Our September Rig of the Month is Jonathan Jones who was born in Meriden, a small village in England and immigrated to Canada in July 2004. Jonathan got his Class 3 licence while in the Army and his Class 1 shortly after leaving the military. He now runs under his own authority and resides in Nanoose Bay, on Vancouver Island. This is his story:
I joined the Army at 16 and spent the next 9 years having the best time of my life. If you can call being cold and wet and miserable, being shouted at by demonic monsters called Sergeant Majors, fun, then yes that was what I was having.
After leaving the Army I tried my hand at building, which was my father’s trade but preferred to be out on the open road driving a truck. Unfortunately, I soon found out getting a job was not all that easy. It was the same old problem. I spent a year or so doing local work but did not have any experience in long-haul, so the insurance companies would not insure me. That’s when I met a Dutch driver that said his company hires Englishmen, so my first international job was with a Dutch trucking company. They ran a small fleet of older DAF 2800’s out of a backyard near Eindhoven in Holland. The work was hauling general cargo from Holland and the UK to Turkey. A journey that entailed crossing into communist East Europe. There was always lots of paperwork to be done and being held up at borders for 24 hours was common, but the journey was always an adventure.
I soon found that I missed the army but was told that, at the ripe old age of 25, I was too old to rejoin! A couple of years later the war started in Yugoslavia and the British government suddenly needed former soldiers, with combat experience & a truck driver’s license, to work in the Warzone. It was part of the UN Refugee Agency funded by the British government. For me, this combined the two things I enjoyed the most, but it also gave me a wider outlook on life. Our teams worked throughout the war in Yugoslavia running convoys into all the hotspots of that war. Our role was basically Humanitarian but being a government-backed operation with the ability to enter areas that the UN military was not allowed in by the warring factions, we had some very interesting missions.
We also operated around the world in places such as Rwanda, Zaïre, the Congo, Kosovo & Albania. Providing the logistical support to the United Nations Commission for refugees. It’s basically a job that pays very well and has the sort of job satisfaction unimaginable in the real world. Not to mention the excitement and danger.
The trucks we operated were a mixture of types. We had a small fleet of former war surplus British Army Bedfords that were used as secondary distribution in areas that had little in the way of infrastructure like the central Bosnian mountains. The British manufacture’s ERF & Seddon Atkinson medium size delivery trucks had a single drive axle and a curtain side body, a payload of 10ton with a day cab for the driver. These trucks were used mainly in the north of Yugoslavia as they were found to be unreliable on the rough backcountry logging tracks. The main heavyweight vehicles were Dutch built DAF 3300 wagon & drags. (Straight truck and trailer) These had been built for work in Africa & had heavy duty everything. The truck was a double drive axle with a Fuller 13 speed gearbox and the DAF 350 bhp engine. The payload was 30 ton divided between the truck & trailer but was often loaded with far more.
We later received a custom-built ERF truck for hauling fuel. This was on the same layout as the DAF trucks but with Kenworth 100-ton rear suspension. The deck on the truck was 20’ with container locks for the bulk liquid shipping container that was capable of carrying 20,000 litres of fuel. The cab had a bunk for the driver and a Cummins 350 engine. These trucks would go anywhere and could lean over at incredible angles without tipping over.
After the wars in Yugoslavia and Africa our team was disbanded and I returned to normal life as a truck driver on European trips as far as Russia and the Middle East. I worked for an infamous company known for making the impossible -possible, Ralph Davies International. One of only a very few companies to send its drivers from the UK to China overland. It was okay but I wanted to settle down so I gave up long haul and worked for a local farmer learning the trade of buying & selling forage. Now that may not seem very impressive, but when your girlfriend has 3 horses it’s very handy!
I bought a Springer Spaniel that I named Floss and for the next few years, I enjoyed living at my cottage and having Floss ride shotgun in the truck. The rising cost of living made me look elsewhere so when I was given the chance to emigrate to Canada I jumped at it. I flew to Winnipeg, Manitoba to meet with the immigration office but it was 2 and a half years before I was accepted. The British Government had in 2003 joined the Americans in forming the new interim government of Iraq and we had been given the opportunity to participate as the logistics team for the government, It was history in the making, I could not sit and watch it on TV, I had to be part of that history. I guess it’s in the blood.
