Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Barely legal and entirely tiring

The PetSmart folks did their thing at 0300 and by 0400 I was rolling up to Fort Collins. I needed beer: specifically, 44,300 pounds of Bud and Busch Lite headed off to a distributor in Kansas City, Kansas.

View Larger Map

The Bud facility has scales and even though I had the tandems as far forward as possible, I was still over several hundred pounds on my drives. Not a huge problem since I do get an extra 400 pounds over the limit for my APU (in some places) and my gross vehicle weight was around 79,200. Still, I only had a half tank of fuel and orders were to fuel in Colby, Kansas.

My solution was to just fill the left tank, adding 75 gallons or about 500 pounds. Most of the scales to Kansas City were open and I got the green PrePass light on all but one. That one had a nice repeater setup so the driver can see his weights as he puts each set of tires on and it showed my drives at 34,200. Didn't get stopped.

The way I drove was 680 miles from start to finish and I logged 12 on-duty hours after also accounting for the pre-trip, trailer swapping and fueling.

The consignee in Kansas City is off a small side street that leads down past train tracks then into a small business park area. None of it intended for semis and 53 foot trailers. I made use of the deserted parking lot of a nearby business to get turned around properly to make the dock the parked along the side of the street until this morning when they opened and the unloading took place.

No preplan for a change. They have been doing better with them of late but no one is perfect, apparently.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Driving, driving, driving... then waiting

View Larger Map

Since my last update I made it safely to Phoenix, Arizona to drop off my load of pet food at the PetSmart DC then late the following morning picked up a new load heading to the Denver, Colorado area.

There are several unusual things about this new load. First, almost all of our loads out of Phoenix have at least two stops and this one is headed to just one store. Stranger yet, the 21 pallets of goodies in back only weigh a combined 17,000 pounds.

Heading up I-17 to Flagstaff has never been so easy and once I reset my trip computer in Winslow, Arizona after I fueled it showed an average MPG of 7.9 for the rest of the way up to Colorado to the small northern suburb of Denver called Brighton.

I arrived yesterday afternoon hoping the store would be able to unload me early. Another strange aspect of this load is the Monday 0300 unload -- three full days to drive under 900 miles. As I've said before, weekend dispatches around here tend to be less than optimal.

The manager on duty informed me that the truck couldn't be unloaded any sooner since this store has a very small storage room. This means an impromptu 34-hour restart and a rare Sunday off while I'm out on the road. There are worse things, I suppose.

I was preplanned to take a load of beer from Fort Collins to Kansas City today to deliver first thing tomorrow morning but that will be pushed back a day to accommodate the PetSmart folks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Off to Tucumcari

Today's journey south was less windy than yesterday, but much warmer. By the time I entered Oklahoma the outside air temp was approaching 90 degrees and my air conditioning was in full use. This presents something of a dilemma for my cat, as she doesn't like the cold air but very much likes the warm dash when we're headed south. Her compromise is to lounge around on the dash until the sun is obscured by clouds or by a direction change, then a quick hop down and some foraging in the back of the truck to find someplace warm to cuddle up. Poor thing.

Some days zip by and others slog; today was one of the zippy ones. I stopped twice to squeegee the windshield and still ended up with a bug-splatter mosaic. The insects were hitting so rapidly in Oklahoma and Texas it sounded like rain.

Secede, please. Go Galt while you're at it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Yes, I've been slow to update lately.

I dropped off my load last week in Council Bluffs, Iowa and was sent home with a load that I got to drop off at the AmeriCold facility in Carthage, Missouri. Since they normally take a long time to unload, this was no hassle.

Before I even left the truck I was planned to pick up the same load of Pepsi products at the same Buske facility in the Springfield, Missouri underground cave system that I got the last time I came home. I waited five or six hours last time, and about the same this time.

Even with the slow load I managed to drag it up to Omaha that night and drop it over at the Pepsi place. With no preplan on me I made use of my time restocking my truck and taking care of some cleaning.

Queue late morning and now I'm ordered to rush back over to the same Pepsi facility, grab a loaded trailer and rush rush rush it to Grand Island, Nebraska for a 1400 delivery appointment. Why this couldn't have happened earlier is beyond the mortal ken of this driver.

I rush rush rush and make it there by about 1420 and get situated in the dock they want me in. By the top of the hour I'm empty and heading to nearby Aurora, Nebraska on a preplan to take a heavy load of dog chow down to the PetSmart folks in Phoenix for Thursday.

Now, being only three or four hours into my driving day at this point I could have closed the left door and headed south. There were heavy winds, however, and though I know I could have made it at least a few hours down the road my innate laziness once again reared its craggy head and I drove a short distance to the Bosselman's Pilot in Grand Island.

