Saturday, October 31, 2009

Up early, done early

My FedEx load was due to depart at 0400 local time so I was up an hour early to do my pretrip, fuel then head the few miles back to their depot. I checked in at the front gate around 0345 then made my way inside to dispatch where I waited in a short line of other OTR drivers with 0400 departures. Since I made it up to the head of the line just after 0400 the pickup was marked late -- driver's fault. Riiiiight.

Anyway, they don't particularly care when it leaves so long as it arrives on time. I have until 2000 on Monday to drive the 930 miles to Henderson, which means I'm going to deliver it more than 24 hours in advance and get a new load Monday morning.

More good news: the load is only 19,000 pounds so the run up the I-17 corridor was more pleasant than normal and I took the time to stop at the Wal-Mart in Winslow, Arizona to replenish supplies. If you are a truck driver and you like easy-to-get-to Wal-Marts, this is definitely once since there is a (now closed) truck stop right next door.

The exact halfway point to Denver from Phoenix is Albuquerque, New Mexico so I decided to pull in the horns there and pass the night.

Oh, on my way out to Phoenix on my previous load my truck hit 200,000 miles in the vicinity of Winslow, Arizona.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stuck in a rut

Apparently my dispatcher has a thing for FedEx going on... for the third time in a row I'm planned on a FedEx load. This time it is heading back out of Phoenix first thing tomorrow morning to Henderson, Colorado.

Blizzard in Albuquerque

The drive from Wichita southwest was cold, windy and interspersed with icy rain and snow. Just west of Dalhart, Texas it became a real storm for a while with blowing snow but I was soon through to the other side and soldiered on. After a short fuel stop in Tucumcari, New Mexico I drove west along I-70 with the aim of ending up in the western half of New Mexico at the end of my driving hours.

Along comes Albuquerque, New Mexico and a localized blizzard that almost stopped me and thousands of my closest friends in the metro area. The snow was very light and flaky and the wind whipped it up into almost blinding sheets so I had to crawl for several miles before getting back up to speed.

I managed to make Grants, New Mexico by the time my driving hours expired and in order to deliver this FedEx load on time I had to start up again at 0030. Thankfully, the snow storms had moved off to to the east though it was still in the 20's outside.

Six hours later I pulled into Phoenix a few minutes before the load delivery time. The message coursing back to HQ over the satellite unit? "When FedEx absolutely positively needs a load delivered safely and on-time... they call unit 8836 baby!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Head to FedEx Wichita, we'll get you a load to Arizona"

Such was the information from dispatch this morning and off I went. An hour into the two-hour trip south from Salina, Kansas, the trip information arrives along with a fuel recommendation that tells me I can complete the 1,050-mile trip from Wichita, Kansas to Phoenix, Arizona with just the 3/8ths of a tank of fuel that my gauge is showing.

I was touched by the confidence the folks in the rear with the gear placed on my fuel economy but just as a backstop I sent a code in via the satellite unit to redo the math and get me a real fuel solution. A message pops up shortly thereafter telling me I should fuel in Salina, which I departed an hour ago. Why do I bother sometimes.

The trip to Phoenix has an absolutely tight schedule on it. I pick it up 0400 tomorrow morning and deliver it 0600 Friday morning in Phoenix, though I do benefit from a two-hour time zone change in my favor. The weather system that brought snow to Colorado and Wyoming has brought high winds and dust storms to Arizona and New Mexico so my fuel economy should be poor on this run.

Short stuff

My truck has been leaning a bit towards the driver's side for a while now and I had the shop take a look at it. A while later the problem is identified (worn out bushings on a torsion bar) and fixed and I'm out another $166. Such is the life.

Late in the morning my dispatcher surfaced with a short run down to Olathe, Kansas from Omaha. Before I could reply to the satellite unit another trip showed up, this one going from Edwardsville, Kansas to Henderson, Colorado picking up last night and delivering this morning. A separate message asked if this was doable (about 200 miles for the first trip and 600 for the second, a total of 800 miles) and I spent little time establishing that it wasn't.

The second run was from FedEx and dispatch was desperate to find drivers to cover so they offered to t-call it in Salina, Kansas if I'd pick it up. Sigh, okay.

