Monday, November 30, 2009

The Alternative

There wasn't another preplan ready for me by the time I got back to the truck this morning which was a little worrisome. Within a few hours I was swapping my empty reefer trailer for an empty van that another driver brought by and on my way up to Kansas City for a Sam's Club load heading to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Along the way I was told to grab an empty reefer from the dock at Sam's Club then take it up to the Cargill plant in Schuyler, Nebraska and exchange that for a loaded trailer heading to Dallas and Houston for delivery three day's hence.

"Do I have a kick me -- Texas sign on my back?" I sent in.

We were short of trucks tonight and needed someone to step up to pick up the load to keep the Cargill folks happy. Why they would care precisely when a trailer leaves their lot so long as it reaches its destination on time is beyond my ken.

Anyway, my parade was rained on when I arrived in Lincoln as there was only one other van trailer on the dock. I phoned in to night dispatch who even told me the trailer number of the reefer that should have been there, but I eventually convinced them it was just me and two empty vans. The trip up to Schuyler was bobtail.

I check in at the Cargill guard shack only to find that this load they are so worried about us taking off of their hands hasn't even been loaded yet. That was way beyond my ken and I took off to the truck stop down the street where I will stay until early tomorrow morning to pick up the load.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Six days off and a turn down

Wow that was a nice little vacation. Batteries are recharged and I'm ready to begin again.

Only, not with the preplan that was passed by me on Saturday. It would have had me wait around until 1500 on Monday to get live loaded in Carthage, MO then run all night to make an 0600 delivery in Lufkin, Texas on Tuesday. Ah hell no, in other words.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

(E)mail bag #2

What kind of truck do you drive?

I drive a white 2007 Volvo 780 tractor with a 2006 Volvo D12 engine and a 13-speed manual transmission. The truck was built in October of 2006 and sat at a dealer lot until June of 2008 when I started driving it. It started with 1,337 miles on the odometer and as of this writing has just over 210,000.

The things I love about my Volvo include its very tight turning radius, huge and well-organized interior (the lower berth converts into a table with two seats like an RV), the largest refrigerator of any non-custom truck and a very, very fuel efficient engine and aerodynamic combination which gives me great fuel economy.

How do you calculate fuel economy?

The only way to truly determine fuel economy is to take the actual fuel expense (what you pay at the pump) and divide it by the miles driven. Since there is always some amount left in the tanks from week-to-week, you need to do this over time, such as a month or a quarter.

Since I am paid the fuel surcharge amount determined by the Department of Energy each week for every mile I'm dispatched, I also include that in the calculation:

(Fuel expense - FSC) / Miles driven = Adjusted fuel cost

Purists could note that I lump together my company discount at the pump into the fuel expense, and they would be correct. Its just that I'm too lazy to break it out and it doesn't effect my end cost as calculated.

How can you stand driving at 60 MPH?

It was real easy for me once I did the numbers and decided how I would make money in this profession.

The only large variable expenses you have as an owner-operator are your pay and the money you spend on fuel. In order to maximize my pay, I have to reduce my fuel expense. Think of it like a teeter-totter: the more you pay for fuel, the less you pay yourself and vice versa.

One of the checks I make of my progress is to determine what my CPM pay is. As a company driver, I think it is reasonable to expect somewhere in the low 40's per mile with the right company and experience. Since I take on additional risk and work as an independent, my goal is to consistently achieve over 50 CPM net pay after all truck expenses (excluding my personal taxes and the costs of vacation time, health care and the like that company drivers enjoy). With 133,303 paid miles in my first year my net was $67,740, which is a 50.8 CPM.

I achieved this with an adjusted fuel expense of 11.73 CPM. If my fuel expense was just 20 CPM (which is a truck getting 6 MPG with zero out-of-route miles and zero idle time), my net pay would be merely 42 CPM, or what I could expect to make with much less exposure as a company driver.

That's why I drive 60.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sleeping with da fishes

After spending a restful night ghetto parked in an odd spot in Rochelle I took my load in to one of the three Sara Lee places we deliver at in town. You know, the one on the bills.

