Monday, March 30, 2009

Return trip to Omaha

My dispatcher called me up this afternoon to let me know they have a trip ready for me tomorrow morning. I'll be heading to nearby Frontenac, Kansas to pick up a load of Ol' Roy dog chow (or some such) and bringing it up to Omaha. Its about 400 miles and I'll take care of it in one fell swoop tomorrow, weather willing.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Home at last

After I delivered the load to Lincoln, Nebraska I was given a load heading to Atlanta, Georgia with some extra days to deliver it so I could get through the house and take some time off. Alas, just as I was reaching Kansas City that all changed.

My dispatcher called and asked if I could drop my trailer in KC, pick up an empty, get it loaded nearby, then drop that trailer back at the yard. Oh, and grab another empty trailer and take that home instead of the Atlanta one. Another driver needs it to get home, don't you know.

For some reason I agreed to all of this. The net effect on my day was the loss of three hours of my time doing the various trailer shenanigans, about thirty miles of driving in city traffic, and the loss of my trip down to Atlanta. In exchange, I got an empty trailer and 25 miles of pay. As I've pointed out before on more than one occasion, lots of things in the trucking industry work the way they do only because your time as a driver has absolutely no value to anyone but yourself.

Grouching aside, I made it home and I'm off until Tuesday morning, so neener neener neener.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ever need to backup some files online?

I occasionally back up important files (eg logbook files from Drivers Daily Log, pictures, documents, etc.) to a flash drive or my Drobo just in case one of my computers dies. Now, I also use DropBox which lets me store up to two gigabytes online for free (and more if you care to pay for it).

Better, it lets you synchronize your files with other computers so if you need to keep copies of important documents on a laptop and desktop, for instance, it handles it seamlessly.

Give it a try here.

Indoor dock at a food bank in Nebraska

This was a bit of a nerve-wracking back since you couldn't see the trailer at all once it was inside the building and the street in front was too narrow to do anything other than a curved back. You can see the dirt tracks my tires left on the street during one of my many pull ups.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It happened again

I delivered the load in Manchester, Pennsylvania last night and for the second time in as many weeks a driver from another company walked up to me and started asking questions about the company. We chatted for ten or fifteen minutes and I gave him some contact information (super-secret ninja stuff, you understand) and then my trailer was unloaded and I left.

Today was a long day. I started in Manchester and made my way about 320 miles west to Akron, Ohio. The truck entrance to the shipper's property was torn up and being rebuilt, so I went a bit further down the street and turned into the employee parking lot -- after first making sure there was enough room for me to turn around. I went inside and used a phone and company directory to call the shipping people to let them know I had arrived and ask for directions. Basically, keep going around the building from the opposite side then find the docks around back.

I do all this and find the docks, only to find out the specific product I need is at a different warehouse a few blocks away. Grr. I get directions, locate the place on my GPS and in a few minutes I'm at a pretty ratty looking place with a dirt path (I kid you not) around back and big signs directing trucks that way. O-kayyyyy.

The docks were set back against the building in an usual way which made it impossible for trucks not parked on the ends to leave before someone vacated a spot next to them. Luckily, I had a spot at the end, though the backing up was challenging.

41,000 pounds of apple juice, orange juice, pear juice and lord-knows-what else later, I'm loaded, trailer locked and sealed and I'm on my way.

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I pushed to make South Bend, Indiana while there was still parking left, but as of 1630 the place was packed so I had to fuel and leave. One of the worst feelings you can have as a truck driver is being a block or two away from a packed truck stop that you would really have preferred to stay at and notice a spot open up that you could have had if you hadn't left. Trust me, I know.

Fifteen miles down the freeway is one of the toll road parking places and it had tons of truck parking. Tomorrow I have to make my way to our HQ in Omaha to fuel up, then on Thursday morning I deliver in nearby Lincoln, Nebraska. Then, hopefully, a short load home for a much-deserved three day weekend.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Texas load delivered on time and I was dispatched to Haltom City, Texas to pick up a load of Sara Lee products heading to the Walmart DC in Clarksville, Arkansas. The timing was a bit odd, with me delivering my previous load in the morning and picking up the Clarksville one at 2000, but it worked out in the end. I woke up in Colbert, Oklahoma at the Loves, and I shut down last night at the rest area heading north, also in Colbert, Oklahoma.