Monday, April 20, 2009


A few weeks ago I was up in Kansas City picking up a load when I saw this CFI / ConWay Truckload trailer in a ditch. Not sure what caused him to run off the road.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wal-Mart gives Hill Bros the finger... and gets away with it

All too early my door is being pounded on and it is the dock workers, there to get the trucks that have arrived already unloaded early. This is one of those laid back places where they sign the paperwork before you even open the doors of your truck, and they were fairly fast unloading as well.

I finally broke my streak of brokered loads at three with a plan this morning taking me up to Fort Worth for some frozen meat to be delivered in Council Bluffs Friday afternoon.

Since I have a van trailer on me, I am directed to head a few miles away to a Wal-Mart Distribution Center where we have an empty reefer and switch trailers, then head up to grab my new load. This was okay with everyone except the decision-maker at said DC who let us know it is Not Company Policy To Swap An Empty For An Empty. I explained that I had a plain van trailer and I needed a reefer for my next load, but they weren't buying that entire need argument.

Having secured from them the name and phone number of the person to be contacted, I used my trusty satellite unit to zap that to our headquarters. Certainly someone there would push the "easy button" and keep my day uncomplicated.

A while later, the results: forget getting the reefer a few miles away at the DC. Instead, travel to the farthest part of the DFW metroplex from you (Garland, Texas) to our drop yard and exchange trailers there. More than an hour's drive across town then back across town to Fort Worth to get to the shipper.

Wal-Mart extends finger, gets way.

I arrive a few minutes late for the appointment after a quick trailer wash-out. We're charged a certain amount per hour at this particular shipper when we're late, some the company encouraged me on to get there expeditiously. I personally think Wal-Mart should get billed for the extra 80 miles of shit I had to put up with but this isn't fantasy land.

Usual rigmarole at the shipper and I'm loaded. I'm spending the night here to get a good sleep cycle set up again then I'll do most if not all of the trip up to Council Bluffs, Iowa tomorrow.

Wichita + Coke Plant = HELL

So I dropped my load off on time in Wichita (at the Love Box paper company, no less) and by that time I had a preplan taking me a few miles away to the local Coca Cola bottler up to Lenexa, Kansas. The plan had my appointment time as 1530 and I showed up at 1526 -- a squeaker, but I was there on time.

Then everything went downhill. I checked in with the Coke folks and they took down my information and gave me directions where I needed to take my truck (a nearby side street) to wait with "the other trucks". Never a good sign.

Worse, I pull around a corner to find a long line of trucks snaking back several city blocks in a quasi-residential area. By odd circumstance, the truck driver that unloaded just before me at the paper place was here waiting in line, again just before me.

Slowly, trucks were called to the docks and the line edged forward. Sundown came and went and the trucks kept creeping forward every hour or so. The guy just in front of me gets called to the dock and now I'm ready to go get loaded, even though its 10 PM or so. But no, a truck behind me gets called up. Then another. I complain to the Coke folks and it turns out they didn't find the order number I gave (it is a brokered load, 'nuff said for any truck driver) and I was arbitrarily dropped from the list without notice.

Now slightly pissed off I harangued night dispatch at HQ, the broker and the Coke folks until eventually we decided what load number I would actually be pulling. Jesus on a T-Rex this business is so retarded sometimes.

I get called to the dock, only to realize that I'm the only truck LEFT at the place. I didn't need blood pressure drugs before I started, doctor, why do I need them now?

My bumper touched their dock around 11 PM and I was loaded and ready to go right around 1:30 AM the next morning. Effing brokered loads.

I had been waiting around all day, though unable to sleep because the trucks had to inch forward periodically. The load itself had to be about 180 miles away by 0600, meaning I had to head out exhausted and head down the highway with a couple 30 minute power naps to revive me.

The Coke place in Lenexa (suburb of Kansas City) got me into a door right away and unloaded pretty quickly... I was so tired I was in the bunk the minute my truck was situated and didn't even feel them unloading the plastic bottles and only awoke with them pounding on my door to give up the paperwork.

Another preplan arrives and I'm ordered across the river to Kansas City, Missouri to pick up a load heading to Cleburne, Texas, just south of Fort Worth. The load picks up that afternoon, giving me just enough time to fit in a legal break but has to deliver 0800 the following morning.

By now my biological clock is all jacked up and despite my lack of sleep I can't nod off for a few hours, ensuring I'm tired when I have to go grab my next load. I regularly curse few things in my life, but I make an exception for the rule makers at the DOT.

Semi-functional, I drive about thirty miles to pick up my load at a dilapidated industrial site on the east side of KC. They have a super rush-rush order for a certain type of plastic bottle used by a chemical company in Texas that just has to be there tomorrow morning. I was about to suggest using FedEx, but thought better of it.

