Thursday, July 31, 2008

When last we left our hero...

I haven't been able to access the Blogger site for the past couple days so updates have ground to a halt for a bit. Now, where was I...

Ah yes. I spent Tuesday driving from St George, Utah to Rawlins, Wyoming. Plenty of hills and a few mountains to climb and descend but the MPG wasn't bad with only 12,000 or so in the box. The weather was clear and warm with little wind, except for one big gust of air midway through the day that pushed me over quite a bit.

Overnight in Rawlins was pleasant, with temps in the low to mid 50's. After the sun went down I turned the APU off and enjoyed a quiet night for a change. Starting before dawn, I got an interesting surprise during my pre-trip: my oil dipstick broke! The last couple inches that actually dip down into the oil are a black plastic (why they chose black is beyond me) and when I went to get a reading on my oil level only the top 90% of the dipstick came out! The Volvo guys said it happens occasionally and not to worry about the tip: it will get caught in one of the filters or fall out in a future oil change.

The trip to Omaha, Nebraska took the entire day and I stopped by the Volvo dealer there to get a new dipstick. The plastic tips come in any color you want, so long as it is black apparently. Sigh.

Overnight in Omaha last night and fueled this morning at the yard for $4.10 a gallon, the cheapest I've seen since I started running my own truck. FSC this week is 56 cents if I recall, so (56 x 6) $3.36 of that is covered if you get 6 MPG.

Speaking of MPG, I have also discovered that the trip computer in my truck doesn't register the correct MPG. My 1,220 mile trip from St George to Omaha took 159 gallons of fuel, for an average of 7.67 where my trip computer was telling me I was getting around 8.6. I expect the computer only averages the last 25-30 gallons it puts through the engine rather than every gallon since I reset it when I fuel. A pity, I thought I was doing so well... Actually, I'm still doing fine as I track it in dollar amounts vs revenue anyway.

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I dropped off the load this afternoon in Ottawa, Illinois at the PetSmart DC I've often picked up at. I have a few hours left I could run with today but I'm a bit tired after this long trip and am taking off the afternoon so as to get a fresh start tomorrow morning.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trip #29: North Hollywood, CA to Ottawa, IL

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See that map? That is my run for the first half of this week. The trip I just ran down to Phoenix was about 1,300 miles and this one is over 2,300, including deadhead. By far the longest trip I've had at Hill Bros. Much good karma is in store for my dispatcher. Believe it.

The parking situation in North Hollywood was TIGHT, however. I looked it up on my Garmin before I departed and noted that the shipper was down a dead-end street. Loading wasn't much better, as they had a forklift to run out each pallet to the truck then a hand cart I had to use to move the pallet up to the front of the box.

There was a note on the load screen that said I had to call a certain person at HQ once I found out how many pallets it would be. Rut roh. It turns out that they try to match up several smaller loads into full truckloads heading back east and a different shipper in the Los Angeles area had enough pallets to fill out the back of the trailer so I had to detour over to Fontana and get that taken care of before I departed for real.

The traffic around LA wasn't too bad; much better than Vegas was a few hours later for some reason.

Temps were in the low triple digits once I made it to the desert area north of LA. When I pulled in at the Flying J in St George, Utah this evening to fuel and pack it in it showed 104 degrees while I was rolling down the freeway and 120 once I got to the parking area.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

2008 Alaska Cruise Day 2 Pics

Continuing with my occasional series of photo uploads, we have a hundred or so from the second day aboard the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship:

From 2008 Alaska C...

This is the large theater on board called The Stardust.

Here is our ship running down a humpback whale at about 20 knots.

NOTE: There are a decent number of very similar pics in this album which are shot over a period of seconds by my DSLR camera. You can view the entire album here.

Off to Cali

This morning's drop went off without a hitch, which was kind of surprising considering I got my trailer unloaded very quickly on a Saturday at 0600.

Afterwards I moved off to the west for a half hour or so and pulled in to the T/A at Tonopah, Arizona to get a PM done for my tractor. A PM in the trucking world is like a super oil change for regular cars and includes things like changing a lot of filters, greasing various chassis points, checking coolant levels, etc. I also had them replace one of my gladhands that had got bent at one point and was causing a random air leak on some trailers.

I drove another ninety minutes or so towards California then stopped and got a shower at the Flying J right at the CA-AZ border. Surprisingly, they don't have a TripPak box there so I had to hang on to it a bit longer.

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Ending up around Palm Springs, I'm taking the rest of the weekend off to visit family and friends and catch up on my rest. Come Monday I will be heading off first to North Hollywood then loading up for a 2,000 mile trip through the Rockies to Ottawa, Illinois.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Take It Easy

Yesterday I was told to fuel up in Winslow, Arizona so naturally the Eagles song "Take It Easy" came to mind. My original plan was to press on past Flagstaff to a rest area I know between there and Phoenix but I got a case of the lazies after fueling and decided to overnight here instead. My load delivers tomorrow morning at 0600 local time which is 0800 my time which is no problem.