I delivered in Olathe around 1930 and my FedEx load was supposed to leave at 2000 so I hurried north to Edwardsville and checked in. For some reason it wasn't ready and I was forced to wait until midnight for everything to get straightened out and I was sent on my way. I arrived in Salina at 0300 this morning and the transfer was made, my full trailer for an empty and the new driver headed off to the Denver area.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A First Time for Everything

Imagine my surprise when I get loaded and let loose in under two hours at Buske in Springfield, Missouri! I asked the office people why that was and they said it was due to few trucks showing up early. I mentioned that when I arrive early I normally wait 5-7 hours so I don't bother, but I'm not sure the point got through to them.

This left me in the unusual position of leaving Springfield around 1300 instead of three or four hours later, so I motored up MO-13 towards Kansas City. I was about halfway around the edge of the city when the traffic got bad at the beginning of rush hour but the northern part of KC is always a breeze so I didn't even have to slow down.

All three scales along the way to Omaha were closed for a change, though it didn't matter to me one way or the other since I scaled out at a little truck stop between Springfield and KC. I even stopped at Rock Port, Missouri (I-29 exit 110) to have a very fine steak dinner at the Black Iron Grill -- highly recommended.

The drop at the Pepsi place in Omaha was routine, and my cat was surprisingly cuddly last night... the 38 degree outside air temp may have had something to do with that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Buske again

So the dispatcher calls me on Friday to let me know I'm preplanned for the usual Springfield, Missouri load from Buske heading to Omaha on Monday.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Here and there

The Fayetteville load wasn't preloaded, like I was told. Nor was it 30,000 pounds, like I was told (it was over 40,000 pounds). The planners didn't even bother including the confirmation number I needed to make the pickup, causing me grief at the shipper.

Worse, by the time the load was ready and I left the shipper I was no longer able to make the delivery appointment on time. Which, by the way, was set before I even arrived.

I wasn't feeling too great when I got up this morning in Neosho, Missouri but I plugged ahead and got the load to the destination when I said it would be there.

Unfortunately, the bridge along the tiny state route I had to take from I-44 to Warrenton, Missouri had a weight limit of 20 tons and I was near twice that, so I had to divert to some absolutely tiny side roads. One stretch of about 18 miles was so steep I was having to double downshift -- going from fifth gear to third, for instance, a first for me. Just a nightmare.

Dispatch wanted to preplan me first on a load out of St Louis to Omaha that would require me to run all night and I nixed that. The next plan had me running a very tight FedEx load overnight to Kansas City and I nixed that as well. Fed up, I just told them I would deadhead home.

My dispatcher did manage to sweet talk me into first dropping an empty trailer near St Louis at the FedEx facility before retracing my steps, grabbing a new trailer then heading home.

Life of the trucker.

Monday, October 19, 2009


So I was preplanned for a load out of Indiana to Russellville, Arkansas yesterday and now that I'm running that load I'm preplanned on a load from Fayetteville, Arkansas to a town near St. Louis.

I'm set for home time this Thursday so I'm going to bet that my next preplan will be to head to Macon, Missouri for a load heading to ConAgra in Council Bluffs, Iowa, then a load from there to AmeriCold in Carthage, Missouri.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lazy weekend trip

The load really was just 20,000 pounds of various products bound for Sam's Club. There happened to be one of our newest trailers already stationed and being loaded when I arrived. I dropped my empty, hooked up to the new one then waited a few hours while they finished up. Whatever, I'll wait a bit for a light load.

Since the load isn't due in northern Indiana until Monday morning I have a lazy driving weekend in front of me. Thus, it probably comes as no surprise to regular readers that the dreaded Lazies were out in force and I only got as far as Newton, Iowa yesterday. When I stopped in to get some Chester's chicken then parked and fired up the laptop I found there was high speed access. My will exhausted, the truck wasn't turned on until this morning.

The drive out to Indiana was painless and I stopped tonight at a rest area about twenty miles from my drop.

A new preplan has me running across the state to Lafayette for a load heading to Russellville, Arkansas after I get through with this current one.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A day late, a dollar short

Since the local Bud distributor in Omaha stops receiving at noon on weekdays and I wouldn't arrive until a few hours later, I tried to t-call the load in the yard and get something else to run. No dice, have to deliver it myself.

I did get my truck into the local Volvo dealer to get my clutch adjusted, though. The clutch itself is fine but for some reason the clutch brake keeps fading away every 40-50,000 miles until it is a real pain to get it into gear. Apparently, the fix is simple since it was done in about fifteen minutes, and I'm sure once I get the bill it will be at least a hundred bucks. Sometimes I wish I had a mechanical bone in my body.

