My last driving job was with a relatively large national company. As a part-timer, I drove whatever was available, usually while the assigned drivers were on their days off. But my favourite was old 225 - a cast-off from the head office “back East” and reputedly the oldest highway tractor in the entire fleet. An old Kenworth with a Cat engine, she was used as a spare and was not cluttered with other people’s stuff; she was reliable as long as you did not push her too hard up the hills and felt as comfortable as an old pair of slippers. So what if the fridge door occasionally fell off when you hit a pothole. I always asked for 225 and was heartbroken when the inevitable happened, and she was gone -the fleet was being replaced with shiny new tractors, all automatics.
I must admit that, in the city, they made life easier and allowed one to concentrate on traffic or not getting lost and the disc brakes were great!
But on a hilly highway, the beast had to be tamed with manual override, or you ended up feeling like a noddy dog ornament from the constant automatic shifting.
I soon discovered that besides apparently getting better mileage, these new units had some amazing quirks!
A big conference was being held at Whistler, and I was tasked to deliver a trailer filled with furniture to the ski resort, drop the trailer and bobtail back to Vancouver and do it again. My first trip was great - the brand new day cab had that new car smell, traffic was light, and the scenery great except for the rain that was starting to get very heavy. I dropped the trailer and headed south through the village. As I braked for the first red light, water started pouring in through the top of both doors. The same thing happened as I went down the first steep hill, of which there are many.
“Son of a ...” I hollered as I pulled over, firmly convinced that someone at the factory forgot to install the door seals. But no, all looked in order. The rain continued all day, as did the soaking every time I bobtailed. I amused myself remembering the old joke: What’s the difference between a certain truck brand (which I just happened to be driving today) and a religious group of door knockers? Answer: you can always close the door on the latter.
I arrived back at the terminal looking like a poster boy for adult incontinence products. My briefcase, which was on the passenger seat, did not fare any better.
“That’s weird!” said the boss man and went back to his paperwork.
But the real domain of the gremlins was the transmission. It was rush hour, and I was stopped at a red light on Boundary Road at Grandview Highway, one of the steepest hills on Vancouver’s truck routes. But today, it did not matter. I had an automatic! My smugness was short-lived when I glanced at the air pressure gauge, which was acting like an airliner altimeter on a particularly scary episode of Mayday! Lightning-fast thinking is not my forte, but the impending wrath of the motoring public helped my concentration immensely. I pulled the trailer brakes, put the gear in neutral and revved her up to 2,000. Slowly the needle started moving in the right direction, and we were ready to launch by the time the light turned green. I stopped on level ground and checked for leaks but was met with total silence and the truck was on its best behaviour after that. I had a pretty good idea who the culprit was...
It turns out I was lucky that time. Often, the gearbox ignored the not unreasonable request to go into gear - any gear. I came to work one very busy Friday afternoon, ready to head to Calgary. The tractor was already hooked up to the trailer, but the pre-trip quickly established that the rig would not move in any direction, apparently due to low air in the transmission. After idling forever, she finally moved forward, but nothing I did would bring the reverse back to life. “ I don’t have anything else,” snapped the overworked head dispatcher. “ You can go to Calgary, or you can go home!”
Well, the rig was fortunately pointed towards the gate, so what the heck!
When I got to the Husky in Sicamous, I parked on the access road for an easy getaway in the morning.
Except when I awoke in the dawn’s early light, I was completely surrounded by double-parked trucks, and backing up was the only way out. Hoping that the gremlins were still asleep, I crossed my fingers and gently selected “R”... and much to my relief, it worked!
Retired now, I often pass trucks that have seen better days, hauling shipping containers to Delta Port. I always look for old 225 - she just may be out there still, working her heart out.