Monday, June 29, 2009

Saving the star pitcher for the important game

I didn't understand why dispatch would leave me hanging the way they did until I thought about it longer.

See, after I picked up the Sara Lee load heading to Clarksville, Arkansas, I got beeped with a preplan to take a load from Russellville, Arkansas to Atlanta, Georgia. One small detail jumped out at me, however: the load wouldn't be ready to go until early Monday morning and I would have this other load delivered in Clarksville Saturday afternoon.

What gives?

It took me a while but then I think I got it. Its like a star baseball manager saving his key closer for just the right moment to get his team out of a jam and keep them in the running to win the championship. That extra day of down time wasn't REALLY down time, per se, as much as it was a carefully crafted and thoughtfully executed pause in my schedule to put me on critical high-priority freight that absolutely, positively had to be delivered on time.

An argument could be made that the 20 tons of frozen dinners just happened to be the only crappy load left from the planners over the weekend. Go figure.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

How's your weekend?

After returning to my truck yesterday morning at 0800 I went in search of one of the service writers and asked what the status was. He spoke with a service dispatcher and basically didn't have an answer as to when my truck would get looked at. Since the entire dealership would be closed come 5 PM and the estimate was four hours in the shop, things were looking bleak.

I called my dispatcher and our in-house breakdown guy Andy to keep them updated and see if anything could be done. Got voice mail both times. Within an hour, though, I got a knock at the door and a technician was outside telling me I had to vacate the truck so they could forklift it into a bay to get worked on. Go Andy go!

The cat and I debarked into the driver's lounge, as seen here:

A few minutes later they picked up the rear wheels of my truck with a forklift and maneuvered it into a work bay:

(White truck with the forklift behind it near the top of the photo)

Two hours later I was just going out to check on progress when I notice my truck is no longer in the work bay and is instead just being parked. Since it was under its own power at that point, I was amazed to think the problem had been found and fixed in such a short time.

I spoke with the guy who test drove it and he said it was driving normally. Back inside with the service writer, I'm told that the lift pump wasn't the problem. The problem was the mechanic that installed the new filter on the side of the road forgot to install the upper o-ring and had also left the lower o-ring dirty. This allowed air into the system which didn't let the fuel system pressurize properly, causing the engine to not want to turn over.

So, according to the Volvo folks, I likely had a clogged fuel filter originally when I broke down and the guy that came out screwed up the replacement, which in turn led to an enormous tow bill, a night spent in a hotel, a repair bill at Volvo, damage to my tractor's catwalk and left mudflap hanger and loss of income for several days.

I digested this after I finished the repair paperwork and drove off the lot. My dispatcher got me a load heading to Arkansas but before I did that I had to drive across town to Garland in Friday traffic then pick up a trailer to run back across town to Mansfield, Texas. After all of that, head back in to Dallas, pick up a reefer at the local Estes yard and run over to Fort Worth to fill its reefer, then over to Haltom City to the Sara Lee plant I so enjoy to pick up my load.

The cherry on top was finding out upon arrival at Sara Lee that the load that my satellite system shows as being preloaded at 1300 yesterday really won't be loaded until 1300 today. Since they don't let trucks park on their lot, it meant another 25 mile round trip to the Pilot to wait and fume.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bent over in Texas

You are NOT going to believe this.

I'll post more tomorrow or Sunday, I'm a bit vexed at the moment.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bushwhacked in Texas

I knew before I even left the parking lot this morning that it was not going to be that great of a day. Any day that starts with me having to prime the fuel filter of my truck isn't shaping up to be a good one.

My worst fears were confirmed about 15 miles into my trip near Sherman, Texas when my truck started chugging pretty badly going up a slight grade in the road. I just primed the dang thing, what is the problem now?

I made it over the grade and on the back side everything seemed to go back to normal but a few miles later was another grade and my truck chugged a bit then quit just before I crested the hill. I used my momentum to get over the top while I tried restarting the engine. No go, and now my power steering is out and damn these trucks are a bitch to steer with manual pressure only.

It was a bit scary for a short time as I guided her gently over to the shoulder and held my breath as I straightened her out. A light pressure on the brakes and I came to a stop just in front of exit 57 towards Sherman, Texas (along highway 75).

