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Saturday, January 26, 2013

TENDERFOOT - A Canadian Trucker Story
Entertaining story I found on the internet about a rookie Canadian trucker and his misadventure with a co-driver back in the ‘60s. The author’s name is B.J. Rhodes and I don’t know when it was written and can’t find a website for him, but found the piece through

In the winter of 1965, I landed a job as relief driver for Dan Carter. Dan had two three-year old Hayes cab-over tractors and one new Mack, all on with a company in Winnipeg, hauling to Toronto and Montreal, by way of the States. Both Hayes tractors had 220 Cummings power; one was equipped with a ten-speed Fuller Road Ranger, the other with a twelve-speed Spicer. The Bulldog was a purebred, of course; its engine was mated to a triplex transmission. Compared to the old Hayes Clippers, the Mack was a pleasure to drive, if you didn't mind the two sticks.

The two Clippers had their gauge panels mounted above the windshield - I found them difficult to focus on, especially at night. The panel was hung on a piano-style hinge; the whole thing dropped down, simply by the removal of a few screws giving easy access to the wiper motor, gauges and dash lights. There was also plenty of space in there to hide contraband.

My driving partner was a fellow by the name of Bill Hobbs - everyone called him "Wild Bill". He liked to supplement his income by smuggling cheap handguns into Canada - the dash panel was his favourite hiding place. He claimed to make more money selling guns than driving truck. Most everyone smuggled a little booze or cigarettes, but firearms were very risky and the penalties too severe...but the money was too good for Wild Bill to resist. I was terrified he'd get caught and we'd end up in jail, but as second driver, I had little to say...besides, I needed the job.

On one trip, he tried to stuff six small 22-calibre pistols behind the panel and managed to short-circuit the wiring harness. We lost a whole day repairing the damage.
Dan decided it was time to trade in one of the Clippers for another Mack and, much to my delight, gave us the new one. Wild Bill figured a new truck warranted new boots, and showed up wearing a fancy pair that he boasted had been custom made in Laredo, Texas to his own personal last. "Pure Spanish leather, all hand-stitched and hand-tooled," he'd proudly proclaim to anyone whose eyes happened to be drawn to his gaudy footwear. "Them there toe-guards are solid silver - none of that cheap brass," he'd say.
The toe-guards were something else! They looked like those old-fashioned decorative strap hinges you'd see on the front door of some old mansion, and must have weighed two ounces each. Wild Bill bragged that he'd paid two hundred and fifty dollars for the boots. "You must be nuts, Hobbs" the dispatcher scoffed, "Ya coulda bought genuine imitation alligator Boulets for forty-five, or Tony Lamas for sixty. I can't understand why anyone would blow more than half a month's pay on a pair of crummy (as he crudely put it) turd-kickers ."
This last remark really cut to the quick - if it had been anyone but a dispatcher insulting his fancy footwear, he probably would have decked the offender on the spot. As it was, he brooded over the incident all the way to Moorhead, Minnesota. His spirits picked up only after one of his sleazy contacts in the restaurant there offered him a Colt Peacemaker with mother-of-pearl grips for forty-five dollars. The gun came with a box of shells - all of them being reloads. Bill couldn't have been happier. I think it was all he needed to reinforce the image he liked to project - of being a cowboy, but born a hundred years too late.
For the first couple of days, he sat with a glazed far-away look in his eyes, constantly fondling the gun. But on the way back, he spent more time in the passenger seat, playing with it when he should have been logging time in the sleeper. By the time we hit Illinois, he'd progressed to firing the damned thing out the side window at road signs, telephone poles, and even cows. Thank god he couldn't hit anything. He finally ran out of ammunition near Eau Claire, Wisconsin - I had a hell of a time talking him out of stopping to buy more bullets. He then contented himself and his fascination with the gun by sitting with his feet on the dash, admiring his outrageous boots, while he cocked the hammer and dry-fired the revolver at his reflection in the windshield at night, pausing only long enough to roll a cigarette from a bag of Bull Durham tobacco.

