Posts tagged trucking
John McPhee’s 2006 book “Uncommon Carriers” is about mundane transportation networks that we rarely think about. When is the last time you have considered how many gears are in an eighteen wheeler tractor? Have you ever considered how a package sent via UPS gets to you?
In this latest of his works, McPhee delves into transportation networks from interstate trucking to inland barges to freight trains, explaining how they work through a writing style that is engaging and hard to pull away from.
The first chapter has McPhee riding along with a tanker trucker on a run from Atlanta to Tacoma. He learns how trucks deal with oblivious “four-wheeler” drivers, how they negotiate steep mountain grades, and how they stay on their time tables to avoid financial penalty. While not exceptionally varied, we find out how challenging the job of a professional driver tends to be.
In another chapter, we follow along with a ship pilot visiting a mariner training center in France where mariners guide scale-model vessels ranging from barges to oil tankers through challenging navigation situations including cyclonic storms and the very constricted Suez Canal channel, all within a small lake near the French Alps. Even the best ship captains come away from this program having learned much about avoiding emergencies at sea through this rigorous training program.
Other chapters cover guiding a mile long barge up the “skinny ass” Illinois River to Chicago; and the path a live Nova Scotian lobster takes through the UPS system to Thanksgiving dinner plates in Europe, oddly including a stopover near the Louisville, KY airport to recharge in lobster ponds created just for these creatures.
The most fascinating story for me was the journey of a coal train from the vast strip mines of northeastern Wyoming to the largest coal fired power plant in the US, near Macon, GA.
This train has a nearly week-long trip across the country, being handed off to dozens of train crews along the route, working its way through a complicated system of busy railroads before arriving at a massive pile of coal outside Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer. The coal that this mile-long train brings in is shockingly consumed by the plant’s furnaces in just a few hours. The train immediately heads back to Wyoming to start the process over again.
If you have any interest in how things work, especially big, mechanical ones – you will probably love this book.
Interested in this book? Buy it.
Click on the book image or title to be taken to the Tattered Cover, an independent bookseller from Denver, Colorado.