Blinkers on, I carefully climbed out of the cab in the early morning hours and tried priming it again several times. No go. Finally, I called in to our breakdown folks and had them send someone out. A few hours were spent changing filters out, priming, cooking franks & beans around an open campfire, the usual. Nothing we tried seemed to make any difference and in the end the problem was either a blockage of the fuel line in the tanks or a malfunctioning lift pump. Since my APU was chugging along quite nicely using the same fuel it seems that the pump is where the problem lies.

The closest Volvo dealer from there is back in Dallas, but our breakdown guy almost sent me (via wrecker) to Oklahoma City instead. Turns out they haven't had the best experience there before but it was a hundred extra miles (at the low, low rate of $185 an hour *cough*) out to OKC and Hill Bros would have to eat the tow bill if we didn't take it to the nearest dealer. Woe is me.

A jolly fellow named John showed up about an hour later with his truck-sized wrecker and started hooking up the rigs. Quite a lot of things to do, including the removal of my truck's drive shaft. Eventually we hopped in his truck and I brought Snowie along in her cat carrier.

Miss Fancy Pants wormed her way out of said carrier in short order, right after John mentioned another trucker with a cat that sat on his lap most of the way in when he towed the other guy's truck. Wouldn't you know it, Snowie spent most of the time roaming the cab, jumping on our laps and complaining about lack of attention. Some cats.

About $825 later we show up at the dealership only to find out that trailers aren't allowed. This mostly due to the small, jam-packed lot they have. Naturally, this isn't determined until we've already turned the wrecker, my tractor and the trailer into said parking lot and there is no exit other than the entrance we just came in. Oh, and no place to turn around a Yugo much less the football-field length of our rig.

After some conferring, small bribes, hair pulling and other pish-posh we were given the keys to a day cab they had sitting around. The original plan was to have me use the day cab to hook up to my trailer after John pulled my tractor out from under it but the day cab turned out to be two sizes too small for this driver and John gracefully slid behind the wheel. Queue a thoroughly amusing back through the narrow parking lot then on to a busy 6-lane city street with me helping him and directing traffic. There was a spot along a nearby side street -- a crappy spot that had the trailer leaning over at a pretty good angle, but a spot -- and we parked it there.

Back into the dealership to my truck where John gets everything unhooked and stowed, and I find my catwalk ripped to heck. Looks like the last turn we took into the dealership had enough of an angle at the curb that the front left edge of the trailer ripped right through it leaving an impressive divot. The mechanic at Iowa 80 who spent all that time getting it to work just right with my chain box must be crying about now (sorry dude).

The final indignity of the day comes when I get told I can't spend the night in my own truck because I'm parked on their lot. If I could move the damn thing I'd park on the street but noooo, my fuel pump is hosed. After some quick packing me, some clothes, the cat and her stuff are stuffed into a hotel shuttle and shuttled off to an EconoLodge about ten miles north. Don't ask.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What foods cook at 125 degrees?

I don't know... I do know that truckers cook in a parking lot that is 125 degrees, like the one I am at tonight in tiny Anna, Texas.

I delivered my load of Fruit Loops in the morning in Garland and the consignee made me take an empty van trailer in exchange. My next load was on the other side of Dallas in Grand Prairie, so I made the 25-mile trip with the new trailer. Only to find out that the next load requires a reefer and our reefers are back at our yard in (you guessed it) Garland. Fifty miles of out-of-route for that little boo boo.

Most warehouse folks I've run across are easy enough to get along with, if only in that "I've got a crappy job but it isn't as bad as being on the road" kind of way. Today's loader was an angry little turd that has erectile dysfunction problems, I'm guessing. He wasn't happy to see me, my truck or the load he was forced to move into the trailer. Tough noogies.

He was also slow and between that and my gallivanting earlier it had me leaving Grand Prairie right at 1600. Not the greatest time to be in the DFW metroplex in a big rig. I took a chance and braved the traffic, managing to evade most of the traffic jams on my way out of town.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Manic Monday

The loading at Buske actually went a bit faster this time: just four hours from start to finish. Since I didn't bother showing up until about noon this wasn't a hugely bad thing.

Better yet, they only put 18 pallets on weighing 34,000 pounds! Not the lightest I've pulled but about five tons less than the other loads I've pulled from there.

The trip up to Omaha was uneventful and I dropped off the trailer this morning. It did take a half hour to find someone to sign off on the bills.

