Sunday, June 29, 2008

Figures don't lie, but liars sure figure

Yesterday I decided that this run will be the first one I make at top speed, with a full load. Ordinarily, I cruise down the interstates at a sedate 60-62 MPH and watch the world pass me by. This trip I will put the hammer down and see what that does to my fuel economy.

Surprisingly, unless my fuel readout is completely bonkers, the difference between 60 MPH and 70 MPH in my truck with a full load is small. I traveled 665 miles to Terrell, Texas this morning and afternoon, ending with a 7.4 MPG average for the run. Either my instrumentation is way off the mark or I have one heckuva sweet engine and transmission combination.

I'm about an hour out of my consignee so I have the alarm set at 0300. My appointment is 0500 tomorrow morning and I'm actually getting low on hours for the next few days. I will have about 12 hours total to run after I get unloaded and don't get any significant amount back until Tuesday at midnight where I pick up 7.5.

UPDATE: I aimed for the T/A in Terrell, Texas because it was about as far as I could legally drive today and it has IdleAir, which I'm hooked up to as I'm typing this.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Overnight Sensation

After attending the safety meeting I fueled up my truck and began the drive to Littleton, Colorado, a Denver suburb. I thought the safety meeting was going to start at 0900 but it was at 1300 instead so I didn't arrive in the Denver area until just before midnight. Finding the PetSmart wasn't difficult and I backed into their dock to catch some shuteye.

Four hours later, the knock came at my door and I gave the worker the paperwork and moved my truck to open the doors. It turns out that about 90% of my load was going to this one store with just a handful of pallets going to the other side of Littleton to a different store. After getting emptied I slept until late morning until my masters beeped me with a nice long weekend run that will keep me busy.

First, I was ordered to deadhead about 400 miles back the way I came yesterday to Grand Island, Nebraska to pick up a load heading to Tyler, Texas. Its always nice having a long deadhead with no load aboard, for the fuel economy if nothing else. It will be a heavy load, though, and tomorrow I will have to run my truck faster than normal down the highway in order to make an 0500 delivery time Monday morning.

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This will be trip #12 in my new truck for those of you keeping score at home.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Sixth Cents

So I'm puttering down the road this morning towards Omaha and my satellite unit beeps. Apparently, fuel will be six cents cheaper at our yard after midnight tonight which works well for me since I will be there until late morning for our safety meeting.

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My MPG today wasn't so hot due to driving through high winds from the west. Around Des Moines the winds and rains lashed out very hard and I pulled off at a truckstop. Figuring to make productive use of my time, I went inside and took a shower.

My extra "chicken lights" on the side of my truck stopped working this morning and it turns out the fuse that watches over them blew when I hooked up to the trailer at the PetSmart DC in Ottawa. The mechanics here tell me it can happen any time you have your truck lights on when you hook up to a trailer, which I'd never heard of. Apparently there is a mini recall for this problem so the next time my truck is over at the dealership I'll have them fix it.

Speaking of fixes, I took my truck over to ThermoKing down the street to have them fix my APU. It turns out that after just 128 hours of use, my generator blew its little head gasket all over the place and it will have to be replaced. Naturally, they don't have any in stock so I will have to wait a while longer.

Tomorrow it is off to Littleton, Colorado in preparation for two very early morning deliveries then perhaps back to Omaha if the part for my APU comes in.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'll take trailer babysitting for $300, Alex

The Powers That Be decided that $300 would be fair recompense for the time and effort I spent the past two days dealing with that trailer. I wasn't insulted or overjoyed with the amount, so I suppose it is in the fair range for both parties. Still a heckuva lot better than a kick in the shorts.

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Today's driving was between West Memphis, Arkansas and Rochelle, Illinois. Most of it was in the state of Illinois and I managed 8.0 MPG even with a 37,000 pound load. Before I arrived at my consignee my next preplan was ready: deadhead over to Ottawa, Illinois then take a Petsmart load with two drops in Littleton, Colorado for 0300 and 0500 Saturday morning. Yummy.

This will let me take care of a few things as I travel back west. On Friday, I can attend a safety meeting so I will get a bonus for the miles I run this quarter. Also, I can get the ThermoKing folks to resuscitate my APU so I won't have to idle as much. The Idleaire service I used last night was functional and if I didn't have an APU I would definitely look to using it frequently, as Hill Brothers covers the charges.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"The Juice is Loose!"

That was the text I sent in to HQ via the satellite when the trailer was finally unloaded. I swear, in the past 24 hours I talked with people from every department wanting to know this-or-that, or instructing me to do such-and-such (or not do something). Go here, call this person, remember to do this...

