Thursday, July 30, 2009

I broke the (memory) bank

Mid morning rolled around and I was given a load from nearby Schaumberg, Illinois to Texarkana, Arkansas. Weird instructions too -- its a load of rejected products heading back to AmeriCold and consists of six pallets.

I find the shipper and that is a doozy. Think a city block with a narrow path around three sides of the building for trucks and cars to squeeze by as they make their way around. Some of the shipping docks, including the one I used, are actually inside the building itself. Inside, dozens or hundreds of workers are working to package and distribute pizza ingredients going to make the Tombstone pizza brand, for instance.

The labyrinth was traversed and those six pallets hustled aboard. All 5,400 pounds of chicken knuckles (I kid you not) that apparently didn't pass quality control. How bad a chicken knuckle has to be to fail such a test is unknown to me.

Chicago traffic wasn't bad at all as I made my way south to I-57 for the rest of yesterday's trip that ended at Mount Vernon, Illinois.

Along the way a curious thing happened: I have my electronic DID (Driver Information Display) on my dash set up to show my current MPG and the MPG averaged since the last time I reset it. I normally reset each time I fuel so I can get a rough idea how well I'm doing.

Glancing down I saw that it not only reset itself but failed to restart the "since the last reset" value. It would show me what I was doing that moment, fuel-wise, but the running total wouldn't display. I even took video. Eventually I reset it as if I had just fueled and that seemed to satisfy the beast.

Today's drive was very routine to begin with. I fueled in Hayti, Missouri then headed west along I-40 in Arkansas in intermittent heavy rain showers. There were a number of cars and even a big rig spun out in the median or along the shoulders on both sides of the interstate; surprising how many people don't understand basic driving principles.

Anyway, my trusty tires kept me on course and I made it safe and sound to Texarkana and was unloaded without delay. The preplan for tomorrow could well be a doozy... but I'll leave you hanging on that for a bit.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Second day, second fuse

I mentioned a few posts ago that my dispatcher has cleared out and now helps with the trip planning. The new dispatcher needs to be broken in a bit, like trying real hard to get me a load early in the day instead of late for maximum productivity.

Around noon I was ordered to pick up another brand new trailer we have at the yard and take it a couple miles away to be loaded at a local pork processor. During my pretrip inspection I noticed that the upper marker lights on the trailer were dead so I brought it to the shop. The obvious culprit on a new trailer would be the fuse in the cab of my truck controlling such things, but as it turns out the trailer wiring was messed up. Trailer gets a red ticket to indicate its a downer, and I return it to the yard.

Go to dispatch, get another trailer to take and eventually make it over to the pig place by 1300 or so. Get in line, sign in, get directed to waiting area. The appointment time for the load was 0800 to 1700, which usually means to settle in for a good wait. The load was put aboard about two hours later, then I waited in the shipping office while the warehouse folks shot the shit for the better part of an hour before handing me my pre-printed bills and seal.

"Make sure you seal that up now," I was told.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, drove across to Council Bluffs to fuel up and scale out then headed east into the evening hours. As it got darker I turned on my truck lights only to discover my chicken lights (the row of lights on the side of my cab) and the upper trailer marker lights wouldn't come on. Great.

I pull in to a nearby rest area and crack open the fuse panel. It would help to have a pair of needle-nose pliers to take out the fuses, but I make do with a screwdriver and my fingers. The offending fuse is located and replaced and the lights work again. It is my last 20 AMP fuse so I'm hoping it lasts a while.

The drive drags on and on through Iowa, then into Illinois. I have Google mapped the consignee already and know they have a smallish parking lot available, so I'm not too concerned about parking. Just after midnight I pull in to said parking lot, only to be met minutes later with a roving security guard who tells me they don't allow overnight parking.

"But is a load for you guys first thing tomorrow morning," I cry.

They don't care and I had to settle for a very iffy exposed parking spot until morning.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm coming off of hometime, so it must be Buske

Yet another Buske load out of Springfield, Missouri up to Omaha, Nebraska. I showed up around 1030, got called down for loading around 1400 and was finished loading at the second warehouse in the complex by 1515.

The trailer I took home with me is brand spanking new -- still has the temp plate even! The tandems had super singles on them with an automatic air system and an air slider. Boy is that a piece of cake to use (I'd say about 30-40% of our other trailers have this system as well).