Naturally, they weren't having any of that and sent me and another HB driver down the street to location #2. There, the guard says we can't drop those trailers on his lot without the people at location #1 signing off on our paperwork first. We both pull a u-turn in their lot and head back up the street to the first place.

Nope, minimum-wage security guard is wrong and we can damn well drop the trailer over there comes the answer from the helpful clerk at location #1. They have someone phone over to the guard and straighten him out and by the time we have returned to location #2 and wait through a long line of trucks we're given clearance to drop in their yard.

There aren't any empties so I cruise over to location #3 and snag the only one there (sorry, fellow HB driver!) then wait a few hours for my next assignment.

I'm told to take my empty reefer down to the PetSmart DC in Ottawa, Illinois and swap it for a trailer full of live fish heading to distributors in Memphis, Tennessee and Little Rock, Arkansas. The schedule is tight and I have to arrive in Memphis in time to take my 10-hour break, unload at 0500 then be in Little Rock by 0900. I really wanted to take a shower along the way but I didn't have enough time and though there are not one but two Pilot truck stops within a mile of my first stop I dare not stop there (the ones in Memphis are a very bad place to park).

Right at 0500 the first receiver is ready to go and by 0530 I'm rolling to Little Rock. By 0930 the last of the fishies are off and that load is in the books.

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There are many things I like about the way Hill Bros operates. I like the number of pre-plans that show up, for instance. I like the accuracy with which they send me home when I ask: I tell my dispatcher a week or two in advance when I want to be home and almost without fail I'm there that day or the day after.

One thing I do not like about the operation here is how they get owner-ops home. Here, they do not pay mileage from the last drop you make to the house so where you are stranded dispatched last makes a big difference. Much of last year my last load would leave me in Carthage, Missouri, roughly 50 miles from the house and I felt this was reasonable.

The last three times I've come home I have had to deadhead (on my own dime) 175 - 210 miles. Since it costs me about 75 cents per mile to operate my truck this translates into more than $400 out of my pocket to come home three times. I was told last year in orientation that they would strive to get owners to within 100 miles of the house before sending them home. My repeated complaints by phone and satellite unit to my dispatcher haven't resulted in a resolution to this issue and I suppose I will have to take it up with Ross, head of operations when I get back to Omaha next.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sara Lee to Illy

Late yesterday morning the weekend dispatch crew told me to head a couple miles east in Omaha to a bakery to pick up a load heading to Rochelle, Illinois for Sara Lee.

Having been to this facility once before, I innocently asked if they wanted me to bobtail over or if I needed to bring a trailer. The docks are fairly difficult to back into (you have to block the street in front for several minutes to get the truck oriented properly) and I was relieved to hear that they had enough trailers over there already and I could bobtail.

HB had four loads of goodies heading to Rochelle, all identical. The order number that I was given happened to be the last one on the list for the plant, and I was told they were taking product straight from the production line for each trailer. Not having anything better to do I made lunch, watched some videos and took a snooze.

Around 1400 the shipping clerk came out and knocked on my door. "The driver for this load hasn't shown up yet so back under trailer ##### and you can take it." Sweet!

The load was just over 25,000 pounds so no need to scale and I was shortly on my way fighting a brutal headwind from the East. About seven hours later I arrived at our fueling stop in Rochelle to spend the night, since our receiver doesn't take trailers early on Sundays but will this morning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On Tandems

I got running around 0700 this morning, heading north to Fort Collins. At the guard shack I parked my truck (after scaling) next to a CFI truck and opened up the rear to show them it was nice and clean. The guard then asked if I could help the CFI driver with her tandems since they were old and rusty. Sure, no problemo.

I grabbed my new STA-RAT bar thinking this would be a great time to test it out for the first time, forgetting that almost every CFI trailer uses a vertical tandem bar that it can't help with. Ah well. A small dint of effort (and my right forearm banged up against the underside of the trailer -- I had forgotten how fun that was at CFI) and the tandems decided I was the boss and did their part.

After chatting with the lady driver for a few minutes I left to drop my empty and pick up the loaded trailer. Since the trailer number was 7118, I knew it would be old and crusty as well, as our oldest trailers begin with "71". This gave me the opportunity I had been looking for to try out the STA-RAT bar and it worked as advertised. Yay team.