The people at the reefer repair place did a good job cleaning up the front of the trailer with some sort of acid wash then a power sprayer. Some of the more charred sections didn't change much, but the reefer unit itself looked fairly untraumatized. The lights were still acting a bit funny, and some of the markers didn't work but because I didn't need them in the daytime we pushed off sending the trailer to yet another shop until this afternoon, after the load was dropped.

I was a bit nervous when I pulled up to the security gate to enter the facility, as loaded trailers have their seals checked. The guard lady was brisk and waved me on after checking the numbers against the Bill of Lading. The parking lot was broiling, so I had to spend several hours with the engine on to stay cool while they unloaded. Eventually, they were done without incident and the Juice was loose, baby!

The trailer got dropped at a nearby repair yard and I made a list of the things that needed some work for them, then ran back to the other side of Russellville to grab a loaded trailer and head out on an indirect path towards Rochelle, Illinois. I say indirect, because one way is to basically drive due north along Arkansas route 7 to Springfield, Missouri which is a horrendous road for a SUV, much less a semi. The other way is to take I-40 east towards Memphis, then turn north along I-55.

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The flame-broiled load was #9 for my new truck. Load #8 was my go-home load from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Carthage, Missouri last week. My new load to Rochelle is #10. MPG continues to show over 7.0 on my trip computer and aside from my APU, everything seems to be running properly.

Oh, speaking of the APU... since it is 90 degrees in West Memphis tonight I've gone and used IdleAire for the first time. For the uninitiated, it is a system of air conditioning, power outlets, internet, tv, etc. that plugs into a window adapter in your truck. Hill Bros apparently reimburses drivers for the service, though I expect as a lease-purchase driver I will get socked with the bill. Still, it is cheaper than idling and I can take the hit for a few days until I get back to Omaha.

Monday, June 23, 2008

No, Bud light!

Imagine you are behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler on a state highway early in the morning. The sky is beginning to lighten with dawn, traffic is light and you are making good progress.

Suddenly, you hear a "POP!" noise and realize one of your tractor drive tires on the passenger side has exploded. Soon, dark black smoke is billowing forth, even as you wrestle your rig to the shoulder and bring it shuddering to a stop. By now more "POP!"s have been heard, there are more flats and lots and lots of black smoke is pouring from your truck.

You quickly jump out, locate and prepare your fire extinguisher for use. As you round the hood of your truck you see the left side is engulfed in flame, the smoke and fire pulsing up to the trailer located just over your drive tires and the reefer at the very front, sucking in that smoke.

The glow is what you notice next. One of the wheel hubs on that side is glowing red it is so hot. It must have leaked out the oil inside and the heat and pressure kept building and building until eventually it burst the tire around it and caught fire. Quickly, you bring the fire extinguisher to bear, but it really isn't a fair match. The hub is at possibly 800-1000 degrees and you have a chemical extinguisher that won't cool it down a bit. Since you can't deprive it of oxygen, as soon as you blast away the flames and smother the fire it immediately relights and your expensive vehicle continues to burn.

Meanwhile, inside the reefer just above is 44,500 pounds of frozen foods destined for America's grocery stores. The front end of the reefer is charred and the reefer unit finally fails when the fuel line is burned in two, cauterized neatly. The lines providing air and electricity to the trailer a shriveled husks now, the connections burnt in place along the leading edge of the trailer. It really doesn't matter that there is no more air being supplied to those connections, as the lines carrying it back to the brakes and suspension at the rear have been burned away as well.

An off-duty firefighter happens upon you and his fire extinguisher drives the flames back for a short time, but it too is unable to stop the damned hub from igniting seconds later. Eventually, the fire department arrives and spends fifteen or twenty minutes pouring water on the hot spots. They become unable to sustain ignition and the fire is out, though the smoke from the charred corpse of the tractor and trailer remain.

Thankfully, none of this happened to me.

When I came on duty this morning I was first told one of our trucks had a fire near Carthage, Missouri and needed someone to repower the load. I said sure, and was given the name and number for the driver and I got directions to the towing company that was handling the mess. About twenty minutes after I arrived his tractor and the trailer were brought in, at which time I found out it was something more than what I had expected -- I thought it was an engine fire, probably -- and this was going to take a while.

The first repair priority was the reefer unit, as the product inside the trailer must remain frozen. Surprisingly, the engine came away mostly unscathed and the problem was confined to running a new fuel line back to the reefer fuel tank. Once it was primed, it coughed back to life and informed the mechanic that the temp was just below freezing, up from -10 or so that it was set to. It immediately went into full cooling mode and the temperatures inside began to drop.