I also managed to attend a safety meeting at HQ which is a requirement for our safety bonus each quarter (there are other ways to qualify but for me this is the easiest one).

Overnighted at the Bud place and was unloaded early this morning. The new plan has me heading south to Nebraska City, Nebraska to pick up some meat heading to a Walmart DC in Indiana. Interestingly, its only 20,000 pounds or so which is unusually light for a meat load.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Pull around to inspection bay #1 please"

The above is one of the last things a truck driver wants to hear when crossing a scale, and that is what I got yesterday morning.

I had just started my driving day at the Arizona / New Mexico border and the scale was a few miles further on along I-40. I wheeled my truck around back to bay #1 and was waved in. This is one of those with an open trench down the middle for the inspectors to use to check your brakes without having to work hard.

CDL. Medical Card. Truck registration. Truck insurance. Trailer registration. Bill of Lading. All of these were provided and when he got to looking at my log book I mentioned I logged electronically and if he wanted I could print him out a copy to peruse. "Oh no, you electronic logger guys are fine." I smiled -- on the inside of course.

Thirty minutes of my day wasted I finally got the green and scooted out of there.

The rest of the trip up to the Denver area was routine and this morning I made my stops in Parker and Castle Rock. Today's preplan had me heading up to Fort Collins for a load of Budweiser heading to Omaha after adding a bit of fuel in Denver. Everything was going swimmingly until I arrived at Fort Collins only to be told that they were backed up and my 1000 load time was going to be delayed. Grrrreat.

It took them until 1645 to get the trailer loaded and another 30 minutes to move it out of the door so I could hook up to it. By then, my hours weren't sufficient to make it to Omaha on time for tomorrow's delivery so I sent in the proper codes via satellite and stopped for the night in Big Springs, Nebraska.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Slow turnaround in Phoenix

I delivered at the PetSmart DC in Phoenix early Monday afternoon and eventually the bad news percolated up from the satellite unit: the load out of there up to Denver wouldn't be ready until Tuesday afternoon. Not enough time to take a 34 to reset my logbook.

I got caught up on the shows I follow via Hulu: Heroes, Fringe, Daily Show, Colbert Report and that freaking Hell's Kitchen show my brother hooked me on.

The truck was a bit low on fuel so I bobtailed over to the local Pilot and filled up. I then parked to go inside and get a shower when I realized they had a lot of bobtail parking on the south side of the building that I'd never noticed in all the other times I'd fueled there. Since I was in a full-size slot in back I moved my truck over to make room for someone with a trailer.

Afternoon rolls around today and the load isn't ready for a while but finally I get the word that it is done and the paperwork ready. It is just after 1500 local time so I boogie out of town via the 101 over to I-17 and make pretty good time. The rest area just inside New Mexico had a single spot available when I arrived near midnight and I took it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

An amazing air mass

When I awoke yesterday morning in York, Nebraska my truck was covered in snow. The ground showed a few inches as well, and the plows and sanding trucks had been at it for a while already, given the state of the roads.

The local Walmart was convenient so I loaded up on some supplies and shot some pics:

Within an hour I had reached Aurora and swapped my empty van for a full one. The scale at the shipper was broken (again -- thanks Werner drivers!) so I had to head back to the interstate and scale out at a Loves. Payload was over 43,000 but it is in a van so even with mostly-full tanks I was only at 77,000 gross.

I noticed that the outside air temperature hadn't budged since I started rolling, staying within a narrow band of 28-30 degrees. The sky was overcast and there was a constant drizzle of rain that turned to ice once it made contact with the cold exterior of my truck:

The drive south made me a bit nervous with a thin layer of ice along the roads in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It never stopped drizzling the entire way to Dalhart, Texas where I spent the night and the temperature never rose above 30 or dipped below 28. Considering this was about 400 miles of southerly movement and another hundred or so to the west, this was one huge air mass.

When I awoke this morning the temps were the same, it was still overcast and drizzling and the exterior of my truck had a pretty good accumulation of ice. I knocked as much of it off as I could reach and hit the road.

The mercury didn't rise above 30 degrees until I was a few minutes away from Tucumcari, New Mexico! Less than an hour later I was surprised by a huge sheet of 1/3" thick ice that covered the entire top of my truck's superstructure came crashing down, shattering into huge chunks and making a loud bang on my windshield.

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I stopped in Winslow, Arizona to use the facilities and didn't have enough gumption to get rolling again.

