B-Trains

Posted By Glen Millard : Glen was born in Saskatchewan. He has driven trucks for 50 years. On 2021-03-19 17:24:57

This story took place in approximately 1976 when I worked for a company that hauled all around Canada and U.S. There was an oil boom going on, and a lot of drilling mud and drilling chemicals were hauled from Malta, Montana and Greybull Wyoming up into Canada. We drove new International’s with Silver 92 Detroit engines, empty from Calgary to Malta pulling 45’ flat deck trailers. Then we would load up as heavy as the U.S. would allow and add extra bags in Calgary to take it North.

The company asked Fruehauf Trailer in Calgary if they could build a “B” train so they could haul twice as much and not have to stop in Calgary. Fruehauf, of course, were more than happy to oblige. In order to spec the trailers our company got a copy of the regulations from the states they were hauling through, and all the states said was to run a test trip once the trailers were built. The company now needed a volunteer, so they used the old tried and true army volunteer system and said to me, “Hey you, we have a special trip for you.” They gave me directions, the most important one being, “Stop at the Havre Montana scale house and ask them how many bags we could haul.”

I left Calgary with the new trailers and soon found that a B-train was a lot different to handle than any other trailer I had pulled, and I hadn’t even tried to back up yet. When I got to Havre, I asked the very nice scale lady how many bags could we haul and was there anything that we should know about B-train licenses? She dug through a pile of books and finally said we could carry 900 bags for the axles we had. She said she had known I was coming, but the state didn’t have licensing figured out yet, so they would permit it this trip and hopefully have it figured out in time for the next trip.

I pulled up to the loading area and told the people that we could haul 900 bags with these trailers. The pallets were only stacked six bags high, so I had to wait while they put extra bags on each pallet. The bags had to be glued to the existing bags because shrink wrap had not been invented yet. When it was all on, I tarped the trailers and headed North. That Silver 92 Detroit had about 450 horsepower, but it felt like the horses were underfed Shetland Ponies with that load. As I travelled, I watched the mirrors, and it looked like there were ruts on the road behind me but none in the front. I swung the wheel from side to side, and yup, the ruts did the same. The blacktop back then was made like Japanese cold mix blacktop.

I made it to Havre scales and pulled up to the scale, and the lady told me to park and come in to talk to her. When I got into the building, she said, “I think you have too much on – I can’t scale the load.” Finally, she told me to go to the Coutts Border Crossing, where she said there would be two trucks that would take my load from there and when I came back, she could tell me how many bags I could carry.

When I got to Coutts, two trucks with 45-foot trailers were waiting. We got the load off, and the next day, when I stopped at Havre, the scale lady said her boss said that I could only haul 720 bags. I thanked her and headed for Malta. When I got there, we loaded 720 bags, and the boss said he thought it was still too much.

I left and found that someone had fed those Shetland Ponies as they pulled much easier, and I wasn’t leaving ruts as bad. When I got to the Havre scale, the scale lady said we were getting closer, but I was still too heavy. We both laughed, and she said, “I don’t know who is going to guess this time. First, I was wrong, and the second time, my boss was wrong. You can go to Coutts again, and we will do this all over again.” So I thanked her, and I left for Coutts. When I got there, the trucks were not at the border, so they unloaded me and put it all in the warehouse.

When I pulled into Havre the next day, the scale lady was all smiles. She said, “Today is the day. We have run out of bosses to guess, so we all got together and decided 640 bags would be about right.” When I got to Malta, smiling, the shipping boss said, “What you again? How many this time? The warranty must be almost up on these new trailers.” I told him I wanted 640 bags, and he said that sounded a lot better.

This time when I left the plant, the truck handled much better. There were no ruts behind me, and the scale lady in Havre could finally scale the load. On this trip, when I got to Coutts, I was sent straight through to Calgary. From then on, 640 bags was the count that was hauled on the B-trains.

Fruehauf built six or eight of those B-train trailers for us, and I hauled them for about four months until the company found another adventure for me. That is why I loved driving a truck. It was never boring, and it was all about your attitude towards your job.

It seems like life is also like that.