Saturday, 21 May 2016


One of the trucking communities worst fears is that of reporting to the scales. Some will insist that it slows their progress down which might be somewhat legitimate but there's always the fear of being caught overweight and either being given a heavy (no pun intended) fine or being taken right off the road. But the scales are a fact of life and being properly loaded makes the road safer for everyone. But there are those in the trucking community who might argue that point.

Coutts, Alberta, and Sweetgrass, Montana, are two communities that comprise a major port of entry for Canada and the United States. Interstate 15 comes up all the way from the southern part of California and Highway 4 joins it on the north side of the border. For many years after the war, the corridor from Lethbridge to Coutts was free of so-called chicken coops. Of course, if you were headed south and weren't planning to get rid of some cargo in Sweetgrass, Sunburst, or Four Corners, you were likely to get waylaid just on the north side of Shelby. However, you could exit I-15 at Four Corners, itself, head west through Kevin and onto Cutbank then swing back and rejoin the I-15 at Shelby. But the Canadian side was rather devoid of scales, with the exception of one that would stop you just south of Calgary on Highway Two. As time went by someone decided to set up a scales just north of Coutts.

Now, even back in the 60's the highway was divided about three miles due north of Coutts, and continued that way all the way through to the border crossing. They must have planned to put in a scale between the two stretches of blacktop because when the installation went forward that scale was planted right in the dead center of everything; they couldn't have planned it better. Access from the north or southbound traffic was easy, with a long stretch of asphalt for each direction. Note that I said easy access. If you weren't paying attention, you could find yourself taking the family car in to get weighed; more than one motorist caught himself on that stretch of pavement and could only imagine the laughing and finger pointing from those who saw him make that wrong turn.

Back in the 60s the scales facility amounted to little more than the scales itself. The platform was outside and a tiny wooden structure housed the beam and kept the operator out of the elements. The scale house also provided a counter where a trucker could fill out the necessary forms needed to obtain a permit (in addition to getting written up on an overweight citation). From the outside the structure resembled either a tiny cottage or a unit from numerous motels that dotted the outskirts of almost any town.

Walt was a fun-loving individual. He enjoyed life to its fullest, especially when it included copious quantities of spirits. He loved his booze. Some of the temperance types might have hinted that Walt was an alcoholic but those who knew him well, knew that he was just a partier and loved to get feeling good. The downside of it was that he got behind the wheel and attempted to drive home when the party was over. If there could ever be an upside to driving while under the influence you could say that Walt drove very slowly--almost creeping--toward home.

Well, Walt had been to Milk River and on the way home, stopped at Art's place; or maybe Art's brother, Al's. For all we know it could have been both of them because they both consumed whiskey by the case. Anyways Walt stopped in to say hi and one of the brothers responded by offering Walt a drink--or five. The hours passed, the whiskey flowed, and the stories abounded, but like so many parties, this one had to end. So Walt bade the brother/brothers good-night and ambled out to his old reliable '56 Ford sedan and proceeded to drive home.

It was late winter or early spring, the skies had grown overcast and it had started to snow. At times the snow was falling heavily enough that the snowflakes, reflecting the light from the twin headlight beams of the car, tended to restrict Walt's visibility. His condition didn't help but undaunted, and also knowing the way home, he made steady progress down the highway. He crossed the railroad tracks and took note of the sign indicating a curve ahead where the highway would change its course to an easterly direction for two miles before curving south into the customs. Walt's farm was east of Coutts on the 500 road. Another mile and he would turn left. He watched for the next sign.

A Customs officer had just completed his evening shift and was busy brushing the snow off his car when he heard the crash. He quickly went back inside and told the duty officer to phone the police then he headed back out and drove up the highway. He was headed west slowly, looking for any telltale signs of a crash but found nothing. That was kind of strange because he heard something, and he was positive it came from the highway. However, finding nothing, he finally decided to call off the search and let the police continue. Following the sign warning truckers to STOP AND REPORT TO SCALES, he turned off the highway with the intention of turning back in the direction of Coutts. As he approached the tiny scale house from the east he began to notice that something was wrong.

The wall next to the scale platform itself didn't seem quite straight. In fact it appeared that the entire building wasn't straight. He drove closer and noticed a red glow in the swirling snow. He reached the house and stopped abruptly.

Barely protruding from the west side of the scale house were the taillights of a car. The car itself was almost completely inside the house; the only thing that caused the car to come to a complete halt and not bury itself was when its front bumper hit the steel scale post. That was lucky because the beam was less than an inch from the miraculously undamaged windshield and was pointed directly at the driver. The officer could see some movement from inside the car. He managed to gain access to the passenger's side and get the door open.

There was Walt, about twenty-three sheets to the wind still sitting behind the wheel. He seemed almost oblivious to what had just happened. "Where in the hell did that house come from?" he slurred, "I was driving home, minding my own business and all of a sudden, this house appears, in the snow. I thought there's no house in the middle of the road and must've been seeing things so I kept on going..."

Little did he know...

Over the next few weeks, the scale house was replaced with a more substantial unit, eventually to be replaced with a fully modern terminal and warehouse facility. Walt's car was repaired and he would drive it--more sober from now on--for many more years before his eyesight would fade and eventually terminate his driving for good. But Walt would stay on and continue enjoying a drink until he was finally called home sometime in his 90s. I just hope that St. Peter opened those gates wide so Walt wouldn't run into them...  


  1. How did I miss this one?!
    Can't you just see the look on Walt's face? There wasn't a house here before . . .

    1. Walt was in talking to Dad some time after the incident. He said that it seemed perfectly logical; he was imagining the whole thing. Then CRASH!