Today should have been a hop, skip and jump to Clarksville to exchange trailers. This plan went to shit when I attempted to leave with an empty trailer. When I went to swing the right door shut, the chain holding it open didn't want to budge off of the hook that it was hooked to. I spent a good 30 minutes with a hammer, vice grips, Extra-Strength Tylenol, screwdriver, and anything else I could think of until finally I just took the damn hook off the side of the trailer and beat the crap out of the link until it gave up. Sometimes, you just gotta hit something.

The rest of the day went better. I got the new empty washed out in Russellville and exchanged it for a heavily-laden trailer bound for the same Manchester, Pennsylvania stop that I had last week. 1,150 miles and I don't deliver until Monday at 2000, which gives me plenty of time to fiddle and fart around on the way northeast.

A driver chatted me up when I went to fuel up the reefer yesterday in Arlington, Texas. He leases a truck from England and simply isn't getting the miles to pay for much more than the lease itself. We compared settlements and he saw that my plan for $1,500 net per week was utterly reasonable, and was amazed how little I drove to get it.

Now the weird thing. After we were chatting for a while I introduced myself and so did he... it turns out his name is Ken as well! The other two drivers I've referred to Hill Bros were also named Ken. Odd, very odd.

Anyway, if you're out there Ken, I hope you get in touch with the recruiters at Hill Bros and everything turns up roses for you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Off to Texas, but not home

Our folks in the rear with the gear decided I needed to backtrack to that same PetSmart DC and exchange my empty van trailer for an empty reefer trailer. The next load had me heading north about 80 miles along state highways to Woodstock, Illinois to pick up 8 tons of pharmaceutical-grade saline solution for a company down in Texas that needs to be kept near room temperature. Since our reefers heat as well as cool, it will handle the nitty-gritty details while I putter on down the road.

Finding the place and getting loaded were no problem and after a slight detour on to the toll road then immediately back off on a marked detour I continued at my stately 55 MPH Illinois pace until stopping for the night at Troy, Illinois near St Louis.

This morning I was up very early and headed out around 0300 so the big city traffic was a piece of cake. After stopping here and there along the way to sleep, buy supplies and eat I managed to arrive in Colbert, Oklahoma this afternoon about an hour's drive away from the consignee.

I didn't question this load plan when I got it, figuring my dispatcher had a short hop from Texas up to Missouri lined up for the home time I had requested for this weekend. This was too much faith on my part and after some haggling we agreed that I would definitely be home next weekend and I'd keep running. Paycheck 1, time off 0.

Recent Signs

"Grundee's Weenie Wagon"

"Bob's Good Junk"

"S&M Storage"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Springfield, Omaha, Ottawa

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Yes, I know it looks like a big backwards seven, but there it is.

After a five-hour wait on Monday I was finally loaded with Pepsi products (none actually with that name, interestingly enough) and off to Omaha. I decided to take state highway 13 north from Springfield and found it to be an acceptable route up to the Kansas City area.

Upon arrival I found the bottling plant's parking lot chock full of trailers so after a brief conference they had me drop my full one at our company yard for a local driver to bring over the following morning.

An honest-to-goodness preplan was zapped to my truck before I arrived with a load the following day to the PetSmart DC in Ottawa, IL. Only 400 miles or so but I had a case of the lazies so I wasn't upset. It only took about seven hours to finish up and I'm spending the night in a nearby Loves truck stop.

Sorry, by the way, for posting the YouTube video of my cat while simultaneously neglecting to make it public. My only excuse is that it looked okay on my machine (naturally, since I created it and was logged in they let me see it) and I didn't realize no one else could bask in the cuteness of my cat. Now you can.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

End of the Weekend

My dispatcher couldn't do anything more for me this weekend beyond a deadhead up to Springfield, Missouri for a load heading to Omaha on Monday. I'm putting my free time to use, installing a new foam mattress for my bunk and trying to clean up some of the cat hair strewn about; this animal sheds as much as any three cats I've ever met.

