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Trucker troubles: Newfoundland less accommodating than rest of country, say drivers

Truck drivers Darlene Frye-Brennan and Adam Leyte.
Truck drivers Darlene Frye-Brennan and Adam Leyte. - Rosalyn Roy

Despite it being an island and largely reliant on transport trucks for goods, this province is less favorable when it comes to accommodating drivers, believe two members of Newfoundland Trucker Group.

Darlene Frye-Brennan and Adam Leyte, who runs the Facebook group, are both professional tractor trailer drivers with over a decade and a half each behind the wheel. Both have trucked goods throughout Canada and the United States, and Frye-Brennan has also worked as a dispatcher.

“When we get off that boat we have to stop somewhere and do our log books,” explains Frye-Brennan.

“We have to do at minimum a 15-minute pre-trip inspection, but there’s nowhere around to do them,” says Leyte. “From the Hungry Bear to Corner Brook, we have nothing.”

After a Tim Horton’s pit stop in Port aux Basques, there’s nowhere else to stop for hot food or a restroom break until Irving’s Big Stop near Robinson’s, which is an hour away and closes at 8 p.m.

“Wait until you’re a woman driving a truck and you need to go pee. Then there’s nowhere to go at night time,” notes Frye-Brennan. “Once you leave Port aux Basques we have nowhere to go.”

And if Frye-Brennan finds a restroom open, that doesn’t mean there’s always a spot to park her 73 ft. tractor trailer while she dashes in for a quick minute.

“Ontario, within every 45 minutes to an hour there’s a rest stop, and you know it’s there, plus you’ve got a few truck stops in between,” continues Frye-Brennan. “You get to Quebec every half an hour to 45 minutes there’s a rest stop. You get to New Brunswick every hour there’s a truck stop. Nova Scotia not so many, but then you get here.”

“Then there’s nothing,” says Leyte. “You get off the boat here in the nighttime there’s nothing until you get to Deer Lake.”

And the log book means the truckers have to stop when their time is up. If time runs out and the driver hasn’t pulled over when the electronic system registers they must, that can result in a fine by the Department of Transportation.

“I’m given so much time of day, and there’s no leeway for weather, accidents, holdups, nothing,” says Leyte.

Along with parking problems are the infamous Wreckhouse winds or the hazardous road conditions, which usually go hand-in-hand. Such insurmountable delays can result in financial penalties for drivers or trucking companies who miss deadlines due to weather.

“There is no 24-hour snow clearing,” says Leyte. “There’s times when you don’t want to go. It might be bad enough that you don’t want to go, but the product has to go. You’re almost forced to go.”

“I’ve got produce on. Produce has got to get there, so no matter what the weather is like I have to go,” says Frye-Brennan, who notes that not all companies or buyers are like that. “Who wants lettuce that’s not fit to eat? So you have to go.”

Sometimes the poor weather conditions will offer drivers a bit of acceptable leeway.

“As long as we can show, if it’s actually posted this is what the winds are, you’ve got a chance. When the boats don’t sail, as long as we get here (to the terminal),” says Frye-Brennan.

Sometimes just getting to the terminal to line up on the lot is not possible either, and depending on the company, the driver will feel pressure.

Leyte recalls a recent incident with a colleague hauling a load of fish.

“You’re booked premium. You’ve got to get down there. You’re sailing tomorrow morning,” recounts Leyte. “He was booked premium on the boat for the next morning, which was cancelled… but they still got mad with him because he decided to stop in a snowstorm.”

Leyte says he’s lucky in that his employer trusts his judgment to make the call when it comes to unsafe conditions. For people unfamiliar with the geography or climate on the island, that call gets harder.

Leyte recalls some drivers who hailed originally from Jamaica and had never heard of the Wreckhouse or seen snow before, let alone driven in it.

“I had them all in my office before they went on the road,” recalls Frye-Brennan, who was a dispatcher at the time. She warned them to pull over when they got nervous.

Despite her urging to play it safe, one driver ventured through only to get stuck.

Both Frye-Brennan and Leyte, who is based in Port aux Basques and knows all too well about the winds, have had their own white-knuckle runs through the Wreckhouse.

“It’s unpredictable,” says Leyte. “Anything off that mountains above 65? You’re asking for trouble.”

“I prefer U.S. driving any day,” says Frye-Brennan. “They’re more truck friendly.”

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