Trucking in Europe
I’d like to share my small story with you about how I got my view into trucking.
When I was old enough to understand that my uncle, who we had close contact with, was a trucker, I wanted to know more. This was around the early to mid 80′s.
I had always been interested in anything with an engine, anything from a moped puffing blue smoke to a big rig puffing black smoke.
My uncle drove all over Scandinavia, from the snowy North down to the sunnier continental Europe. Eventhough he doesen’t speak anything else but Finnish, he still managed to work things out when being out there. This was way before cellphones and internet, so all communication was done either over CB or if he used a phone along the way.
He once said, sometimes you get tired in your arms when you talk to someone and you don’t understand eachother with spoken language. So, wave and point. It worked, and still does today.
The company he drove for when I went along with him had installed phones in all rigs, which made things easier when getting orders and things of that nature.
Every chance I got, I went with him when he was scheduled on a run. By this time he was only doing domestic runs in Finland, running dairy products from a mid-western city down to the nations capital, Helsinki and any place in between, Tampere and Turku being two of them.
Sometimes my cousin came along and when uncle was loading the rig, me and my cousin played around with pallet jacks we found in the warehouse. Standing on them, riding around the warehouse. Dangerous – yes, could have been. Fun – definitely! Those times there was no one around, we had the whole hall for ourselves – big space to roam.
I listened to his stories and thought, ‘I want stories like that of my own’. Stories I can tell on when I get older. Stories like when we sometimes stopped at truckstops for coffee, he used to flirt with the waitresses. Something like, “how about you sit in my lap and we talk 2 words about the weather and 3 about romance”. Sounds a bit cheezy but, being a little boy back then, I liked the fact that he had the guts to say that. During summer we sometimes stopped to buy strawberries at stands along the way.
The vendors were often young women, so naturally my uncle put his charm face on and made up something witty when we walked over to the stand. And the strawberries were very good!
The truck I remember he had at that time was a Volvo FL12 with a one bunk sleeper. I don’t remember the amount of horsepower in it, but I could take a guess and say around 320.
We once had to take the truck to the shop when something broke down. I stood by listening when my uncle spoke to the mechanic… The mech said, “this is a good truck, isn’t it?”
To that my uncle said, -No, when you climb uphill with it, it starts asking which direction to go. Volvos have had some reputation to be lazy, that’s why they started using gear splitters.
Anyway, the mechanic then said, “Yeah, you’re right, it should be a Sisu. Which is a Finnish made truck. ” Uncle said, -No, it has to be a Scania, their V8′s have power.
So, there I got an idea which truck to look at. To this day I still prefer Scania over their main competitor, Volvo. It feels more like a truck while Volvo feels a bit more like a car.
I noticed he didn’t have blankets or pillows in the sleeper, so I once asked him why and he told me he didn’t have time to sleep, the truck has to roll. The times he stopped to rest, he just leaned over the steering wheel, took out the tachograph disc and took a nap sitting up. I guess that was not a good thing to see for a boy who’s taking his first bites of trucking. But it was reality.
I don’t think the graphs/logs were used back then for anything else than to see how much work the trucker had done so he/she could be paid accordingly.
350-400 hours a month was not unusual, and this was domestic in Finland, which is not a very large country. The union eventually made a surprise visit to the company and said that if the hours are not cut down for the drivers, they will close the business down. The hours were dropped and the company is still active today.
Today there are more rules and regulations and authorities make sure they are followed, placing us truckers under close scrutiny sometimes. That’s something all you truckers know.
There were unfortunate situations as well in his trucking. One of which I remember was that he broke his foot when he jumped out of the cab. Never jump! Not from the cab, off a flatbed, nothing.
One other was a when one of the rear, left side air ride bags blew and his trailer swerved over into oncoming traffic. The trailer hit a car there and two people in it lost their lives. There of course was an investigation into what had happened. A motorist that had been driving behind my uncle over a period of time told police that the rig had not swerved prior to this accident. So drunk driving (with breathalyzer) and sleeping behind the wheel could be ruled out. This was an unfortunate mechanical failure at the worst possible time.
What I probably liked the most when I was out there with him was the solitude while driving, especially at night when much else dies down except the rigs that keep this world turning. Add comradery among drivers to that and it’s all good. You have friends out there but still get to be alone with your thoughts and be somewhat independent in your work.
You “just” load – drive – unload, yet still, it makes a difference.
I stuck with this ever since and when the time came to “choose profession”, the choice was pretty easy. So, after finishing 9th grade I applied to an “upper secondary technical school” with the direction to road transport. This was an entry point into the business, my licence(s) was/were free and I got experience from school to do what I wanted and I got a job the same day I graduated. My uncle had a great impact on my choice of career and I have later told him that.
I’ve been driving for over 15 years now and have not felt the need to change profession. Truckers will always be needed! Without us, things stop moving.
The times I see him nowadays we can still discuss trucks and things around them. Talking about them with my cousin feels natural, he too started driving and is still active today, while uncle has retired.
Would like to finish off by saying, the times I’ve been nervous about backing a rig was when I ran Finland-Sweden. I had loaded up for my first trip from Finland and came to the harbor to take the 9 hour ferry ride over. I parked in line and there were a couple of rigs in front of me. Went into the office, reported my arrival and went back to my rig.
The ship finally came, they unloaded it and we started rolling. To my amazement the rigs in front turned around… We were going to back onboard! That’s when I got a little nervous…
The whole ship and other drivers are waiting for YOU! You have to fix it! Was a really sweaty feeling, but it worked, I got the rig in where it was supposed to.
I don’t know if that ship is still in use, it was the Finnlink company. The other big shipping companies, Viking Line and Tallink have RO-RO ships, roll on – roll off. So there’s no backing involved.
Thanks for reading and be safe out there on the road! I’m on Twitter under Roni twitter.com/sentenced1979 if you want to say hello.
Like Mr. Jerry Reed once said, “Chauffeur, so good”.