Monday, March 31, 2008

Near Miss

The title has a bit of double meaning. You see, as I was pulling out of the truck stop lot this morning in West Memphis, Arkansas I was making a left turn on to a narrow street. Another truck was coming up the street towards me but I was in my turn before he could possibly make his into the parking lot so I continued like I had right of way. Which I did, of course, but that is neither here nor there.

I was a bit startled to notice the cab of his tractor move past mine at a good rate of speed even though my trailer was just about halfway out of the parking lot, angled towards him at about 45 degrees. The entrance was narrow enough I knew there was no way he could squeeze by so I did the best I could and screeched to a halt. He must have realized the same thing and he slammed on his brakes as well. My trailer cleared his tractor by a few inches as I slowly made the turn.

Now fully awake and blood pumping, I turned on to I-55 south and made my way across the river into Tennessee and through Memphis, then off to points southeast.

After a few hours driving I came across a Pilot and stopped for a shower and some breakfast. Some days you have the backing thing down, and some days you suck. Today, I sucked. I tried three times on a simple dock back between two other tractors then gave up and took an easy nose-in spot (checking for ease of backing before I did so. See here for my history on that.)

I was in no hurry since I wanted to avoid the morning rush around Birmingham, Alabama so I took a long shower and snoozed for a bit. Unfortunately, when I started my truck I noticed my secondary air tank was completely empty and my primary was bled down pretty good as well. I got out and listened while my truck idled and its air compressor worked to fill the tanks; the distinct sound of hissing air could be heard from under my tractor.

After fiddling around a bit to see if perhaps one of the drain valves was blocked open for some reason I gave up and called dispatch. I spoke with the shop folks and they didn't have any problem with me getting it looked at a few hours down the road in Montgomery, Alabama. My truck was putting out more than enough air to keep the tanks full so I drove on with a wary eye on my pressure gauges.

The fuel tanks and gauges on my truck work a bit oddly, it seems. I had traversed only 620 miles or so by the time I arrived in Birmingham and yet I was looking a bit low so I got permission to fill up there before going on. Yes, that Pilot still sucks.

A while later I arrived at the TA in Montgomery, Alabama and nosed it around to the rear of the service bays. After filling out some paperwork and phoning our team in the rear with the gear at HQ they got to work on my truck. Turns out a valve on the line running to the air dryer was unhappy with life and needed to be replaced. Oh, and the entry and exit doors to the garage there were TIGHT. Lots of scrapes on the steel posts on either side of each door.

After the tractor was fixed I started her up and moved to leave the service bay and my indicator lights started flashing and a beep went off. Something about engine problem and fluid levels. After parking at a convenient spot in the parking lot I cracked the hood and checked the radiator fluid.

Now checking this on a Kenworth T600 is a bit more involved than in your family car. First, you have to unlatch and raise the hood. Then, my way is to grab the passenger-side mirror stanchion, raise my left leg up to the second step then pivot up and on to the passenger-side front tire. After this I curse, get back down, find the keys to my sidebox, open the sidebox, fish out the gallon of pre-mixed radiator fluid, close the sidebox, get back up on the tire then proceed to fill up the radiator. Some of those steps are optional, though which ones are up to each individual.

Crank up the engine again and all the gremlins seem satisfied for now. After all the fun and excitement from earlier I'm getting a bit bored thinking about two more hours to drive so I find a truck stop in Shorter, Alabama and call it a night. I don't have to be at my consignee until 1100 tomorrow morning, though I'm going to arrive there before daybreak to avoid morning traffic.

That was my day.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Buckets and Buckets

Of rain, that is.

I started this morning near Springfield, Missouri heading back west to Carthage, Missouri where a pre-loaded trailer awaited me. I called in to dispatch on Saturday to learn what my plans were and I was told I could start running this pre-planned load to Georgia on Sunday or wait for something else on Monday. Since I wanted to come back Sunday anyway, I took it.

The trip itself is the same that I ran the last time I went home. Since rain was coming down in the Missouri / Arkansas area by the bucketful I decided to take a slightly longer route with better roads. At times the rain and mist was so dense it brought Interstate 40 to a halt.

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Eventually I made it through to one of the truck stops in West Memphis, Arkansas leaving a little under 500 miles to run out tomorrow, for a Tuesday morning delivery.

I got my fingerprints taken on Friday for my Hazmat endorsement. My right thumb print has been on file for a long time since California requires it for your drivers license, but it felt odd having all my fingers done. At least they don't use ink any more -- a nifty little scanner thing handles the details.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dont Try This At Home, Kids!

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Another fun detail with this brokered load was that it appeared to be unloading at a construction site. These are usually more difficult to find than regular businesses (they may not have an address, even) and the terrain itself can be a challenge in a big rig.

As it turns out, when I arrived in Overland Park, Kansas around noon I realized the problem that I had wasn't that it was a construction site but that it was silly how this parking lot was laid out. I offer as evidence:

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This isn't as difficult as it looks, but a new truck driver would certainly be sweating bullets in this situation.

On the plus side, my cargo was being offloaded at this funky warehouse so at least I didn't have to take my chances at a construction site.

After I was unloaded I got a preplan over to our Kansas City, Missouri yard to take a load down to Carthage, Missouri then go home for a few days. I barely had the hours but I made it and I'm waiting to be unloaded now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


As any trucker can tell you, some days are better spent not getting out of the bunk in the first place. Today was such a day.

I stopped for the night just north of Fort Worth, Texas and I didn't have a dispatch this morning so I asked my dispatcher if I should go get my trailer washed out or see if the location I was going to be dispatched to takes care of that for us. He advised me to get it washed out so I would be ready for anything and gave me a location about 10 miles away.