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I got a preplan for Monday with a deadhead to North Hollywood, California then a 2,000 mile trip to Ottawa, Illinois with 6,000 lbs of pet supplies. I am so all over that, baby.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Wind

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So there is a Texas oilman who wants to put up thousands of wind turbines along a corridor in the mid south to convert wind power into electricity. If today was any indication, he'll do well in his endeavor.

I was told my load in Crete, Nebraska was ready to go as soon as I got there so I left around dawn and arrived in Crete around 0800. The Nestle/Purina pet food factory is undergoing a lot of construction so finding the right spot to report in at was a challenge. Once I found the right door I sidled up to the shipping lady and told her I was there for my preloaded trailer. She laughed at me. Without any further explanation, she punched some buttons on her computer and told me my trailer was being loaded "for its 11 AM departure" and I should drop off my empty trailer at the approved spot then hook up to the one being loaded.

About two hours later I was loaded, sealed, scaled and departing.

Most readers of this blog and my previous one are aware I prefer to take interstate highways when possible. However, this load is going to Phoenix, Arizona and there isn't an interstate route that doesn't include 100+ miles of out of route mileage which I have to pay for out of my own pocket. Thus, almost half of the miles for this trip will be along state highways in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

The wind during my entire trip down to Dalhart, Texas was gale force. Since I fueled at our Omaha yard before departing, I also reset my MPG counter and was pleased that I arrived in Crete at 8.2 MPG with an empty trailer. By the time I arrived in Texas and shut down for the night, I was staring at 5.7 MPG and I had driven cautiously the entire way. The 44,000 pounds of dog chow in the back hurts my MPG a lot more going uphill than it helps going downhill.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just Another Day on the Road

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Today was a mostly ordinary day, though I did spend a decent amount of time swapping trailers here and there. I rolled in to Lenexa, Kansas first thing this morning and dropped off my load of Nabisco products. Eventually, I was sent over to the Sam's Club DC (Distribution Center) in Kansas City, Missouri to grab a load and bring it up to the Sam's store in Lincoln, Nebraska. There I docked my full trailer and pulled an empty van and brought it up to Kelloggs in Omaha where I got my cardio in sweeping out the trailer. It wasn't dirty at all but the Kelloggs people are anal about the way they load trailers.

Finally, I headed over to the yard to have a mano-a-mano with the dispatcher on my next trip. I've been planning something for a while now and it is kinda going to work and kinda not. I'll update everyone in a few days on how it turns out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why Ask Why?

As I mentioned yesterday, I didn't really see the reason why I had to take a van trailer instead of a reefer to pick up that load going to PetCo. This bit me in the butt today when my next load came up and it required a reefer. When I pointed this out to my dispatcher I was sent from the PetCo distribution center in Joliet, Illinois about 45 miles west to the PetSmart distribution center in Ottawa, Illinois to exchange my van for a reefer. Then I ran back east along the same route to Morris, Illinois to pick up a load for Nabisco. Fifty miles out of route because whoever booked the previous load put the van requirement on it for some reason.

The Nabisco place was interesting. Each trailer is tagged with a yellow GPS device as it enters so the yard dogs know where each one is as they roll around. I dropped the trailer I painstakingly took from PetSmart and picked up a loaded one and was rolling very shortly thereafter.

The rest of my driving day was uneventful and I end up about two hours away from the Kansas City area where I delivery first thing in the morning.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Zig zagging in Iowa

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That was my day today. I got up around 0300 to grab the (now empty) trailer at Sam's Club only to find myself faced with sheets of rain and winds with near hurricane force. A storm front was blowing through just then so I sat it out for 30-40 minutes then went about my business.

Finding the shipper wasn't difficult but when I backed in I needed to do a lot of sweeping up in the trailer. It was the filthiest one I've run across in more than 18 months on the road. That taken care of, the dock worker pushed in 50 feet worth of pallets of empty plastic soda bottles in one go and I was loaded. 77,000+ bottles weighing under 10,000 pounds.

Ordinarily, a light load is a blessing but in heavy winds I prefer to haul something closer to my maximum. Fortunately, the winds died down around sunrise though there was quite a lot of lightning going off in the skies around me. Some was ground-to-cloud and some was cloud-to-cloud which was fascinating to watch. At one point I saw five or six almost simultaneous lightning strikes in a 120 degree arc in front of me which was very impressive.

My dispatcher needed a scorecard to figure out my route yesterday so I tried to explain it to him. Hopefully I will be paid for the joyride.

The next trip came in late in the morning: I'm to take a load of pet supplies to -- keep this a secret -- a PetCo pet store in Jolliet, Illinois. We do a lot of PetSmart loads so this seems a bit sacrilegious.

I was ordered to pick up a dry van instead of a reefer and feared this load would be extremely heavy. Not to worry: its only 12,000 or so.

The fuel tanks were nearly dry so I fueled at the yard at $4.39. Later in the day a message came across my satellite unit that we get each week telling me that fuel tomorrow will be $4.00 a gallon, which I hope is a typo. That or I just spent an extra seventy or eighty dollars on fuel today, which I couldn't really avoid.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hither and yon, and yon, and yon...