There was quite a bit of room in the rear of the trailer so my first concern was it was loaded too heavily at the nose end and I might have to have them rework it. I slid the tandems all the way up to try to get as much weight to the rear as I could then blocked off the load with a couple of my load bars.

Damn I'm good and damn I'm lucky, as the 44,500 pound load put my drives at 34,060 with the tandems all the way forward.

I only made one stop between there and Omaha, and that was in Big Springs, Nebraska where I had another steak at the Sam Bass Saloon located next to the Bossleman Pilot there. Mmmm mmm good.

Since this load doesn't deliver until Monday morning I've t-called it here in the yard. I'm going to chat up the morning planner tomorrow to see if I can get an out-and-back load or loads tomorrow so I can deliver it and get my new (brand new) load locks back.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"That's like choosing between Hep C and Syphilis, dude!"

The word this morning from On High was that I would be grabbing a load of spuds from Colorado and taking it to San Antonio, Texas for a Monday morning delivery. Three full days for 900ish miles with a set appointment at a grocery warehouse.

My helpful dispatcher messaged me: "Would you like to run it all the way or t-call it in Dallas?"

I shot back: "That's like choosing between Hep C and Syphilis, dude!"

The load was given to some other lucky customer and I was asked to take the empty reefer I picked up last night at FedEx over to nearby Fort Morgan, Colorado and drop it there at a Cargill meatpacking plant then bobtail back to FedEx and grab another empty.

A new plan popped up. This one had me picking up a loaded trailer from the Bud plant in Fort Collins, Colorado on Sunday morning and delivering it in Council Bluffs, Iowa first thing Monday morning. Since this is Friday and I wasn't really feeling like waiting for the entire weekend for this load I put in a call to Alex, my dispatcher.

It turns out this load is ready to go early and if I can't make it there by the time they stop receiving tomorrow I can just drop it in our yard in Omaha and a local driver will take it over first thing Monday morning. That sounds much better.

Another FedEx run

I cracked an eyelid after 1100 yesterday morning, having slept late because of the hour I got in on that Emporia load. On the plus side, I found a small gas/diesel stop a couple blocks from the Tyson plant that I've driven by at least a dozen times without realizing they had truck parking there and it was a lot quieter than the Flying J at the other end of town.

Today's orders are to head over to Wichita and pick up a load leaving at 1500 bound for Henderson, Colorado by 0100 tomorrow morning. Its right at 600 miles for the day which is a solid bit of driving.

Only FedEx has its own ideas about what 1500 means. In their playbook they start loading a trailer around then and I actually leave an hour later, at 1600. This puts me an hour behind which is all time cushion anyway, but I would have at least liked to be able to taken a longer break to eat, get a power nap or the like. Not like they care about my creature comforts.

The drive was boring and profitable. I cruised down the long stretches of highway at 60 MPH and made the mistake of believing our dispatch when they told me Colby, Kansas was the cheapest fuel I would get along my route. It was eight cents a gallon cheaper in Denver and I definitely would have driven a couple miles extra to save that kind of money. Ah well.

I arrived and swapped trailers in Henderson by about 0030 local time then hit the sack along a fairly quiet street in front of FedEx.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Team drivers?

Hill Brothers is about 95-98% solo drivers. When I was in Omaha a few days ago I did notice they were hiring teams for some new semi-dedicated FedEx runs between Salt Lake City and Chicago. Semi-dedicated meaning the teams would run that route a few times a week with other loads from either end of that route to keep them moving.

If you and your team driver have hazmat and a couple year's experience you might want to give Erin in recruiting a jingle at 800-258-4456 for more information.

Midnight versus 2 AM

Since I knew that yesterday I would have to run all the way to Emporia, I left Denver and headed up the highway an hour or so to a rest area at Wiggins, Colorado. This gave me fewer miles to drive for my Kansas load.

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I've run this trip before. We regularly take meat from a Tyson plant in Lexington, Nebraska and shuttle it down to Emporia, Kansas to yet another Tyson plant. The problem usually comes on the shipping end where they don't have the load ready until mid evening and still expect you to deliver by 0230 in Emporia.