Then the wait for my next load began. I got the pet some supplies at PetSmart, filled up the truck with human supplies at Wal-Mart then cleaned up at a local truck stop. Finally I got the word to head over to the yard and grab a trailer filled with Fruit Loops from Kelloggs to run down to Dallas tomorrow morning.

It is a nice one-day run, right at 660 miles but leaving so late causes me and my metabolism problems. I had to stop several times to take power naps then I stopped for the night in Oklahoma.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Home Time

I delivered the load of candy to the Menards distribution center in Shelby, Iowa on Friday morning then was directed to my usual go-home load from ConAgra in Council Bluffs to Carthage, Missouri. Unfortunately, the load didn't pick up until about 1600 so by the time I got down to Missouri, dropped off the trailer, searched around for 30 minutes for an empty then went home it was very late and I slept in the truck.

The dreaded Buske load from Springfield to Omaha is on me again. Next time off I am going to get home a day early and come back on a Sunday just to see if I can avoid it.

My right front turn signal on the truck is working intermittently. I've already changed the light twice in the past year so I'm thinking it is more of a wiring problem. Something for the shop folks to look at next time I have the chance.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Avon calling!

After delivering that load of meat in Chicago I was told to head north about 25 miles to Glenview, Illinois to an Avon distribution center to pick up a load heading to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I had been to this place before and the last turn you have to take to get there is very tight -- as in, swing wide to the left as far as possible and turn hard right to make the single lane turn. If anyone was offended they got over it.

I was told the load wouldn't be ready until 1700 but I got there early hoping it might leave sooner. It was, and right at 1500 I was loaded up, sealed up and revved up heading out to the closest freeway. The traffic was heavy but moving, and more building up as time passed but I made it to I-90 heading out of town at the forefront of a large wave of automobiles rushing to leave the city.

Last night I was at Albert Lea, Minnesota and I arrived this morning at 1130 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the local UPS facility. Avon loads thousands of packages on to a trailer then they get injected into the UPS system closer to their destination. I suppose this saves them a lot of money.

What it does not save is time on my part, as they told me the trailer would be empty in about four hours. This did give me time to head over to the nearby Pilot to have one of my super single tires looked at (it wasn't keeping pressure as well as the other three), have lunch and grab a shower.

UPS finished with the trailer around 1500 and I took off to the nearby town of Round Lake, Minnesota to pick up 38,000 pounds of candy heading to the Menards distribution center in Shelby, Iowa. Why Menards, a competitor of Home Depot and Lowes, needs 19 tons of candy is beyond me.

The candy people had a trailer preloaded for me so I dropped my empty in a door and hooked up to the new one. This was interrupted by the yard driver informing me the trailer wasn't clean enough to pass muster and I had to go back and sweep it out. It was 90 degrees out and humid, so by the time I finished that (pointless) task that shower I had taken a few hours prior wasn't wearing too well.

Why pointless? I spent a good 20 minutes sweeping out small pieces of pallets, a bit of dust and a small amount of plastic -- a total amount that would fit in an adult's cupped hands. The load of candy that would soon be on board has the following protection:

1) The candies are individually wrapped.
2) The individually wrapped candies are bagged in plastic.
3) The bags of plastic individually wrapped candies are placed into cardboard boxes and sealed.
4) The sealed cardboard boxes filled with bags of individually wrapped candies are stacked on pallets then the pallets are shrink wrapped.

I think it fair to say if I had butchered a goat for a pagan sacrifice in the back of the trailer and let the blood and intestines drop where they may the shrink wrapped pallets of cardboard boxes filled with bags of individual plastic candies would have made out just fine.

My truck and stinky self drove south to a rest area near the consignee for this load and took a 10.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Surprise Stampeed

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I departed Omaha this morning and made the consignee in Columbus on time. The guard had difficulty raising anyone in the plant to take my load but that eventually sorted itself out.

Just as I'm in the middle of a relatively difficult back the dock guy comes out and asks to take a look inside the trailer. No problemo, I break the seal and we look.

"Oh, we have tons of that stuff on the dock already. Park it over in the drop lot."


I grab an empty trailer from them and beep dispatch for my next trip.

Seems that someone didn't finish delivering a load nearby and I'm the fix for the problem. Run over a mile or so away, follow some dirt roads to a drop yard and swap my new empty for a different loaded trailer. Away I go.

I drop my empty trailer in a very muddy lot and hook up to the only other trailer there. It is supposed to have 43,000 pounds of cargo in back but it sure didn't feel that way when I got under it. There is no seal on back and I pop the door: trailer is empty. Surprise!