Today is a new day, with unlimited opportunities for fun, miles, hot dogs, apple pie and The American Way. Okay, I got up this morning bobtail and after scratching the appropriate places, sent in asking for a run. After a while I get beeped and it turns out I'm to head up to Omaha bobtail since there is nothing available in Kansas City. Okay, couple hundred deadhead miles. I'm down with that.

About an hour into the run I get a phone call from the weekend planners who want to know if I can head to Ames, Iowa (just north of Des Moines) to pick up a load and bring it to Omaha for delivery tomorrow morning. I look at the distances and say sure, no problemo. After consulting The Master List of Available Trailers I'm sent to a Sam's Club store in Des Moines to pick up an empty trailer that I'll take up to Ames for the load.

I be-bop about twenty miles back the way I came on I-29 and crossed over to I-35, then north up to Des Moines. Arrived at the Sam's Club and spotted our trailer on their dock. Hooked up to it, pulled it out... oops, still loaded with paper towels. Put it back into place and ask HQ for someplace else to find an empty.

Next I'm sent to the FedEx facility on the north side of town which is on the way to Ames so it isn't much out of route. I arrive only to find an empty facility with a little old lady gate guard who informs me that any trailer they have now won't be released until 0700 tomorrow morning as they may need it for a load. So, I ask HQ for someplace else to find an empty.

Next, I'm sent (literally) around the corner to ConWay to pick up an empty and they even include the trailer number! I arrive and the gate is padlocked shut and I'm about to phone HQ to complain bitterly when a little old man guard comes over and opens up the gate. He's a bit confused, says there is some paperwork for the trailer. I say I'll take a look and wouldn't you know it -- the trailer is full of product leaving for Dallas soon.

Dispatch is looking around trying to find a trailer but it seems that the closest ones are either 60 or 100 miles away, double that for the return trip. Eventually, they decide that we've spent enough time playing Send Jim Around In Circles so I head to a nearby truck stop. I ask to be put on the board for a load tomorrow morning but am told that we won't have anything nearby tomorrow so head over to Omaha first thing.

Sigh. 285 miles of driving headed hither and yon and I didn't get anything productive done today.

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A Great Trucking Video

Friends of mine from ConWay Truckload (which used to be CFI when I worked for them) have made the first of a series of videos about trucking available online.

Watch it:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pesky Rent-A-Cops

My unload in Arlington, Texas included the run-of-the-mill issues that plague many loads. My truck wasn't allowed past the entry gate right at the street so instead I had to use a call box next to the gate. There wasn't a door available at my appointment time so go wait another ten minutes then come back and ask again. Ten minutes later, same drill. Eventually, I was given the secret handshake to get me through the gate and unloaded.

Except this isn't like most other places we unload at. The consignee tells you what door number to take but you aren't supposed to back up to the door fully. Instead, get it in the general vicinity and break the seal, taking it and the paperwork up to the receiving department at the other end of a long building. Or, in my case, walking back and forth a number of times to get these steps coordinated.

Then you are given a paper you put in the back of your reefer for the warehouse jockeys to use as they unload, THEN back up to the dock and chock your wheels. By this point I was tired of the games, a bit irritated and I rolled right over their stupid chock and by golly, it was in place in front of my tires right after. A bit flatter too, but that is so not my problem.

SMALL PHYSICS 101 NOTE: My combined truck and trailer weight, empty, approaches 18 tons. Chocking one or more of my wheels with a 6" tall rubber mallet thing is about as effective as going to stop a rampaging elephant with a nerf bat. When I bump your dock and don't want to move, nothing you have is going to change that. Conversely, when I pull away from your dock, no freaking chock is going to make any difference whatsoever. That is all.

It was a food warehouse so the entire place runs on what I like to call a relaxed schedule. They get to you when they get to you. Several hours later I got the paperwork and sealed everything back up, though one of their dock guys moved the chock before I could try my luck at running over it on the way out.

The street around this facility is basically a big square, entirely marked no parking. Despite this, trucks were lined up ten or fifteen deep the previous night and others during the daytime, as I did. The consignee certainly knew this when they built their warehouse there, and the police certainly are aware of the issue but no one cares. Waste of money on signage, in my book.

For a change our crack planning team hadn't arranged a pre-plan so I waited and waited. Called in a few times, they're getting right on it, yada yada. Around noon (six hours after my appointment time to drop off the previous load) the buzzer went off and I was to go about ten miles away to pick up a load of appliances headed for Kansas City, Kansas. Load information said it would be ready in about two hours, so I hustled over to drop off my trailer and start moving for the day.

It turns out the load planners hit the wrong button or something because, while it was a legitimate pickup number, the load wasn't going to be ready until after midnight. So instead of picking up the load yesterday afternoon and running it to Kansas City last night, I had to do so first thing this morning and I'm a day behind.

The shipper told me I could park where I was in their bobtail parking area, since I had dropped off the trailer to be loaded. I slouched back out to the truck, rigged up my curtains, turned the APU on to max cool to handle the heat and spent the afternoon napping, watching TV, et cetera.

About 1800 the guards changed and the new guy knocked on my door. I answered by rolling down the window and he asked what I was doing parked in that spot. I told him the shipping folks said I could, to which he harrumphed and said that wasn't his understanding of the parking situation. I replied that if he found out otherwise, I would move and he went away.

