Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Triple play

An hour or so after I arrived at the trailer repair place I got beeped over the satellite system and ordered to leave that trailer with them and pick up an empty at a nearby FedEx facility and use that for the Budweiser load out of Fort Collins. I made the necessary adjustment and drove all the way to the destination yesterday, which was Grand Island, Nebraska.

This morning no fewer than five Hill Bros trucks converged at the local distributor with loads of suds. I was second to be unloaded, and I quickly received first one, then two then THREE pre-plans to run over the next three days.

First, I went to the nearby city of Hastings, Nebraska to pick up a load of frozen meatballs headed for Russellville, Arkansas for delivery tomorrow morning. After that, I'm running back along my route to Fayetteville, Arkansas to pick up another load of tortillas and running it down to Houston, for delivery the following morning. Finally, I grab a load in Texas and run it up to Wichita, Kansas for a Monday delivery though I'm going to talk to my dispatcher about that as it is a three-day run with only 625 or so miles on it. Hopefully I can run it up to our yard in Kansas City and pick up another load at least a day earlier.

I stopped tonight at a rest area near the town of Ozark, Arkansas after witnessing a fantastic sunset. I wasn't able to photograph what I saw while I was driving but I got some shots of the remaining light I'll post when I reach civilization.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Slow road to Denver

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Saturday morning I picked up a load of Pop-Tarts in Minooka, Illinois for a Monday night delivery at a food warehouse in Denver, Colorado. Looks were a bit deceiving in this case: a 900 mile run isn't bad for two days, but since I picked up Saturday morning and couldn't deliver until Monday night it stretched to three days, which is poor.

I dropped by our HQ in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday to refuel then ended the day at the Pilot in Grand Island, Nebraska. I've been putting off getting a haircut for more than a month and since there was a lady on duty I got that taken care of. I got it cut so short it is the next thing to bald. On the plus side, my scalp hasn't developed any bald spots on its own yet.

After I dropped in Denver I was assigned a load from the Fort Collins Budweiser plant back to Grand Island, Nebraska. Unfortunately the trailer developed a problem so after I arrived I had to turn back around and return to Denver to a trailer place to have it fixed, which is where I am right now.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Worst Load Yet

I've been driving now for almost 18 months and yesterday's (and today's) load was the worst one I can recall.

It all started innocently enough. While I was taking my 34 hour reset in Omaha, Nebraska, my dispatcher pre-planned me on a load picking up there at the yard and delivering the next day in Chicago, Illinois with a stop about halfway between in Altoona, Iowa. It wasn't quite as many miles as I would like to run in one day, and it terminated in Chicago which usually hints at problems, but I took it.

My basic plan was to get loaded in Altoona as early as possible ("Is 0800 too early for you to get there?" my dispatcher asked) so I could get into the Chicago area in the early afternoon to avoid the worst of the Friday traffic. Just before 0500 I rolled out of Omaha and I arrived at Altoona around 0730. I took a wrong turn on the very last street to the shipper but I got turned around quickly enough and checked in.

Only the shipper didn't have any information from Tyson (who's load of meat products it was; the shipper in this case was just a cold storage warehouse) on what was supposed to be loaded on to my trailer. I informed our people, our people talked with their people, blah blah blah. Oh, and I parked my truck out of the way as dozens of other trucks came and left.

By noon it was apparent there was a serious snafu somewhere and calls were flying right and left. By about 1400 I was assigned a dock but they didn't really start loading until 1530 or so. Finally at 1630 the product was on board, the doors were sealed and I had the paperwork. Nine hours waiting.

The next problem presented itself. The consignee in Chicago doesn't receive over the weekend so I had to arrive before midnight in order to get unloaded before Monday. My handy GPS showed that I would arrive with a few hours to spare so I got underway.

By the time I arrived in Chicago it was dark and the traffic on the highways wasn't too bad, but the local city street traffic was fairly well packed, even at 10 PM. The markings for the consignee were nearly nonexistent and I passed the warehouse once each way going down a street that I couldn't turn around in. I had to go miles each time to find a parking lot big enough to go back the other way safely.

Finally, I made a guess where to turn in and found the entryway which was an extremely narrow pothole-ridden gravel path lined with tractors and trailers with very little clearance on each side. Potholes so big I didn't dare get out of first gear as I plodded along.

The docks were a mess with little area to turn around in, except for the two along the end. Fortunately the workers realized this and had the big rigs use those docks and their yard dog put trailers into the other ones.

Then, the second long wait began. There were four trucks ahead of me when I arrived at 2230. It was four hours later before I was summoned to back into one of the docks to get offloaded.

Better yet, this consignee doesn't allow overnight parking so as soon as I was unloaded my butt was kicked to the curb out front, which of course is no parking as well. I was already pre-planned for my next load out to Denver for Monday so I slogged about fifty miles to the small town of Minooka, Illinois where I would swap my empty trailer for a full one in the morning. Morning being relative, of course, since I arrived at 0400 and fell asleep around the time I normally rise.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

S-Mart. Smart. Get it?

