I shouldn't have been doing that run anyway. I'd told the agency a few days earlier that I didn't want to work for him or the brewery again, but eleven phone calls the previous evening had weakened my resistance and I'd said yes just to shut him up. The run was easy enough though - trailer to Wrexham, come back, go home. What could possibly go wrong?
So I turned up the following morning, got the notes and the keys, and found that the trailer was a tanker, not a curtainsider. I'd only pulled a tanker a couple of times in the past, but as long as I took it steady round islands and braked gently to avoid surging it was just the same as any other trailer. It would be no problem to an old hand like me, and the stuff wasn't exactly hazardous, was it?
I drove round the yard and found the tanker, a little 35 footer, pulled in front of it, and backed carefully underneath, listening and feeling for the "clunk" which would tell me the jaws of the fifth wheel had closed round the pin. I saw the trailer lurch slightly in the mirror, and knew I was lifting it onto the turntable. I seemed to be backing for quite a long time, then there was not so much a "clunk " as a "thump". I climbed out to have a look, and found that instead of sitting snugly in the jaws of the coupling the pin had missed it altogether and was in front of the turntable. Worse, the trailer legs were now jammed up against the rear lights of the unit, or more accurately what had been the rear lights of the unit until they'd met a trailer going the other way.
Muttering and cursing my incompetence at not having noticed that the trailer was too high when I backed under it, I spent a strenuous ten minutes juggling the unit's air suspension and winding the trailer legs until I'd separated the combatants, then went into the office to confess my sins. The traffic manager gave me a defect sheet, an accident report form, and a very expressive look, in roughly that order, and I toddled off to the workshops. The fitter must have been related to the traffic manager, because he gave me an identical look, and set about restoring the back of the unit to its former glory.
Ninety minutes later I drove out of the workshop with two shiny new light units bolted to brackets which were now much straighter than they had been, and went to find the trailer again. I backed under it very carefully, heard the "clunk", checked that I'd got it by trying to pull forward, and climbed out to finish coupling up. Safety clip - on. Susies - connected. Legs - raised. This was more like it, I was a professional again. I pulled the winding handle back off the shaft, went to put it on the retaining hook and lost my grip on it. The handle swung down, and because this was a short trailer and the legs were close to the back of the tractor, the handle hit the nearside light unit and knocked a big hole in the lens. Brilliant! The light had been on for less than ten minutes and I'd already broken it. I considered the options, then did the only thing I could do in the circumstances - jumped in the cab and headed for the gate before anybody spotted it. Once I got back I could plead insanity, or join the Foreign Legion, or something.
The journey was uneventful, although the route I took was possibly the worst way to get to Wrexham, and I later found that I'd apparently asked the only driver in the depot who favoured that road, but never mind, I got there. The bloke in the office asked why I was late, so I mumbled something about problems with the lights and went to park the trailer.
Having dropped that one, I found the one I was to take back, and not wanting to make the same mistake again I checked the height it had been left at very carefully. It looked okay, so I backed slowly under it. I saw the trailer move as it was lifted onto the unit, then looked through the rear window of the cab as the front of the trailer slid up onto the turntable. Then, just to be on the safe side, I raised the unit's air suspension as high as it would go. No way was this one going over the top of the fifth wheel!
There was this sort of "thump", and I thought "I've heard that before somewhere". I climbed out, and sure enough the pin was in front of the turntable, and the legs, although six inches off the floor, were buried in the wreckage of the rear lights. That's only twice in 15 years that I'd missed the pin, and both on the same day. How the hell had that happened?
The answer was written on top of the turntable, where a line was scored in the grease. Being unused to tankers I'd misjudged the centre of the trailer, so the pin had missed the "V" of the jaws and ridden up over the top. It only took me five minutes to separate them this time, (well, I'd had some practice, hadn't I?), and I spent the journey home rehearsing my excuses. Perhaps the afternoon traffic controller wouldn't have heard about this morning's incident, and I could casually mention that the lights were damaged and scarper before anyone twigged.
Some hopes! As soon as I walked in the controller looked up and said "Oh, it's you. The transport manager wants to see you".
I tip-toed down to the headmaster's - sorry, transport manager's office. He did not look a happy man. In fact he looked like he'd been sucking a lemon, and regarded me over the top of glasses which I think he'd put on specially for the job. "Oh, it's you", he said, "I hear you had a bit of trouble this morning". All my carefully rehearsed excuses deserted me, and I replied "Yes, and I did it again at Wrexham".
I'll leave the rest of the interview to your imaginationů
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