Traffic was horrendous and it took me about thirty minutes to arrive in the vicinity and another fifteen or so to actually find the place. Kind of a mom and pop truck / trailer wash place run by some Hispanic folks. The parking lot was rough and bumpy but they were quick and the trailer ended up clean.

One of the places I had been to along the way was a nearby truck stop so I went back there to wait for my dispatch. After about three hours I get sent a message to exchange my refrigerated trailer for a standard van trailer at our drop yard in preparation for a load. Must be awfully heavy to need that last ton or so, I thought.

Turns out, our drop yard is on the far side of Dallas about 45 miles away. I motor over there dodging the moderate to heavy traffic and the bad street address the system gave me. There is quite a bit of difference between XYZ street and XYZ avenue. The location they gave me was nearly at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, which I'm just guessing isn't in the best part of town.

Finally, I arrive at our drop yard only to find two tired, rusty, beat-down van trailers to choose from. One isn't going to go to market because the tandem pulling arm is broken off, and the other has a lighting problem.

It turns out our dropyard is also the lot for a truck repair company we do business with, so I was told to tow the trailer over to their building and have them figure out what was wrong. It turns out the problem isn't the trailer, it is the electrical connector coming from my tractor. It is a wire we call a Pigtail. Seems they are all out of those items so they have to phone a different company to deliver one. Two hours later and everything is legal and I hit the road.

During my wait I was given details on the load I am to be carrying. It is a brokered load, meaning one we booked to keep a truck moving when we don't have any freight in a particular area. These loads typically suck, in my experience, because most of the details for the load aren't in our system and it takes some puzzling out to figure where the pickup and deliveries are, who has to be called when and that sort of thing.

I'm getting beeped and phone calls from my company asking me to call so-and-so at some other company to verify this-and-that. Here I thought I was a driver, not customer service, or a load booker, or whoever should be in charge of this stuff.

Before I get to my shipper I have to fuel which takes some more time, and more phone calls and existential angst. Not on my part, as by now I've stopped caring, but I'm sure someone was quietly weeping in a corner as this soap opera unfolded.

Eventually I arrive to pick up the load in Grand Prairie, Texas only to find out we didn't have to have a van since the load is light -- literally in this case, as I'm hauling light fixtures. All boxed up in cardboard, no threat to the insulated sides of a reefer. More thanks go out to the person in the rear with the gear who blew that call.

After I get loaded and send in what information I have from the Bill of Lading, I get beeped back telling me it is due near Kansas City, Kansas tomorrow morning by 0900. As I had been running around town hither and yon for the past eight-and-a-half hours, this isn't happening. More angst on someone else's part as I message in that I'll be there around 1200-1300 tomorrow.

The traffic leaving Dallas around 5 PM on a weekday is fairly brutal and the roads have surprisingly few lanes for the amount of traffic the Metroplex can throw at them. By the time I reach Ardmore, Oklahoma I'm beat and call it a night. I spent more than ten hours of my time for around 220 miles, or about 22 MPH. Brokered loads suck.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

There to here

Does this look like a question mark to you:

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That is what I drove yesterday and today.

I began in Elm Creek, Nebraska and had to get started early-early to make my 0600 appointment in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I arrived shortly before 0530 to find another Hill Bros truck backed up to the dock and a Crete truck waiting. After going inside to make sure I was on the list, I went back to my truck and waited. And waited. And... you get the picture.

The Hill Bros truck was done in under an hour from the time I got there but the Crete guy took forever. It wasn't until 0810, more than two hours after my appointment time, that I finally bumped the dock and I was unloaded about an hour later. I put in for detention pay (my second one, the first being this one) so we'll see what I get for them eventually.

My dispatcher gave me a tentative pre-plan down to Fort Worth, Texas, even though he was aware the shop had sent my truck a message earlier to get its scheduled maintenance done. Apparently they had too much freight in the area and not enough trucks, so maintenance waits and loads get moved. I was deadheaded across the border into Omaha to a meatpacking plant to get a load of yummy "beef scraps". The last load I pulled like this went to a Sara Lee plant to make hot dogs or something, just so you know.

Anyway, my dispatcher told me it was a simple drop and hook with a preloaded trailer. The folks at the plant collectively said "Huh?" and had me back into a door for a live load. At least they were fairly quick about it.

I ran back across the river to Council Bluffs and scaled the load with no problem and got running south for the last six hours of my day until I had to stop. This happened near Emporia, Kansas which has to win the prize for the most jacked up interchange I've ever seen. It has been under construction (destruction?) for a while now and it is a colossal mess. I thought my GPS was going to take a dump on me, it was that bad.

Anyway, I spent the night at the Flying J there and got running again as soon as possible down to Fort Worth, Texas. I was to grab 50 gallons of fuel in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on the way and inadvertently pumped 64 before I remembered it wasn't a fill-up. Ah well.

It was fairly windy all the way and very much so in the DFW metroplex area. Found my consignee without any trouble and after a couple hours the truck was unloaded and I made my way over to a local truckstop. I am at the bitter end of my logbook now and can't move until tomorrow when I get back ten hours I can use to run with.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


This morning I jolted awake with the fear of having missed my alarm somehow, and my watch seemed to confirm this as it showed 0159 and my first appointment was at 0200!! My heart was pounding and I was furious at myself as I started throwing on clothes until I realized that I was in Mountain Time so it was really just before 0100 locally. Whew!

I motored over to the first PetSmart stop and boy am I thankful I didn't show up there yesterday afternoon. The architect of this particular strip mall (for whom the 486th level of hell is reserved, I assure you) decided to make the docks all face one way and the natural entrance of the place for trucks backwards to this. Worse, in order to get oriented properly you had to go out back to the main street then find two places to get turned around, THEN squeeze into a single dock with cinder block walls on both sides. Grrr.