A couple days ago I picked up a load of Petsmart stuff headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I could have driven the roughly 510 miles in one day but I had to shuttle some trailers around for over a hundred miles before I left to make sure other drivers had some for their loads today and tomorrow.

The trip was unremarkable except for the follow up load, which was pre-planned again. I had to run down I-29 to the Tyson plant at Dakota City, Nebraska and grab a pre-loaded trailer, then bring it down to Omaha. Everything went great until I left to scale it and no matter how far I moved up the tandems it was still 700 pounds nose heavy.

So I return to the facility and get put in line with all the other drivers who have similarly messed up loads. Each of us drops off his or her trailer inside, then bobtails outside for a few hours until they fix the problem and notify us. Almost four hours later, I'm ready to go... again.

Now this isn't some teensy-tiny operation here. They probably load and unload several hundred trailers every day at this one plant. They have dedicated trailer washout docks, yard dogs running this way and that hauling trailers around, the works. You would think with this degree of experience they could avoid making this type of mistake with such regularity. But you'd be wrong, I suppose.

Anyway, made it back to HQ in Omaha without any more incidents and passed off the trailer to a different driver to take it back to Ottawa, Illinois about a block or so from the Petsmart facility I just left yesterday. As for me, I'm taking a much-deserved 34 hour reset and resuming my tour of the midwest Friday morning.

That is all.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The older I get...

... the more I realize my parents didn't teach me. Witness:

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee"

That is their phrase they use a lot in advertising. I personally didn't care for the guard dweeb at the Sara Lee guard shack this afternoon who wouldn't let me drop off my loaded trailer there because the extra-large fuel tank wasn't 3/4ths full. Many reefers have 50-gallon tanks, but most of the ones I've seen at Hill Bros are 75 gallons so what is 3/4ths on a 50 is about half of one of our larger ones. But nooooo, couldn't argue with The Man.

"See you in a few minutes," he said, meaning after I left the property and fueled. Obviously he hasn't driven a semi before, as it was close to 45 minutes before I was able to fight my way to the fuel island, fuel and return to drop off the trailer.

Other than that the rest of the day was peaceful, if long. I put 630 miles on the books with a lot of that in slow-ass Illinois, using almost all of my 11 driving hours. I was asked to grab an empty from where I delivered this afternoon and run it down to Petsmart in Ottawa, Illinois then bobtail back and grab another tomorrow morning before I take a fully loaded trailer from them out to South Dakota. Miles and miles.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The 800

Pardon me, I'm still gasping a bit. I just finished putting 800 dollars worth of diesel into my truck tanks and reefer.

That load of Taco Bell tortillas was cursed. I showed up at midnight only to be told no one will be around to unload it until 0400. At least they let me in the gate this time, as no one else was there.

I set my alarm for 0400 and after about 30 minutes of waiting one of the yard dog drivers comes by and tells me which slot I can back in to once he grabs the empty from it. I take about a dozen pullups but manage to get it backed in one piece, then I wait. Finally, about 0645 I feel the unloading begin and I'm done and gone by about 0730. What a pain in the bunions over a 350 mile load.

My next pre-plan had me run across town to a Sara Lee plant in Haltom City, Texas. I've never heard of it either: it is a section of Fort Worth. Anyway, I managed to go in the wrong gate marked "Shipping" -- very clever, those pastry people -- but eventually got it sorted out.

This load was marked as a drop and hook with a preloaded trailer waiting for me, which turned out to be incorrect. Naturally, the only person in the group of (Sara Lee's people, Hill Brothers people, and the driver) that is out of that loop was, of course, the driver. They assigned me a door and the wait began again.

I was done after almost exactly two hours and left. My usually-smart Garmin took me over Texas route 121 north out to the north of Dallas which was a real cluster. It is ripped up for over 20 miles with traffic forced on to the frontage road with lights galore. Naturally, they are replacing a free state highway with a toll road. Hope you longhorn types enjoy that.

I stopped inside Oklahoma at a fairly new Wal-Mart supercenter to restock and almost couldn't fit all the frozen stuff into my fridge's freezer. Guess that means I'll have to start eating it.

Anyway, finished the day in Joplin, Missouri at a truck stop. Tomorrow's journey is about 550 miles up to my destination, and I'll be a day early so I've already notified my dispatcher that I'll be taking 34 hours off and resuming work on Wednesday morning, which I would have done if I had run this load their way anyway.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Triple digits

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Ah, Dallas.

I arrived in the early afternoon to the consignee for this load only to find temperatures just over 100 degrees outside. My appointment for this load was changed from this morning to tomorrow morning at 0900 but I played "dumb trucker" and went up to the site to see if they would unload me anyway. Apparently, I need better acting skills as they weren't having any of it.

The load turns out to be about 15 tons of tortillas for the Taco Bell chain. The place I'm at in Texas handles deliveries for them.

