Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Dead reefer, a plasma cannon, planning and reprogramming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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