Of course, it was snowing off and on at this point and my first stop took half of my ballast load off. Also, I was running a bit low on fuel and after consultation with HQ I had to head north about 12 miles to the local Pilot, do a partial fill up, then run back down south forty miles to the last drop for this load. By this point it was snowing pretty good and there was a decent amount of ice on the road which I would have to navigate back through yet again as I made my way north to Fort Collins to pick up my next (pre-planned) load.

There was a cargo problem at the second stop, as one of the heavy pallets had fallen over on to a lighter pallet and they had to work all of that by hand. Eventually it was cleared up and I was able to shove off back out into the snow and ice.

I ran straight up I-25 to Fort Collins cautiously as there was some decent accumulation on the roads at this point. By the time I was almost there the weather was still freezing but no longer snowing, and there was no ice so it was a pleasant drive.

At the Budweiser plant there was a new wrinkle: no place to park an empty trailer! Apparently the plant itself wasn't producing over Easter but the empties were still inbound and when I arrived all of the regular parking places were taken. By now I'm getting to be an old hand at what I call "ghetto parking" so I kind of made myself a spot on the far end of the empty lot. It was a good enough idea that when I was back there searching for my loaded trailer 15 minutes later another handful of trailers were using my technique.

I found my loaded trailer and backed under it only to find that the last inconsiderate asshole driver had cranked up the landing gear too high. The proper method is to crank them down to about an inch from the ground then lower your rear suspension as you pull away. This leaves the trailer a smidge lower in the nose so the next driver who hooks up has the landing gear off the ground by the time he walks back to crank them up so it isn't a struggle. When you have twenty tons of beer loaded on top of them, cranking them up by hand isn't for the faint hearted.

I eyeballed the tandems as I slid them back into place and when I scaled out it was right the first time. This is one area where an experienced driver has an advantage over a newer one.

Anyway, I chugged north a bit more to Cheyenne, Wyoming then turned east along I-80 towards Council Bluffs, Iowa where I will be delivering this load of suds tomorrow morning. I'm right up against the end of my logbook at the moment so I had to stop earlier than I would have otherwise wanted, but I can start early tomorrow and finish it up.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Early start, early finish

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I went to bed early last night after eating a hearty meal and awoke at 0300. I decided I would hit the road a little earlier than I had planned and got running.

Along the side of I-80 I saw a sign for a Super Wal-Mart and pulled in. I needed to replenish my water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and get some cookies and such as well. This particular location, in Lexington, Nebraska, is extremely trucker-friendly with lots of parking nearby, even for big rigs. I joined several dozen other parked trucks and did my shopping. Way to go Lexington!

The rest of the drive to just outside Denver was punctuated by several snow showers but nothing that lasted more than 15 minutes or so. The high plains around Denver itself were warm with mostly clear skies and no snow to be seen anywhere.

I looked over my deliveries in the morning and I'm glad I did. The way the Hill Bros dispatch system works is the reverse of that I'm used to, so instead of just sending me information on each stop as I complete them they send me the information on my last stop first, then the others as separate messages. I had the two stops mixed up in my mind which would have been a problem since the first stop is loaded at the back of my trailer. I'm sorted out now and I'll drive about 10 miles to the first store just before 0200 tomorrow morning.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ice, Ice Baby

I awoke this morning near Chicago to rain and temps just under freezing. First I had to head south a short distance to Ottawa, Illinois to drop off my empty trailer for one loaded with Petsmart stuff bound for Colorado.

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By the time I arrived my truck and trailer were iced over, the rain having frozen to my rig. It was bad enough I couldn't get the landing gear on the trailer cranked down for a while as the gears were frozen badly and the teeth wouldn't connect. Eventually I applied a few light taps with my hammer and got things seated and the gear down.

The new trailer has about 38,000 pounds of pet stuff which is a good thing in bad weather. Plenty of traction for all my tires. The warehouse even had a digital scale so I got everything set up properly before I left.

My cell phone rang as I was nearing Des Moines, Iowa and my dispatcher wanted to know if I wouldn't mind dropping this trailer there for someone else and making a pickup nearby headed to Pennsylvania. My hours are kind of slim at the moment so I told him I would have to park my rig for a few minutes and look it up on my computer. By the time I pulled over, cranked up the laptop and worked out where I could be and by when he was on the phone telling me someone else was able to cover it. I thought I might if the weather was good the whole way, but anyone living near the great lakes can tell you today is a bear.

The further west I ran the stronger the wind blew and the higher the temps got. By the time I reached Omaha it was almost 50 degrees and rather windy. I stopped off at our HQ for the day and will run this load out to its first stop in Colorado first thing in the morning.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More mud, less room

And less fun, of course.

I left first thing this morning from St Joseph, Missouri and headed due east along a state highway. I was a bit unsettled by running 140-some miles along a secondary route but I'm happy to report it was very well maintained and sparsely traveled. Something I will keep in my memory bank for a future trip.

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I arrived in the small town of Macon, Missouri and eventually found my way to the Con-Agra plant there. It was tricky finding the entry point (go all the way past, hang a left to the rear, come in down an unmarked narrow side street) but the folks there were cheerful enough. Because it was so narrow I was blocking the exit but there wasn't much traffic at that early hour, and I was given the paperwork and the bad news.

The good news was that the trailer was ready to go and the paperwork too. The bad news was that I would have to move up a half block or so and execute the tightest u-turn I have yet made as a truck driver. It was so tight I almost hit the wall in front of me as I turned while simultaneously almost hit the obstacles behind my trailer with its swing. All while almost jackknifing it so I nearly hit the side of the trailer with the sleeper of my tractor.

