Reminiscing while a friend is missing

Ken Trites is lost. The longtime “fixer” on the automotive launch events we plan and produce was not on our flight out of Toronto. When I land in Calgary there is no message. No call to the office. No email. I mumble something foul.

Normally, a minor travel malfunction for Ken wouldn’t be a big deal but, with more than 50 pieces of an automotive media launch waiting to be pulled into the logistical plan, I need at least one person to start gathering everything.

Let’s see. Move 10 GMC and Chevrolet HD pickups across Calgary to the staging hotel. Gather three flat deck trailers and strap John Deere farm tractors to each of them. Connect a 31-foot travel-trailer with bumper hitch setup to one truck, and a 34-foot $165,000 gooseneck horse-hauler with living quarters to a GMC Sierra 3500 “dually.” Hoist a two-ton skidder into the back of Chevy Silverado 3500. And manipulate a variety of other loads to demonstrate the carrying and hauling prowess of the all-new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra Heavy Duty pickup trucks.

A two-ton Gehl skidder gets loaded onto a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado HD 3500 dualie.

A two-ton Gehl skidder gets loaded onto a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado HD 3500 dualie.
Source: Lisa Calvi [PNG Merlin Archive],

There is no word from Ken, so I spend the next hour picking up dealer plates for the competitive vehicles on the hauling demonstration. First, I consider how to manage the loads, but then figure Ken will know exactly what we need to hitch the trailers to the trucks as well as secure the loads to the trailers.

Ken Trites has been in the well-drilling business for years — he lives and breathes chains, clamps, swivels, come-alongs and ratchet straps. His shop in Colpitts Settlement, N.B., is alive with projects, including refurbishing my Haulmark car hauler that developed a premature rust problem due to sloppy workmanship and inadequate weather seals.

Although I’ve strapped lots of stuff down over the years, I always appreciated the experience and recommendations of a man like Ken.

On the drive to downtown Calgary, I check out a sparkling new glass-and-chrome office tower, and marvel that everything, including the bricks, mortar, glass, furniture, flooring and windows, had to be strapped to a truck and hauled to the build site in a city’s core.

I recall the time my father loaned me his spanking-new 1968 Thunderbird with suicide, rear-hinged back doors and Ford’s just-released 360-horsepower Thunder Jet 429 V8 engine. New Thunder for the Bird!

The summer job for this fresh-faced 19-year-old involved 350 kilometres of a winding, potholed commute between Moncton and Campbellton, N.B. I was following a transport truck, with an empty flatbed trailer, watching it bounce on the frost-heaves and potholes. As I was waiting for a place to pass, a four-foot piece of angle iron slipped off the back of the trailer.

It slid on the road and, as I went for the brake, I realized it would most likely slide under the car between the wheels. But just as T-Bird and the jettisoned load were about to meet, the strip of angle iron hooked a pothole and became airborne, headed right for the windshield.

One of the loads to be hauled is a 3,000-pound flat-deck trailer with a 8,000-pound John Deere 5E Series tractor strapped on.

One of the loads to be hauled is a 3,000-pound flat-deck trailer with a 8,000-pound John Deere 5E Series tractor strapped on.
Source: Garry Sowerby,

Think! Trajectory? Closing speed? The brain launched into full adrenalin-fuelled “what-to-do” mode. I tramped the throttle to meet my adversary head on and hopefully pass right under the deadly projectile.

I thought I heard a whoosh. There was no breaking glass, no ripping vinyl top, just the growl of the Thunder Jet 429 and the mantra “New Thunder for the Bird” whirling through my mind.

I arrive at GM’s Calgary office and pick up the dealer plates, but am worried about Ken. How do you disappear on a flight from Moncton to Calgary?

It turns out he was bumped from his flight and had to be rerouted, arriving about one hour later than his original flight. I head back to the airport, on the way recalling another load-gone-wrong story of my youth.

Twin Larry and I were 14 and into anything cars. Our friend David Jamieson called to announce that his father had a load for the dump and we were invited to tag along. Landfills were dumps back then, and Sowerby dump-runs were always in a truck. The Jamiesons didn’t own one, so the novelty of this mission was a utility trailer hauled by their family car, a two-tone 1961 Chevy Impala with a 283 V8 engine and a two-speed automatic transmission.

The trailer looked cool hooked to the Impala and even cooler when it passed us on the inside on a downhill section halfway to the dump. As Mr. Jamieson watched in horror, the unconsciously uncoupled trailer rolled ahead of us and rear-ended a parked lime green Vauxhall Velox, catapulting the garbage and trash all over it.

The owner was sipping a coffee on his front porch and was not amused with the state of his Vauxhall, or the “blind yukkies” that had taken hold of brother Larry and me.

I’m laughing when I see Ken standing outside the arrivals hall at the Calgary airport.

“Lots to do, Ken! Need to get the 10 trucks from the dealer to the hotel. We’ll check the drive route tomorrow and get at the loads and trailers.” I know I’m sounding a bit frazzled.

“Yeah. That won’t be a problem,” Ken Trites drawls.

Follow Garry on Twitter: @DrivenMind99

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