My work involved transportation of goods and personnel within Iraq on behalf of the joint US & British embassy’s. I was employed via a subcontractor to the US State Dep’t. Originally back in 2003, it was called “ORHA” Operation Reconstruction Humanitarian Assistance which turned into the “ Coalition Provisional Authority” ( CPA) and 3 years after first entering the country our team came under the “USMI”. My last 18 months was as a VIP driver, equipped with a 6 ton fully armored Chevy suburban. It has since become a quagmire of political, military, and sectarian violence and murder. Having spent nearly 5 years driving around this country, being blown up and shot at, (not always by the enemy) I can say a lot of improvements have been implemented but it’s never enough for a country that had nothing! And I mean Nothing before 2003. They complain that the electric was better before but you hear it from those that had it before. Less than 10% of the population and they were the privileged few in the Bathe party. Now there is more electricity than the country has ever had but the problem is that with the new-found freedom anybody can buy a washing machine or a TV and of course the country’s biggest import – Air conditioners! With the huge demands on the new electric grids that have been built, and constantly get blown up, the demand is far more than what is possible from the old power stations that we, the British, built before WW2. These are all things that the press fails to mention.
After 5 years in Iraq, it was time for a change. I had purchased a property on Vancouver Island in 2005 and had for the past couple of years been spending my leave time developing the site. I intended to have a small ranch with horses. Having worked in the forage business both in the UK & Manitoba I understood the Hay business. Vancouver Island is predominantly covered in forest, meaning that 75% of the hay is imported from the mainland. With the Fraser valley being industrial, the areas for cultivation are not able to provide enough hay for all the horses on the island. Hay that is grown in the lower mainland also lacks certain minerals that horses require so the majority of hay sold on the Island is from either Washington state or Alberta.
Having experience in both, Hay & Transport, I decided to buy my own truck to transport goods from the Island to Alberta. Buying my own hay in bulk allows me to sell the surplus to cover the cost of transport. When considering what truck to buy. I had 3 requirements; a big cab, a big engine, and maximum load space. Being an owner-operator for a bigger company would not give the flexibility that I needed so I obtained my own operating authority for both the US & Canada. To have the maximum load space available generally means a B Train but the ferry crossing from the mainland and the smaller ferries to other islands are charged by the foot. Also, the smaller ferry’s only allow a maximum length of 53’. When delivering hay to the smaller offshore islands the length limitations will require you to leave one of the trailers behind and still cost you close to the max length of 53’ for little more than 300 bales of hay.
To build a truck for the job. With the max load space being 60’ I needed to have a truck that gave me the flexibility of access to the islands whilst saving on the ferry costs. The rules for having a combination are quite complicated, but to get the truck & trailer within the overall max length of 75’ with a 60’ load space requires the truck to be a cab over or a day cab. My deck on the truck is 20’. The trailer is 40’ leaving 15’ for the cab and the space between the deck & the trailer. By having a single axle dolly I can have a 40’ step deck trailer, giving me extra load height. The deck on the truck can also be lower than the step on the trailer as there’s no 5th wheel hitch but a saddle & pintel hitch under the deck. The truck from front to back is 32’ but I can still load 300 bales on the deck of the truck, saving money on the smaller ferry’s.
In 2006 I found a 2002 Kenworth K100E with the full Aerodyne sleeper, an N14 Cummins engine and most importantly, it was a 230” wheelbase. The truck was for sale in Cincinnati so I had the local Kenworth dealer check it over before deciding to buy it. I made the payments and whilst on leave from Iraq, flew to Cincinnati and drove the chassis cab back to Vancouver. The trip was not uneventful when having been stopped for speeding in roadworks, I discovered that the speedometer was 5mph out. What I thought was 55mph was in fact 60mph. The police patrolman asked for my state permit! Oops! I didn’t know I needed one for a chassis cab. He asked for my passport, then my driving licence, my passport was British and licence Canadian. Then just to confuse him more, I gave him my US Army ID card & my US Embassy access card. Having explained the situation, he ripped up the tickets and thanked me for my service.
2008 dawned with plenty of promise & optimism. The lumber mills on the Island were working overtime, the freight forwarders had more work than there were trucks available, my truck had been converted & repainted and all ready to go to work.
It was Easter 2008; the Iraqi insurgents had opened an all-out attack on US bases & in particular the Green Zone in Baghdad. That day over 100 Katyusha rockets were fired into the green zone housing the west’s embassies and important Iraq government installations. Our warehouse was hit by 3 rockets killing 2 & injuring 6 others. It was not the first time our building had been hit and not the first time our team had fatalities inside the wire.
