It had been ten years already. Ten years of experience on the American Highways hauling loads ranging from wooden crates in dry vans to oversize equipment on R.G.N. (Removable Goose Neck) Trailers.
Even after that long behind the wheel, it still amazed Sea Cat—she just went by her CB handle these days—at what she had accomplished.
Over the course of those years, she was able to buy her own rig: a brand new 1997 Kenworth W900L powered by a four-twenty-five 3406B Caterpillar Engine with an Eaton-Fuller 18-Speed Transmission. It was also how she earned her handle. While the truck's blue-green paint job reminded others of the sea and it was powered by a Cat, others began to call her Sea Cat over the air ways.
Sitting in the booth, a friend of hers, The Exterminator, caught her staring out the window of the truck stop again. "Tryin' to see into 'he future?" he asked, grinning. "Or are ya' rememberin' something, Cat?"
Sea Cat liked Exterminator; he was different than a regular guy she could have met at a bar, but still a guy. They had had their intimacy a few times, once after just about drinking themselves stupid. Neither of them had a steady relationship in their lives and besides Exterminator, the road was her closest friend.
Cat wasn't remembering anything. She was planning her attack on a cryogenics plant she had to get to, cross a strike line and pick up a tanker loaded with liquid nitrogen. Once through and hooked up with the trailer, Sea Cat would have to get past the line again and on her way to another plant.
Easier said than done.
"No." Cat turned her gaze towards him. "I'm anxious about what I'm about to pick up: a tanker loaded with seventy-six-hundred gallons of liquid nitrogen."
Shrugging as he sat down, he replied, "Those are tough, but you've hauled them before anyway, haven't ya'?"
Nodding, Cat said, "But I've never crossed a strike line; at least I'm getting paid double to do it though."
Exterminator's expression changed. "That's going to be dangerous; you be careful and watch that nice little ass of yours, 'kay?" His voice was serious. "I know you can drive; hell, you could drive that 900L bound, gagged and blindfolded."
Cat got a repulsive look on her face. "That's disgusting. But true."
"Well," he said, slapping his hands down on the booth table as he got up, "figured that'd be the most difficult way for you, eh?"
She said nothing, just agreeing with a nod. "I have to go." Cat got up from the booth as well and stretched. The knots in her stomach began to grow as the reality of the situation hit her.
"Good luck, Cat. Be careful," he warned once again.
Cat gave him a funny look. "I'm not heading off yet. I have to go; all the water I drink runs through me faster than an axe through an apple."
Grinning a bit, Exterminator replied, "Ah, I see; your tank's not as big as mine. That can be a pain in your axle, can't it?"
Heading to the ladies, she said, "No, more of a pain up my—" The blaring of a truck's horn drowned her voice out; he knew what she had said anyway.
Finished with her business, Sea Cat paid for what she needed: flashlight batteries, food for later and a pair of ear plugs.
Crossing a strike line was risky enough; doing it without a weapon would have been just plan stupid. A few years ago, an "acquaintance" of hers had supplied her with a semi-automatic Benelli M2 Super 90 20-gauge shotgun; it might not have packed the punch of a 12-gauge, but the M2 would do what she needed. Having less recoil, she'd be able to fire it one handed; shooting the weapon with both hands while the truck was in motion wasn't an option.
Heading towards her rig, she went over her plan once more: Okay, before reaching the gates, lay on the horn to alert the police so they open them and let me in. Wait for one of the yard workers to give me further instructions. That's the easy part; getting out will be the challenge; the workers on strike will do anything to keep me from getting past those gates . . . .
She gulped. In the cab Sea Cat turned the key and pushed the silver starter button, her 3406B started on its first try; it seemed to take less time than usual to warm up. "Here we go," she said in a low sigh and released the parking brake. Depressing the clutch, she shifted the 18-speed into third direct, timed the clutch with the accelerator and rolled forward.
Once on the ramp that led to the freeway, Sea Cat moved up through the gears, floating through each one after third. She had learned to double clutch during her training, but after that she moved on to rev matching: timing the engine speed so she could shift without using the clutch. Just about all the drivers she knew floated through their gears; Exterminator did both double clutching and rev matching, and she always wondered (never wanted to ask though) why he did.
"Whatever." After a while she started talking to herself, but this was the quickest it had ever started. "If he wants to shift that way, so be it; I drive my way, he drives his."
The journey to the plant hadn't taken as long as planned; it was just past midday by the time Cat reached her destination. As dozens of men and women holding picket signs yelled on the outside of the fence, well armed police stood on the other side; they made sure no one charged the gate.
As she made a wide turn, Cat pulled on the chain that blew the horn; to her surprise, the strikers moved and the cops opened the gate far enough for her to roll in. She could see the angry men and women slamming their signs against her sleeper, tires of the drive axles and mudflaps. They were lucky nothing was caught and pulled in-between either of the duals; blood was a pain to wash off.
When she reached a safe distance, Cat slowed to a stopped and moved the gear shift into neutral. She rolled the window down as one of the yard worker's stepped up onto the running board.
"Glad you made it through," he yelled in-order to be heard over the strikers. "When you get down by the other tankers I'll direct you when you go to hook up; it's a white one with a red stripe on it."
Cat looked over the man's shoulder at the workers outside the fence. "It's getting pretty nasty out there."
"Just part of the game." He signaled for her to move.
She shifted back into third direct and took off towards the small downhill grade that led to the loading depot. Within a hundred feet of the tanker she had to get—the red stripe caught her eye—the worker got off the running board; Cat watched in her mirror to make sure she didn't run him over.