The helpful, but stalwart, gate lady did tell me I could come back at midnight and someone should be around to unload me then. Since I have a pre-plan for 0800 tomorrow heading up to Illinois, I just may take her up on the offer.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Its 0100, let's wake up the driver...

I awoke to someone pounding on my door a few hours before my alarm was set to go off. Groggily, I climbed down from my upper bunk (it is about six feet off of the floor of the truck and even includes its own ladder!). At the last moment I noticed a potentially disastrous sequence of moves one can make lowering oneself from the perch which could, in an extreme circumstance, perform an immediate and most likely unwanted vasectomy.

Anyhow, it turns out to be a security guard for the underground installation I was overnighting at (outside in the parking lot, of course). He just wanted to know if I was making a delivery inside that night, to which of course I mumbled "you-horse-maggot-I'd-like-to-gouge-out-your-eyes-no", stressing the final part. He seemed satisfied, or perhaps it was intimidated by my presence and left me be.

Alas, I could not get back to sleep after this so an hour later I did my pre-trip and headed out. I stopped at the Lamar, Missouri Wal-Mart to stock up now that I am fairly confident my refrigerator manages temperatures well. Too well, as it turns out: three hours later most of the water bottles I had placed inside were half ice. So I turned it down a notch.

One of the really nice things about having this APU is that it has a setting that leaves it off but in a monitoring mode. When it sees the batteries running low, it starts up and charges them, then shuts back off. Same with the engine fluid temperatures which lets the big diesel start easier. Anyway, it means I don't have to run the APU all the time in order to ensure power remains on and my cold stuff remains cold.

For money some reason I was taken fifteen miles out of route to fuel at the Pilot in Joplin instead of the Flying J directly on my route on the other side of town. The company saves a buck or two, but I'm stuck with the driving, which isn't a good deal for a company driver in my book.

Anyway, I eventually make it down to a ConAgra plant in Russellville, Arkansas and drop off my fully loaded trailer. They don't have any empties so my new fleet manager helpfully asks if I had checked the Americold facility nearby. No, I had no idea they were in town or we had any trailers there, so he pretty please sent me directions. Turns out they had an assortment of empties there, so I grabbed one.

The second pre-plan I got yesterday had me retrace my steps back to Fayetteville, Arkansas to a Tyson plant to pick up a load headed to Arlington, Texas. After I arrived at the plant, was strip searched and patted down by an overly-enthusiastic grandmotherly type, I was allowed to fill out some forms, collect a reflective garment and enter the plant. Only to find out that the 30 pallets of whatever I was supposed to grab this afternoon won't be "produced" until 0600 tomorrow at the earliest.

I phoned in the news and our people and there people jawjacked for a spell, while I cooled my heels. Eventually, I decided to head over to the only truck stop in town and wait it out. It is a smallish Pilot with parking for about two dozen trucks tops but I managed to grab the space from a truck that was pulling out right as I was entering the parking lot. Took me a while to get what should have been an easy back done properly; this Volvo is easier to back in some respects but I haven't yet absorbed the different turning rates and viewing angles to make my life easier.

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Finally, consensus was reached and the galaxy can continue on its path again. I will get loaded at 0600 ("it will be ready by 0600", I'm told) then run it over to Texas to be delivered a day late. Sunday morning, instead of Saturday morning.

Such is the life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ghost in the machine

I mentioned in an earlier post that the driver's side mirror isn't working, and this morning I found out that isn't exactly correct. It turns out that the selector switchs that goes from right side, left side and "nothing" activate themselves randomly when the truck starts. So, for instance, when I started it up this morning I could adjust the driver mirror. Later I could adjust neither mirror, and still later I could adjust the right-side mirror again. Volvo's and electrical bugs -- my mom could go on and on.

Anyway, I did indeed get up early-early to pick up a load of soft drinks headed to Kansas City. I was moving out of the Chicago area by 0500 or so and I'm sure glad I wasn't headed the other direction. I had a couple short slow ups but nothing to worry about, and an hour later I was full steam headed west. Well, as much as 55 mph is "full steam" of course.

I stopped off for a shower and a bite to eat as soon as I crossed into Iowa and when I got back to my truck I asked my dispatcher if it would be possible to "T-call" the load in Kansas City. That is trucker talk for transferring the load to another unit, in this case a local driver. See, I would arrive around 1500 today and the load doesn't deliver until tomorrow morning. Shortly thereafter I got approval to drop the trailer at our yard in KC then not one but two pre-plans show up over the satellite unit.

There was some disagreement over when I was going to do what to whom and where but eventually it got sorted out. I picked up a load at every truck driver's favorite underground storage facility in Independence, Missouri which I visited once before when I worked at CFI (details here). The test of my driving skills didn't disappoint, but I managed to get in and out without a scratch.