A month later I was at home on leave on Vancouver Island and my bank asked me why I stayed in Iraq when they could give me a loan to get my business up & running.
They suggested that I use my credit cards, as I could use them, get lots of air miles and then pay them off when the loan was issued. They also gave me a line of credit to use these while they confirm my loan that said was already approved. Over the next 12 weeks, they kept asking for documents from the Canadian revenue agency and the UK taxman. After providing all of the above they then asked for letters from the US Revenue agency. By the time I had provided all these documents proving I owed nothing, other than the maxed-out credit, and was down to my last $50 a rep from the RBC called me to say that they were no longer willing to give me a loan! Their reason was that “I no longer had an income” (Bastards) I told him that it was on record that I had asked if this loan was subject to my earnings? The bank’s reply had been that, no as it was an Equity loan and I had over half a million in equity. His reply was, “Make sure you make your payments.” Two days later the news broke that all the banks were going bust! Within days, the biggest two lumber mills on Vancouver Island closed their doors laying off thousands of workers. Cargo loads dried up overnight and I had only $50 left in my pocket!
The only consolation was that my truck was all paid for including a year’s full pro-rate insurance that had cost me $23,000. With no discount and all the opportunities drying up, those first few months were the hardest. I borrowed from friends, sold assets for pennies on the dollar and got ripped off by loan sharks but thanks to a few small companies that were able to pay me for the load prior to me even leaving their yard I was able to get out to Alberta & find loads of hay. Farmers gave me time to pay by postdating checks and I regularly loaded 900 bales of hay in sub-zero conditions. I refused to give up and made payments to the bank and loan sharks over the next 18 months. Even Kenworth helped me out. I had gone to a side street workshop for a minor job replacing a seal on the transmission and they managed to blow up the gearbox! They failed to use a timing plate. My local Inland Kenworth collected the truck, rebuilt the gearbox, and put in a new clutch. ICBC refused to cover the costs, so I was left with a $12,000 bill that Inland Kenworth allowed me to pay as and when I could. Without the help of Kenworth, I would have gone bust there and then.
March 2010. Haiti suffered a massive earthquake. I was driving over the Rockies when I got a call from an old friend from my days with the British Government team, who asked me if I would go to Haiti & work with the UNWFP. The UNWFP had several Mack Granit tractor units that they used to haul containers of food supplies to devastated areas of Haiti. Along with the Mack’s they also had over a hundred old US Army deuce & half’s that would carry the supplies over the rough dirt tracks into the mountains. A major problem arose when the Haitian state-owned oil company would not deliver the fuel required to run all the UNWFP trucks. With only 5 fuel trucks at their disposal for the whole country, the oil company would only provide a service to the local Haitian gas stations. For 2 months the WFP had to scrounge fuel from the UN Military, a very embarrassing and unsatisfactory affair. The UN is a very large organization with many working parts, some military but also civilian-run organizations such as the many humanitarian agencies, of which the World Food Programme is just one. These agencies are operated by career personnel
After a year working in Haiti, I returned to Canada but things were still not much better for work so I returned to Iraq. After another 11 months, the US President pulled out most of the troops and support elements, including the department I now worked with.
It was after returning to the Island when I saw an ad for a driver in an oilfield camp. This was the start of a new chapter in my life. Oil patch work. I spent the next 2 and a half years hauling potable water for a company in Bonneville. Living in camps on a 6 week on 2 weeks off contract. On my days off I would load my own truck with Hay, ready for my trip home at the end of the 6 weeks, It was while I worked for this company that an opportunity arose to be given two 100-year-old barns. The problem was they had to be removed from the land within two months. Cenovis had purchased some land from a farmer with a provision that the land be clear of all buildings. Each night after my last load, I spent hours cutting nails and fitting eye bolts to the two barns. My plan was to disassemble the barns in 10’ wide sections. Then lift them using a chain assembly and the company picker crane and flat pack the sections on to my own truck and trailer. I removed both barns to my place on Vancouver Island in two trips. The first was a granary barn 70’ long and the second a two story barn 60’ long.
