White River/Thunder Bay
Great adventure. Hard what to pick for telling. Way too long. But I
was entirely engrossed in the proceedings. I’ll try to segment the
info for your choosing.
Leaving at 5am Was a Manner of Speech
I woke from every little muscle fiber in my belly independently
cramping in expectation of the ‘imminent’ 4am motel clock buzzer,
followed by the clock tower sound of the iPhone. That’s how I
am. That’s what I do when unreasonably early alarms are looming.
This first awakening occurred at 11:20pm… And so it went through the night. Eventually, at 4am getting up wasn’t so bad, because sleep was light. Those abdominal muscle fibers kept me at the surface.
I felt guilty taking a shower at 4am, given the noise I knew the water
running through pipes generated in neighboring units. But what the
hell. I’m a trucker. I roll early.
Outside my motel I stand in drizzling rain at 5am sharp, surrounded by
my little family of motorcycle cases. All dark, no sign of life
across the road at the Husky (the towing place). We eventually left at 7am…
The driver did arrive at 5:30am though.
I’d decided to play it monosyllabic, allowing him to set the volume of
conversation for our 4 hour drive. I approached him in the still dark
as he was busying himself under the hood of the flatbed truck. The
owner, Angelo, had promised to be there to see us off (and collect the
“Hi, I’m Andreas. Are you Angelo?”
“Nope. I’m the driver.”
OK then, it’ll be a long quiet ride. I retreat 100ft off to stand with
my cases. No words exchanged till Angelo arrives at six, only to announce that he would take some guests of his to the train station now, while The Driver and I take the flatbed over to the gas station where the bike awaits. I’d
dreaded what I knew was coming: riding the drenched bike up the wet
metal ramp onto the flatbed with an entirely deflated rear tire.
But I slither up all right, and then The Driver and I wait in the
rain. I’m perched on the bike atop the flatbed. Only Angelo knows how
to tie down a bike with fairings. He seems to be having a long
Good-bye with his guests at the train station.
Yet, when Angelo arrives, he turns out to be a young 60-year-old with
glasses, office type guy. Pattern balding. [For some of you: reminiscent of Bill Dally?]
He jumps up onto the flatbed, and ties that bike down in no time. No
motion wasted. He knows what to do around trucks and bikes. As I learn
later from The Driver, Angelo owns the garage, the towing business,
the motel next to the garage, the gas station, another gas station,
the building of the doughnut shop, a bunch of houses that hold people
who work for him, and a fleet of towing vehicles that easily drag a
53ft 18 wheel trailer from its side in a ditch back to an upright
position. Angelo covers nights and weekends, doing the 18 wheeler
righting himself during those times. He is also the mayor of White River.
The reason my bike wasn’t loaded last night is that Angelo had to take
one of the rescue trucks into “the bush” where someone had flipped the
pickup truck he’d bought that day. Angelo got back from that operation
at 11pm. The Bush is the back country of dense forest; wild area.
Chronically short on labor, Angelo has ‘acquired’ the work visas of two
Filipinos who had been lured to Canada, but were paid half their
wages, and kept in a windowless room when not working. Now Angelo has the Filipinos. Angelo does a lot.
I have no idea how one ‘acquires’ the work visas of abused
Filipinos; how one finds them in the first place. But here is what
prompted the acquisition. A restaurant along the road had been
employing “girls from town.” Yet whenever there was a party somewhere,
the girls called in sick. Every one of them. After this happened
repeatedly, the owner threw the towel and boarded the place
up. According to The Driver,
“Those girls come running ‘Angelo, Angelo, we lost our job.’ But
Angelo says ‘No. That restaurant closed because of you.’”
Thus the Filipinos, who are working out great. Angelo is bringing
their families over.
One situation that Angelo hates, though, is his trucks running
empty. This truck has to run to Thunder Bay no matter what, because a
30 thousand pound piece of equipment needs picking up and returning to
the nearby gold mine. Plus, a repaired trailer will be hitched to the
thus loaded truck on the way back. My bike taking its trip was just
From the moment Pierre, The Driver, put down his foot on that
accelerator toward our destination, the Excalibur bike shop, there was
no more than one minute of silence. I am not kidding. I mean this
literally. I loved every minute of Pierre’s tales. He had zero
interest in anything of me, which suited me fine. This was Pierre’s
Before taking this job, Pierre was running long haul transports
between the US East Coast and Canada. A transport is a (at this point)
53ft trailer that’s attached to a tractor, and can haul up to 44,500
lbs of cargo. Unless you add additional axles, which let you go up to
(I believe it was) 100,000 lbs. There are a lot of large pound-numbers
Pierre was running paper out of Chicago, kitchen furniture into D.C.,
water melons up from Florida. You name it.
