Dec 11, 2009

Journey in a truck

Some time 2001

Of all my journeys, this one was very unique. Praveen and I traveled in a truck along with our consignment of weigh bridge parts being shipped to SRAACL's coal based (co-generation) power plant at Gondiparla, Kurnool. It was a 375 kilometer overnight journey. The road was good. The truck was in good running condition even though it was pretty old. The driver was a soft-spoken person but highly experienced and his assistant (what we commonly refer to as cleaner), also a soft-spoken person, was a simple character who would just do what his boss told him. They were a great team, very dedicated to truck and their profession.

The weigh bridge was fabricated by E Shashikumar & team at a nondescript workshop in Peenya Industrial Area ...it was more an open plot which is much more suited for fabricating a 9m x 3m weigh bridge weighing around 7 tonnes. The longest items were two 9m ISMB400 beams. Shashi & team loaded the items into the truck in about two hours and I prepared necessary papers. An advance was paid to the driver. We were all set to go.




A 6-wheeler truck cargo area measures about 4.5m. The two 9m beams had to be placed length-wise with remaining things placed over them. The beams were projecting 4.5m behind the truck! Totally illegal and seriously dangerous but in this business it was not economically feasible to hire a trailer to transport these items. Our truck driver assured that it was his responsibility to transport them safely. I kept my fingers crossed and my mind would not rest till these beams were unloaded. To warn other drivers we tied a piece of red cloth ...this was mandatory for any load sticking out from the back side of a goods vehicle.

We left Peenya round about 5pm. We were four of us in the cabin. Praveen and I had to share one bench with the cleaner. And like any other cleaner his favorite spot was next to the left door. Every now and then he would check the cargo area, especially the beams. There were few known hurdles, 2 or 3 RTO check-posts. Apart from the check-posts, RTO squads would be prowling the highway. I was little worried but our driver was cool and composed. We sailed past all check posts ...unbelievable! As we pulled away from Bangalore, we were cruising between 40 and 50 kmph ...that's when we felt cool breeze blowing in from under the seat. There was a gap in the floor and no possible way to close it. As the journey wore deeper into the night the air was getting colder and my blanket did not help much.

We had 3 or 4 stops; one for dinner and rest for tea. Around midnight, some where between Penukonda and Anantapur we saw trucks being stopped by a RTO squad. Our driver carefully parked the truck such that none of the squad members would notice the beams sticking out. I was calculating how much we might have to cough up ...the driver gave a twenty rupee note to the cleaner and told him to hand it over to one particular squad member and come back. The cleaner took the money and hesitated, the driver told him not to speak anything and asked him to hurry up ...the timing was crucial I guess. As told cleaner gave the money and was back in the truck in no time. In the mean time, our driver had engaged the first gear and ready to take off ...I was skeptical if twenty rupees would work for 4.5m of load sticking out from the back of this truck. We started moving and that's when the guy who took the money noticed the beams and pointed it to his superior who was busy booking cases and collecting fines. We picked up speed as the guy was shouting at us to stop but the driver did not. He kept checking the rear-view mirror for few minutes, nobody chasing us. That's it, we were cruising as though nothing had happened. Praveen and I admired our drivers skill in handling the situation. Very smart indeed.

Neither Praveen nor me could sleep because of the cold air blowing into the cabin. That served our intention of being on this journey ...we had to stay awake. We were on Kurnool by-pass by dawn. Praveen and I went to Kurnool town, checked into Mourya Inn, freshened up and wen back the truck. A 20 km drive and soon we were at the factory gates. Material was inspected and cleared to be unloaded at site. As were waiting at the gates to exit some confusion ccreated by one of the security guards caused our driver to reverse the truck and the beams damaged a truck parked behind. We wasted an hour sorting out the problem ...I guess we paid some 200 rupees to the driver which would be his pocket money for the day. Finally, the consignment was unloaded at weigh bridge site and we were relieved. We paid the balance as agreed and gave a small tip for the good service rendered.

Dealing with truck drivers is not something one can like but this was different. It was an experience to remember.

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