She's so darn cute though:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One Year Anniversary

Who woulda thunk it?

A year ago today I picked up my first load for Hill Bros, and described the experience in the post Another long day, a girl scout and a trained monkey. I was a more entertaining writer back then, I admit.

That was the start of my work as a company driver; three months later I started my lease-purchase and the rest is, as they say, history.

This morning I bobtailed from our company yard in Kansas City, Missouri to nearby Independence. A pre-loaded trailer heading down to Russellville, Arkansas greeted me, along with a nice "screw you" from the previous driver: the spring and bracket helping to hold up the air and power lines in back was broken and the lines were dragging on the ground. This is something that any driver with vision better than Hellen Keller would have picked up when they left the trailer for the next guy (the next guy being me, of course) and could have arranged to have it fixed.

Instead, its me, some zip ties and my mad ghetto mechanical skills:

Even though the load was light enough to run it with the tandems all the way forward, I moved them back a few feet to make sure the lines wouldn't drag if the zip ties gave way. I took that picture from the ConAgra facility I delivered at in Russellville, so you can see my mad skills worked.

(And yes, I notified our repair folks to get it looked at after they get through unloading.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Heckuva deadhead

Yesterday and today I was running a load from Muncie, Indiana to Kansas City, Missouri after being deadheaded 500 miles from Pennsylvania!

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Pretty much everything went as expected, though I had to hammer down and keep the left door shut to make it through St Louis before the worst of the rush hour started. I was on I-70 heading west at about 3:45 in the afternoon, right at the very first part of the crush of traffic leaving town. There were some slowups but no real traffic jams and I got through in one piece.

My friends Paul and Ellen who drive for Conway Truckload just came out from California and they ran into snow in New Mexico... whereas I didn't have a drop of rain or snow hit my truck all the way from Pennsylvania to Missouri. Living right, I say.

The load I picked up doesn't deliver until Monday morning so I am t-calling it at the Kansas City yard and grabbing a load from here down to Russellville, Arkansas in the morning.

Fuel at our company yard is jumping 14 cents in price at midnight, a move that seems to be followed at truck stops at the same time so I made sure to fuel before I shut down tonight.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Backing Under a Trailer on Ice and Snow

As you can see, this Hill Bros driver discovers how difficult it can be. I eventually suggested he lower his rear suspension to get most of the way under the trailer then raise it back up and that is how he finally got reattached.

This video was from a few months ago in Denver.

"With a name like Smuckers..."

I swear to god, as I'm leaving Manchester, Pennsylvania today I see along the freeway a business entitled "Gross Used Cars". Having owned a gross used car, I have no idea how they remain in business.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Easy day up to PA

Really not much to relate from the past two days. I spent last night in Roanoke, Virginia which is right at 300 miles away from my delivery spot today. Five hours in light traffic and clear skies got me to the AmeriCold plant in Manchester, Pennsylvania and here I wait for a dozen hours or so until 0200 ET to begin the unloading of whatever is in back.

I chatted up my dispatcher over the satellite unit and cell phone today, letting him know how much I would appreciate some good planning for early tomorrow morning with a load lined up and ready to go. Now, if I was doing planning for a company and I knew a truck left Arkansas three days ago and would deliver tonight, that would give me a pretty good timeline to work up the next load. I guess that doesn't work when you have 350 trucks to keep moving, thus the satellite message "We won't have anything until tomorrow AM."

Ah well.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dirty side and six, six, six...

Trucker's call the East coast the "dirty" side and the West coast the "shakey" side. for the first time since I've been with Hill Bros, I have a load that is taking me up to the Northeast, Pennsylvania to be precise.

The load originated at the same ConAgra plant I delivered my full trailer at yesterday. The new trailer was preloaded (always nice) but the load details relayed to me via satellite didn't look promising. A live unload on Thursday morning at 0200. Seeing as this is Monday, its about 1,150 miles in three days and a middle-of-the-night unload to boot.

I chat up my dispatcher to see if the unload time can be moved up a day, and he looks into it. The trailer is easy to get to and is in proper order, so I'm hooked up and rolling shortly thereafter. Shortly thereafter, I learn that the appointment is set and there is nothing earlier to be had. Oh goody.