The ride up to Omaha was easy enough but expensive. I didn't have any food along with me so I did what I very rarely do and stopped at the Flying J in Peculiar, Missouri and had the buffet. The food was okay and it was filling, but overpriced.

My tractor had a blown fuse that was replaced by our shop guys then the trailer was dropped off at Pepsi to be unloaded when they want. I like customers like that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two quick trips then home

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I finished out the week with a load of pallets (a first for me) from Omaha to Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It rained most of the way and was coming down in buckets while I was at the consignee's outdoor docks. Wet, very wet.

My next dispatch had me heading to Louisville, Kentucky to grab a preloaded trailer filled with GE appliances for Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Kansas. The address was vague (try looking up "S10-288" on your GPS sometime) but I eventually figured out where I needed to be. The dilapidated warehouse itself was part of a much larger facility built probably fifty years ago. Water leaked from the ceilings, the bathroom was a real mess and everything screamed "its hell on earth working there", unless you're living in a recession of course.

There was a cute sign directing drivers that referenced those "trailors" again. Difficult to imagine a company the size of GE letting that slip.

Anyway, grabbed that load and got to Haubstadt, Indiana then yesterday finished out the trip and headed home for the weekend.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hasta La Vista, baby

My dispatcher wound up getting me a load by 1100 -- I had three hours to travel 75 miles east to Munster, Indiana to grab a trailer filled with GE appliances. The last couple miles were a bit of a pain (hint: when you're in a big rig and see signs saying "No Thru trucks" pointing in the direction you need to go, things aren't looking up).

I found the distribution center and they even had a trailer preloaded and waiting for me. A quick sign off on the paperwork, drop my empty trailer, hook up to the full one then out the gate and on my way. Back to the "No Thru trucks" route back to the interstate.

The load delivered this morning in La Vista, Nebraska, a suburb of Omaha. An easy trailer drop was made a bit more complicated by the consignee only having one dock and a different truck that needed to offload half of its cargo before I dropped my trailer. Never mind, eventually I came out on top.

Saw the dispatcher in person just now and I learned two things:

#1: I've managed to run him off... next week he's going to change over to be a planner so when I get a bum load in the future I know who to blame at least.

#2: There isn't a lot of freight at the moment in the area so I may be here for a bit.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A do run run run, a do run run

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Since I unloaded in North Plate, Nebraska on Friday afternoon I've been running pretty hard. First, I got sent an hour east to Lexington, Nebraska to pick up a load of meat heading to Emporia, Kansas that I had to get there that night. The following morning, Saturday, I got a short dinky load that at first I thought was going to screw me: 240 loaded miles and a delivery of 0200 on Monday. After conferring with The Powers That Be it was made clear that the load could be dropped at any time.

So, off to Wichita, switch trailers for a full one and run it up to Crete, Nebraska. Along the way was another preplan, this time to bobtail across town to the Purina plant in Crete and grab a preloaded trailer heading to Ottawa, Illinois.

Scary satellite info: the load weight might be 45,900 or so. Even in a van trailer this is pushing it, so I was glad to find once I arrived the actual loaded weight was 44,000 or so. I made use of the scale at the plant to get the weight legal then headed off into the early evening darkness, ending up in Shelby, Iowa.

This morning I simply got up and drove the rest of the 365 miles to Ottawa. Along the way another beep from the QualComm: drop the trailer at the consignee and grab an empty, then call in for a dispatch Monday morning (tomorrow) at 0800.

Friday, July 17, 2009

One down, five to go

I was saddened this morning to let the first original tire on my truck head off to the Great Tire Factory in the sky. My left steer tire had been wearing unevenly for a while now and the pros at the Boss shop in North Platte told me it was a goner.

Given its condition, it was not possible to tell if the tire itself had a balance problem or whether my truck might need an alignment. The other steer is fine and was rotated into the left spot (just in case there is an alignment problem, better to scrub the older one until I get it fixed).

My four drive-axle super singles are all doing great, including the one that was losing air pressure a week or two ago. I'm hoping to get another 100-120k out of them but you never know when you'll find something to run over and shorten that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lazy day

Yeah, knocking out 380 miles isn't really a tough day for most drivers and it certainly wasn't for me. Up late, I departed North Platte City, Missouri around 0730 and fueled up the reefer in Grand Island, Nebraska about four hours later. Only time I can remember putting 50 gallons into my reefer tank (the tanks themselves are 75 on most of our trailers). This load I'm carrying is only being kept at zero degrees but the unit keeps running and running so the insulation is probably not in the best of shape.