Swinging wide to the left, Cat lined up the sides of the trailer in both of her mirrors, the worker in the one on the driver's side. She saw him open the jaws to her fifth wheel. Throwing the 18-speed into low reverse, Cat watched her sides as she powered the rig backwards. The impact of the fifth wheel against the front of the trailer made a somewhat loud clank; she gave it a little more diesel until she heard the jaws of the fifth wheel clamp shut when they came in contact with kingpin.
She saw another yard worker get up behind her Aerodyne Sleeper; he hooked up her electrical cable and both air lines to the tanker. Another was cranking up the landing gear. Cat left the brakes to the trailer applied and did a quick test; she shifted into first and tried to pull forward.
"Good, brakes work." She pushed down the red knob, blew the horn and rolled forward before making a sharp left turn, heading back up to the gates. "Guess I better grab Ronnie." She reached back and grabbed the Benelli. Cat had already loaded it and placed her earplugs in before rolling the passenger window down.
With Ronnie laying across her thighs, Cat shifted up until she had plenty of speed. When the cops saw she was coming, Cat blew the horn again, trying to scare the strikers out of the way. The cops opened the gate and the strikers formed a human wall.
Resting the shotgun's barrel against the door frame, she had her finger on the trigger guard. "Let 'em here ya' shout, Ronnie!" she said, moved her finger off the guard and pulled the trigger; the shot cracked in the air and the strikers dispersed.
Speeding right past the strikers, Cat laid on the horn a couple times as a taunt towards the people who didn't want her to pass.
"Don't mess with a girl and her truck; especially if she's powered by a Cat," she said with laugh and spanked her ass. Sea Cat had 3406 CAT tattooed on her left butt cheek; it was in case she ever got into an accident and couldn't be identified by facial recognition. Everyone over the air ways knew she had a "painted back door" since she boasted about it. Well, Exterminator had seen it, but she figured he'd told others what it was by now; Sea Cat didn't mind either way.
At a steady sixty-three miles an hour, with rain hitting her windshield and the wipers going back and forth, Sea Cat drove on through the night until she reached her destination. It was nice always being alone on the road, one of the perks of long haul. She made her own hours but a day off was hard to come by with the condition of the United State's Economy and there was no paid vacation for her.
As she exited the highway and maneuvered her way through town, the plant came into view within minutes. Nearing the gate, Sea Cat flipped the toggle which would engage her Jake Brake (after letting off the accelerator) to slow her down. Shifting down through her gears and changing from the high, to the medium and then low range on her Jake, she came to a smooth stop in front of the entrance.
"We've been expecting you," said one of the plant's security guards as she rolled her window down. "Made good time; the strike line give you any trouble?"
"Nope. So uh, where do want the tanker dropped off at?" Cat asked tiredly.
The guard nodded. "Okay; a yard truck will pick it up later so just drop it off in a bay. You'll go straight ahead until reaching a stop sign; take a right and proceed until you reach Loading Dock Three; you know what to do from there."
It was her turn to nod. "Yup, I do. Thanks." Rolling up her window, Sea Cat waited for him to open the gate; he took his damn time. Once open, the guard waved her through and she rolled into the yard at a steady nine miles an hour. "They need a new sign." Cat saw the sign because of the reflective tape around the wooden post; STOP had faded away and the red was a light pink. And she could only turn right because to Cat's left was a concrete barricade and in front of her was a warehouse.
"How many are there?" She had already passed Loading Dock 1. "Now I can believe why it's known as one of largest cryogenics plants in the country; one of the loading docks is over five hundred feet long."
Finally reaching the third dock, Cat swung hard to the right to align herself with one of the bays. Before she could back up and drop the tanker off, Cat applied all the brakes (by pulling out the red and yellow knobs) and got out to dump the air in the trailer's suspension. Back in the cab, she released the brakes and shifted the transmission into low reverse. Cat backed the trailer up to the platform. Using her mirrors, she judged the distance between the back of her trailer and the concrete dock; with a slight thump, she left off the accelerator and hit the brakes.
"Perfect," Cat said as she shifted into neutral. Relieved, she pulled the red and yellow knobs once again, applying the trailer and parking brakes. Shutting the door as she got out of the cab, Cat first dropped the trailer's landing gear.
The rain had picked up as she removed her air lines and electrical cable from the trailer; Cat was glad snow wasn't falling. "I'd never be an ice road trucker; already freeze my tits off in zero degree weather in the lower forty-eight." Hanging up the lines, Cat got down off the running board and reached for the handle to open the jaws; it gave her no trouble.
Tired, Cat got back into her truck, released the parking brake and pulled forward in first gear. Stopping just a few feet in front of the tanker, she sighed, "Now I have to do my post-trip," and got out one more time with her flashlight. Cat checked over everything she did on the pre-trip as well:
–Engine compartment for leaks (i.e. oil, fuel, transmission/power steering fluid, and/or coolant)
–Tire tread, loose/missing lug nuts, air pressure, rims
–Lights: high/low beam, marker, directional, brake
–Battery box, fuel tanks and caps are secure
–Exhaust pipes properly mounted, no damage or leaks
–Frame, suspension air bags and shock absorbers for damage
–In between the duals, checking they weren't touching
Finished with her quick inspection, Sea Cat pulled the 18-speed Eaton Fuller of her Kenworth into third direct, and headed for the exit; she'd soon flip the splitter forward to engage third over.
"Another load down," she began as she rolled through the open gate and back onto the asphalt, "another story to tell; maybe I should write a book or something. Maybe romance?" Cat smiled a bit. "Yeah right, who'd read a book about truck driving and romance?"
Her tail lights disappeared as she continued on down the road towards a truck stop to pull into, fill out her logbook and then go to bed.
To go home.