The ominous entrance, this time from inside my wide-cab Volvo 780:

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There are seemingly endless corridors with stone pillars as you can see here through which we (very carefully) maneuver our big rigs:

Finally, I got it backed into a dock and here is the beauty pic:

Here is today's run. Tomorrow's I'll get to tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Screech! Change of direction

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I ended up going east to Chicago this morning instead of north to South Dakota.

I woke up at 0200 to get fuel and find my loaded trailer I noticed the right-side headlight was out. No problemo, I think, we have repair folks and its just a headlight.

Nearly seven hours later the corroded wire on the other side of the chassis that was the root cause of the problem was fixed and everything under the hood tidied up. The load I was to take was critical so it was given to another driver and I got a load of plastic resin material to bring to Chicago. It was a 460-mile trip and I had just over eight hours to run it, not to mention the slow Illinois truck speed limit and fighting Chicago traffic on the way in. In any event, I made it to my destination slightly ahead of schedule, and completely out of hours.

The (new to me) truck ran fairly well during the trip, though a few differences from Kenworth rigs were immediately apparent: the 12-liter Volvo engines are underpowered and the air-ride suspension is a bit skittish, especially in the high winds I encountered today. And, for some reason, most of the buttons on the dash work backwards to what I am used to. For instance, in most American vehicles when you flip a switch up it turns on that function, and down cancels it. In my Volvo many of the features are the opposite.

I didn't mention yesterday several other features of the Volvo that I appreciate. For instance, there is a built-in wraparound curtain with a curtain track just behind the front windshield and side windows which makes it very easy to "bundle up" at the end of your driving day. There is also a nice, informative dash display right in the center of your steering wheel with many different screens of information. For instance, I reset the fuel tracking after I topped off this morning and it tells me how many gallons I burned and what my MPG was.

The pre-plan of the day arrived just before I arrived at my consignee. Tomorrow morning, at my leisure, I will take a load of soft drinks from a plant about 10 miles away and relocate it to Lenexa, Kansas, which is a suburb of Kansas City. The only downside to this trip is that I can't deliver early, instead having to wait until the following morning at which time I would prefer to be running my next load. Perhaps my dispatcher will have a solution for me tomorrow...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

FANTASTIC April 15th

Yes, I know that for most people "fantastic" isn't the word to describe today. For the first time ever I did my taxes at the last moment, filed them electronically this morning in fact. I got a hefty chuck of cash back from the feds and the state because of my trucking activities, even though I took two extra deductions last year in anticipation.

Then I motored in the last few miles to my consignee and it was an easy drop, in-and-out in 30 minutes or so. From there I went about four miles to our company yard and -- wait for it -- turned in my Kenworth T-600 for a Volvo 780! My new truck has a few more miles on it (251,768 vs my old truck's 210,000 or so) but it has three things the old truck did not: an inverter, a refrigerator and a Tri-Pak APU unit.

The inverter takes the DC electricity that the truck alternator produces and converts it to AC, so I can use most household appliances, not just the DC ones (which typically suck by comparison). The fridge in a Volvo 780 is humongous; probably double the interior volume of others I've seen on Kenworth and Freightliner trucks. The Auxilliary Power Unit (APU) is a separate small diesel engine with its own air conditioning and heating units that can also keep the coolant in the engine above freezing for easier starts and keeps the batteries topped off.

Today was very windy, with gusts in the 40-50 mph range and lots of flying dust. Just transferring stuff from one truck to another coated me in a blanket of dust mixed in with my sweat, and my eyes, ears, mouth and nose got an extra dose.

The truck itself (#2358 for anyone interested) had a few issues. The APU needed a bit of TLC from the on-site mechanic. The freon in the AC unit had leaked out. One of the cabinet doors was missing. The driver-side mirrors won't adjust, though they are in a workable orientation at the moment. All but the last item was corrected by the shop this afternoon and I have my next load already waiting:

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Tomorrow morning I get up around 0300 to fuel then grab a trailer that was brought in from Illinois this evening heading north to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for an 0700 appointment. After that I head west along I-90 to Rapid City, South Dakota to drop off the other half of the load. This happens to be a Petsmart load with live fish, so our reefer unit is set to maintain 76 degrees continuously for the unfortunates.

Oh, and one Big, HUGE, GINORMOUS advantage of the Volvo 780 vs my Kenworth is this very nice RV-style settee I'm typing this at right now. Very comfortable, with lots of space to stretch out and live a little.

Pictures soon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Scary Clouds

Last week when I was in Paducah, Kentucky there was a storm front moving rapidly through the area and some really neat and scary clouds. Like this one for instance:

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I have plenty of pics with beams of light emanating from above...

... and even some showing the storm front itself as it blew through:


Off on a date with the Morton's Salt girl

As I was getting unloaded in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, my satellite unit went off with a load heading up to a suburb of Omaha to deliver tomorrow. First, I was sent to Hutchinson, Kansas to the Morton's Salt facility to pick up just over 44,000 pounds of salt, then north to Salina, Kansas to fuel.