Another leisurely hour down the freeway to Lexington, Nebraska brought me to the Walmart there with great truck parking. The pantry and fridge filled, I moseyed another hour down the freeway to North Platte, Nebraska to the Flying J which is next to the Walmart DC I'll be delivering at tomorrow afternoon.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The price that must be paid

The remaining drive to the Walmart DC in Clarksville, Arkansas went off without a hitch. Once I arrived, I was given some extra paperwork and told to drop my trailer in a certain spot, then to pick up my empty at a different spot. No problemo, mission accomplished.

The new trailer is one of the oldest reefers in the fleet, with over 27,000 hours of run time on the unit. It had some error codes when I turned it on and the trailer itself smelled like exhaust or something similar. I left the inspection port open and let the unit run a bit to see if the new air it was pulling through would replace the bad, but the unit decided to seize up instead. Fuel filter, no doubt.

A quick call to our breakdown guy Andy at HQ and the closest ThermoKing dealer is located and notified. It is on the far side of Russellville about 25 miles away, which also happens to be where my next load will be coming out of. A hop, skip and jump down the freeway and the trailer is dropped in their yard and I called it a day at the local Pilot.

The new trip isn't optimal. It is yet another Walmart run, this time up to North Platte, Nebraska. Unfortunately, it can't deliver until Friday afternoon and Walmart never, ever takes loads early. So it will be another slow slog, doing 730 miles in two-and-a-half days. This is the price that must be paid to get me out of the freight graveyard of Texas and back to trucking civilization.

This morning I grabbed this load from AmeriCold in Russellville and headed north. Almost exactly halfway between there and my destination is North Platte, Missouri where there happens to be a rest area (this is just north of Kansas City). So, tomorrow I will be able to say I drove from North Platte to North Platte and it took me 380 miles to do it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


When I got up yesterday morning it was 0400 and the temperature was already 90 degrees and very humid. As the day wore on it topped out at something like 105. Now, this is outside air temperature, not the "real" temp that you feel including the radiation of additional heat up from the ground or that which is absorbed by your vehicle. Or skin. In short: hotttttttt!

After dropping off my load of almost 20 tons of Gatorade for the thirsty Dallas folks I had to wait around a few hours to get my next dispatch. I found an abandoned hospital parking lot to park in until HQ put my orders together: drop my empty van trailer at our yard in Garland then pick up a reefer and take it over to Sara Lee in Haltom City, Texas to get loaded.

When I arrived at our yard I dropped off the van, but the only reefer there was loaded. Amazing. My Overlords then had me cross Dallas to the Estes yard on the west side to pick up trailer number 579xxx, as it was unloaded. I dutifully bobtailed there only to find said trailer, the only trailer we had at their yard, in a door. A quick run up six flights of stairs to their ops center confirmed that it was being loaded for a trip to Denver. Amazing.

The new orders were just to bobtail to Sara Lee, and I did that.

I check in and I'm told that the trailer I'll be taking tonight after 2000 hours is already in a door. Amazing. I proceed to park in front of this trailer for the next seven hours with the reefer engine running flat out, trying desperately to cool the warehouse to which it is connected to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. This resulted in the loss of about a quarter of a tank of fuel and, amazingly, no cooling whatsoever in the warehouse.

Near the end of the sixth hour the trailer began to be loaded and I eventually escaped the place intact, though my logbook was a bit thin. Anna, Texas was as far as I got in the rest of that amazing day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slow weekend

Las Cruces, New Mexico is about 660 miles away from my delivery in Mesquite, Texas and I could have driven it on Saturday then squeezed in a 34 on Sunday and the morning hours of Monday. After looking over my log for last week there didn't seem to be a reason to hurry, as I'm left with almost 20 hours anyway and start picking them up again Monday night (commercial drivers in the US work on an 8-day schedule for some arcane reason).

Oh, and I tend towards the lazy side of things.

I stopped in Big Spring, Texas on Saturday then on Sunday fueled up in Weatherford. Got the truck washed there, too. I'm spending Sunday night a few miles down the road from my consignee and I'll finish up early tomorrow morning.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Look Ma! I'm getting a tow!