There are a number of ways to run this load. I could wait until tomorrow to leave and take a 34 to reset my hours, then run hard the next two days to deliver. I could run hard for a couple days then take Wednesday off near the consignee, then have a short drive in to the end. Or I could drive roughly 400 miles per day for three days and treat those short days as regular days, which is what I decided on.

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Finding parking dirty side is a real pain, particularly after nightfall. The way I'm running this trip I will arrive at a truck stop in the mid afternoon each day giving me choice of parking, and I won't end up with a blank day in my book next week that I would have if I ran two days hard then waited a day. Not optimal by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks like six driving hours then a break, then six more, then a break, then six more.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yee haw. I iz off to Arr-kan-saw!

I spent last night at the shipper in Independence, Missouri. Very quiet, only one or two other trucks around and my APU only had to kick on once or twice to keep my batteries charged throughout the night.

The drive down to Russellville was as I remembered it. I arrived mid-afternoon to drop off my trailer at the local ConAgra plant. Only problem was, they didn't have any space to drop a trailer so I kind of had to make one. Oh well, part of the job.

Since it is Sunday and all I wasn't expecting another load plan, and I was not disappointed. More tomorrow, hopefully.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Third Quarter Results

Summary: dismal, with some bright spots.

(As I mention in my other quarterly results posts: Your Mileage May Vary. These results are specific only to my circumstance and should be treated as (very) general guidelines to anyone considering such work.)

Miles and Fuel Surcharge were down this quarter, and my Out-Of-Route was up. Fuel expense per mile spiked to an all-time high and my average miles per week are at an all-time low. Revenue was down markedly, yet my net pay wasn't affected as much as I would have thought given the numbers, and I did exceed my pay goals.

Total miles run in the quarter were 34,280, compared to approximately 37,000 and 35,383 in the first two quarters, respectively. Total paid miles were 31,402, resulting in an OOR (Out-Of-Route) of 9.17%, slightly worse than my 9.15% first quarter and the worst yet for me.

Fuel expense was down to just 9,928 for the quarter, with a 5,549 FSC leaving an adjusted fuel cost of 4,379. Even though I spent about 12,500 less on fuel at the pump than in the first quarter, I still ended up paying about 400 dollars more out-of-pocket this quarter, due to the dwindling fuel surcharge. Again, I can't wait for the price of fuel to rise and help me out.

Fuel expense per mile spiked to 12.77 cents, a large increase over the 10.66 and 10.06 first and second quarters. In large part this reflected my poor showing in OOR miles, but also the much-reduced FSC adjustment.

Average weekly paid miles dropped to an all-time low of 2,416, compared to 2,608 and 2,566 in the first two quarters. This mostly had to do with more time off taken around the end of the year and one thousand mile trip that managed to miss the cutoff for the last payday in this current quarter. Still, the miles have been shrinking each quarter, a worrisome trend.

Total revenue for the quarter absolutely tanked, at 36,210 (compared with 50,585 in the first quarter and 44,381 in the second). I did run about 5% fewer miles, but the large factor here was the plummeting FSC. Last quarter I was paid about 6,600 more in FSC than this quarter.

Revenue per mile likewise shrank, from 1.49 in the first quarter (with a very high FSC), to 1.33 in the second quarter and just 1.15 in the third quarter.

My goal of 800 dollars per week net pay was easily met, with 12,296 paid to me during the quarter for a weekly average of 946. I also set aside 500 dollars per week into my savings escrow (on average; there were some weeks where nothing went and some where I doubled up to make up the difference) for an average of 1,446 per week in total. Compare that with 1,530 per week in my second quarter.


27: 268 (+500 toward escrows)
28: 1561 (+500 toward escrows)
29: 699 (+500 toward escrows)
30: 228
31: 2207
32: 294 (+1000 toward escrows)
33: 1520 (+1000 toward escrows)
34: 95 (+1000 toward escrows)
35: 1280 (+500 toward escrows)
36: 545 (+500 toward escrows)
37: 2336 (+500 toward escrows)
38: 466 (+500 toward escrows)
39: 797


My goals are going to be based around returning to the efficiency that I demonstrated in the first two quarters.