Thinking no more of it, I eventually went to bed and at 2000 the guard was at my door again. "Yes," I growled.

"Its okay for you to park there, just wanted you to know."

"Thank goodness, now I'll rest easy. I'll grab the trailer first thing in the morning if that is okay."

It was and he went away. Until 0130 when again he banged on my door. I was groggy and mostly unclothed and I think I shouted a bit when I asked him what in the name of creation he wanted now. "Your trailer is ready!" he answered.

"Great, see you in the morning."

He knocks on my door one more time and I'm going to hogtie him and see if his cute handheld radio will fit into any of his orifices.

Luckily, he left me alone and by 0415 I was on my way. Except for a 90-minute break at Lamar, Missouri to get a Blizzard and fill up my on board food supply at the Super Wal-Mart, I drove straight to the consignee. The freeways and side roads I needed to use to get to the consignee according to the directions were completely blocked off but my Germin routed me around with a minimum of fuss ("Recalculating!" again and again).

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HQ messaged me to say there will be loads tomorrow but they are waiting on trailers so don't hold my breath.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Case of the Mysterious Missing Trailer

Coming back on duty this morning, I zapped a message in to my dispatcher asking where I should pick up an empty trailer. I had dropped the one I brought down from Council Bluffs the day before at the AmeriCold facility in Carthage and eventually it was decided I would go there to find a new empty.

Now, I've been to this place a number of times and know the layout. Up top on the surface is a guard building with some parking and a large trailer lot called the Tower Lot because it is next to a water tower. Down below is a smaller trailer parking lot just outside the tunnel complex, then the tunnels themselves but you can't get to either of these places without first going to the guard building to get an electronic keycard.

The dispatcher tells me trailer so-and-so is empty and ready to go, so I head in to the Tower Lot and drive around for about five minutes. Not only is that trailer not present, there are no Hill Bros trailers there of any kind. Messages fly back and forth and apparently they called someone at AmeriCold who swore that trailer so-and-so was unloaded and up in the Tower Lot. This, of course, was bunk as I had just been there and went around the lot twice and there was no such trailer.

I chatted up a yard jockey going about his business and learn our empty trailers are down below in the smaller lot next to the tunnels. Apparently, it costs some extra shekels to have them brought up top and whoever has the purse strings doesn't care to make this happen. So I had to go to the guards, get a gate pass, go back up top to the gate, go down to the lower lot, hook up, drag the trailer back top through the gate, return the gate pass to the guards, then head out. Mystery solved.

The trailer only had a half tank of fuel and needed a washout so I brought it over to Joplin to take care of this. The line at the washout place was lonnnnnng and I wasted 90 minutes there.

The trip down to Van Buren, Arkansas was uneventful and economic in the fuel department, and the shipper wasn't hard to find. There was this strange odor in the air all around the facility, like frying Doritos. It isn't uncommon to have strange smells wafting about but this one was pungent and not unpleasant. It turns out they process chicken into fried chicken strips and the like, so I was smelling frying on an industrial scale. Twenty tons of product loaded on and I was poultry in motion. So to speak.

It was late in the afternoon when I began my journey down to Arlington, Texas and I arrived before midnight, greeted by a long line of trucks awaiting entry into the facility. My appointment wasn't until 0630 this morning so I found a safe place to park and called it a night.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Trip #21: Council Bluffs, IA to Carthage, MO

My go-home load this time is the familiar ConAgra load heading to Carthage, Missouri. It was fairly hot when I arrived at the shipper to pick up my load, and it wasn't ready so I got to wait for a few hours. During that time a tanker had crashed on the nearest entrance to the interstate and it was closed down for quite some time.

Once I locked on to my trailer I found out that I couldn't slide the trailer tandems. This is an issue from a number of different angles, the most important two being that it makes my truck horribly overweight on my tractor drive tires and taking turns with the tandems all the way back takes an incredible amount of space. Needless to say, the quick answer from the shop when I sent in this information was to bring the trailer to the shop across the river in Omaha to be worked on. After mind-numbing delays getting back to the freeway at an open on ramp I carefully drove it back to HQ and the grease monkeys started tinkering with it.

Another subtle angle that I hadn't fully considered at the time was that there was no real point in scaling the load. For one, I couldn't get to either of the scales on the way back due to the interstate closures. Secondly, the only information I would get that would be useful would be the total weight, as my axle weights would be wayyy out of whack.

One heckuva storm battered the Omaha area last night as I was trying to get to sleep for an early morning start. The winds howled, rain pelted down and there was a very impressive lighting and thunder show. I shot some video that I will post one of these days if I ever find the time to edit the stuff.

Trip #20: Pine Bluff, AR to La Vista, NE

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I asked for directions to the shipper once I had received the load information. "No directions" was the answer I got back. Great.

They did have a street address so I tried finding it on my Garmin and via Google Maps. It turns out that finding a street address is easier when the name of the street itself is spelled correctly. The destination lay somewhere in the port area of the city in a maze of small streets. Just where I wanted to take a big rig today.