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When I entered the plant I noticed another Hill Bros truck getting loaded. I spoke for a few minutes with an older driver and he gave me directions to the local truck stop where I could get scaled out.

Since I'm still pulling a dry van instead of a reefer, this load is yet another brokered load. This means I have to call in before I get loaded, after I get loaded and when I get unloaded. This is one area that CFI beats my current company at hands down... there were customer service folks that handled all this stuff and let us drivers drive.

Anyway, I ended the day on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska ready to unload at the unlikely hour of 1030 tomorrow morning at an Italian food place. Also, hopefully, I'll be able to swing by the yard and get my grub hooks on a pretty Volvo 780.

Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Okay, this will take some time to set up so bear with me.

When I arrived yesterday I learned that I needed to park behind the business in question along this alleyway:

You'll notice the two telephone poles flanking the entrance, which is only 12 or 13 feet wide at most and I had to swing a 90 degree turn in there with my 53 foot trailer.

Down near the end of the block along this alley was a small dirt and gravel parking lot that I spent the night in, my rig barely fitting in:

That power pole in the foreground is basically along the edge of where my truck would have to be in order to back up against this dock door at the back of the consignee's building:

However, first thing this morning there is a bangin' on the door to my cab and one of the folks at my consignee tells me I have to move so the people who work there can use this parking lot, and oh by the way, we don't use that dock so could you pretty please move to this nearby side street so we can take the pallets off you by forklift?

Here you can see the rear of my truck on the right and to the left a small warehouse they used to store all the paper:


Sunday, April 13, 2008

You are going to love this

I finished the trip this afternoon to Medicine Lodge, Kansas where I deliver in the morning. My truck is parked behind the shop in question, which is on Main street the likes of which you imagine for any small town USA place. What passes for a dock here will take some explaining and photographic work I will try to get for your viewing pleasure tomorrow, assuming I can even get it lined up properly.

This is going to be interesting.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Where I've Been

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The past few days I've been to Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, back through Illinois and into Missouri en route to my final destination of Medicine Lodge, Kansas for Monday morning.

It turns out I was right about that Wal-Mart load in Harrisburg, Illinois. It was a job site, and it was a pain getting the ten tons of lighting fixtures unloaded without the help of a dock. Eventually the workers got it sorted out, at leat as far as I'm concerned and I raced off back to Kentucky for my next pickup.

I didn't need to rush as it turns out, since the paper warehouse I was picking up at was packed with other trucks waiting to be loaded. I arrived just before noon with a 2100 appointment and they told me to come back no earlier than 2000. So I parked it at a nearby truck stop then rested.

2000 rolled around and I returned, this time getting loaded fairly quickly. Since I didn't want to start my day then and screw up my sleep schedule, and since this load had plenty of time built into it I went back to the truck stop and parked it.

This morning I ran west through Indiana, Illinois and into Missouri facing off against a stiff wind the entire way. My fuel mileage will likely be dismal for this run. Anyway, made it safe to the house and am taking off a day before I deliver my load.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Onward to Illinois

I woke up where I stopped last night; always a plus. After a quick 25-minute drive I arrived at the shipper for today's load and they got me loaded three hours ahead of schedule. It is, indeed, a load of light fixtures for a Wal-Mart under construction but going off of the address data on the Bill of Lading I think this delivery is headed for a warehouse. Hopefully, better than the last time I delivered such a load.

I waited until 1000 to brave the traffic around Atlanta, but the roads were still packed. My dispatcher told me to get some fuel in Dalton, Georgia off of exit 421... except there is no exit 421 in the state of Georgia (and the two Dalton Pilot stations are off of exits 326 and 328). I chose the one with edible food -- Arby's vs. McDonalds -- and then ran up through Chattanooga and Nashville where I narrowly avoided a wreck. A car had pulled on to the interstate, merged in front of me then decided to slam on his brakes and get back off immediately. Hope it was worth it, buddy.

Just after shutting down my cell phone beeped with a new message. It turns out a guy I chatted with a few weeks ago in Carthage, Missouri at the underground storage facility decided to hook up with Hill Bros and mentioned my name when he did so. Ironically, this guy I recruited got assigned a Volvo on his first day. Sigh.

I suppose the recruitment bonus does take some of the sting away, though.

The next pre-plan came in as well. After I drop this load in Illinois I'm to turn around back to Kentucky and pick up a load heading back through Illinois to Kansas. It should have enough time for me to take a 34-hour restart in Springfield, Missouri.

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I stopped today in Paducah, Kentucky on the off chance a friend of mine from flight school would be able to go out tonight for dinner. Somehow I have managed to not have his phone number on my cell phone contacts and I can't bring up any of his old emails with it either! So, Dickie, if you're out there -- I owe ya one! (and please ring me up or send me an email)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Georgia on my mind, and a first

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This morning I finished my trip to Stockbridge, Georgia. I encountered a lot of rain in Missouri but once I got to Illinois the weather was nice the rest of the way.

