Keep that freight moving!
13-year trucking veteran loves the daily challenge

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 16/97) - Dale Wheaton has to keep his wits about him.

That's because he's responsible for moving colossal amounts of freight to mine sites and Yellowknifers.

Wheaton's the Yellowknife freight manager for RTL Robinson Enterprises Ltd.

Trailer trucks working for Robinson's haul steel, building material, nitrate and other bulky objects to the BHP's Koala Camp, about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

So far, 1,327 loads have been conveyed to the BHP diamond mine site and another 1,380 loads to Royal Oak's Colomac mine, via the same ice road. Other trucking companies also service the sites.

Wheaton talks with drivers continually about their problems, such as flat tires. He tracks load locations by computer and monitors purchase orders.

A long-time Yellowknifer, Wheaton came here as a three-year-old. He's also lived in Hay River and Athabasca.

After graduation, he became a rock crusher in Fort Simpson.

Soon after, he joined Robinson's, a family-run business, and he's been there for 13 years now.

Wheaton relishes in the ribbing by co-workers and comraderie built up over the years. "I like the variety and the people. You can never get complacent because things are changing and moving. It's always a challenge -- always a new twist."

Wheaton works with five dispatchers, but during the busy winter season, there's a night crew, too. He starts his day at 7 a.m., sometimes earlier, and usually leaves work around 6 p.m. His routine is 12 days on, two off, but during slow times he gets an occasional day off -- although a pager and phone tag along.

The five-member warehouse crew starts at 2:30 a.m. to unload freight and prepare it for delivery downtown at 6 a.m. "The food industry likes it early -- groceries, airlines, the co-op, so we keep up with demand."

The only real lull in activity might be during break-up and freeze-up.

The office itself is open seven days a week.

"Right now, the suppliers are going crazy trying to keep up with demand (of the Koala mine site)," says Wheaton.

Last week, there were only about a dozen loads left before the Echo Bay ice road closes for the season. It opened in late January. A rotation of about 150 rigs have made the Edmonton-Yellowknife-Koala circuit on a regular basis since then.

On peak days, 36 to 40 semis were leaving Yellowknife daily on the ice road to BHP's Koala mine site.

"Right now, we're restricted to night travel so we don't damage the road and track mud onto it," he says.

So far, Robinson's has overseen the conveyance of 10 to 12 million litres of fuel for construction equipment and heat to Koala.

To unwind, Wheaton takes his wife Bonnie and two daughters, Stacey and Jessica, on a camper interlude to Prelude Lake where they go fishing and swimming.