I made one bad turn on my way into the port area and managed to run around a railroad switching yard for a few minutes before I could carefully make a u-turn and go back the way I came. A few minutes after that I spied the shipper and went in to be loaded.

It turns out I'm carrying a load of special concrete mix they use for swimming pools. It is the heaviest load I've handled yet for this company, at 45,000 pounds. The only way I managed to remain legal was that I only had a half tank of fuel. The Flying J in Kansas City had (relatively) cheap fuel I had to pass up so I didn't go over.

Finding the consignee in a new business park was a treat as well. Eventually all that was taken care of and my new load information was zapped to me.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trip #19: Independence, MO to Russellville, AR

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I really wanted to make it to Kansas City, Missouri last night but I ran out of hours and had to stop an hour short at Cameron, Missouri. The fuel plan zapped to me by HQ had me fueling at the Flying J in KC at $4.41 a gallon, which isn't bad with a 57 cent FSC. Unfortunately, that night the price rose to $4.60 a gallon which made the cheapest fueling stop along my next run at Joplin, Missouri for $4.57. Sixteen cents per gallon more for the same fuel one day later. Ouch.

Anyway, got up early, dropped the trailer off at our yard, bobtailed over to the underground facility in Independence, Missouri I've been to before and hooked up to a loaded trailer that was waiting in the above ground storage yard. It was an average weight load of 27,000 lbs which for my truck is pretty light. Plus, it was just boxes so the reefer wasn't on and I didn't have to worry about any of that.

Being Sunday the traffic was light and I got down the road without delay. Got some shopping taken care of to fill my pantry and fridge, fueled up in Joplin and drove the rest of the way down to Russellville, Arkansas to drop off the trailer and pick up an empty. There were no empties where I dropped, but I've been here a number of times before and I know a different consignee about a half mile down the road that always seems to have empties. Coincidentally, I dropped off trailer 95010 and picked up trailer 94010.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Evil Don Knotts and 18 miles of cussing

So I get up this morning early-early and run down through Chicago. The traffic was light... partially due to the hour and partially due to the torrential downpour when I was there. There were a few patches of washed-out roadways to forge through, but at 45 in a big rig it really wasn't a problem.

After a few hours I arrive in Bradley, Illinois to find one of the interesting characters you run across from time to time on the road. The security guard for this place I'm loading at has to be in his 80's and looks like a cross between a bald Don Knotts and Yoda. For the five minutes or so I spent with him checking in and out every other word he said was unprintable in this family-oriented site. On and on and on he went like a wind up doll on crack. I dubbed him the Evil Don Knotts, since everyone knows you have a twin out there somewhere and I found the nasty version of Barney Fife.

The load itself is a maximum weight one, of cooking oil this time. I would have been pushing it very close if I had full tanks, but I only have half and won't fuel until I dump off the load so I'm fine there.

I'm a few more hours down the road and getting a bit sleepy so I start looking for a rest area or something similar to take a quick power nap. At this point I'm on I-72 westbound headed for Missouri and if you've been on that interstate you know that there are precisely zero rest areas from Springfield on. Since this is over 100 miles it sucks, so I looked for someplace on a ramp to park or similar. No joy.

Eventually I decide I will get off and park along a side road so I choose an exit and leave the interstate. I get to the top of the ramp and look both ways and the news is grim: both are small two-lane roads that seem to run straight, with no place to turn around. For some reason I turn left to head over the bridge to the other side when I realize that I've just made a boo-boo. I don't see anyplace to turn around and now the only viable option is to get back on the interstate going eastbound. I sigh and make the turn, grabbing gears and getting back up to highway speed.

Until, that is, I see the cute sign that reads "Next exit 9 miles" and I realize that it has been a while since the last exit and now I get to run nine miles east, then turn around and run that same nine miles back along the freeway. Ten bucks in fuel for a silly turn decision.

Naturally, I'm cussing like a wind up doll on crack for the next twenty minutes. I guess the Evil Barney Fife is growing on me.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Free at last...

The Cursed Load™ is finally in the books.

I finished off the last four hours of driving in to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area this morning, arriving at 1030. The last mile or so along the highway and the surface streets were a real treat, being ripped up with lots of cones, detours and the like. I knew I had to take the 13th street exit and go due south for a while and just made my way slowly through the maelstrom until I arrived at the large dilapidated Cargil facility.

The gate guard checked my paperwork then had me park the truck nearby and walk over to receiving. The receiving people told me to park it at the far end of the facility and someone will be with me "sometime this afternoon". My dispatcher didn't believe they said that, so I quoted him what I just quoted you.

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Anyway, I found an out-of-the-way place to park it for a while and waited. After a few hours a worker came out and told me to back into their dock. It was at a weird angle and didn't have markings but I didn't think twice before putting it in there. The difference 19 months on the road makes to your perception of what is and isn't a difficult back is amazing, really.

Another hour or so and my trailer was meatless, putting my seventeenth trip with this truck in the books.

Then my dispatcher sends me a doozy of a preplan: run south through the Friday afternoon Chicago rush hour traffic to load in Bradley, Illinois and take it to Topeka, Kansas for a Monday morning delivery. Aside from the traffic, its 500 or so miles over two-and-a-half-days which just doesn't cut it for me. We went back and forth, I called the broker several times and eventually we agreed that I could load the following morning and drop it off at our Kansas City yard on Sunday before picking up another load.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Cursed Load™

What a disaster.