First, that Out-Of-Route number has to get cut down to 6-8% max. The runs to Phoenix for PetSmart loads are mostly to blame for this rise, since they assume unrealistic routes that make those loads one of the worst for OOR. Also, I need to lay into my dispatcher more on reimbursement for miles I run doing company errands like getting a trailer washed out, or a reefer fueled and not getting paid for those miles. Since I don't even get FSC for these miles they really, really hurt the bottom line.

Second, I want to bring my average paid weekly miles up 200-300 if possible into the 2,700ish range. The holidays are over, the gnarly winter weather is starting to abate and I should be able to run a bit better in the early-to-mid spring.

Third, I want to boost my target for weekly net pay to 1,500. I have temporarily suspended adding more money to my savings escrow so all my net pay will flow into my bank account this quarter. I'm hoping for something in the neighborhood of 20,000 to me after all truck expenses are paid (but not taxes, health care or the like).

My fourth quarter, and thus my first year as a lease-purchase operator, comes to an end the first week of June, 2009.

Unload. Load. Swap trailers.

Yesterday I dropped off the last portion of the Wal-Mart load in Sterling, Illinois. While I was waiting a preplan showed up on my satellite unit to pick up 80 miles east near Chicago at about the same time as I was reading the preplan. I messaged back asking for clarification and mentioned that I hadn't even been unloaded yet and was told I needed to pick up this new load no later than 1830 that evening.

I managed to arrive 45 minutes early and found several other Hill Bros owner ops getting loaded. One had the bad luck to have some damaged cargo put aboard had to wait hours and hours for it to be taken off and replaced. He arrived four hours before I did and I left before him. At least he got there by his scheduled time.

The day ended for me in Rochelle, Illinois at the Flying J. I saw the truck wash there was empty so I pulled in for a long-overdue scrubbing. I tried offering a few bucks in tip money to the workers but they wouldn't accept -- the manager is anal retentive about that sort of thing. I mentioned that I normally do this when I get a wash and, according to them, there is a corporate policy against accepting tips at all Blue Beacons.

This morning it was off in drizzly rain to Kansas City, Kansas. I fueled in nearby Kearney, Missouri for $1.55 -- the lowest price I can remember paying for diesel.

The morons at Kraft in Aurora, Illinois where I loaded managed to only supply one copy of the Bill of Lading in a dozen or so pages of summary stuff and for some reason the AWG food warehouse people will not make copies! I had to pull back out on the street and run over to a nearby hole-in-the-wall truck stop to make a 15 cent copy then run back over to drop the load off. Stupid corporate types.

They wouldn't even let me bobtail out of there so I had to bring an empty with me. Stupid corporate types.

I did get a preplan for a change. This time I'm taking a load from nearby Independence, Missouri down to Russellville, Arkansas. The delivery time is Monday at 0700 but I'm going to have it there tomorrow afternoon.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

My Pet Can Beat Up Your Pet, Part 2

I posted before on pets who can beat up your pet (here), and now the case of the ninja bear. Be afraid, very afraid.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nope, shouldn't have accepted it

Despite my misgivings, I accepted a trip that forced me to run through Atlanta rush-hour traffic in the morning, in the noon hour twice, then in the evening. The only part of the entire charade that went well was the dropping of my empty van trailer in Calhoun, Georgia at a carpet distributor.

When I went back down to Atlanta the traffic was snarled, though it was moving. The AmeriCold facility with the empty reefer trailer I was looking for was backed up at the gate (no surprise) and I had to wait in line inside to have them clear the trailer to be taken from their lot. Then another casual inspection on the way out and I was free and clear, 45 minutes after I had arrived.

Between the traffic and the delays acquiring the reefer I was 28 minutes late at my pickup. No biggie, I was assured, take door 4 and we'll get you loaded.

Two hours later I went in to chat them up and all was still well in loader-land. "We'll have you out of there in fifteen minutes, maybe twenty," I was told.

Two hours after that I felt the need to be lied to again and went in to confront them again, a task made difficult by the glass and steel divider between the workers and the drivers. "Oh, we're waiting on one more thing. Just a little while longer."