Dispatch doesn't believe me for a while but finally they agree I am qualified to look inside a trailer and tell if it is empty and that delivery goes away.

New orders appear and I'm directed to the Cargil plant in nearby Schyuler, Nebraska to pick up a load heading for Stampeed Meats in Chicago that delivers in the morning. I have just enough hours to drive it in one shot, ending at the consignee so I hope they have overnight parking.

(Turns out, they did)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Columbus day

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Around 1000 I am told to run over to the south side of Kansas City, Missouri and pick up a trailer then bring it to Lenexa, Kansas to pick up a load going to Columbus, Nebraska. The trailer itself is old and creaky, but the load is only about 11,000 pounds so it sufficed.

The whole trip is about 300 miles and I don't deliver until tomorrow so I was lazy and stopped at our HQ in Omaha. I've been out for the past four weeks and I'm going home this weekend so I don't feel like working that hard.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day and a half off

I was told that the load of beer delivered up to noon on Saturday. I couldn't get it there much earlier due to my hours, but I arrived in Olathe, Kansas at 1130. Bud distributor tells me they stop taking deliveries after 1030 on Saturdays and our dispatchers must know this because they consistently screw it up. Sigh.

Quick phone call to the weekend people and I'm sent up to our Kansas City, Missouri yard to t-call the trailer. One of our local guys will take it back down when they ask for it pretty please, I suppose.

The truck and driver needed a good scrub so the truck went off to Blue Beacon and the diver off to the Flying J down the street. Beacon does a better job than the J in terms of washing facilities, I note.

Holy Creepy Factor: This morning I find a business card on my driver's door from the manager of the Beacon saying he swung by to check out the wash after my truck had dried off. I guess they keep a list or something.

The rest of my weekend was spent eating, scratching, watching movies, playing games and the like.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sleep with cats get... fleas?

Yetch. I noticed a pair of fleas on Snowie today. Since she was clean when I got her and has only been on my truck and at the house, those dratted other cats gave her some friends. I'm going to introduce her to my friend "Advantage" here shortly.

Yesterday I drove from Jamestown, New Mexico to Denver and parked at the first customer on this load. This was the same place I was at back in winter time with all the black ice and snow crud on the sides of my truck and trailer, pictures linked to on the right sidebar. Absolutely jacked-up parking lot entry and exit and I got there right at rush hour. Wish I had a camera rolling.

(No, I didn't plan it that way but the rest areas just south of Denver are still shut down and I decided to roll the dice.)

The first drop was scheduled for 0300 but the boys were there at 0215 pounding on my door. Got the tandems back and doors open and into the dock forthwith and the product disappeared as always.

Got the signed bills and headed out through the maze-like parking lot. Drove south for a little over an hour to Colorado Springs and found my other consignee. Turns out it was a different one than I got Miss Fleabag at, a mile or two north along the same road.

The docks were jacked up as usual but I got it into place and hit the bunk for an hour of quality time. When it came time to unseal the load and back into the dock fully, my engine started making sputtering noises and was running poorly. Another Hill Bros driver (lease purchase guy with the same make and model truck that I have) happened to be there and we looked over the engine compartment. Sounded to him like a fuel filter problem so I got a quick lesson in priming and worked up a sweat. Truck started up fine after that and our shop boss explained that because I was parked on a slope for a few hours it caused a problem.

My next trip came in while I was being unloaded: Grab a preloaded trailer at the Fort Collins Bud plant and take it to Olathe, Kansas for delivery tomorrow by noon. I ran north to grab the load then back south to Denver, then east on I-70 to Colby, Kansas where I am spending the night. Early tomorrow morning it is time to fuel then off to Olathe.

I warned my dispatcher that my hours were low so I'm going to take a 34 and get rolling again Monday morning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Major Accident in Phoenix

Just as I arrived at the I-10 / highway 101 split in Phoenix there was a huge crash with lots of dust and debris kicked up on the northbound ramp from I-10 west. I saw a big rig or truck of some sort on its side with lots of cargo or something flying off, blocking the entire ramp area. I was about a half mile away when it happened so I saw the entire thing but wasn't able to make out many of the details, but it sure looked nasty.

A few minutes later I dropped off my inbound load and grabbed a preloaded trailer with the cargo heading to Colorado. The first drop is at a store I'm familiar with in downtown Denver and the second happens to be the store that I adopted Snowie from in Colorado Springs.