This is one of those cases where they are literally taking the product off of the production line, boxing and shrink wrapping them, then taking the result and loading the trailer one pallet at a time. About eight minutes per pallet, eighteen pallets. Whatever the hell that comes out to.

I'm required to use one of my load locks to make sure these shrink wrapped pallets of empty plastic bottles don't move around in the trailer and injure someone. Whatever.

I scoot before the afternoon traffic gets into full nastiness, heading south along highway 71. Stopped once for some food and a nap. Drove some more. Made it to Muskogee, Oklahoma. Fueled the truck and napped again.

Drove south long into the night, taking a break every few hours. I had to make it to the far side of Fort Worth before the morning rush hour or I would be screwed, and the DOT regs basically required me to stop droving by 0300 so the amount of rest I got was limited by regulations, as happens so often in this industry.

Drove some more, got to and through Dallas and eventually made it to Cleborne at my consignee around 0300. Parked the rig in a safe spot and crashed in my bunk, utterly exhausted.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Which way to Wichita?

View Larger Map

My fuel plan had me fueling in the Atlanta area then in Higginsville, Missouri on my way out to Wichita. That's exit 49 on I-70 if you don't know, and nowhere close to being along the route I would drive to Wichita, Kansas (which you can see above).

The weather was mostly sunny until I hit the Memphis area when someone opened the spigot and all kinds of rain came down. When you have a heavy load, like I do, water pooling on the road doesn't really affect the truck while you're driving in a straight line, but it sure does do funny things to all the four wheelers who are out there trying to struggle through it.

I left Conyers, Georgia in the early hours this morning and made it to Russellville, Arkansas by late afternoon. After a long shower I feel human again and shortly I will be snoozing away to prepare for tomorrow morning's early departure to get to Wichita on time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The 45 minute workday

Today was a 45 minute workday for me. I bobtailed a short distance from where I dropped my last trailer, grabbed an empty van then drove to nearby Conyers, Georgia. My appointment time was 5 PM but I arrived early, hoping they would have my stuff ready to go and I could get a jump on the trip.

Nothing doing.

Instead I waited and waited, until eventually being called back to the docks about five hours after my appointment time. The loading process itself was quick, though getting into the dock was not for the faint of heart. Think a very tight 180 with no real way to go retreat if it turns out to be too tight.

It was 2230 or so before I had the paperwork so I sidled my truck back outside the gate and to the same sandy lot I and a dozen or so other truckers had been "enjoying" while we waited to spend the night.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Georgia (tornadoes) on my mind

View Larger Map

I spent Tuesday night and most of Wednesday getting work done on the truck. I had no luck getting a load until late Thursday morning when one popped up from nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa to Atlanta. A thousand miles and enough time to get it there with a few hours to spare. Spiffy.

I stopped last night at the first rest area east of St Louis and was surprised to find it was 95% full (and 100% full once I parked). The hour was a bit late for me but I've used that rest area before and that is the first time I ever recall it being full of trucks.

Today's journey was made ever so much more fun with dark storm clouds, lashing rain and at least a hundred lightning strikes in my range of vision. Entering Georgia I came across several electronic billboards warning that tornado warnings were posted until 10 PM for most of northern Georgia. Lovely.

The folks back at HQ had an odd set of instructions for me. After arriving at the consignee, I was to get the trailer unloaded then pick it up and move it a few hundred feet and drop it at the same location, then bobtail south about ten miles and pick up an empty van trailer for my next load. "Why," I asked, "can't I simply drop off the loaded trailer at the consignee?"

Some blather came back about us not having a trailer pool there. Naturally, I ignored the directive and once I arrived I asked if they really needed me to stay to supervise the unloading, to which they replied: "Oh hell no."

Naturally, I beat feet out of there as soon as possible and found a nearby warehouse complex Available For Lease (according to the sign) to sit at until morning.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My cat locked out the shop guy

Since my last post I picked up in Lexington, Nebraska, dropped off in Emporia, Kansas, picked up in Kansas City, Kansas and dropped off in Council Bluffs, Iowa. All in one day. Needless to say, it was a long one.

Last night I had my truck in the shop at our HQ for an oil change and other maintenance stuff and after a while the guy doing the work waves me over and, quite sheepishly, asks if I have my spare set of keys on me. Turns out, he needed to get back into the truck for something and my cat had managed to lock him out! Both my sets were in the truck, but the shop has a third set and I made sure that key was used to unlock the door and never placed inside the truck. Mental note: always keep a set of keys on me when outside the truck, as I might not always be in favor with Miss Fancy Pants.

I'm taking today off and the truck is over at the Volvo dealer with a small list of things for them to screw up fix.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Arrived Denver

Just as I near my destination yesterday a very localized blizzard hit with almost whiteout conditions in Denver. It made the going slow, but 42,000 pounds of pet stuff in back kept the truck on the straight and narrow.