Several weeks ago I was broke down on the side of the road with a clogged fuel filter. The mechanic who was sent out to assist managed to screw it up even better when he neglected to correctly install the replacement filter which led to my truck being towed back to Dallas. Here we are just before moving out:

After arriving at the Dallas Volvo dealership we're getting the truck unhooked and find out that the front of the trailer has put a nice divot in my catwalk:

Three near disasters, a burnt hand and trailer damage

After conferring with the folks at HQ I ended up taking the trip to Mesquite, Texas (the one near Dallas -- there are at least two in Texas). We don't have many loads that pick up over the weekends so it is a bit farther than a trip up to Denver and a lot less hill climbing along the way.

Finding the right building proved a challenge. The address I was given was for the receiving side only. The shipping side was across the street and down a long alley. The third place I checked was the right one.

Phoenix was broiling with temps in the 110-115 range. After pulling away from the dock and sliding my trailer tandems forward a bit I saw one of the spring hangers holding the air lines up off the ground had broke and they were on the pavement. Out come the trusty zip ties and I got to work putting my ghetto mechanic skills into action. I made the mistake of planting my right hand on the ground as I was getting up from under the trailer for no more than 6-8 seconds and got first-degree burns from the pavement! I held it up against the AC vent for a few hours to make the redness and swelling subside.

Leaving Phoenix a truck driver took a right turn to an off ramp too quickly and almost tipped his trailer over. Several hours later past Tucson, a FedEx driver pulling doubles that had just passed me blew his left steer tire and ran off the road into the wide median, leaving a huge cloud of dust. I thought he had rolled it at first, but luckily for him he managed to keep the greasy side down and stopped in the median.

Finally, 30 minutes from Las Cruces, New Mexico there were a bunch of fire trucks and cop cars on the right shoulder and some sort of bus or trailer tipped over on its side and a lot of kids involved. My plan was to get the trailer fixed in Las Cruces anyway, but with all the excitement out there I and my toasty hand stopped there for the night as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night...

I was in South Dakota recently in the middle of a set of storm cells. Off to the left side of my truck a short distance away was what I guess was a thunderstorm super cell with an amazing quantity of lightning going off. I only started shooting video after a few minutes so you can see how long this activity went on for.

Learning to bake in Phoenix

Today's drive from Moriarty, New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona was routine. I started long before sunrise and arrived at the PetSmart distribution center at 1400 Arizona time. There wasn't a preplan on me so I simply dropped the trailer and bobtailed over to the nearby Flying J to roast along with the rest of the truckers.

And roast we have. It was about 104 degrees when I showed up and the parking lot of the J was at about 120 when I arrived. Thank goodness both the truck AC and my TriPac are recently-serviced and working properly.

When I was in Omaha a few days ago I had our tire shop look at my right rear tire. The other five tires on my tractor have performed like champs so far, needing to be aired once or twice each in just over a year's time. That last one though drops from 105 to 80 overnight sometimes and had already been looked at by folks from TA and Bosselman and they couldn't fix it. I explained all of this to Will in our tire shop and he performed his magic on it.

Result: one small, thin nail that went through, which he patched. New valve stem, new core, new double-tip valve stem cover dealie that keeps the stem clear but lets you check the air pressure just as fast. Heck, I would have settled for some chicken bones tossed into a sack and a magic spell, but he seems to think this will work at least as well.

Got a weird brokered preplan late in the afternoon for a load leaving Phoenix tomorrow and heading to Mesquite, Texas that can't deliver until Monday. Something like 1,000 miles and three full days to loaf along. I declined the laod so we'll see what pops up tomorrow morning. I might need those chicken bones and spell after all.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A bit (of a) behind

I've been busy with that "real life" thing and haven't been updating here as frequently as I like. I'm back from the long 4th of July weekend with the usual dreaded Buske load up to Omaha, followed by a load from Crete, Nebraska to Phoenix, Arizona.

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More info and news in a day or two.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

670 miles

The past couple days saw me make my way down to Atlanta to drop off that load of frozen dinners then pick up a load of paper heading to Wichita, Kansas for Thursday morning. I made it as far as Mississippi last night and today I knocked out just over 670 miles to a block away from the consignee at the very end of my driving hours.

I was in the middle of Mississippi last night and didn't have to use my APU to cool my truck! That has to be some kind of record for June. After I cool my truck interior down tonight I'll probably be able to get by without the A/C here in Kansas as well.

The dispatcher tried assigning me a load that wouldn't get me home until late Friday. I kind of insisted I be home late tomorrow so that got changed around and a new load assigned. We'll see how that all works out tomorrow.