The worse news was that this was the warm up for the main event. I was directed to the drop yard a few blocks away to get my new trailer. It was not only similarly tight but also muddy and I had to move a trailer just to have a shot at getting my new one out of the mess in one piece. Inch forward, turn sharp, pop the brakes, get out and look. Rinse and repeat, but remember you are rinsing with mud all over the place.

The drive from there to Rochelle, Illinois was a cakewalk. I wasn't able to get my load scaled for over 150 miles (and over 100 miles across the border of Illinois) because there wasn't a single scale to be found along the way. Fortunately, there aren't any weigh stations coming in that way until a few miles past the stop where you can finally scale out. I had eyeballed it back in Missouri and it turned out to be legal, but better safe than sorry. Some states charge $1 per pound overweight and you can easily have a few thousand here or there.

I dropped the trailer off at the consignee and got an empty with a HELLA COOL (trucker term) new feature: an automatic trailer pin system! With the press of a button it automatically retracts the pins so you can slide your tandems then when you release your brakes it sets the pins! One of these days they are going to put a button for that in a truck (perhaps wirelessly linked to the trailer) and you will be able to handle the entire affair without getting out at all.

Pre-plan Update: This load and my next load were both pre-plans, so Hill Bros is a perfect six-for-six to start out. Tomorrow I grab my first Petsmart load headed for Colorado. Two drops and a very early start on Sunday when I deliver. Just like I like it.

Of Mud and Meat

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Yesterday I dropped my load off first thing in the morning in Ankeny, Iowa. This was a standard affair with the Bawls drinks sitting on pallets, and they had me moving pretty quickly once the warehouse guys started work. Then it was off to Marshalltown, Iowa, just 45 miles away to pick up a load of meat.

Meat loads we treat differently than other loads in several ways. For one, the trailers are always washed out and sanitized before they are allowed into the plant. For another, we at Hill Bros always have trailers washed out after meat loads... that kind of perfume hanging around isn't usually a plus at the next shipper's dock.

Like many places in the midwest this time of year, the lot where the trailer was to be washed was a muddy mess. This made no difference to the trailer, as I backed up to a dock and they worked on it from inside, but my shoes and the area in front of my driver's seat was a disaster for the rest of the day.

The trailer I was to pick up had been there a while and was already loaded, so I dropped off the old one. As I attempted to disconnect my fifth wheel, however, I came upon a snag: it didn't want to let go of my old trailer! It turns out that the particular kind we use requires a driver to pull left first then pull out, then pull left again to get it to hang in the "open" position. My shoulder wishes I had figured that out quicker.

Anyway, that settled I hooked up to the new trailer and went to the local truck stop to get it weighed. I was legal so I ran it down to St Joseph, Missouri to a Sara Lee plant where they took the load off. And took their sweet time as well, but that is neither here nor there.

Since it was a load of meat I had to find a trailer washout someplace nearby. I followed a line of other trucks leaving the facility and wouldn't you know it, they led me to the place I needed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Four for four

Dummy me, just a few minutes after I typed that I might not have a preplan the satellite unit goes off. Just a short run tomorrow with a preloaded trailer of meat going down to Missouri, so hopefully they will get me a load from there back up to Omaha so I can trade trucks into a Volvo 780.

Staging for tomorrow morning

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I followed this path today, from Cornersville, Tennessee up through Nashville, then over to Illinois where I spent forever driving at 55 mph. Just for variety I put the hammer down and rolled the old speedometer up to 57 or 58 just to see what that was like.

My truck rolled over 200,000 miles today at almost the same time as the engine hours hit 6,666. Thus, on average, this truck has spent its hours "alive" at an average speed of 33 mph. In other words, a lot of idling.

Tomorrow I have to show up just north of Des Moines, Iowa to get unloaded at 4 AM. I could have driven a bit further today but the welcoming sight of the Iowa 80 truckstop and its 800 parking spaces, and more importantly its DQ restaurant beckoned.

No preplan as of yet. Could this be the first time I get unloaded before I know my next trip?

This trucker has Bawls!

No joke, about thirteen tons of Bawls soft drinks in the back. Not even a refrigerated load!

My load was taken off by a lumper yesterday morning. Lumper is an industry term meaning someone who loads or unloads freight, typically on a casual basis with the shipper or consignee. It took me a while to get coordinated with my guy but he was quick getting the product out of the back and I got moving up to Huntsville, Alabama.

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When I arrived I managed to pull in to the wrong driveway for this plant (they have two, both at 2700 such-and-such a street). After conferring with the guard I drove down another block or so and entered the second gate, which the company was repairing as a Wal-Mart driver had knocked down one of the ends with his trailer earlier.

Loading was quick, as they had it staged and ready to go. As soon as they cleared a dock I backed in and about fifteen minutes later I had paperwork in hand and was almost ready to pull out.

Almost ready because they loaded all of this Bawls stuff at the front of my trailer and my load gauge was reading fairly heavy. I slid my tandems all the way back yet it still looked iffy. Fortunately, I know that the inbound Tennessee scale on I-65 north is beyond where I was going to fuel so I could scale there. If push came to shove I could float a pallet or two back by hand, as the floor of the reefer is a kind of corrugated metal.

It turns out I'm legal but nose-heavy, even with the tandems all the way forward and my sliding kingpin all the way back. I fueled at a tiny and poorly-designed pilot in southern Tennessee then drove back across the freeway to an independent truck stop and had a peaceful night there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Boring day in to Georgia

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Today was just a boring day of driving, listening to an audiobook and knocking out 480 miles in eight hours. No stops in the middle except one quick pull off into a rest area to check the reefer temps then on about my business.

