Friday, December 11, 2009

New Website!

I've been working on transitioning my blogs from Google's Blogger to my own website and today begins the switch. I have copied over all 947 blog entries from this blog and my last one, added some new features and rolled it all up into the New And Improved:

Going forward, all new posts will show up at the new site so change over your bookmarks and any inbound links you may have on your own blogs or websites. Thanks!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Truck and Trailer sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g

In the three years I have been driving, the most 18-wheelers I have seen wrecked or in a ditch in a single day was four: on my very first day of driving on December 1, 2006 between Joplin, Missouri and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was the day after a horrendous ice storm blew through, causing a lot of misery along the I-44 corridor.

This morning I saw four wrecked semis in the first fifteen minutes of driving from Walcott, Iowa where I was forced to stop yesterday. I snapped pictures using my hand held so I could concentrate on the road so some of the shots are blurry and I missed at least half a dozen. I didn't even bother attempting to snap pics of the wrecked 4-wheelers; there were at least 150 between Walcott and Des Moines.

Speaking of Des Moines, the rest areas just to the east had no fewer than four separate semis off the road, two on each side. Remind me to avoid that place in the future.

Here's the truck and trailer in a tree (kinda):

(That isn't a UFO to the left of the scene, by the way: it is a chip in my windshield)

Here's not one but two bedbugger vans in the median, next to each other:

A Hill Bros driver even got into the spirit of things, parking his truck in the middle where there was lots of room:

Will His Airness ever forgive the driver for parking a load of His cologne in the median?

The full album can be viewed here.

I had two scares of my own today. The first was an idiot 4-wheeler who lunged in front of my truck, then slowed down not once, not twice but three times before I left him behind. How he managed to be one of the lucky few not in a ditch is beyond me.

The second scare I got was in the western half of Iowa. This morning I checked the reefer tank and it was about half full, down a bit more than a quarter over night. They are notoriously inaccurate so I try to check on it each time I pull over and when I got into a rest area west of Des Moines I saw it was under a quarter tank. Worse, a few minutes later the repeater light on the left front of the trailer went from a white "T", indicating normal function, to an amber "K", meaning something is wrong. Fortunately, this trailer was equipped with a low fuel sensor and it didn't simply stop when it was out, it gave me a warning.

I had enough time to pull into a nearby truck stop and fill up the tank; keeping fishies alive at 76 degrees when its 5 degrees outside uses up quite a bit of fuel, it seems.

Oh, I also got to use my truck as an impromptu snow plow for the first time. The very first rest area west of Des Moines had the truck side blocked with several trucks and a repair vehicle so I carefully drove to the car side. There were no cars there since it hadn't been plowed and I must have (gingerly) pushed my way through a football field length of 18-24 inch snow. I didn't even dare stop to take care of business, as I was concerned about getting stuck.

View Larger Map

This load was originally set to deliver this morning at 0300. At one point they rescheduled it for tomorrow morning at 0300, but as the day wore on they saw the logic of dropping the load off at 1600 instead and a few hours after that I was empty and headed over to a local truck stop where I sit this evening.

For once I am letting my truck idle overnight instead of using my TriPac. The forecast has it down to -5 or so overnight and even though it shares the same coolant system as my truck does to keep the engine slightly warm, this is a bit much.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dog kennels and boxing equipment

You might think that those items have little in common, and you would be right. Somehow, the people at Kennel-Aire in Ottawa, Kansas and Everlast Sports (the guys who make all kinds of boxing equipment) both needed to get some of their products to the Elwood, Illinois Walmart distribution center and a broker knitted together the result into a load for me. The timing was poor since I was supposed to load before I was even dispatched and by the time I made it to Moberly the Everlast folks had already split for the day (insert joke about not lasting here), everything ended up just fine as I made the original appointment time in Elwood.

View Larger Map

While I was being unloaded I got my new preplan: deadhead over to Ottawa, Illinois to pick up a trailer heading to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for 0300 Thursday morning.