For the first time here at Hill Bros I didn't have my next load lined up either before I made my drop or very shortly afterward. I spotted a super Wal-Mart across the interstate from where I dropped so when I was done I moved over there and got some shopping done. My dispatcher messaged me that freight here is very slow at the moment and I should find a truck stop for the night. No problemo.

Well, almost no problemo. Where I delivered to is just about smack dab halfway between the few truck stops in the Atlanta area and those just to the south. It was going to be twenty or more miles out of route to go either way so I compromised. There was a listing for a small bit of truck parking at a Kangaroo travel mart about eight miles away and since it was the middle of the afternoon I decided to give that a whirl. The parking was very tight, and not much of it, but I got a good spot.

A few hours later my next load information came in. I'm to run about 20 miles to the east tomorrow morning to grab a load of lighting fixtures and run it up to a Wal-Mart in Illinois. I'm betting it is for one that is under construction so getting in and out of there will be interesting.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Foiled again

I arrived at the consignee this morning in Sioux City, Iowa behind a pair of Werner trucks. Shortly after I arrived, the first truck departed and I watched the second one run over a good chuck of lawn of the business across the street as the driver backed in. The thing is, it wasn't THAT hard of a dock...

Anyway, my turn came and I got my new assignment while I was on the dock. First, across the river to Dakota City, Nebraska (a Tyson plant -- stinky!) to drop off my reefer, then north a few miles to North Sioux City, South Dakota to none other than 1 Devilsfood Drive to pick up a pre-loaded van trailer of baked goodness, heading for Georgia.

I called in to HQ around 0830 to talk to the person in charge of assigning trucks and he asked me to call back later. Since Omaha was kind of on my way back down I-29, and since I had a bunk full of Kellog's cereal to return anyway, I stopped in person to chat. Turns out several of the mechanics didn't bother showing up for work so there weren't any Volvo's waiting to be assigned. Foiled again...

The trip down to Georgia is fairly easy. I stopped tonight near Kansas City and I'll knock out most of the trip down tomorrow. It delivers Wednesday at 1300 just south of Atlanta, so I'll time my passage there to about 1000 or so to avoid the traffic.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Easy day

I can't deliver this load until tomorrow morning at the earliest and it was only a drive of 230 miles to where I ended up near the consignee in Sioux City, Iowa so today was an easy day. It is very windy up here and I expect a cold night, but other than that there is nothing to report.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Becomming a Cereal killer

The saga of the Kellog's Frosted Mini-Wheats continues...

I was given strict instructions to submit the item IDs for each of the missing or damaged packages over the satellite unit or by phone so the folks in the rear with the gear could decide what to do with them. This took 15 or 20 minutes going over a very lengthy printed manifest, typing in the codes and so forth. In the meantime, I made my morning delivery and had the dock workers bypass the four broken up boxes near the back of the trailer while they got their few pallets off.

Eventually I was told -- get this -- that I have to bring the damaged product back to Omaha the next time I'm through there. Bring it back in the trailer, you mean? Oh no, my next load goes in the trailer and we don't mix loads, not to mention I can't break the seal on one load to take off four boxes of unrelated product so I get to carry the boxes of cereal in the cab of my truck. On my bed during the day when I'm driving, and up front on the seats while I'm not.

All for ten bucks worth of cereal. Maddening.

Today's dispatch took me north an hour to Fort Collins, Colorado to grab a load of Budweiser (in kegs, no less) headed to Sioux City, Iowa for Monday. The security people there were a bit uppity but eventually I made it out alive, having adjusted the trailer tandems perfectly the first time.

I stopped again at the Wal-Mart supercenter in Lexington, Nebraska which I shall henceforth refer to as "The World's Most Truck Friendly Wal-Mart". They have dedicated parking spots for trucks -- I mean like 50 or 60 trucks! Actual honest-to-goodness signage showing you where to go. I try to get a lot of fresh food (and yes, some cookies and other bad things) whenever I can and finding places like this is a true gem.

Speaking of which, the Bossleman Pilot in Grand Island, Nebraska is another gem. Huge parking lot, very nice facilities, the best bathrooms I've ever personally seen, a large store, not one but two movie screens for truckers. Very nice place at exit 312 on I-80.

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Overage, Shortage and Damaged product. Sometimes when the consignee pops open the doors in back some of the product didn't make it on to the trailer, or was crushed by something, or perhaps they shipped too much of whatever it was.

When I arrived yesterday morning in Kearney, Nebraska for the first drop of this load it took several hours for them to offload the product due to the way the pallets were oriented inside (sideways, and double stacked). Several of them fell over as they were being brought off and had to be restacked, and some of the boxes were crushed.

Four boxes of crushed product, and four more that weren't loaded in the first place, caused the dock guys to spend a full hour poring over a 10-page printout of the manifest so they could carefully mark down what didn't arrive properly. I got to wait for that extra hour, as my time doesn't have any real worth to them, and afterwards I had to go over said manifest and laboriously type in the item codes for the items in question for my company. This despite the fact that the marked up manifest will be in their grubby hands in a day or two when the TripPak makes it back to them.