The consignee for this load isn't accepting loads today and my appointment is for 0700 tomorrow morning. As soon as I'm unloaded I'll be running back up to northern Alabama to pick up my next load.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Third preplan in a row

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This morning I spent eight hours sleeping before heading out in order to take advantage of the split-sleeper provision in the Hours of Service rules. Basically, instead of taking 10 hours to qualify as a rest period you can take it in the form of an eight hour break followed by a two hour break (or the reverse, with certain limitations). The reason I didn't wait for the last two hours was so I could arrive in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early evening, which I did. Tonight I'm at one of the Pilot's in town pleasing everyone with the sweet melody of my reefer unit running. Such is the life.

As I was driving my QualComm unit beeped. Lo and behold, another preplan! After I drop my current load in central Georgia on Monday morning it has me moving up a few hundred miles to northern Alabama to take a load up to Iowa. Time is a bit tight, though, having me load that afternoon and deliver at 0300 two days later.

I had some difficulty scaling my load this morning (the company requires us to scale all loads). The first two truckstops I ran across had their scales out of service. One of them being the Flying J on the east side of Joplin so just for old time's sake I drove up 32nd street past the CFI building and back on to I-44 to get scaled at the local Petro. So if any of you readers out there saw a Hill Bros truck out front around noon you weren't seeing things :)

Apparently, the girl scouts and trained monkeys are on third shift

I was called in at around 0030 instead of 0300 to get loaded, and wouldn't you know it: they were on the ball and had me turned around in just over an hour.

I ran about 45 minutes east towards Springfield to get some things from the house and once I get some rest the rest of the day will be spent motoring over to Memphis to be in range to arrive tomorrow in Americus, Georgia.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another long day, a girl scout and a trained monkey

Believe it or not, there is a connection there.

I left the hotel around sunrise and headed over to Council Bluffs, Iowa to pick up my load. Again. The paperwork I had signed yesterday was still there, and the trailer hadn't budged either. I carefully surveyed my rear suspension just to make sure everything was working properly (and yes, you can stuff that butt joke that came to mind back where it belongs) and hooked up. No problemo.

The guard was congenial and in a few minutes I left to get the load scaled at a nearby truck stop. It turns out, the load put my total weight 400 pounds over the legal limit so I was ordered back to the plant to have some pallets taken off. All I needed to do was move my trailer tandems to the rear but with the weight on them they refused to budge so the dock workers took pity and let me back in with them up. Possibly because they wouldn't enter the trailer proper anyway, considering the pallets they would be removing were right at the back.

Then I drove back to the guard gate, only the paperwork was now in the hands of the shipping department back in the dock area. Turn around, grab paperwork, guard checks it off and I return to the truck stop. I scale again and I'm under on my total weight but I have to move my trailer tandems a bit to make each axle set legal. I prevailed only with the assistance of my hammer and some harsh language.

Finally, more than two hours from when I started the morning, I got underway down the freeway with my first reefer load. The Caterpillar engine is as I remembered, with stronger torque than the Cummins I left behind at Con-Way. I only had to downshift a couple times in the rolling hills north of Kansas City at almost my legal weight limit, whereas my Cummins would have had me shifting quite a bit more.

This company governs its trucks oddly, I think. You can drive up to 66 MPH using the foot pedal, and up to 68 on cruise control. At CFI / Con-Way, it was 67 on cruise and 70 on the pedal, meaning if you came up to someone slower you had some oomph (technical term) to get around them. Now you kind of cruise on by with no oomph. Feels weird.

Anyway, made it without incident to Lamar, Missouri, about 20 miles north of my consignee where I stopped for a Blizzard and to stock up at the local Super Wal-Mart.

I arrived at my destination 90 minutes early, which is fairly standard for me. I checked in with the folks at the guard shack only to find that my new overlords hadn't provided me with the proper appointment number. We sorted that out eventually, and I waited until near my appointment time when I was given instructions to get to my underground loading dock.

Yes, spelunking again.

The caves here in Carthage, Missouri are much more open than the ones I encountered before in Independence, Missouri. I took a variety of pictures that I will upload once I reach someplace with faster internet access. I followed another truck in, hoping to follow him to the right spot but it turns out it was his first time as well. We managed to find our way and stick our rigs in the appropriate doors.

Then the wait began.

My appointment was set at 1700 and I was in place shortly before that time. Hours passed and nothing happened. You shut off your reefer before you enter the underground area and I was starting to get worried that -10 degrees might not have been cold enough with the wait.

Finally, around 2130 the dock lock seized on my trailer and the unloading began. I was done and had escaped by 2230, a total of 5.5 hours to get unloaded. I sent in the codes to HQ informing them I was empty and stating my claim for detention pay, ending with the comment that it could have gone faster with a girl scout and a trained monkey unloading.

See, told you there was a connection between all three.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A long, LONG day

First, I had the first go around with the driving examiner this morning before sunrise and it went well. Very well, in part due to the fact that the truck I was tested in was almost identical to the truck I drove for CFI. Plus Scott (different guy from Scott the classroom instructor) was mellow and gave some good pointers. We drove around Omaha for a while, after a detailed pre-trip, and finished up at the yard with a somewhat unusual 90 degree back. Charles left with him after that and also passed.

We had some more paperwork, and I had to sign some forms on my application I sent a few months back as they were out of date. Eventually, I was presented with a set of keys. Kenworth keys.

One of the reasons I left CFI / Con-Way Truckload was to get out of my Kenworth T-600 truck. It was dependable but had a small interior and I disliked the way the controls were laid out. The truck I did my driving test this morning in was a very similar truck, a year older and with a CAT engine instead of a Cummins, but otherwise the same. The truck that I was installed in as a company driver is basically its twin.