That being taken care of, the next step was to repair the air lines and electrical connection. During this process it became clear that the main wiring harness had been melted during the blaze, leaving a mass of copper wires living together in something akin to a Philadelphia tenement. Incredibly, the lights and blinkers worked but the wiring would have to be pulled out and replaced to make the trailer road worthy.

A few other items needed fixing, and it took a long time waiting, but this evening I was told all was in readiness and I can take the trailer down to Arkansas tomorrow morning to its destination.

As if in sympathy for the reefer, my own auxiliary power unit decided to conk out this evening. There happens to be a repair facility where I'm headed tomorrow so hopefully I can get it taken care of there.

Friday, June 20, 2008

At Home

I picked up the load from ConAgra in Council Bluffs, Iowa nice and early this morning and ran it down to Carthage, Missouri just like I planned. No surprises.

I spoke with the Conway driver that inherited my truck a few months back and heard his tale of woe. Apparently, a different company waved a carrot in front of him (nice dedicated run with plenty of hometime that he wants) and after he quit Conway and was in the process of joining up with them it turned out that "opportunity was no longer available, but there are plenty of OTR jobs." This isn't an uncommon story in the trucking industry, so if someone makes you an offer that makes you think about switching make sure you get it in writing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"This was our Katrina"

Some official or other uttered those words in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the recent past, in reference to the flooding they endured. Having passed through the middle of town today I can tell you he or she is full of it. Yes, some low-lying houses and such were flooded, some railroad tracks under water and the like but the town itself is up and running, people going about their business. In other words, not so much.

I awoke at 0300 and couldn't get back to sleep so I moved out. I was back in Omaha, Nebraska after having dropped my trailer, filled up the reefer fuel, did some shopping and fueled up my truck by about 1530. Tomorrow's preplan is a simple run from Council Bluffs, Iowa down to Carthage, Missouri then to take a few days off at the house.

MPG on the trip back was 7.7 according to the trip computer. Fuel at the yard was $4.37 which was about thirty cents cheaper than that available in Wisconsin. Naturally, I filled up the tanks to the very top.

I got some questions about the Fuel Surcharge (FSC), how it works and the like. Basically, it is designed to give trucks averaging 6.0 MPG fuel at $1.20 cents no matter what the actual fuel cost is. Each week, the US Department of Energy determines the average diesel fuel price across the nation, subtracts that $1.20 from it then divides the remainder by six to get the FSC.

For instance, suppose the average cost of diesel is $4.20 across the USA last week. Subtracting $1.20 from that leaves $3.00, and dividing that by six gives a FSC of 50 cents. If a shipper is charged that FSC on each mile from their location to the destination, and assuming the entire amount is given to the truck, then the fuel for that truck will cost $1.20 per gallon, assuming the truck gets 6.0 MPG. If you get more, as I have so far, then my actual cost of fuel is lower. If you get less than 6.0 MPG then the cost of your fuel is higher.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Trip #7: Green Bay, Wisconsin to Council Bluffs, Iowa

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This trip has 62 deadhead miles ($53.94) and 543 loaded miles ($488.70) with a 58 cent FSC ($350.90) for a total of $893.54 income.

My actual driving miles will be around 650. At 7.5 MPG this is 87 gallons of fuel that I paid $392.37 for, leaving the cost of fuel, after surcharge, for this trip at $41.47. This is a 6.38 cent per mile cost of fuel.

That'll do just fine.

The Mark of the Beast can be found in Cheese

Did it have to be 666 cases of cheese on this load? Why is my shortest route through the flood-ravaged town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa?

For answers to these questions and more, stay tuned...

MPG update

I managed to keep my MPG at 7.5 the rest of the way to the consignee, and even raised it to 7.6 with the deadhead out to Green Bay. This saves me about 5 gallons of fuel over the "Mick Miser" profile I list below, for which I would have paid $22.55 when I filled up last. This would increase my base profit for this load to $637.76, versus $367.16 for a "Billy Big Rig" type.

Better yet, my dispatcher tells me that fuel at the yard costs $4.31 a gallon, twenty cents cheaper than what I paid yesterday in West Memphis, Arkansas. Because I'm getting such good MPG I should be able to make it from here all the way back to Omaha tomorrow on what is left in my tanks now. Since the FSC this week is 58 cents a mile, if I'm getting 7.5 MPG that equals $4.35 a gallon so if I fuel at the yard I'm making 4 cents profit filling my truck!

(No, not exactly... for one thing, that doesn't take into account the out-of-route miles I have to run on my loads. Still it is a nice thing to contemplate -- better than free fuel!)

Oh, and the cheese load is fairly light as well: just 20,000 lbs.