An hour after that I was getting ready to head inside and lay down a major case of whupass when one of the daring souls came out and motioned me to pull forward so the trailer could be sealed.

The best part? Because I went through the jiggly-wiggly trailer swaps and endured the traffic that made me 28 minutes late, I get exactly dick for being held up for five hours. Next time I get sent to hell down south I'm going to insist on my return load being preplanned and agreed upon in advance.

The load itself has stops at two different Wal-Mart DC's in Illinois. This evening I just wrapped up the first one and tomorrow morning I'll be heading north a bit more for the second.

Oh, and the neat-o trailer I spent all yesterday wrangling had one of its side blinker lights cleanly sheared off by a yard dog at AmeriCold, I think. Spent a few hours getting it and another minor matter taken care of this morning down in Georgia.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Finishing the Georgia trip

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I finished the rest of the trip down to Georgia this evening after the Atlanta rush hour died down. The Tractor Supply Co. distribution center was easy enough to find but they are completely packed with trailers so I was pointed next door to a nearly-complete warehouse that has not yet been occupied. Oodles of open parking and no trucks nearby to worry about! A few more have trickled in since I arrived but there is space for a hundred or so.

Tomorrow they want me to run through Atlanta up to Calhoun, Georgia to drop off my van at a carpet warehouse, then run back through Atlanta to the southwest side to grab a reefer for my next load. Not sure I'm going to accept that one, we'll see.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snowie and her first snow

My new cat Snow White, or Snowie as I call her, seems to be fascinated with snow and rain on the windshield of my truck...

Stock Portfolio

Historically, the stock market has performed much better while a Democrat is President, compared to Republicans. This is true pretty much however far back you care to research, on a cumulative basis.

I decided to establish two new retirement accounts on January 20, 2009 to test whether or not this tradition will remain true over the next four or eight years. After taking positions in four stocks to start (two in my SEP-IRA and two in my Roth) I have subsequently added one stock to each portfolio and plan on slowly adding others as the prices of stocks that I like reach levels I feel will bring medium- and long-term gains to my retirement.

I am a value investor. My strategy is to buy stocks of companies I'm familiar with that are trading at or near their 52-week low price with the intent on holding them for the long run in most every case. Ordinarily, I wouldn't even bother keeping up with the prices of my stocks more than quarterly, but for these I will keep up a monthly accounting.

On January 20, 2009 I purchased the first four stocks listed here (APPL, GOOG, BRK-B, JNJ). I'm familiar with each of these companies, and I am a fan of Warren Buffet and his Berkshire Hathaway in particular. Full BRK-A shares are currently trading around 78,000 so I am content to own a pair of BRK-B shares, which are pegged at roughly 1/30th the value of the former.

When Ford dipped below two dollars I got all up in that and took a position at $1.60. Finally, yesterday I picked up a few hundred shares of Citigroup, more to get the dregs of my Roth all in the game than anything else. Plus, if its good enough for the government to put in 25 billion or so, I figure my $540 will do okay in the long run.

Name & SymbolBought atCurrentChange
Apple (APPL)81.9789.31+317
Google (GOOG)298.76337.99+771
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)56.7953.53-420
Berkshire Hathaway B (BRK-B)3005.002564.00-894
Ford (F)1.602.00+1268
Citigroup (C)1.471.50-5

Note that the Citigroup stock has risen from my purchase price, but that didn't reflect the commission. Thus it shows I'm down a few bucks on that trade.

As you can see, the current drags are BRK-B and JNJ. My boy Warren will have his end turned around later this year or sometime next year, and Johnson & Johnson (a conglomerate, mostly into health care and drugs) will be turning up very nicely in the medium term, I believe.

Google was looking to be the big winner this month with its stock up in the 350 range, but it has come back a bit. Ditto Apple (with the same amount of money invested in each) has been a nice gainer, though it too has pulled in its horns of late. The nod this month has to go with the high-revving engine of Ford, which by itself has pretty much covered the losses from BRK-B and JNJ.

In today's stock market climate, staying above water in any particular month is a good deal. The thousand dollars or so of gains for this month should at least be a buffer against losses in some sectors in upcoming months.