The (E)mail Bag #1

This is the first of a semi-regular series of posts responding to reader email pertaining to this site. If you would like to email the author follow this link for instructions.

Most of the first batch of emails offer thanks for keeping up with the blog and posting all of the information the way I do. The most common question has been some variation of:

Why do you produce this blog?

To quote the first post I made on this blog:
I began this series of sites to give people from outside the industry an idea of what it is like for me, moving cargo around the United States day-to-day in a big rig. I don't claim any special knowledge or ability in trucking. You should also know that this site is not sponsored by or beholden to anyone but myself and the views expressed on these pages are entirely my own, whether you agree with them or not. It is also not a recruiting tool or come-on, though I suppose if you were persistent enough you could find out my truck number or driver code and arrange for me to get a recruiting "spiff" if you were so inclined to start driving for this company.

I post much of my financial data to show prospective lease operators one way a truck can be run. Also, when I began my research into trucking four years ago there really wasn't much hard data to go off of, and nowhere near as many blogs and bloggers as there are now.

Why don't you promote your name or truck number more aggressively as a recruiting tool?

As I mention in the quote above (and the tag line at the bottom of each page: "This blog is not authorized or endorsed by anyone, save the author.") the views expressed here are my own and no one exerts editorial control over this content but myself. Some of the operations, safety and recruiting folks at Hill Bros are aware of the blog, as are several of the owners.

Before I came to Hill Bros I made the recruiters well aware of my intentions and showed them my previous blog and I specifically got the head of recruiting to pass the idea of a daily(ish) blog past the owners to see if there would be any heartburn. So far, so good.

I like to think I lavish equal attention on the positives and negatives of trucking as I see them. When operations is on its came and I'm preplanned nicely, I mention it. When a dingleberry gets out of line (from my perspective) I mention that too.

Many trucking companies offer incentives for drivers to spread the word to fellow drivers to get them to sign on. I had some sign on to CFI when I worked there and I've had some sign on to Hill Bros in the time I've been here. However, my goal writing this blog is to inform more than it is to recruit and that is why I play down that angle even though it costs me money I may have made if I splashed my name and truck number on every page. Yes, I'm aware of several drivers who I could have been paid a recruiting bonus for but was not.

In a few months there will be some changes to the look and feel of this blog and there will be a more obvious route to determine who I am should you feel inclined to credit me if you start up with Hill Bros. Until then, just tell the recruiters that you talk to that they are a bunch of Ninjas and Jim in truck 8836 says so and all will be well. :)

Where did the stock portfolio updates go?

I started that on a lark but got bored with it, and the blog is already number heavy. I'm pleased to report quite significant gains across the board and more than a third of my down payment on my new house came just from gains in my portfolio.

Why don't you post data on your health care costs, self-employment taxes, accounting fees, etc? This would give drivers a more complete picture of the actual net you're making -- otherwise a driver could surmise that your net pay are the numbers you post.

My health care and tax situation is likely not the same as anyone else who reads this journal. I did mention in my first quarterly recap that my weekly "nut" comes to $800, which includes all my escrows. I could have been a bit more specific and noted that this includes my truck payment, APU payment, APU maintenance, accounting fee, various insurance payments, 2290 fee and license fee.

That's all for this first (E)mail bag. If you have questions of your own you can send them to me by following the instructions here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dream weekend with a nightmare twist

The drop and hook in Shelby went as planned, though the clerks at Menards didn't understand why our people needed copies of 31 pages of documents for this load. I shrugged and they dutifully sent them through the copier and away I went with the copies and an empty van trailer.

Before I had arrived my satellite unit beeped to tell me that I had yet another preplan -- pick up a preloaded trailer from Aurora, Nebraska and take it down to Phoenix, Arizona to deliver any time Monday. Yes! A solid weekend trip to keep me busy (and to take my miles this week to 3,100 with a couple days left to run even). Nothing can possibly stop me now!

Of course, the weather might have a say in all of that. I was surprised to find a snow forecast for the Omaha area overnight but the temps barely below freezing. Nothing much to worry over, I'm sure...

Meanwhile, my hours ran out about 30 miles east of Aurora at the rest area near York, Nebraska where I am hunkered down tonight. Its c-c-c-cold out and the bunk heater is humming away, making a new feline friend.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I forgot to mention that yesterday I received a second preplan after the first. Once I unloaded in Columbus, Ohio this morning I drove across town and reloaded for Shelby, Iowa. The city streets were very narrow and I was a bit distressed to see a "Trucks must back in from the street" sign at the shipper but it turned out the product I was there for used a separate but tight dock around the rear of the plant.

