Road Trip: North Bay to Halifax, the hard way

Early morning on the heels of a late night of airports and a two-hour drive from Sudbury to North Bay, Ont. spelled java joint, so Tim Hortons was the first stop and my Sterling Bullet chassis-cab drew keen attention from a ball-capped audience imbibing morning diligence.

I ordered up and on the way out, someone yelled, “Your coffee!”

Hey, that’s my coffee they’re talking about.

I’d been busy counting the ball caps on the masses determining about 70 per cent of the heads in the crowded breakfast haven had the name of something splattered across them. Rite of passage in North Bay and yes, I’m the sod who forgot his coffee.

The ball-cap set seemed amused that the guy who crawled out of the Sterling Bullet chassis-cab with the Nova Scotia dealer plate was the dude that forgot his coffee.

I sauntered across the parking lot gripping the coffee knowing they were watching. I pulled sunglasses out of my shirt pocket and a handful of my business cards flew all over the lot.

“Pick ’em up, Garry. Be smooth, like this is a ritual before firing up the Cummins Diesel and heading out into the Canadian Shield.”

Grinning to myself, I gathered up the business cards and climbed aboard. No keys. They were still in the door lock so I got out, took a bow, retrieved the keys and motored off into the wilderness. Halifax was only 1,600 kilometres away.

A few days earlier Luke Thompson, a friend who sold the now-defunct Sterling truck line, had called about driving a Sterling Bullet chassis-cab from Sudbury, Ont. to Halifax.

“Sure, Luke, it’ll be fun!” A chance to get away from the office, I rationalized. I could stop for a meeting in Ottawa on the way. Nothing like multi-tasking on a chassis-cab road trip.

“Yeah. Fun for 20 minutes,” Luke said laughing.

He knew well enough about “the ride” on chassis-cab road trips. Hit a ridge or pothole and things get funky in the back end.

A Sterling Bullet was not a big truck but the Cummins turbo-diesel engine and the bone-jarring ride inherent to any truck without a box, bed or contraption bolted to its frame rails guaranteed a little excitement along the way.

Six hours after impressing the Tim Hortons patrons in North Bay, Ottawa loomed. I pulled off on a side street to collect my wits. Walking around the rig, I realized the makeshift mud flaps’ main brace was about to let go which would not be impressive on a crowded highway. Nothing to deal with in the load department and this trucker couldn’t even keep his mud flaps in order.

But Mike’s Auto Repair was just down the street and Mike Yadollahi, the wiry Iranian owner, had the flaps’ main brace reinforced in no time. Mike had come to Canada 30 years earlier after the Ayatollah Khomeini revolutionaries overthrew the Shah of Iran. We talked about my drive through Iran in 1997 and the turmoil in Iran that summer.

Mike Yadollahi shook my hand before I pulled the Sterling Bullet out of his shop. His calloused hand was dark with worn-in grease.

With the mud flap flap resolved, I headed for Canada’s Department of External Affairs for my meeting and parked the Bullet in between a Mercedes and a BMW, careful not to clip a quarter panel during the tight manoeuvre. The lot attendants were obviously impressed with my parking prowess.

The trip from Ottawa to Halifax was more shaky driving bliss. I gave up trying to make phone calls because even on the hands-free mode no one wanted to hear “HHHHoowwww aaare yyyou nnnowww?” over the drone of the Cummins Diesel.

I spent time wondering what the Sterling Bullet will be used for. The wheelbase was very short. A tow truck perhaps, hauling illegally parked cars to police compounds?

Of course the last hour into Halifax was a “glory ride.”

“Hey look at me, I’ve survived a Sterling Bullet chassis-cab for 1,800 kilometres and, other than a grille full of bugs and a couple of mud flap adjustments, all is in order.”

At home, my wife, Lisa Calvi, didn’t have much interest in my ride. After all, she’d been doing an interview for her own car column and spent the afternoon driving around in a Ferrari and a Maserati. She didn’t care about the mud flap “emergency” either.

I coaxed her into the Bullet for a ride downtown. I hit a pothole a few blocks from home and noticed the rear wheels briefly airborne in the rear view mirror like so many times before.

“Oh! My back. Get me out of here!” Lisa had the same deadpan look she had when I talked her into riding The Monster roller coaster at La Ronde amusement park in Montreal a few years earlier.

And then, less than a kilometre from home, she laid it on me.

“I’m starting to get a headache!”

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Sterling Bullet delivers a bone-jarring ride

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