Bad directions and closed roads

The alarm went off at 0430 this morning and I got myself and my truck ready to roll. I was trying to make a noon delivery time for the load and it would be close, given that I was constrained by the Illinois commercial truck speed limit and a number of small highways in Wisconsin that I would have to take to get to my consignee.

Around 0800 I called up the broker for this load and asked for directions. Surprisingly, they had them on hand and rattled them off, and I was zooming in on my GPS as the lady gave them out. This let me double check the "turn left here" and "cross railroad tracks there" type of directions and I marked a place on my electronic map that should have been within a block of my target.

As I was closing in on Madison, Wisconsin a series of electronic signs on the shoulder said that I-39 northbound was closed north of there. The directions I received assumed I would be taking I-39, but I just switched it a bit east instead and let it recalculate a new route for me. It told me to take state highway 151 up through Oshkosh, Wisconsin then over towards Waupaca using US-45.

When I got to Oshkosh I learn that US-45 is closed as well so I have to take a marked detour further north to US-10. At this point I knew I wouldn't make my appointment and I put in a delayed message through the satellite unit telling them I hoped to be there by 1300.

I finally make it to Waupaca and start taking the street-level directions provided by the broker. They had me make some turns hither and yon, then find an Industrial drive to turn down, then make a right on such-and-such a street and look for the fourth building on the left. Turns out that is either a National Guard building or some other equally unlikely spot to unload and I stop and ask anyone if they know where (name of my consignee is). One guy looks at my quizzically and points behind me at this large factory, replete with smokestacks belching smoke and says "There". The entire Industrial drive / right turn on whatever street / fourth building down is bunk, just look for the big-ass factory belching smoke that you can see from a mile away. I wonder why I never get easy directions like that when I have to ask.

I speak to the completely disinterested guard lady at the guard shack and she waves me on towards Warehouse #2. The docks are full so I pull up next to it and walk in with the paperwork. Inside, an efficient looking forklift operator glances over the paperwork and tells me to take the door another driver is in the process of vacating.

The paperwork itself is a model of brevity as well. There is no shipper or destination listed, just a few things like the date, three lines describing the various lumber products in the load, and my signature. I guess that is the way it is done in Mississippi.

I'm done in about 45 minutes and already my next load is waiting an hour away in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I'm to take a load of (what else) cheese to our friends at ConAgra in Council Bluffs, Iowa to deliver tomorrow afternoon. Finding the cheese place isn't difficult, though they do throw a mean curveball with very nice, inviting docks at the front of their building that, as it turns out, we don't use. Go one block further, turn left, go to the rear of the building, speak with the shipping people. Yada yada yada.

Turns out the order number our folks in the rear with the gear gave me was wrong, but the shipping lady figured out the right one going to Council Bluffs and gave me a door to back into. These are the fun ones we occasionally get to use with reefers, where you dock with your doors closed and they open them up inside. I wish more places did it that way.

Speed demons, the Green Bay folks are not. It took them 2.5 hours to start loading me and I'm not quite done yet. I spied a small truckstop on the same exit I took to get here so I think I'll head over there to call it a night.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Trip Figures

For those of you interested in the down-and-dirty nitty gritty of a lease-purchase in the trucking industry I will be releasing my weekly settlements here online shortly. Until then, here is a breakdown of some of the figures for this load I'm on now:

Trip #6 includes 777 loaded miles, 20 deadhead miles, and a Fuel Surcharge (FSC) of 58 cents per mile. Assuming there is no detention at the consignee, this is the total income for this load, and it breaks out as follows:


deadhead $ 17.40
loaded $699.30
FSC $462.26
total $1178.96

No matter how I run my truck on this load, that is what I'm going to be paid, and I know this up front.

Now, the only real variable left in the equation is the cost of fuel. Since I fueled today I'll use that price as the cost of fuel for the trip (anal retentive types could argue it would be a blend of the last fill up I made and this one, but I'm not one of those).

I paid $4.51 per gallon at the pump this morning. Since the amount I get paid in FSC doesn't change ($462.26) the only real control I have over the equation is how many gallons it takes me to get from where I started, to the shipper then to the consignee.

It turns out this trip, as I'm running it, is right at 900 miles long. I've mentioned before the disparity between Rand-McNally "short miles" and what I call "real miles", but suffice it to say we rarely get paid for all miles run on a load. In this case, I have to run about 100 extra miles, on my own dime, for this load.

Now, I'm going to show you three ways of accomplishing this trip. The first way, we have our driver "Mick Miser" who gets 7.2 MPG average the entire way. The second way, we will have a driver "Alex Average" who gets 6.0 MPG for the trip, and finally our big spender, the ever-popular "Billy Big Rig" who gets 5.0 MPG in his super fast truck.