For some reason this particular shipment involves a master BOL (Bill of Lading) and no fewer than twenty-nine (29!) sub bills. My instructions require me to get a signed copy of every single one so my next trip pack is going to be the size of War and Peace. Even better, I had to write "Hill Bros" and sign my name on every single one. People wonder why my signature looks like a squiggly line.

At least the load is light, in the neighborhood of 25,000 pounds. Leaving the city streets of Columbus was a bit of a challenge but a bunch of kids in a school bus I pulled up next to while I was preparing to make a left turn had a fun time waving at the cat.

I made it to Oakwood, Illinois for the night and I'll drop and hook at Shelby tomorrow afternoon. It is only about 35 miles from there to our HQ so I'll probably get ordered there afterwards, or perhaps to Council Bluffs for a ConAgra load.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Laziest. Driver. Ever... Again.

It took several hours for the planners at HQ to get me a new load, but I was too far away to pick up and deliver it on time so that got taken off me. Another hour or so and I was told to head up to Indianapolis to scale my truck and empty reefer, then call a certain number for my next load.

Now, the only reason a shipper would ever ask for this is when they are expecting to load you to capacity. In this case, the folks who ship the prepackaged soups for Panera stores wanted every last drop they could fit aboard, and when I left my truck weighed in at 79,600 lbs. On a side note, my dispatcher asked how much my truck and trailer weighed before I went in to scale and I estimated 35,000. The actual weight was 35,200 so I was fairly close.

I was dispatched around noon and loaded right at 1700 so Indy was all atizzy with the evening rush. The delivery time is tomorrow at 1100 so yeah, mister lazy driver packed it in at the local Pilot and saved the trip for tomorrow to finish.

The LONG road out to Indiana

My new dispatcher finally beeped me with a trip late in the morning. A nice 170 mile deadhead back up to Kansas City to our yard then east about 500 miles for two drops ending in Bloomington, Indiana.

I take pains to avoid rush hours near big cities like KC so I left immediately with the hope of being on the eastbound I-70 before 1500. I made it to the yard around 1430 and was in the process of swapping my empty trailer for the loaded one when a shout from the front of my truck got my attention.

It turns out a lady driver for ProFleet, a Hill Bros subsidiary, that I've been corresponding with for a short time happened to be there and saw my truck roll in.

As I was finishing up unhooking from my empty I basked in a wealth of compliments, from how young I looked to how sleek and slim I appeared, my brilliant green eyes... and lovely white fur.

"Now wait a damn minute!" I was about to protest. My eyes are blue after all. I look up only to find she was showering compliments on the cat. Ah well.

We had a good chat for twenty minutes or so but my traffic Spidey Sense was tickling real bad so I had to complete the swap and get rolling. Snowie sure looked pleased with herself though.

I managed to beat most of the traffic out of KC and by the time I rumbled through St Louis it was rolling just fine. Late, late in the night I finished my first delivery and ended in Bloomington, Indiana waiting on the second.

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Wow Joe -- how 'bout them tigers eh?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Back in the saddle... again

Four days off. Perfect weather and mild temperatures. Barely any rain or wind.

Of course, this morning it is thunderstorms up the wazoo, raining like it is going for a record and the cat isn't being cooperative.

I called in last night to see if there was a preplanned trip waiting for me but no such luck. I'm here in the truck waiting for the planners to get me something while putting away clothes, supplies and a recalcitrant feline.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Four, count 'em, FOUR days off

You may recall my last time through the house was almost exactly 34 hours, just long enough to reset my logbook. Not, unfortunately, much of a break from the routine.

This time I'm off until Tuesday morning with the whole big enchilada of a weekend staring me in the face. Aside from a few matters at the house I plan on just relaxing, eating good food, playing some games and maybe watching a movie or two.

As far as my trips went, I was up yesterday at 0100 to finish out the run to Omaha and once I got that out of the way I grabbed a shower and headed to the company yard. A preplan came through with a trip leaving any time yesterday or today and delivering today by 1700 in Carthage, Missouri then off for home. I spent the night in Omaha then did it all in one long stretch of driving this morning and afternoon.

This is my 895th post between this blog and my previous one (linked in the sidebar). I may just hit 1,000 by year's end.