For some reason I was sleepy after a couple hours of driving and stopped in Big Springs, Nebraska to take a power nap. Then, for some inexplicable reason I spent the next couple hours watching video and basically being lazy and that bit me in the butt.

DING! Goes the satellite unit: "Your load is ready now on trailer 579124."

FUDGE! I was still two hours away and it was about 1615 so by the time I get there, get checked in and swap trailers I will be leaving the shipper around 1900, putting me in Emporia around 0200. If I had just kept going after my power nap I would have arrived when the load was ready and would have arrived in Emporia at midnight.

Fuming at my own laziness I drove to Lexington, swapped trailers then headed to Wood River, Nebraska to top off the reefer. Driving non-stop from then took me right to 0200 when I dropped off the trailer in Emporia.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The late-late show

Ah, the evening routine. It was last night around 8 PM and I was relaxing in my truck, basking in the warmth of my bunk heater and taking care of some chores. The cat was snoozing away (in her castoff cardboard box bottom scavenged from a case of bottled water; her $30 fuzzy cat bed lays unused now), the dirty clothes neatly bagged up, the floor vacuumed.

I had just polished off a nice salad and was in the process of getting ready for bed.

BEEP! I wish I could turn that satellite unit off sometimes.

"Can you run to Ames, Iowa and bring back a load tonight?" This was shortly followed up by a phone call from one of the night dispatchers, my old fleet dispatcher Ross. We went back and forth over the details and I eventually acquiesced.

As I got dressed my log nagged at the back of my head then I remembered. I arrived yesterday morning with only 2.25 hours left in my book and I picked up nothing today. At midnight I would get 7.5 hours back to run with but this would mean this little side trip would scotch my 34-hour restart and force me to sit all tomorrow after I delivered the load. This would be a cluster of the first order so I walked over to dispatch and braced the monster in his lair.

So, late this morning I was put on a FedEx relay from our yard in Omaha to Henderson, Colorado. It was a nice 525-mile run due in tonight and I had a couple hours to spare. One of those hours was burned up waiting for a small trailer repair then I was hooked up and on my way.

The fuel plan for the trip had me filling the tanks at our yard at $2.56 a gallon. Since I get a daily preview of the next day's fuel prices I knew (from yesterday's report) that fuel in Denver was six cents cheaper but at midnight local time it would rise by about six cents. Therefore, after I finished the FedEx festivities I dropped down into Denver and filled my tanks. I also swapped out my locking fuel caps for the regular kind as winter is upon us and enough ice and other gunk makes its way inside the locks to be quite a pain.

Along the way to Henderson I was preplanned with a long deadhead out to Lexington, Nebraska for tomorrow to deliver a load late tomorrow night to Emporia, Kansas.

Monday, November 16, 2009


After Rochelle I was given a preplan to run from Monee, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska. The timing was just about perfect to use up the rest of my 70 hour clock and will allow me a 34-hour reset in Omaha as an added bonus.

The pickup in Monee was a complete pain in the rear. Imagine a stack of fifty or seventy Bills of Lading and a booklet of preprinted labels you need to peel off and attach to each and every page. Bleh.

At least the load was light. On the way west to Omaha my MPG rose from 8.0 where it was when I arrived in Monee up to 8.2, then 8.3, then back to 8.2, then back up to 8.3. Something for a driver to watch as he goes down the road, I guess.

Anyway, by the time I arrived in Omaha and dropped off my trailer this is what it looked like:

8.4 MPG, yay.

Today I've been taking care of some maintenance items, including:

New coolant filter
Two new cab air filters
A leaky seal in my air pressure system
A full PM for the truck

I also replaced the original left steer tire, which gave me 207,700 miles of service during its time on my truck. I calculate this tire traveled 1.095 BILLION feet in the past 17 months, without complaint. My four drive tires continue to impress with between 7/32 and 10/32nds of an inch tread remaining and should all surpass the distance from the Earth to the moon (approximately 250,000 miles) before they are replaced. Think about that for a moment.

In addition, the tire guys did a 3-axle alignment and corrected a couple minor issues there.