So I'm waiting for a load. And waiting. Eventually, I send in a message on my satellite unit to which my dispatcher answers with something like "Are you ready now?" I was ready four or five hours before then and it isn't like this was a big secret... we spoke on both of my "days off" I took. Grr.

A load pops up on my satellite unit. I'm to grab a trailer and run over to Schuyler, Nebraska and trade it for a loaded trailer that needs to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin tomorrow morning. I grab an empty from the yard, but its dirty so I will Do The Right Thing and get it washed out in our wash bay, only to find out that some of the curtains inside used for air flow need repair. So I take it from the wash bay to our trailer inspection lane and wait there for a while when I get beeped and told I have to take a different trailer to this shipper.

That was the first trailer I touched today.

I talked with the guys in the trailer bay and they had me pull that trailer around to yet another bay where it could be worked on, and I dropped it there. Head out to the yard, find the new trailer I'm supposed to take and hook up to it. Just as a what the hell, I start up the reefer as I'm hooking up to see if it runs, and peek inside. It's dirty. And the reefer doesn't run and shows a fault code.

That was the second trailer I touched today.

I phone my dispatcher this time and I mentioned that the trailer repair guys said that I could take a trailer in yet another bay if I wanted. Eventually, that was okayed and I hooked to this new trailer, which had just had one of its doors reattached. I assume this was because some driver managed to detach said door in a violent way. Odds the trailer is dirty and needs a washout? 100% my friend.

That was the third trailer I touched today.

I get lined up for our wash bay behind several other drivers and finally its my turn. Trailer gets washed out, the reefer works and there don't seem to be any other issues so I head out for the 70 mile drive to the shipper.

When I check in at the large Cargil plant I'm told in no uncertain terms that my trailer will have to be washed out. All trailers have to be washed out, even though. my. trailer. was. washed. out. a. freaking. hour. ago. At least the minimum wage workers on the wash dock were pleasant; even cranked down my landing gear for me. To be young again.

My new trailer was waiting for me, preloaded with 20 tons of beef products and chilled to minus 10. I backed up under it and maneuvered it out of its tight parking space before sliding the tandems and doing my walk around. That is when I find out that the previous driver had brought in the trailer minus one of the springs that hold up the hoses under the trailer and they had been dragging on the ground for some distance... at least 70 miles from Omaha, I suspect.

This is the fourth trailer I touched today.

Now, there are four lines running fore and aft on this particular trailer. Two are air lines, one is electrical and the other is for the anti-lock function of the brakes. Of the four, the only one that you can do without is the last one and the one faint glimmer of good luck I had today was that being the only one actually severed. After some consultation with the Powers That Be in our maintenance department, I did some ghetto repairs with some zip ties and brought the trailer back to our shop for some TLC.

In less than an hour three trailer problems were identified and taken care of (golf clap for the trailer guys!) and I was on my way again. By this time there was no way to finish the trip by the end of my driving day so the delivery time had to be moved back to late morning tomorrow.

Was that the end of my lousy luck on The Cursed Load™? Oh no, there were two more items of interest:

I had decided to stop at the large Iowa 80 truck stop for the night, mostly because of a hankering for a DQ Blizzard. I pulled off at the correct entrance only to be presented with incredible amounts of traffic for this small town west of Davenport. It turns out there is some sort of show or event going on today and the place, and the other truck stops on that exit, are just madhouses. Not even worth fighting my way in for a parking space.

So, I eventually made my way back to the freeway to head east a bit more for the Flying J about eight miles away. Just as I reach the end of the merge ramp I hear a loud "POP!" sound. A flat tire would be just the perfect ending for such a day, I thought. I pull over safely and get out, but a visual inspection doesn't show any damage or flats. It must have been something from across the freeway at the truck stop.

It will be a good thing when I exorcise this demon tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Waiting is the hardest part

As I mentioned in my last post, I prefer to get up around 0400 and start my day's work but if there isn't a preplan on me then there isn't much point, as I can't get a load assigned until the planners roll in and start assigning loads around 0800. So I wait.

ThermoKing got my APU working again, and it turns out it wasn't the head gasket after all. Yesterday, I took my truck over to Volvo with a laundry list of things to take care of but only a few were completed because they have to order parts in. There is a lot of hurry up and wait in the truck repair business as well, apparently.

Monday, July 7, 2008

$130 worth of wisdom

It being Monday morning, and after a three-day weekend as well, I kinda expected having to wait a while to be assigned a load. I always try to show available at 0400 or whatever the earliest time I can start running to see if I'll get assigned a load then, but if it isn't preplanned it seems you have to wait for the daytime trip planners to come in and decide who gets what.

I get beeped with one load, and I accept... and I'm immediately taken off it. A few seconds later, a similar load from a different shipper is sent and I accept it. I'm to run about 150 miles across Kansas to the small town of Frontenac to pick up a load of dog food heading to a distributor in Omaha, Nebraska. I've praised the trip planners before and I'll continue along that vein: I needed to get back through Omaha to get my APU ripped apart fixed and a number of other items at the Volvo dealership as well that will take several days, and they got me back there when I needed it. Oh, and a shout out to the dispatcher as well for coordinating everything. I take back half the bad things I've said about you, I swear!