When the company I worked for lost the contract with Cenovis I was in a position to take a job hauling lime and then fuel from Edmonton to Yellowknife after which I was able to join the season’s winter road operation out of Yellowknife to the Divek Diamond mines. Having seen the TV show “Ice Road truckers” I had to give this a go. The TV show overdramatizes the work. The pay was low and the bitching and backstabbing was laughable. The work is hard in that the run up to the mine takes 18 hours, at an average speed of 25 & 30 kph, with a single 40 min break half way up. Then it was line up, get unloaded and grab a few hours’ sleep before heading back to Yellowknife. The return trip is only 9 hours because you can travel at 80kph on most of the route. Once back in Yellowknife you go to dispatch and get in the line for another load. So, to make any money, you needed to complete one load every 48 hours. Which after tax equaled $540. Dash for the cash, my ass. I stuck it out to the end of the season and left.
I then joined Northwest Tank Lines, hauling a gas bottle in northern Alberta. Again, I was able to work a 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off rotation. On my 2 weeks off I loaded hay on my own truck for my horse and others. I enjoyed my time with Northwest but after 4 years I was fed up with being away from home all the time. I had been renting my house out for a long time but not being there to properly maintain the place my tenant let it fall into disrepair. She had invited the feral cat society to bring cats to my place and then allowed them to live in the house. She had cat towers all over the house and even made an access for them! It cost thousands to repair the damage.
I have since repaired the house but there was still 10 acres to work on. I had paid off all my debts to the tune of $250,000 and now only have a mortgage so I decided to give up working for others and develop my own business. My ambition is to have a horse ranch with training arenas & stables. This brings me back to hauling hay. The cost of Hay on the Island due to the transport costs dilute the earnings that can be made from boarding horses. But if it’s you who are buying and selling that hay, then the costs from boarding horses can be greatly reduced by providing your own hay at cost price and then making a profit by selling the excess. The stick in the ointment is the costs of running the truck. The run to Washington or Alberta is not cheap so a load needs to pay each way. The advantages of my truck is the amount of available space with a full 9’6” of deck height on the 20’ deck of the truck. 8’6” on the 10’ top step and 10’6” on the 30’ of lower deck on the step deck trailer. This works well for odd sized loads or light but bulky loads. The disadvantage is that most freight brokers and trucking company’s find it awkward to assign a regular load to my set up. And the fact that I have my own operating authority, and beholden to anybody.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time driving in war zones. At a reunion a few years ago we talked about the fact that this work had never been publicly acknowledged or even known. All the TV shows about driving in dangerous places may be somewhat exciting to watch on TV, but as we all know they retire to comfortable hotels after the shoot. The dangers are over dramatized and frankly are probably staged.
During the Bosnian war, 52 European civilian truck drivers were killed whilst driving trucks for the UNHCR. In the 5 years I worked in Iraq on convoy missions, the US lost over 400 Civilian truck drivers from the US, Britain, Canada and other 1st world countries. They did not record the number of 3rd world subcontract drivers from places like India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The world’s press never informed the public of any these deaths but would only state the number of military personnel killed. The most frequent attacks on military personnel were when escorting convoys. It was the convoys that the Iraqi insurgents were attacking as soft targets. The Coalition forces in Iraq had over 4000 trucks on the road at any one time, each truck driver was a civilian employee of the large American company “Kellogg Brown & Root”. Mostly former military personnel, but not always and there were plenty of women drivers risking their lives alongside their male colleagues. 95% were working on the resupply of military bases under the TTM contract.
The CPA / USMI consisted of only 25 drivers in the first year, independent of the military convoy systems we ran our own convoys from Kuwait to all parts of Iraq. Working for the Embassies and other State departments such as the FBI, US Marshals, Homeland security and other shady outfits.
I have written a book relating to my time & the events of the other teams whilst driving in war zones. Vol 1 covers the first 3 years of the Bosnian war. With nearly 400 pages & hundreds of photographs never seen. The book will be of interest to both, today’s truck drivers & veterans of the war. As we worked in close collaboration with the military.
Vol 2 will cover events such as the change over from the UN to NATO in Yugoslavia as well as our operations in Africa. It’s not often you get to drive your truck on a large cargo plane, settle down & then drive off the plane somewhere else in the world.
Vol 3 will cover the work of drivers on convoys working on “Operation Iraqi Freedom” 2003 to 2007.
Slowing for the Rough Stuff. Vol 1.
I intend to use some of the profits to set up an equine therapy for wounded soldiers.