Tribute to a Heavy Hauler
By Marek Krasuski
Every segment of trucking has its challenges. Long haul drivers have to deal with the monotony of the road and long periods away from friends and family. Regional drivers contend with high traffic volumes and rush hours. Haulers of heavy equipment, meanwhile, have their own unique challenges. Allan Campbell is one such driver who negotiates the lonely and sometimes dangerous roads of Northern Ontario by himself. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I like what I do because of the variety. I never know what I’m doing from one day to the next. I much prefer this type of work than a regular run,” he said, grateful for the unique challenges he faces.
One such opportunity presented itself this winter when Campbell was charged with transporting the second largest mobile crane in North America from Sudbury to Kirkland Lake. The Liebherr 750-tonne crane was transported in 32 sections to the neighbouring mine site where it was used to construct a mining head frame. Campbell was responsible for delivering six of those thirty two sections. It took the better part of a month to assemble once all pieces were delivered. Ironically, yet just one day was needed for the towering crane to complete the job, Campbell said.
Campbell is a proud employee of Johnny’s Towing based in Sudbury. The largest firm of its kind in Northern Ontario, the company offers a complete range of transportation services – flatbed, float, heavy/light towing and recovery, long distance & specialized services, among several others. Ten employees operate the equipment, and the company is always busy, a testament, Campbell says, to the sterling reputation Johnny’s Towing has built over the years.
His preference is in the float division where he deals with freight and heavy equipment, most of which is destined for the many mines in northeastern Ontario. Asked why mining companies do not take it upon themselves to haul their own freight given their large inventories and manpower, Campbell explained that mines are in the business of mining and have no wish to diversify their resources to the extraneous business of transportation. Instead they “just farm it out,” he said.
Two equipment floats are available at Johnny’s Towing; one for heavy equipment, the other for mining hardware. The company also has on hand slider trailers for mobile equipment. Operating much like a tow truck, sliders tilt and lower the platform and winch up the vehicle. The platform bed is retracted back into place, after which the vehicle is tied down at front and rear.
Campbell’s tractor usually pulls a 5-axle flat deck or a drop deck trailer to handle the huge pieces of cargo. The drop deck is often needed to fall within regulatory requirements. Cargo cannot exceed 14 feet in height from its highest point on the trailer to road surface. Shipments frequently consist of blasting mats, those deceptive sections of half-cut rubber tires commonly seen on roadsides where construction is underway. Deceptive because each section weighs 5 tonnes. Excavators are normally used to load cargo onto Campbell’s trailer before his run, and since he has an AMZ license he can handle most equipment, which is why he often loads his own trailers.
Campbell is a stickler for safety, an important aspect of his job in which there is no compromise. “I make sure it’s done right. If I don’t feel a load is secure I will not leave the yard. I have no intentions of jeopardizing the safety of others or myself. It’s also company policy to ensure that safety is paramount.” To this end Campbell secures a load by tying down his own cargo and checking to see all tires are in peak condition. He checks tread depth and tire inflation before every run. Top of the line Michelins are the preferred inventory.
Drivers hauling heavy equipment in northern Ontario vary considerably in tasks and challenges from their southern counterparts where roads are usually in better condition, shoulders are wide, and line of sight is expansive. Not so in the North. On occasion Campbell delivers heavy equipment to Detour Lake, the site of another mine some 2.5 hours north of Cochrane, Ontario. He often takes Highway 144 which Campbell describes as a “terrifying highway,” worse, he says, than driving through the Rockies in western Canada. Rock cuts and lack of shoulders on Highway 144 leave no room to pull over should an event arise. There are pullover spaces every few kilometers but that is little relief if problems occur between pullovers. The narrow highway also makes it tricky to handle heavy loads around bends which are bordered by guard rails when another big rig is approaching. One slight miscalculation can cause a collision between two trucks. Tight squeezes between passing trucks is quite commonplace as logging trucks frequently transport lumber cut from regional bush lands to southern markets.
On a good day Campbell can drive to Cochrane before his 13 hours of service timeline expires. The next morning he will complete the final leg of the journey to Detour Lake before returning to Sudbury. As he continues northward visual clues inform him he is closing in on the farther reaches of the province. “I can tell I’m getting close to Detour Lake because of changes in the tree line. The trees get smaller and smaller.” Another potential hazard unique to northern drivers is the unexpected dart of a moose from the bush onto the highway. Campbell had one such experience but both driver and moose survived. “I hit a moose once near Gogama. We both got lucky. I clipped him as he was crossing the highway and spun him into the ditch. Tore a piece of fur off his hide, but then he got up and ran back into the bush,” he said.
On a less dangerous note Campbell has been told that herds of Caribou can been seen migrating across this northern region, an event described by onlookers as “quite the sight to see.”
Like all truckers the worst and most common hazard is the daredevil tactics of civilian drivers. A professional driver, Campbell always leaves a safe buffer zone between his rig and the vehicle ahead, but inevitably a car or pickup will insert itself in front of him. It’s a potentially deadly move given the weight of Campbell’s load of industrial cargo. Thankfully, staying alert and keeping his eyes on the road have kept him and other drivers from harm.
Amid the many reports of chronic driver shortages and abysmal retention rates, drivers like Allan Campbell, who love their job and execute their responsibilities with care and attention to detail, exemplify an industry that still is capable of attracting resourceful professionals.☚