I drove out of town the way I normally avoid, taking I-10 east to I-17 then going north. Traffic was heavy but moving and I was glad to put Phoenix behind me before the afternoon rush started. After a long slog up the mountains to Flagstaff I turned east and ended the day in Jamestown, New Mexico. 680 miles for the day and I'm beat.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fiscal Year 2008-2009 (June 6, 2008 - June 5, 2009)

The first and, hopefully, hardest year of my lease-purchase is behind me.

I've posted the numbers in exhaustive detail elsewhere so I'm going to try to stick to a subset of the totals, along with some numbers that jump out at me in good and bad ways.

A bad number that jumps out at me is 11,270 Out Of Route miles. This is the difference from the miles I was assigned and the miles it took to complete those assignments. Hill Bros, like most trucking companies uses Rand McNally's "HHG" miles to calculate the paid miles for trips. As truckers anywhere can testify, this ends up shortchanging drivers on most every trip.

The reason the number 11,270 sticks out is that it represents a full month of my driving. In short, I spent eleven months of my time in the past year operating my truck generating revenue and the twelfth month I spent driving around, along with all the expenses (like fuel, and wearing down my tires). This irks me to no end.

I knew before I started that my dedication to efficiency would keep my total miles down, and it did. Just over 12,000 miles per month (including the dreaded OOR miles) is fairly low for lease-purchase drivers.

Ordinarily, the largest single expense for trucks nowadays is fuel, followed by the cost of paying the driver. With my efficiency I managed to flip those two around, taking home almost $68,000 and spending almost $59,000 on fuel.

That 59k was the price I paid at the pump, minus the discount our company gets for its patronage of the various truck stop chains. Then, when it came time to settle up each week, I got paid a certain number of cents per mile in Fuel Surcharge (FSC), which ranged from about 15 to 58 cents, depending on how costly the average price of fuel was that week. This totaled almost $42,000 so instead of paying 59k for my fuel, I was out only about 17k.

Fuel expense is the only area you can make money on in this fashion when you drive for a fixed cost per mile. If you divide that 17k into the miles I drove during the year, it computes to 11.73 cents per mile. I'm not privy to similar numbers for Hill Bros or any other company, but I would wager for company drivers that figure is double, and that is comparing APU-equipped trucks. I doubt most company drivers at companies without APUs see less than 30 cents per mile fuel expense across a fleet.

If you are a company driver, you make more money the more miles you run. As an owner, however, you make more money running miles more efficiently. I could have run 65 or 70 MPH this past year and added another 15,000-20,000 more miles but doing so would have made every single mile I drove less efficient and would have cost me money. As the old saw goes, a millionaire isn't someone who has spent a million dollars but someone who has saved a million dollars.

Overall, there weren't many surprises financially in the first year. There are some things that I would have done differently, but their economic impact was small.

Looking ahead, the biggest change I want to make is taking a full week's vacation this winter, on top of my regular home time. I will also need a full set of tires at some point in the next 6-12 months. My objective is to do both of these things and still make at least as much net pay by next June as I did in my first fiscal year.

How am I going to get there? For one, as my tires wear down they become more efficient. According to the tire maker Bridgestone, a tire worn down to 50% of its tread is 4.5% more efficient than when it was new. Down to just 20% of the tread remaining and the efficiency is up to 6.5%. Four percent of my fuel bill would be almost $2,400 in fuel savings, at the prices I received this past year.

I am really, really, REALLY going to watch my routing like a hawk to kill as many OOR miles as I can. My goal is 7%, which would be about 2,000 miles fewer OOR than this past year.

I did get another engine computer printout from the shop when I had them do a PM last week, and it still shows my MPG in the 7.7 range. I had the belts changed, new shocks all around and other items that I hope will keep everything running swimmingly over the next year.

Check back this time next year!

Grand Island, Aurora, Phoenix, Colorado Springs

Monday morning my dispatcher was back from his (I'm assuming) lovely weekend and I pounced. "My weekend was a cluster, hellllllp," or something along those lines.

Soon a short trip plan materialized, taking a load of Pepsi stuff from Omaha to Grand Island, Nebraska. I've done that trip before so I know where to go, and I also know it is a few miles away from the Iams pet food plant in nearby Aurora that we haul from for PetSmart. Sure enough, after I was on my way to drop off the first load a pre-plan shows up with a trip from Aurora to Phoenix, delivering any time on Wednesday.

