Flat out commitment
This morning, container truck driver Bram Binnendijk set out at 6 a.m. to pick up a flatrack at the port of Rotterdam. The load, offloaded from Samskip's shortsea service from Ireland, is due to be dropped off in Duisburg later today.
At Duisburg, Bram will pick up a return load – this time hardwood – which will need to be back in Rotterdam for a Samskip vessel this evening, departing for the UK. On another day, Bram might have been focusing on local hauls, putting his twin-axle Ivevo truck through its paces by picking up and dropping off 3-4 Samskip loads in and around Rotterdam. One of his more important moves might have seen him shifting 6-7 empty flatracks in a single stack from the port to the inland terminals awaiting the specialised equipment type for export loads.
But, wherever he is, Bram knows he'll be required to stay on the road until his work is done.
What also won't change, after a 20-year career in haulage, is his dedication to the flatrack business.
The 39-year old works for family haulage firm Piet Binnendijk, alongside his brother and named after his father Piet, both of whom focus on standard container moves. Piet started trucking over 50 years ago in partnership with his own brother, and has links with Samskip that reach back to some of the shipowner's legacy brand acquisitions.
In fact, Binnendijk senior still puts in a shift behind the wheel as a Samskip subcontractor, aged 72. “He can't stop,” says Bram, before conceding that his own preference for flatracks suggests it might run in the family. “Don't get me wrong, I chose to do this; it's just that I'm always outside in the wind and the rain, in the snow, or in the height of summer, and sometimes it's whether I like it or not.”
The flippancy barely disguises the junior Binnendijk's dedication to duty: when he was 23, Bram had a serious accident in the port of Rotterdam, when steel loaded on a flatrack fell on top of him. After fracturing two vertebrae and badly injuring his leg, he spent eight months in hospital undergoing a series of operations, and now carries some steel of his own fused into his spine.
“Even today, a doctor would tell me I ought not to work more than 83% of the time, but to be honest I probably work 110% most of the time because we have our own company. But that accident taught me a lot: when you've been doing something for a long time and things start to look routine, that's when it can get dangerous. When you've checked everything, check it again.”
It also taught him the value of learning a little bit at a time from the experienced flatrack truckers who have gone before, given that there is no special training covering the haulage of the equipment type. “Safety on the roads and in the port area relies on experience, and nowadays I try to teach others what to look out for,” says Bram. “It might be the way the load is lashed, or the way the weight sits on the rack. Sometimes, it can take 45 minutes to an hour to make sure the load is secure.”
In recent years, Bram has seen the longer hauls have become fewer and farther between, as longer distance cargo has transferred to rail or sea. At the same time, the haulage business has never been more competitive.
“The roads are also far more congested, there are more accidents, and the truckers themselves have changed since I started. It used to feel like we were all in it together; now it can feel like everyone is out there for themselves.”
And for Bram, that is one of the reasons why the flatrack haulage work he does for Samskip remains special. “I can be on the road for five or six days at a stretch; there can be a price to pay as far as social life goes. One of the things I love about the work that I do is that there is a group of drivers out there who work with open containers who are always the same. They're not just colleagues – they're really good friends; we all know what this life is about and we're already to help each other out.”
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