To top everything else off, I got new blank comchecks, seals, got my logs up to date and finally purchased a pin puller called a STA-RAT that helps with balky tandems.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No, I really have trailer 579107 in my mirror

So I get to the Pilot in East St Louis, Illinois this morning and swap (heavily) loaded trailers with my trucking counterpart. We exchange paperwork and make some small talk then head off to the scales then back to the open road.

As part of this process we also use our satellite units to indicate we've made a switch and we each enter information from the paperwork so the system knows we've got the right paperwork for the right trailer. Only, my dispatcher is sure I have trailer 589860 on board and a simple glance at either of my side mirrors confirms that I have trailer 579107 in tow behind me. Paradox, again.

I send off a message telling him I'm sure that is the trailer behind me and go about my business. Four hours later I arrive in Rochelle, Illinois where I drop said trailer at the consignee and by this time my dispatcher has gone home. Soon after I punch in the proper codes into the system the weekend dispatcher sends a message asking what happened to trailer 589860.

I almost didn't respond but eventually I typed out another message and even phoned in to make sure they were reading it left-to-right instead of the reverse. My simple question: "Is there no way to ask the system what truck currently has trailer 589860 hooked up to it?"


My lord.

Then I'm told that the system says there are three trailers at this consignee that have been there for a week without any further updates. Having just left said consignee bobtail because there are no empty trailers I think our trailer tracking system is full of poo poo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Free at last, free at last...

Thank God almighty, I'm free of this Pilgrim's Pride load at last!

To finish up I had to depart Washington Court House, Ohio at 0400 which was kind of a bitch. I wanted to get through Dayton, Ohio before traffic got bad but I was a bit tired and sleepy afterward so I pulled in to a rest area and took a thirty minute power nap. A few hours later I was in Novi, Michigan offloading 10 tons of chicken products for the Little Caesar's pizza people.

A few hours and 100ish miles later I was in downtown Lake Odessa, Michigan trying and failing to find the right tiny side street to take for my next load. It sucks when the address of a place doesn't put you on a street that actually goes to that address and it took someone explaining to me exactly how to get there before I found it.

Two more hours and 22 tons of frozen veggies later, I'm back on the road. In the meantime my load has been shortened to a swap with another driver in East St Louis, Illinois tomorrow so he can take it the rest of the way to Oklahoma then go home for some time off. His load is headed up to Rochelle, Illinois and I should just be able to get it there before my hours run out.

Tonight I'm holed up at a Flying J in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Take these wing ding things... please

Up bright and early and on the road after a brief chat with the driver who parked next to me. He told me he was coming west last night and was stopped for three solid hours around mile marker 150 while the police were in clearing a very nasty multiple fatality wreck out of the way. By the time I got to mile marker 151 this morning they were still in the process of cleaning everything up, including the trailer of a semi that looked like an accordion.

Our people and the Walmart people weren't able to come to an agreement as to when I should show up with the load until late in the day, but eventually I got a satellite message that I'd be worked in so long as I got there by 1900 local time. At that point I was 130 miles out with about 2.5 hours remaining, but Cincinnati, Ohio yet to go, and it would mean running through there at rush hour. Or, as it turns out, crawling through there.

I did the best I could, even hitting 65 and 70 along the way where possible. Still, by the time the last traffic jam faded behind me in the suburbs I was 45 miles out and only had 35 minutes or so until 1900. I rolled up to the guard shack at Walmart at 1905 and hustled the paperwork inside.

Despite the assurance of a late work in via satellite I was told in no uncertain terms the load would have to get another appointment made. I took down the name and phone number of the boss person there and texted it to HQ while I parked nearby. About 30 minutes later I was called by one of our CSRs and she's on a conference call with whoever needed to be massaged ever so gently. Shortly thereafter I was told to boogie back to Walmart and there would be a message left at the gate in my favor.

A few hours later I'm beat and back on the street, minus six pallets of "wing dings." I kid you not.

Tomorrow is shaping up to be another humdinger with another late delivery to finish this load up in Michigan and a new preplan heading to Oklahoma.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


This morning our people got together with their people and did... well, whatever those people do with each other. Lets just say it isn't pretty.

Anyway, I was eventually offered a few choices. The first choice was to stay put and continue with this load, though the rest might not be loaded until 2300 hours or later. The second choice was a short 250ish mile run in the Texas area. The third choice was one of those live load runs from Irving, Texas to Springfield, Missouri that loaded at 1500.