All told I spent two hours of my time on this, the dock workers spent several more man-hours, and I'm sure our folks at HQ will spend even more hours to account for the ten dollars of product that wasn't up to snuff. On the plus side, I may end up with hundreds of individual servings of some sort of Kellog's cereal product which would be stellar if I ate cereal, which I don't.


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Thursday, April 3, 2008

First time

Do you remember the first time you did something new and significant in your life? Kiss a girl, learn how to drive, fly a plane, whatever? Today was such a day for me.

It started this morning at 0230 when I got up and went over to the ConAgra plant I delivered to yesterday. I had a load bar waiting for me that was inside the trailer I brought in and the dock workers were kind enough to stash it with the security folks so I could retrieve it before I left. Then, I grabbed my new trailer from the drop lot (I got the paperwork yesterday) and departed.

About 120 miles later I arrived in St Joseph, Missouri at the first scale I knew of. It turns out that (a) the shipper lied about the weight of the load (surprise, surprise) and (b) I was overweight on the rear tandems by almost 2,000 pounds.

To fix this problem I needed to shift some of that weight forward on my tractor drive axles. This involves sliding the trailer tandems forward or back (back, in this case) so less of the weight was behind those tandems and thus was split with the front, effectively increasing the amount of weight they carry. It took two tries to finally get everything legal and quite a bit of time with a hammer hitting the locking pins to free them and allow everything to slide.

I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska around 0900 after taking a shower across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. My paperwork was taken and entered into their system and I was assigned a door, which I backed in to. After an hour, I went to find the dock boss and made sure everything was fine. "No problem," he said. Just a bit backed up.

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Repeat after the second hour. At the three hour mark I find the doors to the dock locked as they are out to lunch. Finally, right around the four hour mark I was unloaded.

The worst part of it is I could have just left my trailer there and a local driver would have picked it up later when they were through with it. We don't do that at all of our consignees in Omaha but that happened to be one. I just didn't know.

Anyway, I motored back over to our HQ and went through the Safety Lane, where our trailers are inspected. It turns out the trailer I had needed some TLC on its brakes and I moved it to a repair bay then dropped it. Later, my truck was brought into the shop and its writeups were taken care of. Interestingly, despite twice having to add coolant to the radiator the shop found no problem with it.

Then, it happened. I have been asking for a transfer into a Volvo tractor since I started but there isn't a list or anything; basically, when you come through they will look to see if there is one available out on the lot. I asked this time and there still wasn't one. The $50 bill I waved under the right nose didn't make a difference either, dang it.

Then the shop boss took me and another driver over to two nearby businesses and we each drove a truck back to the HQ. The other driver brought back a T600 like I drive from the Kenworth shop, and I brought back a Volvo 780 from the detail shop.

It wasn't a new Volvo, having about 120,000 miles on it. It was newly leased on to some lucky soul and the detailers had it clean as a whistle. Under the hood was a Volvo engine, same as mine will be. It sounds different than what I'm used to, but it shifts about the same. Thirteen speed Eaton-Fuller transmission, just like I use. An enormous windshield with GREAT wipers (Kenworth, take note). All driving controls located on or very close to the steering wheel (Kenworth, take note again). Huge interior (Kenworth... well, you get the picture).

The brakes were a bit touchy but nothing I couldn't handle. Volvo's don't rev very high for their shift points so it is fairly forgiving to shift. Great visibility. So much better laid out for the needs of a driver.

If the tanks weren't almost dry I would have "accidentally" missed my turn and taken it for a test drive for a few miles.

Ah, first times.

I saw my dispatcher again and he brought out a printout with a pre-plan he was thinking of giving me. A preloaded trailer from our HQ heading to Denver, Colorado with one drop on the way. It is about 550 miles and will deliver the first part tomorrow afternoon and the rest the first thing Saturday morning.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I Wuz Robbed!

This morning started out normally enough. I did my pre-trip inspection, noted no liquid on the ground under my truck or trailer among other things, and started up my truck. Beeping and buzzing and flashing greeted me: more complaints about fluid levels.

I pulled up to the fueling area of the truck stop under the lights and popped the hood again. The only fluid level I don't check each morning is the radiator, as you have to be up on the vehicle to look down inside. Sure enough, I was a gallon or two short.

I bought some antifreeze and used the jug I emptied previously as a water jug, adding about half a gallon of the expensive stuff and a gallon of the free stuff. This seemed to calm everyone down and I sped off.

Nashville was a breeze, as I had expected. I got tired near the Kentucky / Illinois state line so I pulled off at a weigh station with parking for trucks for 45 minutes and took a power nap. After that I was good to go and I pressed on to Mt Vernon, Illinois where I stopped for lunch (Popeyes chicken tenders, yummy!) and a Wal-Mart run. I got two pounds of strawberries... I swear I could eat a pound a day of those, and I do when I get a chance to.