Did you know that you have to add one foot to the clearance height
signs on New York State’s bridges? Yep. They’ll say 12.5', which is
what transports used to need. But now trailers are taller and need
13.5' clearance. The roads have been lowered in New York State to
accommodate the new rigs. But the signs weren’t updated.
However, you rely on this convention in Connecticut, and you take the
roof off your trailer. Pierre tried this, though noticed the problem
quickly enough to contain the damage to $1,600. Backing up and getting
to a truck yard large enough for him to turn around involved taking
his transport across some road dividers, sidewalks and such. Plus the
purchase of tarp and 16 roles of duct tape, because you “had daylight”
out the trailer. Which is a no-no when running paper.
Pierre moved to White River because he had come here for years to hunt
and fish. He wanted less stress, and partial retirement. The latter is
not happening. Apparently, transport drivers fall asleep and “lay
down” their trailers with some regularity. Angelo arranges the entire
aftermath: disposal of the usually totaled tractor, guarding and
eventual recovery of the cargo, hiring the traffic crew that keeps
Rt. 17 flowing during the often multi-day operation, getting
environmental in if fuel leaked. And then dealing with the insurance
companies and their investigators for the reimbursement.
Interesting: the cargo. Sometimes the trucking company writes it off
immediately. A load of ice cream went that way. Word spread, and
pickup trucks from across the area converged on the wreck to load
their freezers. Another time: ready-to-eat meals of some kind,
according to the manifest. When Pierre and crew cut open the top of
the tipped trailer to unload in preparation of righting the monster,
what emerged was rum. A lot of rum. That one took a while to
resolve. Some disappeared before resolution. At the end the remaining load had to be crushed in a dump, with proof of the crushing forwarded to the
insurance, and maybe police.
How about sleeping in your transport? You can on any of the pull-overs
and rest stops in Ontario. In the US you’ll get a ticket. No matter
how dead tired you are, you have to keep going. Case in point, when
running paper out of Chicago, the shipper wouldn’t start loading
Pierre till 11pm. He’d set out North at 1am, at which point all the
official truck rest areas would be full. So he always had to make it
across the Canadian border before sleeping. Though usually, when per
chance there was a spot for him, some other truck would pull in,
refrigerator unit running, or cows mooing through the night.
Government truck scales aren’t necessarily calibrated correctly,
apparently. Fines result for the truckers.
“I was hauling water melons from Florida. They get loaded by hand. So
they loaded some. I’d run to the next truck scale, come back, load some
Then all up the highway every scale was open. I got weighed tens of
times. But then, on one scale they say I was over.
‘What do you want me to do, ’ I says, ‘go back there start eat’n
water melons?’ So I paid the fine.”
Last point about scales: Getting snow off your trailer’s top before
weighing. Different methods exist, none of them perfect. I won’t go
When we finally ran out of trucking stories, Pierre switched to moose
hunting around White River with his native friends. Pierre himself is
half French and half Algonquin. But the local Ojibwe natives have
adopted him, and he joins them at the two week annual moose camp in
the bush. You get up at 4am, hunt moose, return to camp around
9am. You tell stories, take a nap. Then go moose hunting again late
afternoon into the night.
Pierre hunts with a cross bow. He builds a tree stand, occupies it an
hour before day break. Then imitates moose calls. Moose will respond
to the call. When a moose finally ventures into the clearing…
Turns out moose season matches the moose rutting phase of the
year. The result are reports that hunters with a cold and consequent
phlegmy cough in their tree stand elicit responses from rutting
moose. That’s males for you. Doesn’t take much when we’re in the mood.
Pierre’s had times when he calls, a moose answers, but then a pack of
wolves howl in response to the moose’s response. The moose is smart
enough not to enter the clearing. Again: Pierre calls from his tree
stand. Moose answers, wolves howl, moose stays put. Deadlocked, the
A downed moose is gutted on the spot, the intestines, are collected
into what is called the “moose heap,”. Different organs are collected
for older members of the tribe. The meat is divvied up between
everyone, brought out from the bush.