This isn't entirely bad, as I am very familiar with its plusses and minuses. It drives very close to what I am used to and I am comfortable in my driving control. On the other hand, this is a stripped-down truck compared to the Volvo's in the fleet -- no APU, no inverter, no refrigerator.

I was sent bobtail over to the hotel to pick up my stuff then I was assigned a preloaded refrigerated trailer across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa heading for Carthage, Missouri with a preplan for a following load that picks up any time this weekend and is due in Arlington, Texas Monday morning at 0700.

View Larger Map

One of the things I like about Hill Bros is the emphasis they place on keeping as much of the fleet preplanned on loads. The two that I have, combined, aren't a huge number of miles over the weekend but it will give me time to get through the house and pick up things I need for the truck. After I deliver on Monday it will be time to turn and burn to pick up some good miles for the rest of the week.

So, after I acknowledge the load I make my way about 15 miles to the shipper, which in this case is the food giant ConAgra. After I check in (the security guard asked to see my license and medical card, a first) I was given the paperwork with the trailer number and headed out to hook up and prepare to leave. Unfortunately, my truck developed a suspension problem and I spent most of the afternoon and evening getting a partial fix to get me back across the river, then in to the local Kenworth shop where they fixed a few problems and pronounced the truck ready to roll.

When I left the hotel earlier I removed everything from my room but didn't check out, as I did have another day left for orientation (as far as the hotel was concerned). I stumbled back in around 10 PM after running hither and yon to get a good night's sleep and take the load down to Carthage tomorrow. Naturally, the halls are filled with squealing teeny-boppers on some sort of vaguely supervised field trip.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Over so soon?

This afternoon myself and another driver named Charles were pulled from the classroom to talk with our instructor and the head of Safety at Hill Bros. I had an inkling what they wanted but I let Charles sweat a bit. Its just the kind of guy I am :)

It turns out, our paperwork had come back clean in near-record time so we were asked to show up extra early tomorrow morning at 0530 to be the first two to take our drive tests, so we can finish up orientation a day early. Neither of us being clinically insane, we quickly agreed.

Today was filled mostly with presentations on things ranging from the 401(k) program, the lease-purchase program and an hour with one of the Hill Brothers, who went over the screens that the load planners and driver managers see and how our satellite unit inputs fit into the scheme of things. We were also visited by the head of Operations who spent a long time going over the various facets of his side of the organization and answering a wide variety of questions.

Our classroom instructor Scott was a bit... flustered today as some folks had difficulty following his directions. Somehow, unbelievably, someone in the class had missed the answer to a question that he had us mark down a few days ago on the test itself. Like: "Question 10 is out of date, so mark down (D) then finish the rest." Someone answered something else. Boggles the mind.

We lost the second candidate today, a guy named Terry. They found a felony conviction from 1996 that wasn't disclosed (he said he told everyone) and decided to send him home. It sucks to be someplace for three days then have that happen.

I have a hazmat test and questionnaire to finish tonight here at the hotel, then a driving test, pre-trip test and backing test over at the yard before I get assigned my truck. Hill Bros runs mostly Volvos, but a smattering of other makes and I'm hoping being one of the first to finish will give me the pick of the litter from the company fleet.

Driving early in the morning has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, the traffic should be fairly light. On the down side, I will be in an unfamiliar vehicle (though the test truck is a Kenworth T600, the same type as I drove for CFI for the past 16 months) and in unfamiliar surroundings. Still, it shouldn't be difficult to demonstrate that I am a safe driver in a new truck.

We'll see.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tuesday is Day Two

Well, we all agreed to meet this morning at 0645 out front of the hotel and ride over to the company headquarters but one person was 15 minutes late and for some reason we waited for him. It won't happen again.

After we arrived and got berated we watched a series of videos and presentations from various folks from Hill Bros. They were, in order:
  • Forklift training
  • Hazmat
  • Accident Scenes
  • Highway Watch program
  • Qualcomm macros
  • Trippak
  • Logs & Hours of Service
  • Accidents, out-of-service and Disqualification
  • Safestat information
  • Benefits

Nothing earth shattering in there, really. It was interesting to hear the exchanges between various Billy Big Rig drivers and the lady from Logs discussing various dodges they had used before at various maverick outfits. Some people don't seem to understand that if you are involved in a serious enough accident, a defense attorney is going to subpoena all of your documentation for the past six months or more and the company is going to gladly hand it over. He will then compare your logs against every fuel stop, every GPS location when you use your Qualcomm, every scale time, every Prepass, EZPass, Pikepass or any other electronic system you have on board, everything. As soon as one little chink in your defense shows up, where you say you were at point "A" at the same time it is obvious you were at point "B" then it is over.

On the plus side, the company does accept the DriversDailyLog printed log sheets which makes my job much easier. For some reason you have to submit your logs in different envelopes going to the same location (a processing company called Trippak that I used while I was at CFI) than the rest of your materials, which was never a problem for me before.

On the down side, they want a lot of repetitive information written on pretty much every scrap of paper you turn in so I will probably get a stamp or two made once I get the truck number for my "permanent" truck.

Lunch today was a few blocks away at a local Italian restaurant and pizzeria. I've worked in and managed pizza shops before and the food was mediocre but filling, and not terribly expensive.

Tomorrow will be more of the same as we wrap up most of the paperwork process and finish most of the presentations. Thursday will be spent out on the road taking our hour-long driving tests and going to see the operations side of the operation. Since this is a smaller company they only have one truck tasked as the test truck and it doesn't have seating or seat belts in back for passengers, so it will be done with only the applicant and an examiner each trip.

