Ola Karlsson has been driving trucks professionally for 30 years, in which time he has seen almost everything. Now he delivers flat packs for IKEA and field-tests a Scania R 520 6×2 Euro 6.
In 30 years of professional driving, Ola Karlsson has driven most types of vehicles, including semi-trailers, charter buses and forest trucks. He is currently working for Kaj Inrikes, a haulage company based in Älmhult, Sweden. The vast majority of the goods the company transports are flat packs from IKEA. He is driving a R 520 6×2 Euro 6, which he is field testing for Scania.
Karlsson’s dream was to drive a forest truck, but it didn’t work out straight away. “When I was 10 years old I had the opportunity to ride a truck in the forest and it felt like something special,” he says. “But when I started driving, it was difficult to get a job as a timber truck driver. There were many family businesses in the industry, and they preferred to employ family members.”
DRIVING BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN
Instead, Karlsson did something that many young drivers dream of: He went abroad to drive. Karlsson’s first job involved driving to Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey. Later, he drove in both Western and Eastern Europe, at a time when the Cold War and the Berlin Wall were still a part of everyday life.
“Driving to East Germany, Romania and other countries behind the Iron Curtain was exciting,” he recalls. “The conditions there were so different from what I knew at home. On one occasion we were stopped by the police for a made-up speeding offence. Getting out of the situation cost eight Swedish kronor with a receipt, or four kronor without one. It was a different world, even though it wasn’t so long ago.”
During his first years in the job, Karlsson drove a Scania 111. He remembers picking a passenger seat that would enable him to take his canned food on the road. And he remembers how drivers from the West used to gather around in the evenings.
“We would light our camping stoves in the lee of the wind behind a trailer, cook dinner and hang out,” he says. “I can’t really say this is the way I would want to do it now, but it was fun. Over the years I have met so many people on the road. That’s one of the great advantages of this job.”
MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE
After nearly 20 years, Karlsson’s early dream came true. He got a job as a timber truck driver. It was just as good as he thought it would be, but in the end it became too physically demanding. “The work shifts were very demanding,” he says. “For three weeks a month we would start at 3 in the morning and I never had the time to catch up on sleep. It was like living with permanent jet lag. After 12 years, I just couldn’t continue any longer. But from time to time I still miss the forest and driving through it.”
Now Karlsson drives every other week and only during the day. He leaves on Friday morning and drives for six days. His load consists exclusively of goods that are transported to the IKEA warehouse south of Gävle. He drives to the unloading site and gets a good night’s sleep in the truck. “It has happened that I woke up with an empty truck,” he says. “But now I always set an alarm clock so that I don’t miss the unloading.”
PRAISING THE ENGINE AND THE SAFETY FEATURES
This is Karlsson’s first job as a field test driver, and he is impressed by his R 520 6×2 Euro 6. It has been a while since he last drove a Scania, and he likes how the brand has developed.
“This is an excellent truck. I like it a lot,” says Karlsson. “I have driven V8 trucks with very thirsty engines, but this one only consumes 37.4 litres per 100 kilometres with an average load, which I think is good, and if I drive trailers with a total weight of 35 tonnes, it consumes less than 30 litres per 100 kilometres. Simply said, it has an awesome engine.”
Karlsson makes use of the other advantages that the truck offers. “I use cruise control to drive 30 to 40 kilometres per hour, so I never have to worry about changing gears,” he says.
He also likes the advanced emergency braking system. “A while ago, driving through Gothenburg during rush hour, I could feel butterflies in my stomach – people from the city drive like crazy and they don’t even check their mirrors before changing lanes. That means I occasionally got collision warnings, but the truck always takes care of it and reacts quicker than I do. The same thing happens on roads outside the city. The truck starts braking before I even see the roe deer in the ditch by the road.”
This is the second time over the course of his working life that Karlsson has worked for Kaj Inrikes in Älmhult. And he only has good things to say about the haulage company, which has 25 trucks, 50 permanent “guys” and a dozen extra drivers who all drive for Ikea. “Everything is well organised here, so there’s no hassle,” Karlsson says. “This is something we mostly have the office team to thank for. The company is like a self-playing piano.”
Karlsson admits that working far away from home and family is difficult. “When you’ve driven 1,500 kilometres and you find out that something troublesome has happened at home, that can be really stressful,” he says. “My two older children barely saw me when they were growing up. But I’m trying to catch up on that now with my 11-year-old.”
It is almost time to use the microwave to warm up a box of Thai food for lunch. While he is eating, Karlsson takes some time to think about the meal he is going to prepare when he gets back to Älmhult. On top of everything else, he is also a trained chef.