After careful thought I decided to stay put on the current load. I thought it likely I could get worked in before 2300 and the other loads would require me to first drag my partially-loaded trailer to the far side of Dallas to our yard, then find an empty, then go run one of the other loads. Sounded like a lot less work my way, was the thinking.

Before I could even get on the "work in" list I had to pony up a $60 extortion "work in fee." Funny how another company screws up and I get to hold the bag for a while to get it fixed.

By late morning I was backed into a door and after about an hour's wait the six (yes, six) pallets that this load was missing were hoisted aboard and I got a call to come to the office for the paperwork. Right at high noon I departed, heading east towards Little Rock, Arkansas. Aside from a couple quick stops to take the Browns to the Superbowl and drop off some trip packs I didn't stop driving until I got to Tennessee.

My first attempt to find a place to park was at the oddly-designed Pilot at exit 47. There were a set of three parking spaces, all blind backs that I considered briefly then discarded. I know I could make it into one of them just fine but the problem would come in a few hours when two other tired drivers would attempt the same feat only with less space and a better chance of my truck being hit.

I continued down the road, missing an opportunity to park at a Huddle House at exit 56 (I didn't see if the lot had any free space until I was past the turnoff). My next chance would be around mile marker 73, so I thought, at the first rest area but suddenly a sign for a T/A truck stop popped up at an exit marked "Providence Road."

Feeling providential, I took the exit and moved slowly into the parking area and saw three parking spots open along the back row. BAM! Now there are just two left.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

... and then the wheel came off, literally and figuratively

Early on, I knew today would be a bad day.

On my way from Big Cabin, Oklahoma to Garland, Texas to drop off the trailer I picked up yesterday I was passed by a pickup truck towing a trailer with some construction items piled on top (trusses, two by fours, sheet rock, etc.). A few miles up the road I see that same pickup pulled over to the side of the road so I do the safe thing and pull into the left lane to give them ample room and I go about my business.

A while later, the same pickup passes me again but this time it is swerving slightly from side to side and it seems like the driver is having difficulty keeping it on the straight and narrow. Pickup pulls to the side of the road again, I go around again.

A short time later I'm passed again and the pickup is having a hard time of it and I'm getting worried they are going off of the road or they will ram me or another vehicle. Suddenly, the pickup swerves to the right shoulder and the driver slams on the brakes just as the right rear tire departs for the greener grass on the far side of the shoulder and the rear of the truck droops down to the right, ending in a shower of sparks. Three or four people pour out of the truck as I go by again and this time it is for good.

The thought went through my mind right after this that I hope my day today won't come apart like this. Then my satellite unit beeped and I received a preplan.

Now, I thought when I left the house yesterday I was heading down to our Dallas yard to drop off one trailer then pick up a different one and take it to Springfield, after which I would be grabbing a load from Buske to take up to Omaha on Wednesday. This preplan has me doing a live load in Irving, Texas then driving the whopping 420ish miles up to Springfield and sitting on it for a day, then unloading at a local food warehouse the morning of the 12th. Oh. Hell. No.

I write one of my usual witty sonnets to the dispatcher explaining my position and shortly thereafter I'm told the preplan is banished to the netherworld. Score one for me.

Then my phone rings and it is a friend who tells me that one of my ex-girlfriends has been in a big scrape and could use some money sent to her via ComCheck. For those of you not in the industry, ComChecks are typically used to pay for things like lumpers, washouts and other miscellaneous items on the road that are reimbursed to a driver. Some drivers also take some or all of their pay in this form while on the road, though I myself never have.

For good reason, as it turns out. In order to get a couple hundred bucks shorn from my next paycheck and advanced to me via ComCheck took my dispatcher going to his boss, the head of operations, and the lady in charge of the owner-operator and lease-purchase program at Hill Bros. I almost felt dirty, like being required to prove I had money to be seated at a restaurant. We're in tough times, I'm sure, but c'mon I've been here for more than 18 months and I have a fairly good track record of making money. How humiliating.