Needless to say, my nerves were on the surface, and I was having a hard time concentrating on the road. I told him he would be wise to at least remove the empty shells from the cylinder if he wanted to continue his game of Russian Roulette while I was driving. My suggestion was greeted by a disdainful look and a remark on how only a greenhorn would allow the hammer to fall on an empty chamber and risk damaging a fine Colt pistol. The words hardly had time to bruise my ego, when suddenly the comfort of the warm cab and steady drone of the diesel were interrupted by the loud explosion of a full discharge. I nearly ran off the road, but quickly regained control of the rig, managing to pull over onto the shoulder and bring it to a safe stop. The cab was filled with the acrid smell of gunpowder. A hole the size of a baseball had appeared in the bottom of the right-hand windshield - about where Bill's feet had been resting! Wild Bill was now desperately clutching the ragged remains of his left boot, and howling like a coyote at the moon during mating season.
"What the hell did you do!" I hollered.
"My foot! My foot!" he screamed.
When I finally collected my wits, I concluded that one of the shells must have been a dud and finally went off after being repeatedly struck. I managed to calm the fool down long enough to remove what was left of his custom-made boot, and assess the damage to his foot. We discovered he'd neatly blown off all his toes but the big and little one - everything in between, including two ounces of solid silver toeguard, was now either part of Highway 94 or stood better than a fair chance of hitting the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line before we did. Anyway, it was safe to assume Bill's toes were somewhere in one state or the any rate, they certainly left us behind!

Considering the ugly wound, it didn't bleed as bad as one might expect - but it did bleed. Out of fear of being arrested, we didn't dare seek medical help, as anyone with a gunshot wound would have some explaining to do. In a panic, we tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for the missing appendages, and the massive hole in the windshield of the brand new Mack. Geez, what would we tell Dan! In the heat of the moment, the best we could come up with was..."He got it caught in the lawn mower." We decided to go for it, but then realized it would be hard to explain what we were doing with a lawnmower on Highway 94 in the middle of November. So we scrapped that idea, and concentrated on stopping the flow of blood, having less confidence in our knowledge of first aid than our ability to think up a good lie.

I recalled an episode of Bonanza where Hoss, or maybe it was Little Joe, had cauterized a bad flesh wound with a red-hot branding iron. Since there were no longer any hard parts left, I figured Bill's foot now probably met all the requirements necessary to be considered a flesh wound, and didn't hesitate to share this idea with him. But his desire to immerse himself any further in the ways of the Old West seemed to have faded a bit. He stated rather rudely that he didn't quite feel up to that kind of medical procedure. "Besides!" he screamed, "where in the f***ing hell would we be able to lay our f***ing hands on a jeezly red-hot, f***ing branding iron?"
I indignantly reminded him that we were in Wisconsin, the dairy state, and where there were cows...if he hadn't managed to gun them all down...there were certain to be plenty of branding irons. Maybe my idea wasn't the best, but what could you expect - it's hard for anyone to think when their ears are ringing like the bells of St. Mary's and all conversation is coming from what feels like the bottom of an empty oil drum.
However we finally came up with a solution - he'd read about a fella who'd been mauled by a grizzly bear... in an effort to stop the bleeding, they had packed flour on the wound. So, I stopped at an all-night convenience store and bought five pounds of flour, then packed plenty on Bill's foot and wrapped a towel around the whole bloody mess. It worked like a charm - no more bleeding. At the border, I told them he got his foot run over by a forklift and was unable to walk without great difficulty and they didn't make him go inside and report.

Before we got to Winnipeg, I cleaned up the mess and then hammered a large rock through the windshield, so we could tell Dan it flew off the duals of a dump truck in Wisconsin. Bill managed to tough it out long enough for me to swing by St. Boniface Hospital and drop him off at the Emergency. He told them he'd accidentally shot himself in the foot with his shotgun while out rabbit hunting. The cop that took his statement, after examining the evidence (meaning the boot) said it was probably all for the best, and anyone who chose to go rabbit hunting, wearing boots like that , needed shooting.
If you are ever driving north on Highway 94, about ten miles from the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line - keep your eyes open for something shiny! The last time I checked - silver was worth about seven dollars an ounce, but that's in Canadian pesos. It will still buy you a tough steak in Canada, but barely a Big Macä in the States. I'm sure Bill would agree - either way, it's one hell of an expensive meal.
- B.J. Rhodes


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