Here is "Mick Miser":

EXPENSE: (7.2 MPG - 125 gallons)

fuel $563.75
Profit: $615.21

And now "Alex Average":

EXPENSE: (6.0 MPG - 150 gallons)

fuel $676.50
Profit: $502.46

Finally, "Billy Big Rig":

EXPENSE: (5.0 MPG - 180 gallons)

fuel $811.80
Profit: $367.16

Remember, once you are assigned the trip your income is fixed; it is your expenses that will make or break you. In this example, there is a difference of $112.75 between "Mick" and "Alex" and a whopping $248.05 between "Mick" and "Billy".

Another way to look at this is the adjusted fuel expense per mile. That is, take the cost of filling up, subtract the FSC then divide the rest by the miles in the trip. This boils down the following way:

Adjusted fuel expense per mile @ 7.2 MPG: 11.2 cents
Adjusted fuel expense per mile @ 6.0 MPG: 23.7 cents
Adjusted fuel expense per mile @ 5.0 MPG: 38.8 cents

It doesn't take much of a genius to figure out that I'd rather pay 11.2 cents per mile I run rather than 38.8. The difference between "Mick" and "Billy" is more than tossing a quarter out the window every mile for the entire trip. Or, more correctly, watching it pour out the exhaust stacks in the form of more diesel going up in smoke.

350 to go

You know it is going to be an interesting trip when:

(1) The building your shipper occupies is out in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi and isn't marked.

(2) The guy who loads your trailer hands you the paperwork and can't for the life of him figure out how much weight he just put on your truck.

(3) The closest scale is almost exactly 20 miles away.

The trucking gods were smiling, however, and the load turned out to be only about 38,000 pounds. As a little extra, the weather today was pleasant with clear skies and fairly light winds and I'm getting excellent fuel mileage. I was at 7.2 MPG when I fueled in West Memphis, Arkansas and from there to the north central part of Illinois where I wound up tonight it is up to 7.5 MPG.

The consignee for this load is apparently so obscure their address or even street doesn't show up on my GPS or Google Maps. As this is a brokered load, I get to call up the third party broker tomorrow and ask, pretty-please, if they will tell me where exactly it needs to get delivered to.

I was able to stop by one of my regular super Wal-Mart haunts in Mt. Vernon, Illinois this afternoon to fill up the pantry and fridge. I spent about $50 for roughly a week's worth of supplies; usually it would be 30-40 bucks but I had some chocolate cravings and just had to get some of the new mint M&Ms. I tried some a little while ago and they are weird... not much like regular M&Ms at all.

There are a couple design decisions that Volvo made on my truck that I wish they would revisit. One would be making the end of the oil dipstick out of something other than jet black plastic. It makes checking the level a difficult squint rather than looking at the typical metal kind. Also, the front curtains in my truck have been used precisely one time so far and already three or four of the hanger things have broken off (as in, they were broken when I got the truck). Something to add to the list next time I'm through Omaha with some time off.

I was planning on driving another hundred miles or so today but when I pulled into a rest area to spring a leak a case of the lazies took over and I was hopelessly outmatched. I will try to do better tomorrow, I swear.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Trip #6: Pontotoc, Mississippi to Waupaca, Wisconsin

Yes, I know, just try to pronounce those names!

I spoke with my dispatcher the first thing in the morning and several other times throughout the day. For some reason or other, our folks are having trouble finding loads in this part of the country. Finally, late in the afternoon they got me a load picking up about 20 miles away and heading 777 miles north (850 "real" miles) to Wisconsin for a Wednesday morning delivery. Its good miles for the time involved but it means today is wasted as I can't pick up earlier than 0800 tomorrow.

Ah well, it has given me time to organize the interior of the truck a bit better and helped me catch up on my backlog of Tivo'd shows that have been languishing for months.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Truck

Isn't she fine looking?

The Big Turndown

I awoke on my own just before 0300 this morning and had to wait 45 minutes to head out so my 10-hour break finished up. I busied myself with breakfast, pretripping my truck and sorting some clothes (if by sorting "dirty" and "dirtier" are categories; ahem).

The remaining 200 miles to Tupelo, Mississippi from Hayti, Missouri where I stopped last night were nice and easy in the early morning hours. I took a chance on a shortcut the last few miles of the trip, overriding my Garmin 660. This has sometimes screwed me over, like going down dirt paths and the like, but this time all was well and I arrived 45 minutes early at the consignee.

I'm not sure what the malfunction was but they got halfway through unloading me then took an hour off, mid-morning, for some reason. As I've mentioned before, a driver's time only matters to that driver: no dispatcher, shipper or consignee gives two craps about holding up a driver.

