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Travels of a Trucker Make sure you ask questions!

November 21, 2011

Dispatchers make mistakes too! 

Trucking isn’t always about the trucker. There are many people at play in the life of a trucker. On one end you have the family at home saying goodbye as you head off on your trip. Then when you arrive at work you have the dispatcher. Arriving at the customer you have the shipper. Receiving the goods is the receiver. In between you have the coffee shop waitress, the store clerks, the fuel station personnel and all the commuters in between. So really we are not alone in this world as much as we think we are. Everyday we have to communicate with one another and we have to ask questions. If we don’t ask questions, things like this article demonstrates can happen.

The call

The call is placed. A driver, truck and triaxle trailer for Lime dust loading is required. The location is just North of Cache Creek on Highway 97 North and West down the 99 in a little spot called Pavilion, BC. The location is approximately 5 hours drive from Vancouver making it a full day of travel back and forth.

The scenario

Pavilion, BC nestled in the heart of the mountains is an idealistic setting for Limestone. Operated by a company called Graymont . It is isolated and in a remote section of land producing Limestone and Limestone by-products. Here my load pickup was Lime stone Kiln Dust or the leftover remains of Lime after it has been through the kiln. The product was to be delivered to a cement producing factory  for use in making Cement Powder.

The arrival

After an ideal drive during the Summer months traveling on Old Highway 1, I waste no time since I am empty and cruise through the Fraser Canyon with ease. In no time, I am at the Shipper’s door seeking my load. The Shipper is dispatched to come and get me through radio and he arrives. I explain to him that this is my first time to this plant since my previous escapades have been at the Graymont located in Exshaw, Alberta. He tells me I have to back up under the Kiln since they have switched to another Kiln and not using the main plant loading area. I think nothing of it and drive around to the backside of the plant that he is leading me too. I begin to look at the loading area and realize I am way to large to fit under the little spout they want me to load under. Not only that, I won’t even be able to get my trailer far enough back to load since it looks like something that was erected with scaffolding a long time ago.

I call the dispatcher after measuring the height of the trailer to confirm my suspicions. I am too high by at least 2 feet. At least a foot to clear the lip of the trailer then another foot for the lip of my manhole covers for the trailer spout to go into. The dispatcher actually begins to chastise me telling me he has never had a problem here before…that I must be wrong…there isn’t any difference on this trailer compared to others…and so on. I try to explain to him but he just won’t clue in. So I say we’ll try to work something out. By this time the Shipper is desperate. They need to get this Lime Dust out since it is filling up constantly and the Sales office already has this load sold. At this point, I am game for whatever they want to do. So a decision is made to dig the area out from under the Silo (this was not my idea).

The dig

I am in a union environment where other guy’s who have seniority cannot just jump into another person’s job and do his work. The problem is that everyone is busy doing something else and the guy who uses the backhoe is away. His brother is with me so he decides to do the digging for me. Everyone else it appears has gone to attend some meeting. He jumps in and I can sense he is a little worried. The foreman who is also with me doesn’t care. He is management so he just wants to see the job done and done right. Well, after a while, it;s lunch break. They’ve dug down a little ways, but not enough for me to get under yet. The guy in the backhoe comes down and it was then that he explained that he wasn’t supposed to be doing the backhoe, and he had to keep an eye out for his brother. So that got me worried also since I was there encouraging him to dig too! Well, lunch rolls by and he comes back. Still no sign of his brother who has attended yet another meeting so conveniently. By this time I have been there for 3 hours waiting and watching patiently. I am not worried since I am paid by the hour to wait, but it sure was boring and I was getting a little hungry. The guy continues digging the hole with the Foreman standing there with me directing him where to dig.

A few feet later and we have the correct depth.

A new problem emerges!

By the time the backhoe has the correct depth, we have a new problem. I see it now and I think to myself…these guys are supposed to be Engineers!!! I am by this time shaking my head inside my mind at the farce that is taking place in front of my eyes. I mean really??? This is what happened. The backhoe dug out the correct depth. The only problem was there were 2 concrete blocks which were there to help support the massive weight of the silo and it’s precious cargo hold of lime which sat on these massive blocks. The blocks themselves were a problem because as the loader dug deeper it had to uncover the blocks which now made the passage of getting under the silo too narrow! You see previously when I had made the attempts, I had been riding over the solid ground that was sitting on top of these blocks. Now that the blocks were exposed I would have had to go in between them which was by now impossible.

If you look at the top left portion of the picture you will see a portion of the massive concrete block holding the structure in place.

Now by this time I had to call the dispatcher again. Only…I let the foreman explain what was happening. He explained to the dispatcher who hadn’t quite understood me that the usual place they take the Lime Kiln dust from was not being used and they were using an old Kiln silo that was not prepped for large truck loading. In fact, it was usually used by their in house dump truck which sits lower and has an open bed for them to dispose of the material into and then they tarp it for driving to a disposal site within their property. It was not meant for larger tank loading vehicles like mine. So the dispatcher finally had it sunk in and he then made calls to Calgary where the Sales office I am sure had some explaining to do to my dispatcher. I mean really, this was not a small problem having to pay for a truck and trailer to travel 10 hours empty plus waiting time, fuel surcharges and the Cement factory expecting this load still had no load to receive. I can only imagine the red faced Salesman who had forgotten this small detail.

Ask Questions

As with anything that you are unsure about, you the driver have to ask questions. In this case, it was not my fault since not only would I have never known being my first time there, but the dispatcher who sent me there also did not know. It would have been easy for the dispatcher to say…same loading place? or has anything changed? Two easy questions may have averted this whole silly mess. In the end I went home empty laughing at the foolish mess. Seriously though, what if it had been my fault? What if I had grabbed a wrong trailer? These are questions we have to ask when we have no clear direction. Is this the correct trailer? Do I have the proper equipment? Is the paperwork right? Do I have my Hazmat endorsement? Do I need D.G. paperwork? Every time we pick up a load we should always be wary for the unexpected as what happened in my case. In this case, the shipper tried to rectify a problem without the Engineering knowledge to do so. The results could have been even more disastrous if the backhoe had actually moved the block or cracked it. The damage could then have been far worse and more costly. Fortunately, it was just a hole they could fill and pack back in this time. So driver’s, others reading this, don;t always expect everything to go smoothly. Always expect the unexpected.

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