I've been to the Iams place a few times before so the routine there, while a bit tiresome, is quickly finished and I have 43,000 pounds of pet food in a new trailer attached to my tractor. They have a kind of rinky-dink scale there that you can use which is annoying because you have to get one set of tires on it, set your brakes, get out and walk back to the display to find out what the total is.

Anyway, I'm heavy but legal (the truck weight is fine, too) so it is off to the races. I manage to drive to Dodge City, Kansas by 2100 and decide that is enough for one day.

This morning I'm up and at 'em as early as I can legally leave. A few hours later I'm motoring along and another pre-plan shows up: grab a loaded trailer at PetSmart on Wednesday and deliver to two stops in Colorado on Friday, the final stop being Colorado Springs.

I was kind of hoping to get a load leaving Phoenix immediately so I can turn and burn back up into the high plains east of Flagstaff for cooler temps overnight. The downside is that the timing on this trip now becomes very tight, with three 620-650ish days in a row to make it to my first stop on Thursday night. All things considered, notably my poor mileage last week, I'll take it.

Today finishes up along the New Mexico / Arizona border in teensy-tiny Lupton, Arizona.

Monday, June 8, 2009

There and back to Kansas City

Late Friday night I told dispatch I could take a load at 0400 the next morning if they needed it. Before I could even climb into my bunk a message was zapped back asking if I could take one of our nightly Nebraska Furniture Mart runs from Omaha to Kansas City and back. NFM shifts products between their two huge warehouse outlet stores like this every night, and the guy who ordinarily runs that route was out sick.

Unfortunately, I was pooped and told dispatch to call at 0400 if no one had taken the load. It normally delivers around 0400 in KC, so it would be late but that wasn't really my problem.

0400 rolls around and no call. 0415 rolls around, there's that call. Crud.

The trip there and back were a bit unusual -- pick up a loaded trailer in one door at the Omaha warehouse, deliver it to one door at the KC warehouse, then switch trailers to grab a loaded one in yet another door and bring that one up to Omaha and drop it in the final door. Easy, once you know what goes where. Not so much when you don't.

Anyway, I'm done by noon and expecting my load home for a few days off.

The load I'm given goes through the house en route to Tupelo, Mississippi but doesn't load until 2100 that night at the local Tyson plant. I'm a bit frazzled and tell dispatch I'll grab the trailer first thing in the morning.

First thing in the morning rolls around and my alarm gets me up at 0500. I need to fuel so I get that taken care of then head over to grab my preloaded trailer. Yeah, that one, the one that is clearly visible from where I and the gate guard commune for a while as he tells me he has absolutely no paperwork and no authority to do much more than take a dump when he wants to.

Calls go out to Hill Bros dispatch, Tyson and who knows who else. Not that this does much good as many hours later, the conclusion is no one can release the load until about 0600 Monday at which point only a team will be able to deliver it on time that night in Mississippi.

To sum up, after a day and a half in the shop, a short, weird weekend boomerang load down to KC and back, waiting all of Sunday, all I've managed to do is fuel my truck.

Right across the street from the Tyson plant in Council Bluffs is a casino and just for the heck of it I drove over and played poker for a few hours. Ended up making eleven dollars, which isn't bad considering my poker skills.


I returned to Omaha on Thursday to have my truck put into our company shop, the ThermoKing shop for my APU and the Volvo dealership shop for some clutch work. There were a total of fourteen items on my various fix-it lists, ranging from replacing my (original) windshield wipers to replacing the windshield itself. Come to think of it, that job went to an outside source that came by our yard to do the work, so I guess there was a fourth company involved.

Our shop's cut was about $650 and the other places probably took another $500 or so. Glad I had all that money in my maintenance account ready to go.

I got the ThermoKing work taken care of Thursday night and the rest done on Friday. All freaking day Friday.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

New! First year spreadsheet

Interested in seeing the "numbers behind the numbers"?

I have published a spreadsheet using Google Docs with three pages. The first is an overview, by quarter and year-end, of most of the data points that matter to me. At the top you can see how many miles my truck had when I got it (1,337) and how much it had at the end of each quarter. Below are a dozen or so data points expressed in quarterly and year-end numbers for things like Fuel Expense, Total Revenue, Net Pay and the like.