Eventually I am empty and get the paperwork back (nice penmanship, by the way... a rarity). There was another driver waiting for my dock so I pulled up a bit into the small parking area, swung my doors shut then left, heading up the street to a warehouse complex where I could park and do my paperwork and satellite goodness.

Unfortunately, of all the places I could have chosen I went in one that looked fine from the street but was extremely tight to turn around in. I went behind the warehouse buildings trying to make a loop but there were cars parked everywhere and a corner I could not get around. I had to back up several hundred yards around two corners before I risked a u-turn and barely had enough room.

Now the fun began. I was sent a load to look over on the satellite unit as I was being unloaded. It was a nasty thing: 44,000 lbs, brokered load, 100 miles of driving over back highways in Mississippi to get loaded, only 430 miles on the load itself and if I took it I couldn't unload before Monday morning.

Now here's the thing: one big difference between a company driver (company owns truck, I just drive it, they pay me) and a lease-purchase operator (company owns truck, I lease from company, I may or may not be the driver, I run my own business) is that a L-P operator can turn down loads. A company driver might be able to whine to his or her dispatcher or claim insufficient hours or something along those lines, but for the most part they haul what and where they are told to, no exceptions. Since L-P operators are technically separate entities, a company like Hill Bros technically "offers" me loads and I accept or reject them.

As in every aspect of the business world, there are shades of gray in play. Since my livelihood is based on hauling freight, I can't turn down many loads or else I will eventually run into problems paying my fixed costs. On the company side, operations people like dispatchers are not supposed to twist your arm to take a load, as that blurs the distinction between business entities and could get the company in trouble. Still, you can hear the pleading tone in their voices if you listen carefully.

The weekend operations people tried a few other tactics:

"Do you want to take it through the house?" (Not so much, as it was considerably out-of-route and even if I did take it home I would only have an afternoon before I had to head out to deliver)

"Maybe your dispatcher can get you layover pay for having to hold on to the load." (Maybe someone would have thought of this before the sequence of events began that lead to this load being booked in the first place)

Eventually I was told that, it being the weekend and all, that they probably won't be able to book another load until Monday to get me out of Mississippi. So the calculus of the matter was to weigh the merits of the load (I would be paid something at least, though I would also incur expense) and square them against the demerits (having to deal with brokers, 100 miles of driving along back roads, it is a short run I have to hang on to until late Monday morning, etc.).

Ordinarily I would have squared my shoulders and taken the load but I decided it was time to draw a line somewhere. One area Hill Bros hasn't done consistently well at is keeping me busy over the weekends. This is due in part to the over reliance (in my view) on short runs that pick up one day and deliver the next. As what happened this time to me: I was given a run that picked up Friday and delivered Saturday then what was left at that point wasn't worth, as the famous quote goes, a warm bucket of spit.

So, making the best of the cards dealt me, I'm going to take a weekend off for a change. Do some laundry. Get caught up on some movies and Tivo stuff I've been putting off. Work on organizing my truck better.

Oh, and updating the blog, too!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Trip #5: Council Bluffs, IA to Tupelo, MS

It is good to be the king, or at least to go to The King's home town. I'm sure Elvis would be pleased that I'm delivering a load of frozen meat to his crib, so to speak.

What isn't so pleasing is the large detour one is compelled to make around the Ozarks, as you can see in this map:

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This ends up costing me about 75 out-of-route miles for this run; about 10% of the total miles. Since I only get paid (or my fuel compensated for) dispatched miles, versus "actual, real, this is the honest-to-goodness shortest route for us humans" this run won't be the best for efficiency. Worse, the price of fuel went up 15 cents a gallon at our yard at midnight last night and I couldn't fuel because I was on my 34-hour break. I'll be awaiting the $25 check from the DOT folks to pay me back for this.

P.S. Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt notice that there is no trip #4 listed. That was the one back from Ottawa to Omaha.

P.P.S. Yes, I am aware there are a variety of small, twisty US and state highways with a slightly more direct route. Having driven them before, I'll pass.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Money, Money, Money

Every little thing you fix or add to a truck costs money, and generally a lot of it.

For instance, after we got through hiding in the bathrooms at the local Volvo dealership yesterday, they finished up the repairs and modifications on my truck. These were:

Batteries not charging properly
Cruise control not working at all
One or more air leaks
Adding a second 12-volt outlet to the dash
Changing the engine computer to remove the speed governors for the engine

The first three were warranty items and the last two were on my tab. The entire bill was somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, but my little slice of heaven was $170 or so.