Throughout the day when I stop I get out and look at the readout on the side of the reefer unit. It shows me its status, what temperature it is set to and what the actual temperature is. All was good and I thought nothing more.

I moved up the road to Warrenton, Missouri where I fueled up and by chance I checked the level in the reefer tank. Now, I had filled it (it is a 75 gallon tank, which is large on a reefer) back in Joplin a few days ago so it should still be at least half full I would have thought. Instead, it was showing around a quarter tank. Either I have misjudged the amount of fuel it burns or someone dipped into it last night while I slept.

After another couple hours I was at my consignee, the same ConAgra plant I picked up from last month. As is typical at this company, I had a preplan before I arrived to take a preloaded trailer from the very same spot and bring it up to Omaha, Nebraska tomorrow morning. My dispatcher has been working me back towards our HQ to get some maintenance taken care of and this is my load back there. I'm out of hours for today and its only about 250 miles so I will run it first thing in the morning and get my truck into the shop as soon as I am unloaded.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Regurgitated Chicken Ass

Now, regular readers of my blog (Hi Mom!) know that I don't write a lot of foul words in my posts. I try to avoid them when I speak as well but there are some times that you just have to tell it like it is. Details on the title of this post will be given later in this entry.

This morning I got started about 0330 and finished my run into Americus, Georgia. I had forgotten that when I set up this trip on my GPS I neglected to enter the actual street address for this consignee, just the name of the town. Garmin lets you do this and it routes you to the center of that town if you do, or close enough. I realized my error when I passed an exit I realized I should have taken, it being partially concealed in the rain and light fog present in the early morning hours.

Americus is like many small towns across our great nation, in that it has very few places for a tractor-trailer rig to park off the roadway or for one to turn around. This was not helped by the fact I was vainly trying to make out road signs, slowly navigating the streets and punching the address into the GPS unit. Before I got everything set I had made a turn heading out of town in the right direction, but along the wrong road.

Fortunately, the road I should have turned on in the first place actually intersected this wrong road a ways outside town and I began to breath easier. Then, just as I was a few blocks away from my consignee a train blocked the road and it took almost 15 minutes to finish crossing. Eventually traffic cleared up and I pulled in to the same consignee I had delivered to a few weeks ago. I opened up and backed up to the dock, a lumper did his thing, then I sent in my unloaded macro on the satellite unit.

I quickly got back a message from the load planners asking if I had, indeed, unloaded early. I told them yes, I really had and in the future anyone coming to this particular place can get unloaded any time after 0700 local no matter what the appointment says. Lumpers willing, naturally.

In less than 30 minutes I had my next load zapped to me: deadhead up to Chattanooga, Tennessee then take a load from there up to Macon, Missouri - another place I have been to in the past few weeks.

At this point, I would like to state for the record I am a big fan of chicken. I had some chicken tenders to wash down my DQ Blizzard when I stopped along the way to pick up this load, and I had a crispy chicken sandwich tonight at the Huddle House restaurant where I parked.

The reason I say this is that when I pulled up to this plant in Chattanooga the most vile smell ever assaulted me. My eyes began to water, my saliva tasted like bile and my nose burned. The only thing missing were the four horsemen of the apocalypse charging down the parking lot and the grisly scene would be complete.

Apparently, this is a slaughterhouse of the fowl kind right in the heart of Chattanooga. Ironically, it is right next to the bus station and the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" attraction. What a wonderful thing to show your kids; must be right up there with Disneyland.

I dub the scent "Regurgitated Chicken Ass". So there.

As I stumble inside the warehouse another driver shows me the cute little phone-booth sized sauna drivers get to use to talk with the shipping people. Imagine a Turkish jail cell made out of plywood and you will be in the right zone. There was a small sliding window and every five or ten minutes someone would walk by and accept or dole out some paperwork.

"Door three", I was told. I had to back up half a block or so, do a fancy bootlegger turn then slap it in to place. Well, something like that, anyway.

In 90 minutes my stay in Purgatory was complete and I had the paperwork in hand after another stint in the "boo box". It turns out the entrance to the plant I used isn't supposed to be used for truck traffic and I get sent out the back way. Only problem is, there are no directions back to the highway and I picked one of the three directions to go. Unfortunately, that one was the one with the bridge five inches to low for me to pass under and blocked-off side streets so I couldn't turn around. On the plus side, I had a nice audience of street people watching me maneuver back out of the mess I had gotten myself in to.

I got back on to I-24 westbound after a circuitous tour of the greater Chattanooga downtown area (HVAC set to recirculate, naturally). A short distance down the highway there was a microscopic Pilot to scale out at -- the shipper lied about the weight of the load, but I realized this and was legal anyway.

After another hour-and-a-half or so I parked it for the night in close proximity to Nashville which will fall like wheat before a scythe to my early morning start.

Any questions?

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