By clicking the Weekly tab in the upper left corner it will bring you to a page with data gleaned directly from the settlement information emailed to me each week. They are organized into quarters for easier reference.

Clicking the Loads tab will give you the straight dope about each of the 201 loads I handled in the past year. The top has some summary data (average deadhead miles being 93, average loaded miles 570, et cetera) followed by groups of loads, one each per line. The loads are separated by weeks by a blank line, so you can see my first settlement week had three loads, and my second had two. My third week I handled five loads, etc.

The last column is Loaded Rate. Any load I have over 300 miles gets paid 90 cents per mile, so you'll see a loaded rate of .9. Loads between 150 and 300 get paid 93 cents per mile, so you'll see .93. The few loads I ran less than 150 miles are paid at $1.10 per mile, so you'll see 1.1. Deadhead miles are always 87 cents, so I don't have a separate column for that information.

Note that there are a few loads with information that is "off". You might notice one load ends in one city and the next load begins in another, or deadhead miles between two nearby cities much further than the distance might indicate. This is due to the way the Hill Bros accounting system handles multi-segment routing for loads -- I might get deadhead miles posted to a load before or after the one in question if there turns out to be a problem with the load (like getting halfway then having to turn around for more cargo, for instance).

In any event, its enough data to make your eyeballs bleed. You have been warned.

Fourth Quarter Results

This post details the results of my fourth full quarter of driving as a lease-purchase operator for Hill Bros out of Omaha, Nebraska.

As I've stated in my other quarterly results posts, these numbers are unique to me. I operate in a very strict manner emphasizing safety and efficiency to an extent few other drivers seem to bother with. You might be reading these posts and fantasizing about how much money you could make if you were doing this job -- just be aware you won't get these kind of numbers driving the way most drivers do.

I was surprised to learn that, over the first four months of this calender year, my net income was only surpassed by one other lease-purchase driver at our company. Many of the others drive more than I do, and almost all of them certainly work harder than I do, yet they don't seem to earn as much net pay. Go figure.

My goals for this quarter were as follows:

First, cut my Out of Route figure down to 6-8%. I missed here, going from 9.17 in the third quarter to 8.84 in the fourth. OOR miles can be a bitch is my conclusion.

Second, I wanted to reverse the decline in my average weekly paid miles by adding 200-300 miles per week to the 2,416 I logged in the third quarter. I hit this mark despite one week where I took four days off (and received my only zero paycheck week since the first weeks of my lease when I was paying down my escrows) by averaging 2,665 paid miles, an increase of 249.

Third, I boosted my goal for net weekly pay (pay to my bank account after taking care of all truck-related expenses) to 1,500. I just missed here, earning an average of 1,434 in net pay each week (totaling 18,644 over the quarter).

In short, I beat one of my goals and came close on the other two, and made a few bucks in the process.

My total miles run this quarter were 37,710, out of which 34,648 were paid either loaded or unloaded (deadhead), leaving an Out Of Route percent of 8.84%. These are the highest quarterly mileage numbers for me yet, and my second best OOR percent.

My fuel expense rose somewhat to 10,748 paid out at the pump, after reflecting our company discount. My truck received 5,689 in fuel surcharge money for the miles I ran, also slightly higher than last quarter. This left my out-of-pocket fuel expense at 5,059, the highest yet. This reflects on the number of miles I ran being slightly higher and the FSC bottoming out this spring.

Taking my adjusted fuel expense and dividing it by the total number of miles I ran results in a 13.42 cent per mile fuel charge for the truck, easily the highest yet.

As I mentioned above, my average miles per week climbed to an all-time high of 2,665.

Somewhat surprisingly, despite having driven an average of 249 miles more per week for the entire quarter, I still netted 12 dollars less per paycheck than the previous quarter! Why? The fuel surcharge was lower mainly, though I am also owed about 750 in bonus pay and a lumper reimbursement that will be reflected next quarter.

Revenue per mile has hopefully hit bottom at just 1.08 per mile. Compare with 1.49 in the first quarter when the FSC was a lovely 50-60 cents per mile.


40: 1573
41: 2117
42: 575
43: 1339
44: 2008
45: 1328
46: 1438
47: 1779
48: 1248
49: 2304
50: 0
51: 1741
52: 1194

As you can see, I had my first "zero pay" week in week 50 (three of my first five weeks had zero net pay but large payments towards my escrows; three other weeks in the second quarter were also no net pay but had large amounts set aside going into my maintenance account to max it out). There was actually a 26 dollar balance but there is a minimum amount you must earn for them to cut you a check or make a direct deposit, so it was added to my next settlement.