Then this morning I brought my truck in to our company shop to have another mirror added (on the passenger side of the hood), my glad hands replaced with ones with handles, and one of the side panels adjusted so it would stop rubbing against its neighboring panel, marring the paint job. Another couple hundred dollars out the door.

Finally, I went over to Best Buy and had their mobile electronics shop replace my factory stereo with a basic unit that includes an auxiliary plug so I can use my MP3 players through my truck's stereo system without having to resort to the stupid FM transmitter route. Another few hundred dollars wave bye-bye.

I'm glad my truck runs so efficiently, so far, so I can afford to get it fixed up the way I want it...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cowering in a Volvo dealership bathroom

So I make it back to Omaha this afternoon and drop off my trailer for another driver. I spoke with the people in our shop and the folks at the local Volvo dealership (the only Volvo truck dealer in the state, actually). I drove over to the west side of town, located the dealership and checked my truck in. Then proceeded to join the others in the bathrooms as severe thunderstorms and tornadoes roar by a few miles away.

My truck is inside the building, thankfully... if I had remained at our yard it would be outside and perhaps beat up with hail. Hopefully the building remains standing or else hail damage will be the least of my concerns.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

8.4 MPG!

I picked up the Tyson load this morning and, as expected, it was heavy (40,000 lbs). The scale at the plant was acting up a bit so after I left I stopped at a truck stop and used a certified scale. I had the weight balanced legally but I made an adjustment anyway then went on.

The Tyson plant I loaded at was basically a beef slaughterhouse. Truck after truck with bull hauler trailers (the kinds they use to haul all kinds of livestock in; the ones that stink to high heaven, usually) were coming to the plant and trailer after trailer of refrigerated beef products come out the other end. So to speak.

Anyhow, I was puttering along around 60 MPH through Nebraska and then Iowa and just idly watching my computerized MPG readout. I started at 8.5 MPG from the previous day when I had fueled and reset the counter about a hundred miles from Lexington. Amazingly, for hundreds of miles through the rest of Nebraska it not only didn't go down, it went up to 8.7 MPG!

Along I-80 in Iowa it gets fairly hilly for a while and as the hours passed I watched the gauge slowly drop down to 8.5, then 8.4 and finally bottom out at 8.3 MPG. Getting this kind of mileage in a truck with a gross weight of about 75,000 pounds is way, way, WAYYY out of my experience. Finally, I entered Illinois and slowed down to 55 MPH and the gauge slowly moved back up to 8.4 where it was when I dropped my load off, some 620 miles after picking it up.

Frankly, I was a bit... apprehensive to haul my first max weight load, as I thought I would be crying over the mileage. The difference between 6.0 MPG and 8.4 MPG on this trip is somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 that I "made" today, by which I mean it didn't go up the exhaust stack and instead remains in my bank account.

To celebrate, I took my truck over to a truck wash here in Ottawa and paid for its first cleanup. The guys there do a really spiffy job and I'll post some pictures Real Soon Now so you can all admire my new ride.


P.S. Already have a load assigned, picking up here at the local Petsmart DC heading out to Colorado. I'm going to drop it off in Omaha tomorrow and someone else can finish the run, as I have some truck stuff that needs to get taken care of.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Trip #3: Lexington, NE to Ottawa, IL

Yesterday, if you recall, I ended up in Denver waiting to be unloaded this morning. Getting to the dock to get unloaded was a complete cluster, but hey -- its a food warehouse, so that kind of thing is expected. I had to wait behind one older driver in a big, long-nose Pete trying desperately to remember how to find the hole between two other trailers for going on 30 minutes until eventually someone moved one of the trailers and he managed to use two slots to back his single trailer into. Two minutes later, I had my trailer backed in next to him, praying that I would be unloaded first.

As it turns out, I was.

Anyway, I get beeped for a 320-mile deadhead up to Lexington, Nebraska (home of MY FAVORITE Wal-Mart!!) to pick up a load from a Tyson plant and move it to a different Tyson plant in Ottawa, Illinois. I took the 320 miles of pay (and fuel surcharge) gladly, but found out when I arrived that my load won't be ready until about 0400 tomorrow. Since I like starting out early in the mornings anyway, this is a plus.

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I'm here in the Wal-Mart parking lot, having dropped off my trailer to be loaded. Oh oh oh!! Here is the best part: they have a cute R2D2 trailer cleaning robot that automatically washes trailers for them! Wish I could have taken pictures.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Windy trip out to Denver

I got up late for me (0630), fueled at our yard and chatted for a bit with one of our weekend dispatchers. Apparently a Sam's club on the west side of Omaha lost part of its roof overnight and we ran some reefers over to them so they could keep the cold stuff cold while they get it fixed.