My first delivery is at a PetSmart with the most jacked up loading dock arrangement yet, and this is no mean feat for them! I took some video I'll post soon. Until then, envision this: the back of the PetSmart is the parking lot for a Super Wal-Mart that has entrances too small to turn into without knocking down signs so you have to drive around the Wal-Mart the wrong way (for truck traffic) then back through the parking lot, hang a tight right then back uphill to the docks. Stupid effing commercial architects.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

And I? I took the path less traveled by...

In other words, I departed I-40 at Holbrook, Arizona for Arizona 77, then Arizona 377, then Arizona 277, then 260, then 87... Oh. My. Lord. Bad call.

The roads were mostly one lane each way with no shoulder, and lots of twists and turns. Quite a bit of vertical development as well which wouldn't be so bad if the wind wasn't gusting 30-40 MPH from the west, thus hitting me broadside as I went south and slowing me down as I moved towards Phoenix. It was windy enough they shut 377 down towards Holbrook but had not yet blocked it from the east end where I started at.

I did so much shifting yesterday my arm was actually tired. I float most every gear so my left leg was okay, but my arm was twitching there when I arrived in Casa Grande.

The unload itself was the usual Wal-Mart experience and I spent the night at a nearby rest area. My next load was already zapped to me: pick up from the PetSmart in Phoenix and run it up to Denver for two drops early monday morning.

For some unknown reason, I decided to stop today at one of the casinos in New Mexico along I-40. They advertise free WiFi, but the speed is pretty poor as I found out. I also found out (again) why I don't like spending time in casinos: my wallet tends to be empty when I leave. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but I've had my fix this millennium.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I'm dreaming of a white... April Fools?

The wind was gusting pretty good last night and when I opened an eyelid to peer about this morning, I could see the sunroof was frozen over. Oh, and I was a bit cold because I didn't have the heater on last night. I flicked on said heater then opened up the curtains to reveal...

There was quite a bit of accumulation on the front side of the truck, facing the wind. It was wet, mushy snow that stuck pretty much everywhere up front but it wasn't difficult to remove.

Today was one of those days where I just couldn't get into my driving groove. I munched on too many snacks, stopped a few times to drain the main vein, even took a nap in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Nothing seemed to work so I stopped early in Moriarty, New Mexico. This leaves about 550 miles if I take I-40 all the way to I-17 then head south, or about 480 if I try the back roads of Arizona via US-60. I'll flip a coin in the morning I guess.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March portfolio update

Well, it has been a month since my first portfolio update, so here are the current numbers:

Name & SymbolBought atCurrentChange
Apple (APPL)81.97108.69+1,189
Google (GOOG)298.76354.09+1,093
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)56.7953.04-237
Berkshire Hathaway B (BRK-B)3005.002819.00-384
Ford (F)1.602.74+3,673
Citigroup (C)1.472.68+419

As you can see, every stock I have advanced during March, with JNJ and BRK-B trimming their losses by roughly half since I added them to the mix. Ford (F) was the Big Kahuna last month and it easily retains that title after adding almost $2,400 during March.

Google (GOOG) advanced some, but it was overtaken by Apple (APPL). My expectations for Citigroup (C) being a good place for the loose dollars in my Roth account has similarly borne fruit this month.

My only real short-term concern going forward with these stocks is Ford (F). GM appears to be prepping for a quickie, pre-determined bankruptcy filing that will let it shed a lot of its debt load and restructure what remains, which would likely put it at a competitive advantage to Ford. Since I'm not a short-term day trader type by inclination, and I believe Ford has a better product mix and is better situated, I'm going to hold on to Ford for the long haul.

Out to kinda California

The trip to Frontenac, Kansas then up to Omaha went as planned, though my trailer was a bit of a problem. The brakes weren't that great and one of the pressurized caps for the old automatic inflation system (since disabled) was leaking a bit, but only some of the time. Hard to explain.

After I arrived my dispatcher asked via satellite if I would take a trip to Casa Grande, Arizona in lieu of a California run. I didn't answer that question, but I did take the trip. Unfortunately, it is a Wal-Mart load with an appointment for 1745 Friday afternoon -- who the heck wants to be working then? Plus the miles are kind of bleh (1,350 miles over three full days) and Wal-Mart never moves the unloading times up.

The trailer was already loaded at the nearby ConAgra plant in Council Bluffs and since I had extra time I spent the night in Omaha and fueled since the price at our yard was ten cents a gallon cheaper this morning.

My original plan was to dink around to Dodge City, Kansas and call it a day but I got a flush of energy, vim and vigor all at once and kept driving for another hour or so to Meade, Kansas where I'm parked tonight. I plan to slouch another 400-500 miles tomorrow to get within striking distance of Casa Grande on Friday.

No sense in hurrying.