Roger Henriksson is simply longing for the light. For four months of the year, he spends his working days in the shadows between dusk and dawn. As a driver in Överkalix, a few kilometres south of the northern Polar Circle, darkness, snowy roads and temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius are the norm. The reward for this harsh winter arrives in June.
“It’s almost impossible to describe what it’s like here in the summer when it’s light 24 hours a day and the midnight sun is shining. Everything is much easier when your alarm rings at 1.50 am in June and the sun is shining compared with the same thing when it’s pitch black and minus 35 degrees Celsius!” says Roger Henriksson.
Even if the climate is harsh and shiftwork starting at 3 am every other week really takes its toll, he would not wish to change his job as a driver in the north.
“I’m the person I am because I have always lived here. I’m nearly 50 and I’ve been abroad just once in my life. It was OK, two days before I came home I became homesick! I’m the kind of person who couldn’t live in a large city.”
Every time he works, Roger drives between his home town of Överkalix and the sawmill in Munksund, twice there and back with a cargo of timber. The truck he drives is 30 metres long and when it is fully laden it weighs 90 tonnes!
“It goes without saying that it was a bit scary to begin with when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that the truck appeared to be endless! However, I quickly got used to it and I have to admit that I feel I’ve got ‘the power’, says Roger with a smile.
For the past year, he has been driving this vehicle combination, which is part of the ETT – En Trave Till (One Pile More) – research project. Driving with a 50% larger load increases efficiency and cuts carbon emissions by 20% compared with a traditional timber vehicle combination. As the weight is distributed over more axles, the vehicle combination also causes less wear and tear to the road surface.
It was a bit scary to begin with when I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that the truck appeared to be endless.
He has been given a dispensation to drive this truck, which weighs 30 tonnes more than Swedish legislation permits, on public roads. Volvo Trucks is one of a number of partners participating in this research project and it is hoped that the project will help to bring about a change in the legislation, so that the total maximum permitted weight for heavy-duty transport will be increased from 60 to 74 tonnes. The long term goal is also to get 90 tonne trucks approved.
Roger sits in his cab and swears. The below-zero temperatures that usually hold Överkalix in a stranglehold have slowly risen to near zero, which will result in black ice and slush.
“It’s only when it starts melting and the slush appears that it’s like this, not otherwise. Not being able to get away immediately is…,” he stops speaking and grimaces. After being helped by a colleague to get his truck moving, Roger is slightly late leaving the parking lot.
Today is a special day. This is the first time Roger is driving Volvo Trucks’ new Volvo FH16, specially constructed for heavy-duty tasks.
“It’s always fun to drive a new truck. I already feel a big difference now when driving the new FH. This one has more power, it is much stronger and maintains better speed on hills. It has a different suspension than the old model and it feels much more comfortable on the road. I feel extremely confident in this truck,” says Roger.
The road between Överkalix and Piteå is pretty straight with some longer runs and occasional curves. Thanks to the independent front suspension, IFS, Roger already notices that the truck is easier on the road.
“It runs like a dream, like clockwork. It is much more stable compared to the old one. It is even more stable on bends and roundabouts and can withstand more, you only need to turn. This is of course very positive for me as a driver with a vehicle that behaves in a more stable manner on the road.”
Reliability and the fact that the truck can handle the job despite tough conditions are a must in northern Sweden.
“Driving in the winter up here can be exciting, a snow storm one minute, ice the next. For inexperienced drivers with poor tyres, it’s no fun. I often see foreign trucks that have got stuck on hills. Just last week, a foreign vehicle combination drove into the ditch, trailer and all,” he says.
He has found himself in the ditch on a couple of occasions during his 24 years as a timber truck driver. The last one was more than ten years ago. Roger points to the shoulder he injured in the accident and say it still aches a little.
“In icy conditions you need to be able to judge when to stop and when to continue driving,” explains Roger.
Driving in the winter up here can be exciting, a snow storm one minute, ice the next.
The first time he drove the ETT truck, he was surprised by how smooth and flexible it was, despite its length. As the trailer comprises a dolly, link and trailer, it is difficult to reverse, but otherwise Roger does not think that the extra tonnes make that much difference while driving.
“The braking system is so good on this truck that the braking distance isn’t longer than that of a standard 60-tonne truck,” he says.
He winds down the window and spits out his moist snuff (Swedish ‘snus’). Behind the tops of the pine trees, the March sunshine flashes past. Roger is wearing sunglasses over his normal glasses to protect his eyes from the light which is reinforced by reflections from the snow.
“Between Överkalix and Piteå, there’s a real difference in climate, road conditions and weather conditions. It can be great in Överkalix but slippery between Luleå and Piteå,” says Roger.
Even though it takes just two hours to travel between Överkalix and Piteå, the temperature in the winter can vary from minus 30 degrees Celsius inland to just a few degrees below zero at the coast. This creates demands not only on the driver but also on the truck, which has to be able to deal with these large temperature variations.
At the sawmill in Munksund, the debarked logs travel on conveyor belts between the piles of timber. Unloading takes no time at all and, just over 30 minutes later, Roger is once again on his way to Överkalix.
Before the day comes to an end, he will have completed another transport assignment. It will then be time to return to his home and family. Roger has four children and today he is going to collect his youngest son from nursery school.
“I like covering the same route. My friends think I’m a bit mad, they wonder if I won’t go crazy! I tell them that you can’t sit and think about driving the same route. The advantage is that I get home to my family in time and can sleep in my own bed every night.”