What could go wrong with that?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Up, up and a weigh: conclusion

When the Soviets built and launched their rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome they designed them to be built and maneuvered level with the ground, then hoisted into place before launch. Imagining these huge rockets being gently raised up made a connection in my mind as I delivered my load of spuds this morning in Topeka, Kansas:

As you can see in this picture, I backed my trailer on to this special lift, disconnected then pulled forward at which time the operator did his thing and 30 tons of trailer and spuds lifted skyward.

(For those of you reefer operators out there, no that isn't the deflector from the inside of my reefer; it belonged to the truck before me who managed to leave without even checking inside).

Several hours after completing my assignment I was ordered to nearby Ottawa, Kansas via Kansas City where I needed to get my (very dirty) trailer washed out. From there it was on to Moberly, Missouri to pick up the second half of a load heading to Walmart in Elwood, Illinois that I will deliver tomorrow afternoon.

First Ice of '09

Yesterday morning I awoke to find a thin blanket of snow covering my truck and the parking lot of the Flying J in Limon, Colorado.

The air is so dry this time of year there is a lot of static cling, leading to what I refer to as moguls on the back of the cat as her fur bunches up:

The trip distance was a manageable 460 miles from Limon to Topeka, Kansas, almost due east. Most of the ride was along roads with a small amount of blowing snow and a lot of freezing rain -- so much so I had to stop at almost every rest area in Kansas to knock off accumulated ice from my headlights and windshield.

I was told by the broker that my delivery appointment was set at 1800 and I arrived 30 minutes early. The receiving clerk looked up the load number on his list and it showed my appointment seven hours earlier at 1100. Receiving clerk wins argument and I retreat to parking lot to phone broker. Broker swears up and down that it is really 1800 and I wish her good luck convincing the clerk inside that he's wrong. She suggests I offer a $20 "tip" to get unloaded sooner, I suggest she stops taking whatever drugs she's on. The usual trucker game.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Year Two, Second Quarter Results (September 09 to December 09)

This past week was the 18-month mark in my lease-purchase with Hill Bros. As before, I'm going to be comparing numbers from each quarter this year with the corresponding numbers from last year, with the previous year in parenthesis.

Paid miles for this quarter were 31,025 (33,355) and total miles driven were 34,300 (35,583), resulting in an OOR (Out-Of-Route) of 10.56% (6.68%). Those extra hundreds of miles OOR going home that I recently complained about contributed here.

I purchased 11,244 (15,723) in fuel and received 7,639 (12,145) in FSC, for an adjusted fuel expense of 3,605 (3,578). Divided by miles run shows 10.51 (10.06) CPM for fuel this quarter.

Average paid miles driven per week rose to 2,387 (2,566) compared to last quarter and my weekly net income rose to 1,274 (1,127). Per-mile revenue rebounded to 1.26 (1.33).

I'm starting to track my net CPM each quarter. My goal is to pay myself at least 50 CPM and last quarter it was 48.95. This quarter it is 53.38 CPM.

Net Pay By Week:

14: 1225
15: 1646
16: 518
17: 1993
18: 1799
19: 934
20: 1091
21: 1521
22: 1088
23: 629
24: 1544
25: 1326
26: 1246

Analysis and Goals

I took a lot of extra home time this quarter, mostly because I bought a house in August and have someplace nice to spend my home time! My overall money goal for this year was to make as much income as last year and also take a week off. I spent almost six days at the house over Thanksgiving and a handful of weekends I've been taking a third day off so the extra home time has been seen to.

My goal of 1,200 per week net income was surpassed even with all the extra home time, so I'm going to shoot for 1,300 next quarter. This will put me on a trajectory below that of last year, income-wise, but I'm hoping for the price of diesel to start rising and to figure out a way to keep a lid on those OOR miles to make up the difference. I suppose I could work harder, but where is the fun in that?