The trip out to Denver was, as the blog title suggests, a windy one. There was some rain around Omaha and a few sprinkles here and there along the route, but the weather was mostly the wind. As I turned south on I-76 towards Denver itself my MPG went down considerably, though I'm still at 7.1 according to the onboard computer.

The fuel I added to top off at the yard came to 185 gallons, but I wasn't able to completely fill up on my first trip so I didn't burn quite that much since then. I ran a total of 1260 miles out to Illinois and back and assuming I burned 175 gallons that would give me 7.2 MPG for the trip, which is close to the mark I think. I'm not going to track it this closely from here on out, as a better mileage picture can be drawn from a week or a month of driving. Still, I have to say thus far I'm pleased to be doing so well with a brand new truck (engine hasn't been completely broken in yet) and fresh rubber (less tread = better MPG).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Trip #2: Olney, IL to Danville, IL to Denver, CO

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As I mentioned yesterday, I already had a load queued up for me before I delivered, going to Denver, Colorado. After I dropped off last night I parked at a nearby truck stop then got up early this morning to fill up at a conveniently located Super Wal-Mart in town before heading out.

It has been raining steadily in Illinois and nearby states for a while now and I wasn't surprised to see some flooding on the back roads I took up to Danville, Illinois. It was interesting to see I-70 flooded at several spots though:

Pickup was one of the easiest yet: they gave me a dock number, I backed in, then they moved three pallets of product on board and handed me the paperwork. Fifteen minutes, start to finish. The product only weighs about 7,000 pounds, which is the lightest load I can recall carrying since I moved to this company.

I headed west towards Denver along a more northerly route than some would take. It is basically the same distance taking I-70 through St. Louis and Kansas City to Denver as it is to take I-80 though Des Moines and Omaha, from where I started. Since our yard fuel is presently about the cheapest I can get and I hate going through St Louis even on a weekend, the choice was rather simple.

The wind was howling out of the southwest today and pushing me all over my lane due to my poor driving skills light load. With the 115 mile deadhead, light load and the 55 MPH Illinois speed limit I got my MPG up to 7.6. Then I turned westerly almost into the wind and bumped it up to 60ish and the MPG fell back to 7.2 by the time I arrived in Council Bluffs, Iowa for the night.

The truck continues to run fine, though the lack of cruise control is very wearing on my body. I stop every couple hours to stretch out, check the reefer temps and so on but it really doesn't make that much of a difference.

Tomorrow is an easy 540 mile run in to Denver where I will end up at the company I am due to unload at first thing Monday morning.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Blogroll added

I used to have a list of blogs I read on my old site but I wanted to do something a bit more sophisticated. So, ta-da! Introducing the new Blogroll over in the right-hand column. It will show trucking-related blogs that I read and includes the latest post title and a short snippet of that post.


First Trip: Council Bluffs, IA to Olney, IL

I'm sitting at the Wal-Mart distribution center in Olney, IL as they unload my trailer. There were a series of last-minute glitches before I left this morning and I only found out after I was under the load that my cruise control doesn't seem to want to play ball. Driving ten hours by foot sucks.

Already have a load heading back through Omaha and out to Denver for the weekend so our whiz kids in the shop might be able to fix it. Otherwise, I'll get a load on Monday back to Omaha and an appointment at the Volvo dealership to have them figure it out.

Weather today was STORMY with plenty of rain and high winds. No surprises in the truck handling and the engine ran fine. I managed 7.0 MPG according to the engine computer on the way here, which is a damn fine accomplishment for foot driving and the wind. The load put my truck weight right at 70,000 gross when I left, with full tanks of fuel.

Oh, the price to fill up at our discounted yard price this morning? $980 and change.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

It begins...

My truck is being finished up with over at ThermoKing (they handled the installation of my TriPac APU) and I've signed the small mountain of paperwork. I'd write more but I have to hurry up and get my stuff packed, then moved over, then unpacked in preparation for my first run tomorrow morning.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sick of being back

I returned on schedule Sunday night but managed to get a healthy dose of whatever flu-like malady was going around on the planes and buses I was on. Just about everyone had a case of the sniffles during the day and mine started up big-time when I was on the last leg of my journey back.

I was originally supposed to go back out this morning but I spoke with my dispatcher yesterday and pushed it back a day. If I'm not feeling a lot better tonight I'm going to push it back again.

Oh, my new truck was delivered here to Omaha, Nebraska last week. It still needs to be fitted out with some things so it will be another week or so before I change trucks.

Stay tuned.

P.S. Took a ginormous number of photos during the cruise. I will get them uploaded to a new blog sometime in case you are interested. For those who asked, it was aboard the Norwegian Pearl.