My dispatcher finally got the go-ahead on the ComCheck and I sent a SMS message to my ex (another first) with the details. That sorted out, I arrive at our Dallas yard and drop my trailer only to find out the only reefer we have at the yard has a red tag on the air hose connectors saying not to use it because it has been sold to another company. Being in a rush at that point, I had naturally hooked up to it and had the gear up, so I got to winch it back down and disconnect. Bad driver.

Sent in a message asking for guidance and waited. This new trip they offered after the first aborted preplan has me picking up in Pittsburg, Texas at 1630 and also picking up in Fort Worth, Texas at 1630. Clearly paradoxical. My dispatcher is on top of the game and tells me to go ahead and take that red-tagged trailer and the folks in Fort Worth will load me when I get there sometime in the early evening hours.

Wonderful, I don't have to traipse across the hell of the Metroplex to find a trailer and I can make my own hours. Better yet, my fuel stop is along the way and the fuel there is just $2.48 a gallon for us today, compared to a nationwide average of $2.80 or so this week. I decide to hold off fueling until I return from Pittsburg and putter on down the road.

After narrowly avoiding an accident on the freeway I arrive in Pittsburg at the Pilgrim's Pride meatpacking plant. Oh no, I'm informed, that trailer is not clean enough for our products, go down the road a few miles and there is an industrious fellow who will wash it out for you. Thirty minutes and thirty-five dollars later, this is done and I'm given the paperwork for my new load, and I exchange trailers.

Now I'm heading west to Fort Worth which is an odd direction considering my first drop for this load is east of here in Ohio. I'm being paid to make an almost 300 mile u-turn so some of the load can be put up front in the trailer and the rest in back. Whatever, I'm not paid enough to drive and think.

Back to the fuel stop where the next problem rears its head. See, for the past few months every time I take home time my ComData card gets shut off. I assume our crack team at HQ does this so it can't be used if its stolen when I'm away from the truck. Anyway, this means that unless I forget to tell my dispatcher to turn it back on I roll up to the pumps and it will refuse to take my card. Like tonight, for instance.

I get that resolved only to find that the stupid pump I'm at will not pump, even after I've entered all the information it asked for. After a bit of trial and error I determine that the pump on the passenger side of the truck is the master pump and the one on the driver's side won't start until that one has its handle lifted. Since I was also filling up the reefer tank (which at our company is always located on the driver's side) this made for a number of circuits around my truck to turn off and on the pump at the proper time.

But wait! It gets better!

After driving 150 miles or so west to the far western side of Fort Worth I arrive at the facility that will load the other half of this load on to my trailer. Naturally, even though I'm given no fewer than six different sets of pickup numbers, P.O. numbers, confirmations numbers et cetera absolutely none of them is relevant to this particular location. After a tedious series of round-trips to my truck to send in satellite messages to HQ then back to the shipping department of this company it eventually comes out that the Pilgrim's Pride people have made a boo-boo and haven't set up this part of the load to leave until ... wait for it ... wait for it ... Thursday.

So now I'm back in the truck parked down the street munching on a bag of six dollar grapes telling the world about my bad day.

There, now you know.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The wheel in the sky keeps on turning

I phoned HQ twice over the weekend, once on Saturday and once on Sunday. No go on a preplan, which was slightly irritating.

I pestered my dispatcher this morning when he got in then again a few hours later. I asked if freight was running slow enough I would need to wait another day before heading back out but he assured me they would have something for me soon. After some consulting with the planning demigods I was told they have a load up in the Kansas City yard that needs to be sent down to our Dallas yard for a local driver to deliver sometime next week. Then, there is supposed to be a load at our Dallas yard that needs to get delivered back to Springfield, Missouri (wasn't I just there?) on Tuesday then a Buske load heading from there to Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday.

If it sounds like I'm doing a big loop back to the house then heading up to Omaha, that's a pretty good version of events.

I got back to the truck and it was still in one piece so I pretripped then headed out. About 180 miles deadhead up to KC where I swapped my empty reefer for a loaded van then chatted with one of our newer drivers who came on with HB three months ago. He lamented some of the common complaints of drivers (dispatchers not recognizing the Hours of Service limits when they send out loads, some loads with lots of downtime before pickup or delivery, etc.) and I mentioned the blog and what I'm doing as a lease operator. Its kind of funny watching the expression of a driver when I explain how I operate a truck and the kind of money I make, and this was no exception.