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When I arrived on the outskirts of Frontenac I was presented with a problem. My directions said turn left on McKay avenue then the shipper will be on the right. I looked that way as I came up the freeway and it looked like a solid housing development to me, and heading right on McKay instead looked more promising. So, am I a trusting driver who follows directions or am I suspicious and take-charge driver that follows his well-honed gut instinct for avoiding bad places?

I chose the directions I was given over my gut feel and knew it was the wrong choice as soon as I made the turn. A sign told me that no thru trucks were allowed, which didn't really mean much since there are plenty of places we go where the shipper is on such a street and you aren't a "thru" truck, since you get loaded then head back out the same way you entered.

The line of houses went on and on and before long, and before I had any option to turn, I was in a cozy downtown area with a 20 MPH speed limit and various turns saying "No Trucks" or "Low Overheads" and the like. After fifteen minutes of using my driving instincts, I made it back to the freeway and began again, but this time ignoring the directions and going with my gut. A minute or two later I was at the shipper.

Since this place is, to put it mildly, off the beaten track, there was no place nearby to scale my truck after I was loaded. I watched them load in the pallets of dog chow (about 1,300 30 pound bags worth) and adjusted my tandems to suit the load, so I was fairly confident I was legal.

My fuel stop for the day was the Flying J on I-435 in Kansas City, Missouri. Now, I like Flying J stops, as a whole but this one just sucks. It is hard to get to, hard to park at and fairly crowded at all times of the day and night. Today it also happened be sweltering hot, though I got to a pump quickly -- a first. I pumped almost 200 gallons into my tanks, or roughly half the weight of whatever kind of car you happen to drive.

This is where being a bit tired and in a bit of a rush can hurt a driver. What I should have done was fuel then scale my truck there, adjusting my tandems and 5th wheel to reflect the 3/4 ton of extra weight up front. Instead, I quickly updated my log and hit the road, trying to get through the 4:30 traffic to head out of the city.

The first weigh station that I came to today is just north of Kansas City in Platte City, Missouri, along I-29. It was open and my PrePass transponder didn't beep, so I headed in to scale. While my overall weight was legal, I was too heavy on my steer tires and got called to task for it.

The officer was polite and patient and suffered a bit as he did a level 2 inspection of my truck and paperwork in the heat and humidity. Nothing else was found to be amiss and I got a ticket for $130 for the improper balancing. Then, I moved my 5th wheel back to the stops which shifted 1,400 pounds to my drive tires, rescaled, then headed down the road.

A bit poorer and a bit wiser.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Trip #15: Lexington, NE to Emporia, KS

After I dropped my load in Littleton, Colorado I slept for a few hours on their dock until the word came down: I was to deadhead about 400 miles to Lexington, Nebraska to the Tyson plant I've been to before and take a load down to Kansas. They gave me a 24-hour window to pick up the load, which was nice. I spent the night in North Platte, Nebraska and picked up this morning.

This isn't a long run at all, but counting the deadhead it is fairly nice for weekend work around here. Since I'm fairly low in available hours at the moment, by not running any harder today I will have more hours to string together during the early part of the week when freight is humming.

When I got to Emporia it was the same refrain: your tank is at about 70% full and it has to be at 75% in order to drop. Four gallons of fuel later, and a round trip to the local truck stop, and the trailer was off my back and I grabbed an empty.

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Bonus: A sunrise from Tyler, Texas I shot a week ago:

Friday, July 4, 2008

2008 Alaskan Cruise Day 1 Pics

If you've kept up with my blog for a while you know in May I took a week long cruise from Seattle to Alaska and back. I took something like 1,000 photos with my Nikon and shot about five hours of video on my HD camcorder -- none of which I've had time to play around with since I returned and started my lease!

Anyway, I bulk uploaded about 150 photos from my departure day in Seattle. I haven't had time to color correct or do any other work on them so enjoy them in their natural state!

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Scorching in Denver

The drop in Lincoln, Nebraska went very smoothly this morning and the drive from there to Denver was uneventful... so much so, I had to pull over three times to take quick naps. Thankfully time wasn't an issue so I made a lazy day of it. By the time I arrived in Denver the mercury was pushing 100 degrees so I made a beeline over to the only IdleAir in the entire state to wait until my morning delivery.

I've been having some problems with my memory card reader so I haven't been able to upload pics recently. A few weeks ago I posted the first pics of my new truck, and here are some more from different angles:

As always, click on any picture here to see the larger version.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Trip #14: Ottawa, IL to Littleton, CO

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I awoke sweaty and tired in the middle of the night after having gone to sleep in more moderate conditions. Apparently a weather front had passed through during my slumber bringing heat and humidity. Having no other choice, I idled the truck and went back to bed for a few more hours.