A Dead reefer, a plasma cannon, planning and reprogramming

So I wake up an hour or so before my alarm is due to go off and two hours before the appointment time to be loaded. It is quiet... too quiet. My APU is running but I don't hear the reefer. I pull back the curtain a smidge (it is freaking cold out and the front half of the cab almost has icicles) and peer at my driver's side mirror. In it I can see the activity/alarm repeater on the front left corner of the reefer and it is blinking green and orange in rapid succession. Oy vey.

I toss some random clothes on and slip my feet into my frozen shoes and try to open my door. Then I put some beefcake into it, 'cause the door is frozen shut. That works and shortly I'm outside at the altitude of 8,000 feet or so and -5 degrees or so trying simultaneously to gulp air like a guppy out of water and hold my breath because the air I'm inhaling is killing my lungs. Such happy circumstances we drivers get to enjoy.

The display on the side of the reefer tells me it failed to start. How informative. I clear the alarm codes and it tries again, but after some starter noises come and go the screen tells me it failed to start. A failure that early in the morning must be some kind of record.

I tell the shipping people my reefer has a problem. I tell our night dispatch the reefer has a problem. I tell my dispatcher the reefer has a problem. Heck, I even told our shop people the reefer has a problem. I'm told to expect to head up to Denver (the closest ThermoKing shop, and in fact the only one in the state) to drop off the trailer and grab a different one. I'm told I might just be headed to FedEx in Colorado Springs to swap out then come back. I'm told a bit of Diesel 911 additive might do the trick.

I'm told all manner of things but eventually it is decided that the spud folks will put this plasma cannon thing in the back of the trailer and warm it up for a while, then load me up. This thing is a 155,000 BTU heater thing that looks like it was appropriated from a band of Klingons and it is h-h-hot. Meanwhile, some of the ranch hands with diesel skills take a look at the reefer and eventually conclude its dead, Jim. Wow, two Star Trek references in one paragraph.

They have a movable conveyor belt system that efficiently takes tons of spuds at one end and tosses them into the back of a trailer on the other. An operator guides it back and forth as a handful of his colleagues watch the potatoes go by and pick out the damaged ones.

After what they think is enough are in place in my trailer I head over to their scale and weigh each axle. It seems everything is fine though I'm only at 76,000 pounds so they ask if I want any more. Me? Hell no. The broker and thus my company? Of course! Since loads of this sort are paid by the pound delivered it is most efficient for a pasty-skinned geek behind a computer someplace to, um, encourage drivers to take as much as possible.

They say they'll put on a couple thousand more pounds. It somehow turns out that I weigh in at 79,250, so those last spuds must have been bulking up or something.

By this time it is just past noon and it has been more than four hours since I started complaining to everyone that would listen or receive my satellite transmissions that my reefer is broken. Dead. Won't start. My last directive was to head to Denver to have the TK guys fix it, then continue to Topeka, Kansas to deliver. Being the obedient type, I agree and head up to Denver.

I arrive around 1700 local time to find a very closed ThermoKing dealer. They don't even work weekends, it would appear. By this point it is about 18 degrees out and even with the insulation in the trailer the spuds will freeze if we can't get the reefer running.

I call our night dispatch and leave a message. I call our shop and leave a message. I call the ThermoKing number they have listed on their door and get told to have my dispatcher call them to authorize the after-hours work. I call our HQ again and get a mild tongue lashing from the solitary night guy who is up to his neck in problems like mine.

It boggles my mind that after everything that went on no one bothered to tell ThermoKing I was on my way.

After 30 minutes or so a mechanic showed up and had me back the trailer into a bay. I detached to give him room and he set about doing whatever it is they do. Within twenty minutes he had the unit up and running and diagnosed the primary problem as old software that preventing the unit from starting. He showed me on the display where the unit thought it had run 1.6 MILLION hours and decided it was tits up and on strike. Another thirty minutes and the software is updated (and various filters and lines cleaned out), the unit is running fine and I'm on my way.