I went over some of the numbers with him for my first year and how it is looking so far in my second (for the record, pretty close to the first). I'm only averaging about 2,400 miles per week so far in my second fiscal year as compared to 2,564 per week in my first but my take home pay is actually a bit ahead of where I was last year.

Anyway, we chatted for a bit then I took off with my loaded trailer and headed south. I stopped at the Walmart in Lamar, Missouri to pick up supplies for this run and managed to spend six bucks on one (large) bag of seedless grapes. I never let the price of healthy food stop me from buying but that brought a wince at the register when I saw it get rung up.

A few hours later I'm in Oklahoma at Big Cabin, having just left the interstate and I'm feeling a bit tired and out of sorts. The first day or two back in the truck from time off is frequently like this so I stopped a few hours earlier than I had originally intended and will finish the trip to Dallas tomorrow morning. Knowing ahead of time that my next load is waiting there and I can make that schedule is a big help!

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hometime over the weekend

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The drop and hook in Rochelle was routine and I was given a preplan to pick up a load from nearby Aurora, Illinois to take to Kansas City, Kansas. Along came a note: deadhead home after the drop in Kansas City.

Just one problem: there were no empty trailers at the food warehouse I dropped at so I had to search around for a while to find an empty. By the time I found one and got back on the road I was too far away from the house to get there before my hours ran out so I stopped in Peculiar, Missouri for the night and finished up first thing yesterday morning.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Olathe, Kansas to Russellville, Arkansas to... where again?

The drop in Olathe went to plan and I had a preplan ready to head over to Independence, Missouri on a load heading to Russellville, Arkansas. It took a while to get called below to get loaded since there were other trucks in line but it wasn't too much of a wait.

On the way south of Kansas City my cell phone rings. Caller ID shows that it is from HQ, which most likely means my dispatcher. This is typically not good news, but I answer anyway.

He wants to know when I can deliver a load the following day in Atlanta. I say 2100. We hang up and eventually the trip is taken away and replaced with a trip to Rochelle, Illinois. I like this one better and send in the proper code to accept it.

Belatedly I notice that the Rochelle trip originates in Batesville, Arkansas which is a bit of a pain to get to and quite a pain to get out of, heading north at least. I quickly phone in to my dispatcher to see if the Atlanta trip is still unassigned. After some back and forth with the planner and my dispatcher I end up on the Batesville trip to Rochelle.

The trip this morning to Batesville isn't too bad and the loading only takes two hours, which isn't bad for this ConAgra facility. However, the hundred-plus miles of driving narrow and winding state highways made up for it.

Tonight finds me at the Pilot in Troy, Illinois. Tomorrow I'm very short on hours so that will be interesting.

I do believe this makes me the fastest truck driver... evah!

I was resetting my Garmin the other day on this screen which shows things like average speed during a trip, distance remaining and that sort of thing.

Then it caught my eye. Look at that freaking Max Speed number! No, that isn't photoshopped or anything, my Garmin actually has me going over 166 MPH at some point! And yes, this is in my truck. Heck, when I went through flight school I never flew a plane that fast!

So if the question ever comes up about who the fastest trucker is, you now know the answer. And Garmin even provides the evidence.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thank goodness, not a FedEx! But wait...

So my load out from Colorado (after dropping my FedEx load a day early yesterday afternoon) was a load of beer from the Bud plant in Fort Collins to the distributor in Olathe, Kansas. It is about 700 miles total which I rarely do in my truck in one day, but it has enough lead time so I can run the majority today and finish up tomorrow morning or early afternoon as I wish. Not bad.

After I get to the Bud plant I find out the catch. Not only is my load not yet ready but one of the outbound scales they use in this very busy system of theirs is non functional. By the time my trailer gets the green light and I get hooked up I'm back at the rear of the plant behind, I kid you not, 25 or 30 semis in line for the single, solitary scale. What a cluster.

I finished in Salina, Kansas for the night, about three hours from my drop tomorrow. Time for a nice long shower and some quality time in the sleeper.