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Spilling watermelons across the nation

By on March 27, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments

by Bill Landsborough

I am a retired, long haul, owner-operator truck driver. 

I have hauled every commodity known to man from pipe to onions, military tanks to dog food, smashed cars to logs for custom homes and everything in between. 

However, I have only hauled watermelons twice. Both times resulted in complete disasters that I paid dearly for weeks after.

The first time was a load of watermelons out of Nogales, New Mexico. 

Right on the Mexican border, the plant actually received the watermelons on the Mexico side and shipped on the U.S. side of the building. 

The weather was very hot there as they loaded 72 cardboard boxes that were 4 x 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall full of watermelons onto my 48-foot, flatbed trailer. 

The boxes were flimsy considering the weight they held. And to secure the boxes to my trailer I had to strap them pretty tightly but not too tight to crush the boxes or the watermelons. 

I was told that I should probably put my heavy tarps over the top of the load but being it was over 100 degrees and climbing up on top of watermelons at over 13 feet high from the ground did not appeal to this 65-year-old man. 

So off I drove headed towards Spokane with my watermelons. 

Everything was fine for several miles but I got into southern Utah and hit strong winds blowing between the hills. 

All at once this massive wind hit me from my left and blew my truck dangerously close to the right shoulder of my two lane highway. 

I corrected and recovered OK but when I looked in my right mirror my heart just skipped a beat. The wind had blown the entire load about two feet to the right. The top of the load was dangerously leaning towards the side of the road which already sloped to the right.

I quickly pulled over and stopped on a right turn lane to assess the damage. It was very bad and I had no way to correct the problem by myself. 

Just then a Utah Highway Patrolman stopped and we discussed my dilemma. He told me he would contact someone with an off-road forklift to call me and I had to move off of the roadway. 

Since it was Saturday late afternoon I felt lucky to have someone call me at all but a nice young man said he could come tomorrow and help me. So I curled up for the night on the dirt shoulder of the road and waited until morning.

The next day, the man came and together we tried to move the cardboard boxes back to where they were but they were broken and weakened by the shift so anything we did brought a landslide of watermelons down onto us and the road. 

Also the forklift continued to damage more boxes as he tried to make things right. Finally I paid him, scooped up the dozens of broken watermelon pieces and tossed them off the roadway and headed north.

Well, every turn to the left shifted my load just a little bit so I was constantly retying my straps to keep my now very damaged load intact. It was a living nightmare! 

I ended up driving over The Fourth of July Pass in Montana and every turn to the left put a dozen watermelons onto the road and the shoulder. 

Truck drivers behind me were watching and commenting on their CB Radios, “Watch this Joe, there a dozen more watermelons go!” 

I had used every strap I had and the load was still moving. I got to Post Falls, Idaho and parked for the night when this massive rainstorm came through and was soaking my cardboard boxes into mush. 

Reluctantly I put on my rain gear and headed back to try to put my tarps on but as I headed back I realized that me climbing up on that load in the heavy rain would be close to suicide so I took off my gear and waited till morning to deliver my load to Spokane.

I pulled up to the cosigner’s dock and walked to the first person I saw who was a lady and she had already called out the entire executive branch to see this disaster. They would not even talk to me. My load was refused. 

They worked out the details with my company that I was leased to, Atlantic and Pacific Freightways out of Vancouver, and I was told to take my fragile load to Tacoma and have every watermelon repacked in new boxes. 

I told them that I would but they had to help me stabilize the load or I would lose another third of it on the way. We still lost dozens as we tried to make things right.

I had to drive to Tacoma, have them unload my disaster, repack every watermelon into new boxes that would go into grocery stores, add more watermelons to make it a full load and then I had to tarp the load. 

I drove back to Spokane and delivered the load one week after I picked it up in Nogales. I had to pay $4,500 for the deductible for the insurance and received not one cent for a week’s worth of work.

The second time I hauled watermelons was a little more controlled. 

I loaded in southern California and they did not try to put so many on this time. 

So this time my drive was uneventful until I got to the cosigner, which was a major food chain store dock in Kent. 

The forklift driver was unloading the boxes of watermelons stacked three high when the bottom box collapsed under the weight and the top two boxes started falling away from the forklift’s bridge. 

He tried to stop it but to no avail and three boxes of watermelons crashed on the concrete next to my trailer. I got out and took pictures to make sure I was safe from any blame.

The forklift operator finished unloading my trailer then without saying a word, drove his forklift up the ramp and closed the door leaving me with an unsigned bill of lading. 

I waited for a while then crawled up onto the dock through another door to go find my forklift driver who had to sign my BOL. I got into the massive, produce warehouse and immediately realized it was about 40 degrees inside, everywhere. I had a tee shirt on. So I’m quickly looking for my forklift guy and I see him but he would not talk to me, saying go find someone else, as he was busy. 

I went to a supervisor and he told me the forklift driver has to sign it off and to go find him. Well, by now I’m cold and I’m angry and now I can’t find the guy to sign my bill of lading. 

So I’m standing in an intersection of the forklifts moving the tons of produce trying to find my driver when all of a sudden I am hit from the right on my nose and forehead and went crashing to the concrete floor. I was dazed but not badly hurt. 

A man came up to me and asked what was I doing there and I replied I was trying to get my BOL signed by the forklift driver. 

He asked quite aggressively how I got into the warehouse and started asking me a bunch of questions when I told him I was hit by a forklift. 

He said we have cameras everywhere, implying I was lying and said we had to go to his office and discuss this. I told him that would be fine and for him to go look at his cameras while I went to get a coat. 

When I came back, he was a different man, totally apologetic and humble. I told him that the forklift driver dropped three boxes of watermelons and did not want to sign my bill of lading and have to admit dropping about 120 watermelons so he hid from me. 

The man turned out to be the safety officer and was more than happy to sign anything, especially my BOL.

After those two times I vowed to never haul watermelons again.

Bill Landsborough and his new bride, Sharon were married in January 2018 and were featured in The Good Life as the winner of The Best Day writing contest. He and his wife continue to enjoy golf, ping pong, off-roading and hiking around Wenatchee. He has never eaten watermelon again.

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