By Steve C. Friery
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.