This afternoon I was given the keys to the driver van so I will also be driving everyone back to the headquarters tomorrow morning. The van WILL be leaving on schedule, as we have to be there no later than 0659.

Monday, March 10, 2008


As part of our morning duties, we filled out a piece of paper with a series of adjectives ("calm", "dependable", "generous", etc.) and a scale of 1-5 next to them. One side reflecting how we see ourselves, and the other side is our assessment of how others view us. I view tests of this nature, and I've taken a few, as not much more than palmistry and don't lend the resulting evaluation much weight.

Those who know me can easily tell which of these traits my report highlighted are true or likely to be true, and those that are fanciful:

Very Likable
Good Listener
Probably Have a Lot of Friends
Able to Accommodate About Any Justifiable Pace

For those that don't know me well, let's just say that about half of these are in the ballpark and half of them are foul balls. So to speak.

I was provided with a five-page report detailing my various attributes that I will post online at some point for your reading pleasure... if by pleasure you mean something akin to ripping your own fingernails out.

Lunch and beyond

Lunch was a very plain affair of chicken breast and steamed veggies cooked on site by the staff. I was nursing a swollen bladder because I knew we had to take our "whiz quiz" test in the afternoon and really, really didn't want to not be able to go on command when the time came. Naturally, I skipped on the free bottled water offered during the morning and tried to not tilt my head too far to the left or right so urine didn't leak out my ears.

When it came time to pile into the company van and drive over to the "wellness center" I was happier than most. I could care less about the drug test -- I don't drink, smoke or do drugs so the likelihood of mine coming back positive isn't much of a concern. The lobby of the place was packed with the nine of us and a handful of others that arrived before us. Shortly, someone had commandeered the TV remote and placed it on the "Spike" channel where we watched a series of gory "America's most appalling video" type material. Hey it took my mind off of my bladder, mostly.

My time came and I fairly rushed to the lab area where the "specimen" would be collected. Wash hands, take everything out of pockets, take cup into adjacent bathroom. DO NOT flush. Fill cup to such-and-such a line, if possible. No problemo!

Then, like the steer you are at that point, you get weighed, measured, poked and prodded. I'm still 6'4" tall and 301 pounds. Blood pressure 130 over 80. Heart rate 55. Uncorrected color vision and normal hearing.

I was handed a pair of blue disposable shorts and told to strip down for the doctor who would be in shortly. I would like to heap much praise on the person who invented this novel device: they are so much better than the old hospital gowns!

The doctor cruises in and we get down to business. Poked here, prodded there. Listens to heart, listens to lungs, tests reflexes, palpates abdomen. And of course, the highlight of his day and mine: the hernia check. The doctor cruises back out as I change back into my regular clothes and go wait for the agility and strength test.

I'm asked if I have a host of problems related to back pain, strains and the like. Eventually, I'm given a device that tests the pressure your hands exert when you close them and I register 150 foot pounds with my right hand and 145 with my left. I didn't really try all that hard with my right hand and went all out with my (weaker) left just to see if I could get a rise out of him. No dice.

Next I did a series of arm and torso movements, touch your toes, twist from side to side, bend backwards, etc. Then I was led over to a box on the floor that I had to lift to my waist three times. Just 25 pounds, so no big deal. Then the same thing with the weight increased to 50 pounds. Not much of a big deal, though I was breathing a bit heavy. Then the weight was increased to 75 pounds and I had to pick it up and put it on a shelf about shoulder height three times. By now I was puffing a bit, though I could still manage the tasks easily enough.

Then I was made to go from a standing position to a crouching position and touch the ground twenty times which wasn't a problem, though my breathing was getting ragged. Next up was a test where I pulled a 200 pound cart about five feet towards me with one hand, then pushed it back into place with both hands. This was easy.

Finally, the tester lead me over to a standard aluminum ladder and had me hold on to it and stand up on the second step, without touching the first step. Five times, using both legs. I was huffing and sweating after this, though I completed it with no trouble. Thankfully, that was enough pain and suffering for now and I was allowed to leave.

When we had all finished, we were given a package with the various reports to give to our newfound masters and we drove back over to the company yard.

Here we suffered the first casualty of orientation: the lone female managed to not pass several parts of the physical and was let go. She sat next to me and I had even stolen borrowed a pen from her earlier, which I returned.

The mind-numbing routine of signing, dating, reading this-and-that and the like continued until just after 1700. We were given the option to stay later today or come in early tomorrow and by default we chose to come in early. When I mentioned in the van on the way back to the hotel that we will need to leave at 0645 it raised some grumbling, though those that grumbled never brought this up during orientation.

Typical group of truckers.

It begins

This morning I went down to the lobby of the hotel that Hill Bros has its applicants stay at around 0600 to get some of that "free continental breakfast" they have down there. Alas, not much more than muffins, bagels and some cereals.

I asked the person at the front desk last night what time the company shuttle bus arrives and was told around 0700 so I sat in the lobby. Around 0730 it showed up with a completely silent driver behind the wheel.

In a few minutes eight of us had boarded and the doors shut, and the mute up front drove off. No one was speaking much, in contrast to the false bravado in the lobby just minutes earlier. The drive itself was no more than five minutes, and no one spoke.

When we arrived at the company our has-a-cat-caught-your-tongue driver carefully parked it off to the side, got out and went inside while motioning us on. If anyone else found this to be odd they didn't say anything. Eventually, we straggled in and were ushered into a small classroom filled with tables, a desk and some chairs. Oh, and an oddly-positioned window in to where the recruiters sit.