What Pierre does is sneak back to the kill site a bit later to see who
is feeding on the moose heap. He has seen a group of eight bald eagles
feeding, wolves come, foxes, bears. These animals are all up there in
the area. The bears like gnawing on the hide like dogs on a bone.
Nothing Stays the Same
Pierre is thinking of trading his crossbow for a Nikon. Why? Because
his kids are grown and out of the house. It’s just him and his wife of
38 years. So killing to feed his family is no longer a realistic
proposition. And he needs that aspect to feel all right about
hunting. A Nikon and a crossbow aren’t really that different, he
feels. One is less bloody, I suppose, if you operate the equipment
What Pierre and “the wife” do: they bar tend at the annual Hells
Angels fund raiser for Last-Wish kids. God, how that organizations has
changed. Just a couple of days ago, a Hells Angels gang descended in
front of Angelo’s office (between his gas station and his shop). The
gang pulled out beer, and generally made itself at home. Angelo’s
secretaries were concerned, and asked him what to do. Angelo:
“What to do? Go out, hand’m a bottle opener and wish’m happy
trails. They’re fine.”
Investments: A Deal for You!
Other information from Pierre during our time together. The Barrick
gold mine up in White River/Marathon just found a new vein. We drove
by the installation. A neat set of metal buildings in the forest by
the road. All the metal structures painted a reserved earthen tone. By
the road, a clean, simple, discreet sign: “Barrick”. And yet, see
for what happens there. You drive by, and will never know.
Two new mines are entering the fray up there: one has its
environmental impact report done, and will start operating next year
(68c/share). The other is earlier in the process (6c/share). I tried
to remember the names of the two operations. But then I forgot, and
was embarrassed to look interested. So I didn’t ask for a repeat of
the names. There goes another fortune I could have made.
The bike? Fixed. Excalibur had several knowledgeable mechanics. But at
the center of it all was a quirly, enthusiastic, story-telling guy in
his 50s who clearly knew every bolt on that BMW. [For a few of you:
Think NASA’s Eugene Miya; looks, temperament, speech].
There was a clear division of labor. Let’s call him Bob — -never caught
his name — -would remove and re-install motorcycle wheels. Then his
assistants did what needed doing on those tires. Bob moved to another
bike during that time. Once rubber was on rim, air at pressure, and
rotation true, Bob would cycle back and install. Not a motion
wasted. Never a quizzical look on that face.
One of the assistants suggested that the rear tired looked worn.
“Nah,” Bob reassures, “that tire will take you to California. But then
you’ll definitely need to replace it.”
But once Bob sees my front tire, which was so far not part of any
he does frown. This tire will give you trouble way before anything
else! Given his restraint on selling me a rear tire, I trust his
judgment. He explains how I can tell when a tire is bad. But it’s been
explained to me before, and I just never see what they are trying to
show me. They also caress tires, and tell something from that. I
don’t feel it.
So, off with the front calipers and the this, and the that. Wheel
rolls out. Assistant takes over.
I was sometimes in the shop, watching, and other times in the show room staring at the double swinging door to the shop. It felt like the door to the OR wing in a hospital TV show. Every time one of the doors swung open from the shop side, and Bob or an assistant would emerge, I expected them to be in
scrubs, to pull down the mask from their exhausted face and tell me
“She lost a lot of blood, but she’ll pull through.”
On one of those occasions Bob, mild concern on his face admonished me:
“Your front break pads will take you to California. But then you need
to go straight to the shop and have those done.”
Hypothesis about the valve stem: I had purchased Garmin tire pressure valve tops that bluetoothed the pressures of both tires to my Garmin GPS. Very handy.
However, the instructions had warned only to use these little gadgets on steel valves. Since the parts of the valves that I could see were metal, I figured I filled the bill. Apparently not. Instead, the forces of the gadgets during rotation may have vibrated the rear valve to pieces. Sad: I liked the comfort of constant pressure information.
I’m such an amateur! Don’t know my break pads or valve stems.Don’t know how to quarter a moose. Don’t know how to move the axles of a transport to
balance the load. And even controlling the background data use of my
Android phone is threatening to slip my grasp.
Yet on I go. West.