Once I got up for real it was an easy hour's drive down to Ottawa, Illinois and the Petsmart DC. Unfortunately, my load wasn't ready yet because they were still loading fish aboard. I thought they would be in some super cool space age mobile aquariums or something, but it turns out they are just bagged up and put in boxes. Sucks to be a fish I guess.

The reefer unit was set to -10 degrees, so once I turned it on I changed it up to a balmy 76 as is required for these kinds of loads. Otherwise all the stores would receive was frozen fish sticks.

The Iowa-80 truck stop in Walcott, Iowa drew me in yet again and I spent 80 dollars on stuff to get my CB working in the new truck and a Sirius satellite gizmo. My truck had XM radio built in to the original receiver but I got very tired of their programming during my stint at CFI, as XM radio was a freebie for all the drivers.

During my trip to our Omaha yard the word came down that the price of fuel was going up there by 12 cents tomorrow, so fuel accordingly. Accordingly, I topped off my tanks tonight to save almost 20 bucks. My current load weighs in at 40,000 lbs, with half of it going to Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow morning and the other half in Colorado the following morning. Truck MPG was 7.4, according to the computer.

I brought my truck in to the ThermoKing folks and was told they need it for an entire day. This after they consulted with their HQ about my problem and concluded that the only fix was to replace the head gasket or some such. Someday...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Trip #13: Haltom, TX to Rochelle, IL

... is finally over.

Yesterday I motored up from Fort Worth, Texas to Springfield, Illinois where I had dinner with my sister-in-law and niece and picked up my mail. It was hot but not as humid as I had feared so I was able to avoid idling most of the night once I got the cab cooled down enough for me to drift off.

Today I waited for four hours at the ThermoKing dealership for them to open long enough to sell Hill Bros a new fuel cap for the reefer fuel tank. I forgot to mention yesterday that one of the previous drivers had forgotten to put the cap back on after fueling and it was missing when I picked up the load in Texas.

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Once that was settled I started on the hilly section of I-44 in Missouri between Springfield and St Louis. My MPG was in the high sixes when I entered Illinois, but with the 55 MPH speed limit there it eventually crept back up to 7.4 when I delivered.

I have consistently praised the preplans doled out by our planners at HQ, and I will rise again this evening to continue this tradition. At the moment, I am utterly out of hours: at midnight tonight I pick up 11 hours to run and another 8.5 the following midnight. Plus, this is the 4th of July holiday weekend. Plus, I prefer to start very early in the morning when possible. Plus, when given a choice I prefer longer trips to shorter ones.

My next trip involves me taking an empty from here in Rochelle down to Ottawa, Illinois to the Petsmart DC I've been to frequently, then heading out to Lincoln, Nebraska for an early-morning drop the next day. This is a two-drop load, so after I drop off first thing in the morning, I will rumble out to Littleton, Colorado with the other half of the load going to one of the Petsmarts I delivered to just a few days ago.

This meets basically every criteria I have for a good load and makes the best use of my available hours.

Another plus to this trip is that I will be going through Omaha so I can fuel at the yard and also possibly get ThermoKing to take a look at my APU.

Bravo, trip planners!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Somebody doesn't like Sara Lee"

(Sung to the tune of their jingle one often hears on TV)

My drop in Tyler, Texas was at a food warehouse. It was tedious, involved lumpers and a lot of waiting. 'Nuff said.

After waiting for three hours after I was empty, the satellite unit beeped and I was assigned a load from Haltom, Texas to Rochelle, Illinois. I had been to this particular location before: a Sara Lee refrigerated warehouse of one sort or another.

My available hours are a bit strange until Wednesday. Basically, I have to work two half days which works out very well for me. I had needed to run by the house to pick up some mail and packages and presto, this will let me do that, see the relations and still make this delivery on time.

When I arrived in Haltom, which is a suburb of Fort Worth, I pulled up to the guard shack and they started filling out paperwork. Soon, one of the guards went outside to look at my trailer and came back, tut-tutting about the fuel level in the reefer tank.

"Can't drop that trailer here, son" the elderly guard said. "Reefer has to be at least three quarters full."

I innocently asked if that applied to all reefers, and he said yes. "So, if I had a 50 gallon tank and it was three-fourths full, that would be okay?"

"Sure, why not?"

Well, half of a 75-gallon tank is 37.5 gallons of fuel. By an amazing coincidence, 3/4ths of a 50-gallon tank is 37.5 gallons of fuel. So the larger tank has the same physical amount of diesel in it but because it can hold half again as much as a smaller tank it still has to be filled.

I'm not sure he grasped the math, but he called his boss who intoned The Company Line: Thou Shalt Have Three-Fourths Fuel.

I didn't pass any authorized fueling locations on the way in to the pickup so it isn't like I just shirked my duties. I called in to my dispatcher to see if someone at our HQ could gently massage someone at their HQ to let this happen, but apparently that wasn't in the cards.

So, I had to head out ten miles away (twenty round trip) on my dime to fuel the reefer. Better yet, when I arrive at the Pile-It their computers were down and the line of trucks went out almost to the street. Its hot, I'm frustrated and the load has plenty of time so I called my dispatcher back and made sure it would be okay to blow them off until tomorrow morning. No problem he says, so long as I can deliver on time.

Somebody doesn't like Sara Lee.