This results post will be followed by a fiscal year-end post with additional details and goals for my second year as a lease-purchase operator.

If you watch just one YouTube video this week, watch this

Friday, June 5, 2009

Numbers, numbers

These are some of the numbers I've worked up for my first year as a lease-purchase operator. I'm still working out some of the kinks in my spreadsheets so they may change a little here or there as I refine things.

A separate fourth quarter results post and fiscal year-end post should follow eventually.

144,573 total miles driven
133,303 total paid miles
8.45% out of route miles

2,564 average miles driven per week

$58,932 fuel expense
$41,970 FSC reimbursement
$16,962 Adjusted Fuel expense
11.73 cents per mile fuel expense

$168,511 total revenue paid to truck
$1.26 gross pay per paid mile to truck

$3,241 average gross pay to truck per week
$1,154 average net pay per week (excluding escrows)

$60,018 net pay
$7,771 extra pay deposited to my savings escrow account
$67,789 total net pay

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pevely, believe it or not

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While you were most likely in bed this morning at 0400, I was having the last of my load of Banquet TV dinners plucked out of the back of my trailer in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. The lumpers were quick and cheap for a change ($40 for the load) and I got out of there as soon as I could to my next assignment.

Off to Horn Lake, Mississippi to the oddly-named Newlywed Corporation to pick up a load of spices and sauce for the ConAgra folks in Macon, Missouri. A number of other Hill Bros trucks were arriving and departing while I spent my time there, and I'm sure their loads were a day late like mine. Since I had to deadhead in from Nashville my hours won't quite stretch to the destination tonight, so its off first thing in the morning tomorrow to finish the run.

I end tonight in Pevely, Missouri which is a smidge north of Festus, Missouri. No joke on either count.

Tonight is also the cutoff day for the 52nd week in my lease-purchase. My truck has about 145,900 miles on it and during the past year I picked up and delivered (or t-called) right around 200 loads. The average deadhead miles for these loads, as of last week, was 93 and the average loaded miles was 577. I will receive my 52nd settlement report on Friday so sometime next week expect the first of a series of posts covering all the numbers, pay, mileage and assorted goodies.

"I'm hooked on Quack!"

(Bumper sticker I saw on a car as I was heading down the road today. Apparently the owner is a duck hunter)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Slow going

I actually got cussed out this morning after I unloaded in Kansas City. I was parked down the block from the consignee, where I had parked earlier for an hour or so waiting to be called to the dock, when this pickup truck rolls up and an agitated redneck type jumps out.

"Move your damn truck out of here!" he cried.

After a bit of back-and-forth it turns out the street I was parked on was an unmarked private drive for a company at the end, and they didn't like big rigs parked anywhere on their street. Even if we were blocking nothing but the sun.

"Move or I'll have you towed!" he shouted. Upon asking how he planned on doing that with his piddly 4-wheeler he whipped out his cell phone and shouted the name of some (probably fictitious) towing company.

"Hard to believe they would come out to tow a truck from a public street on your say-so, pal."

Anyway, he huffed and puffed and shouted at me to get my effing truck out of there. I briefly considered getting out and tooling him up but I had my fill of morning entertainment and went my way.

Plus, I had just received instructions for my next load: the typical hop over to Independence, Missouri to pick up a load from the underground storage place there to bring down to ConAgra in Russellville, Arkansas.

Along the way, more news: after I drop off that load, I can pick up a new one down the street in Russellville and take it 418 miles east to Goodlettsville, Tennessee. I hadn't heard of the town before, but it is near Nashville, which I gathered from the distance given.

Unfortunately, that load doesn't deliver until Wednesday morning at 0400 so today and tomorrow will be more slow going. Only one load in the past week has been for more than 500 miles (two if you count the long deadhead to the load from Seward) and these little dinky ones get old after a while.

General Mufflers

By interesting coincidence, the load of auto parts I'm delivering in Kansas City this morning is for General Motors. Specialized racks with full exhaust systems sit in the trailer, enough for 40 cars or trucks (they are kind of long and unwieldy).

The original appointment time was 1300 but a little birdie at the broker's office told me they start taking deliveries around 0600. I showed up around 0545 and there was a trailer in the door already, so here I wait.