dropping by for a read and comment. Much obliged. Arm had lived in that general area for years and he knew all the back roads – again, he learned from everything, amazing. Or as the Dalai Lama pointed out: Study and understand the rules so you know when to break them. Ha! My motto. Hey, I haven’t seen much from your blog lately, whatsup goirlfriend?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Arm’s secret is perfect. Sounds like a smart guy – and a hoot. (We have an Armand Bayou nature center /old homestead here…might be family? Cool place. http://www.abnc.org/ )
    Glad y’all made it over that bridge – must have been a few angels helping to carry that one across .
    (trying to catch up with reading…since it’s about to rain again – lots of clean up to do, so later than usual)

    Liked by 1 person

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