Mission with Special Permission
Professional truck driver Rod Stanley tests his driving skills on the winding mountain roads of western Canada.
It’s an overcast morning in Stewart, British Columbia. Clouds lie heavily over the tops of the mountains that surround the newly built port, located at the far end of a deep inlet near the border with Alaska. Large bulk carriers come here from around the world with heavy loads to be transported hundreds of miles inland. On the loading dock, where rain has made the ground muddy, professional truck driver Rod Stanley and his co-workers battle to load a 146,000 pound process unit onto a trailer for transport to Redwater, Alberta, nearly 1,000 miles from Stewart. Their first attempt fails when the load becomes too heavy on the rear axles, and after thinking for a while, they decide to turn the process unit in the opposite direction and let the truck – a Volvo VNX with a Volvo D16 engine (600 hp) and I-Shift for Severe Duty transmission – take a larger share of the weight. This time it works better. “Now we just need to examine the weight distribution on each axle, and if it’s right, then we’re ready to drive,” Stanley says. However, he and his co-workers must first wait until the evening. The roads between Stewart in British Columbia and the border with the neighboring province of Alberta are narrow and winding. This first part of the 932 mile-long haul that Stanley's load will travel also involves negotiating several bridges that are not built for heavy transport. Driving here has required both investigative engineering and special permission from the provincial authorities. In order not to jeopardize the safety of other motorists, the driving permit through British Columbia is only valid at night and on roads that are blocked off from other traffic. As a result, it has already become pitch black and rather desolate outside when Stanley and his co-workers drive out of Stewart.
“I’ve done the lonely part of trucking during my first years as a driver – days and days without seeing anybody I knew. I like this kind of work more because there are so many people involved as a team.”
Rod Stanley, professional truck driver
“Traveling at night has some drawbacks. Everything you do in the daylight is so much easier when you are able to see what you are doing – not fixing things in the night with a flashlight. I’d hate to think about what would happen if we got a flat tire out here in the dark,” Stanley says. Another challenge of driving at night in this part of Canada is that the forests that line both sides of the road are full of bears and other wild animals. Although Stanley has escort vehicles both in front and behind him, he must be extremely attentive and always ready to slow down sharply or to maneuver around an obstacle. “I’ve been driving in the North Country for most of my life, and I really love it. Yet it has always been a concern with the wildlife, since it would only take a heartbeat for something to run in front of you. I had an animal jump out in front of me last winter when driving by myself. It died, so a guy is always concerned. But so far I’ve been lucky here in Stewart.” Stanley has worked as a professional truck driver for forty years, the last eighteen as an employee of Mammoet, a global heavy lift and transport company specializing in heavy loads. Over the years, he has hauled many loads that weighed over 1,000,000 pounds, so the weight of the process unit he is carrying may not seem as such a big deal. However, Stanley believes that the road conditions in British Columbia make the load size, weight and width a challenge for all involved. “No two jobs are the same. That’s something I’ve learned, and it still keeps my interest alive after all these years. I also like the teamwork and all the logistics and planning that has to go into it,” he says. “I’ve done the lonely part of trucking during my first years as a driver – days and days without seeing anybody I knew. I like this kind of work more because there are so many people involved as a team, and we’ve all become very good friends with one another. I’ve gotten used to it and would find it hard to go back to being on my own again.”
On the loading dock, professional truck driver Rod Stanley and his co-workers are getting ready to examine the load’s weight distribution on each axle.
This particular trip is extra special for Stanley and his co-workers because it is the first time that he is test-driving a Volvo truck. Mammoet, the company that he and his co-workers are working for, has safety as one of its core values – just like Volvo Trucks – and having become accustomed to the new truck, Stanley is pleasantly surprised. “It’s a really nice truck. It has enough torque and horsepower, and it’s smooth, comfortable and roomy – everything that a driver wants. The comfort, especially, is beyond what I usually drive. I’ve also noticed that all the switches are within arm’s reach, so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. When you get used to the truck, it’s very safe to drive, which is our main priority out here,” he says. During the first two nights, Stanley and his co-workers drive between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next morning. The third shift starts later, at midnight, because when the transport has crossed the border to Alberta, the permit is only valid for driving during the day. Stanley explains that one of the biggest challenges of this job is the transition between driving at night and during the day. The body becomes confused, and it is therefore difficult to get enough sleep between shifts, even though there is plenty of time for rest. To stay awake during the night shifts, Stanley says he often enjoys the fresh air, drinks soda and water, and listens to classic rock like Led Zeppelin on the radio. He also thinks about his two children and his granddaughters and about the things they will do together once he gets back home. After leaving the load in Redwater, he will have a week’s vacation, heading straight back to his home in Edmonton to take his family out camping for a week.
“Traveling at night has some drawbacks. I’d hate to think about what would happen if we got a flat tire out here in the dark.”
Rod Stanley, professional truck driver
The Nass River bridge is the narrowest of the 55 bridges on the route through British Columbia. Here, Stanley has to have assistance from his supervisor, who walks in front of the truck and guides him so that he doesn’t hit the railings.
“Spending time with my family when I’m off work is pretty much what I live for. I love my children to death, and my grandchildren are just as close to my heart. I’m looking forward to seeing them grow when I retire in a few years, since I missed a lot of that part when my own children grew up being out on the road for so long. Back then, we didn’t have mobile phones or phone service of any kind out here, so you didn’t talk to your family for a week or so while working. With the technology we have nowadays, it’s much easier to be a trucker.” Near the border between British Columbia and Alberta, Stanley and his truck are driving through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The light of the dawn makes him feel refreshed despite fatigue from the night driving and, as always, he is excited about driving through Jasper National Park. ¬is is one of the most beautiful places in all of Canada.“It is a sight to see the trees changing color, all the crystal clear, green water and the reflections in it when the sun is coming up through the clouds. It is always a spectacular view, with all the wildlife that goes with it – elks, bears, goats, sheep. When I’m driving through here, I’m thinking about how lucky I am to be able to get paid to travel on such roads, while other people have to take time off their work to come and see it. It’s definitely one of the best privileges of being a truck driver.”
After sunrise on his third night shift, Stanley travels through Jasper National Park in the province of Alberta, a place considered one of the most beautiful in Canada.