Scott, as it turns out, does have a voice and it further turns out he is in charge of the training class. There were a dozen or so open binders filled with papers arranged on the tables with small green name placards indicating who sat where. This being a typical group of truckers, it took a while for this to sink in and everyone sitting in the correct location. It also being typical, one applicant missed the bus entirely and had to be fetched, while several others didn't have the tote bags the company had over at the hotel.

Most of the trucking archetypes are represented in our group. The lone, supersized female. The trucker from Texas who spent four months in Iraq and lived to tell the tale, even though his truck was shot out from under him. The owner-operator who is "parking my paid-for truck in my front yard until something is done about the cost of fuel." The obviously gay or gender-confused guy. I could go on.

A quick thumbing-through of the binder of fresh forms presented to us reveals a process similar to the one I endured at orientation sixteen months ago at CFI. Forms allowing them to administer drug tests, get medical information, talk with previous employers, acknowledge receipt of various pieces of information. Pages to take notes for each video or presentation we receive with spots to note the "three things you took away" from each regurgitation. Probably a hundred pages in all.

We were taken on a short tour of the main building. Short mainly because there isn't much to it. Here is the repair bay for trailers, here is the bay for tractors, here is the driver lounge (including one lounging driver -- nice touch), the smoking area outside, men's and women's facilities, yada yada.

Once we returned we were placed in the hands of a new face, John, the head of the Safety department. While earnest, John punctuated many of his sentences with "Okay" and wasn't much of a public speaker. Emphasis on Safety being paramount, Safety and Ops love each other, if Ops is trying to force you to do something unsafe let us know, Ops is filled with satan worshipers. Well, the last part I made up to liven up my memory of his hour-long presentation.

Gloria came by from the recruiting folks to go over our employment paperwork. I had filled mine out months ago and faxed it in along with pages of supporting documentation which was apparently contrary to the way this type of thing is done. I reasoned with her and, to her credit, she saw I was correct and used the copy they already had on file instead of making me fill out the tedious details of some company I worked at in 1999.

We watched some videos, absorbed a sales pitch for a pin-pulling device and went through a 24 page safety booklet. One of the three things that I wrote down that I took away from this presentation was that I should wear a seat belt. No, seriously.

Then, we adjourned for lunch.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why lease-purchase?

There are three basic modes of driving commercially in the US at this time:

  • Company driver
  • Owner/Operator
  • Lease-purchase

Company drivers have it easiest, in general: they work for a company, drive a company truck, and enjoy benefits like health care, 401(k) programs and the like.

Owner/Operators own their own equipment, though a bank may hold a note on it. These are typically viewed as the "independents" or "mavericks" out on the road. Most O/O's "lease on" with a company to haul their freight, but some haul for themselves on their own authority.

Lease-purchase operators typically don't have the down payment or sizable credit required to finance a truck themselves. Many companies have programs that will allow drivers to lease a truck for a certain period of time, then they may have an option to purchase that equipment or turn it in and continue leasing a new truck.

My four long-term objectives entering the trucking industry were (and are):

  1. Get trained properly
  2. Start as a company driver for at least a year
  3. Transition to a lease-purchase program
  4. Eventually own my own truck as an Owner/Operator

Leasing or owning a truck is itself a business, and many drivers are not equipped to handle both the driving and business sides of the equation. I have spent considerable time and effort researching the field and the opportunities and while changing from a relatively cushy company driver position with Con-Way Truckload isn't the best way to make money, it is definitely the path I want to take.

Hill Bros requires new drivers to begin driving with them for a month or two as a company driver before initiating a lease-purchase deal. Therefore it will be April or perhaps May before I get in to my own truck and begin that aspect of my next adventure.


As of today, March 9, 2008, I am a 39 year-old truck driver with 16 months of driving experience. I began my trucking career in November of 2006 at Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri, which I highly recommend for new driver training.

After I obtained my CDL I went through orientation at Contract Freighters Inc. in Joplin, Missouri and spent two weeks driving 7,500 miles with a finisher before I got my own truck.

Here you can see my (red) truck next to that of my finisher (yellow):

From December 1, 2006 through February 29, 2008 I drove approximately 160,000 miles for CFI, which is now Con-Way Truckload. I left on good terms to pursue the next step in my trucking career, which is to become a lease-purchase operator.

I spent more than a year researching trucking before I entered the profession and I have spent most of the past 16 months performing due diligence on every trucking company I could find that offers a lease-purchase program. The truck I was to drive, and eventually own, is the Volvo 780 and I wish to drive it new, not purchase used. I considered other companies in the industry that didn't drive this particular vehicle but eventually narrowed the field down to Hill Bros in Omaha, Nebraska.

Hill Bros is a refrigerated outfit so I will need specific training on running a "reefer", an industry term. Also, they occasionally load hazardous materials for transport so I will have to add the Hazmat endorsement to my license in the near future.

Another difference in this changeover is going from a big corporation like CFI/Con-Way Truckload to a smaller fleet at Hill Bros. Roughly 1/10th the size in fact.

This ongoing journal is a continuation of my OTRjournal project. There you can read over 450 posts covering the better part of a year in the life of this driver, and view hundreds and hundreds of pictures here. In conjunction with my friends at Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri I have posted a number of videos here, mostly focusing on their excellent skid pad training.

I began this series of sites to give people from outside the industry an idea of what it is like for me, moving cargo around the United States day-to-day in a big rig. I don't claim any special knowledge or ability in trucking. You should also know that this site is not sponsored by or beholden to anyone but myself and the views expressed on these pages are entirely my own, whether you agree with them or not. It is also not a recruiting tool or come-on, though I suppose if you were persistent enough you could find out my truck number or driver code and arrange for me to get a recruiting "spiff" if you were so inclined to start driving for this company.