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Propane tank in a Dodge Diplomat trunk: welcome to the 1980s!

Photo: TB postcard

by Don Taylor, excerpted from “Stories from the Road” used with permission

During my time at Roach’s, there was one dispatcher I didn’t get along with very well. My future-wife got along with her even less. About 1988 my fiancée got into a particularly nasty disagreement with the dispatcher resulting with her quitting. I followed her out the door to Oikonen’s Taxi, a rival company in Thunder Bay. It was here that I met someone who was destined to become a very good, and life-long, friend. There were times, however, when we almost killed each other in pure hatred, but that’s a story for later. The first time I met Pete, he had his mouth wired shut, as he had fallen off a roof, and broken his jaw.

Pete was then, and still is, a good sounding board, non-judgmental, and always ready with an ear to listen. A one-in-a-million-type friend. Kenny Oikonen, one of the dispatchers, nicknamed him “Perfecto.” This same dispatcher tagged me “Tora Tora,” for my intimate interest and knowledge of the December 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. During slow times, Kenny and I would discuss the attack, from every angle. What each side did right, along with where they went wrong.

A few years later, Oikonen’s was sold to a local garage owner. More than a few people didn’t get along with the new manager he installed, me included. Over time, I eventually ended up driving the worst vehicle in the fleet. Similar to the rest of the fleet, it had been converted to dual fuel (gasoline or propane) with the preference being to use propane.

There was not a lot of room in the trunk of a Dodge Dipolomat for a propane trunk AND a spare tire. Photo: Cargurus

There was little room to install a propane tank in a Dodge Diplomat. In their wisdom, they put the large canister in the trunk. The trunk on a late 1980s Dodge Diplomat is ridiculously small to begin with. Once the propane tank was installed, there was hardly enough room for the spare tire. On top of that, the propane system was never fully debugged, requiring refilling the tank two or three times a day. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly impressed. Time better spent with customers was instead spent refuelling.

The next change at Oikonen’s Taxi saw the purchase of wheelchair accessible taxis. These much-needed forms of transportation for Thunder Bay were modified mini-vans with lowered floors that used tie-downs to hold the wheelchairs in place. Since I wanted out of the propane-tanked Diplomat, I was intrigued about the mini vans.

In Ontario, however, you needed a class F licence to drive a “bus” of up to ten passengers. Over the past couple of years, without any luck finding a truck-driving job, I’d let my Class A license slide missing the mandatory medical testing. In order to get the necessary Class F, I’d have to get my medical & physical testing completed, and take a road test. I arrived at the MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario) with my required documents, ready to take the written exam and arrange for a road test.

I received some welcome news. Since I had already passed a road test in a tractor trailer, I didn’t need another road test, saving me time plus the $75 for a road test. I also learned that all I needed to regain my Class A (truck driving licence) was to produce my medical certificate from the doctor. I also discovered that I should forget about earning a Class F licence. If I wrote the Class C (bus over ten passengers) exam, I could walk out with an Ontario Class AC licence. That is what I did! I was now licensed to drive anything but a motorcycle and a school bus. But the province had recently introduced the requirement of a “Z” endorsement to operate air brakes. I could now legally drive a tractor trailer, but I was unauthorized to use the brakes. What’s wrong with this picture?

As it turned out, my wife was attending college working towards her electrical engineering degree (she never made it), and told me about a weekend course to earn my air brake endorsement. I took the course, passing it with flying colours. I was now, once again, fully qualified to operate a tractor trailer. After a few more months of “no experience, no job,” Shaw Trucking, a small Thunder Bay company (five trucks plus seven or eight ancient rented trailers) accepted my application. As expected, I started at the bottom, doing some local P&D (pick up & delivery) runs with an experienced local driver. While I was working for the trucking company during the day, I was still driving taxi at night. Again, burning the candle from both ends.

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“Stories from the Road” by Don Taylor is available in hard copy, paperback and downloadable electronic file at Friesen Press.