I just love it when it all comes together like this

So I’ve been on this six-day marathon of a trip, warned repeatedly that I shouldn’t even think about arriving ahead of schedule because they won’t take loads early and I shouldn’t ask. Naturally, I arrive early expecting to wait until my assigned 0700 unload time only to find the warehouse guys happy to take my shipment off of me just as soon as I can get my truck backed up. Oh, and they are open 7/24 so I could have done this, say, last weekend.

After they take off the nine pallets of copper tubing, nine pallets of scrap copper get reloaded into the same positions inside the trailer and I head over to the shipping department to get a Bill of Lading typed up to make it all legal.

Since I can’t deliver this load to Fort Wayne, Indiana ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled 0800 delivery, I take my time driving down from Wisconsin, though Illinois then into the wilds and back roads of Indiana. My GPS had some fun at my expense and took me through the small Valparaiso (sp?) college campus to a road that didn’t exist and I had a very tight turn to make to get out of there. Eventually I got it sorted out and back on the correct path to the rural highway I wanted and ended the day in Plymouth, Indiana.

Even though it was probably 40 miles out of route, it would have been easier and more efficient to have simply taken I-80 over to I-69 then south to Fort Wayne. Lesson learned, again.

Southern Wisconsin

Yesterday I took the day off in Youngstown, OH so I could take a 34 hour reset so if I happen to get a good, long run in a few days I’ll have plenty of hours to use.

Today I drove the rest of the way through Ohio, then through Indiana and Illinois and ended up in southern Wisconsin. I wanted to stop at a truck stop a few miles away from my destination in De Forest but there was a big traffic jam just as I entered Wisconsin stretching six or seven miles in length due to construction so I called it quits early.

A few correspondents were confused about my last post so I will explain in a bit more depth. I was given an assignment on Friday morning that would force me to load then move that load about 1,100 miles to Wisconsin with the proviso that I couldn’t deliver early. If I could have delivered early I would have dropped it off in less than two days, so either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. This would have meant two days of about 550 miles each (two times 550 equals 1,100 after all), a very nice use of my time. Doing the same distance in five days comes out to 220 miles per day, or a very poor use of my time.

Worse, this load has a second drop in Indiana which means after I wait and wait and wait until Tuesday morning, I have to run back through Chicagoland for a total of about 380 miles then wait to deliver Wednesday morning.

Worse yet, almost all the miles I’m driving in Indiana and Illinois are at 55 MPH which really grates on your nerves after a while. Not as bad as California, but still.

And to think my dispatcher was talking to me about getting more miles when we talked last week, suggesting I get on the board faster so I’m available earlier. I haven’t delayed getting on the board in months and have never done that habitually.

The Ultimate Mother of All Loads

Eventually the planners at CFI HQ came to their senses and got me a load, and boy is it a doozy! I pick up about 80 miles south of where I am, back in Connecticut, then head west for a whopping 1,100 miles to Wisconsin. Better yet, I not only have adequate time to do it in, I have an impressive five days to do it in! Better yet, after I drop in De Forest, WI I get to run over to Fort Wayne, IN for a second drop, heading back through the all-so-fun Chicago traffic.

Be still, my heart.

It turns out this is a load of copper tubing from the Phelps Dodge folks who run the mine wayyyy up in the Colorado Rockies I picked up from late last winter. When I picked up this morning I had lots of fun helping brace the copper coils with 2×4’s nailed into the floor of my trailer, as is customary with this type of load. I wasn’t paid anything to do this work; CFI considers it part of our workout regimen I suppose.

Hazelton, PA

The small town of Hazelton, PA is in the news of late with the courts overturning a local ordinance punishing landowners who rent to illegals and similar things. I don’t know about any of that, but I do know that I found yet another “winner” Pilot station when I was there yesterday to grab a shower, eat and fuel.

The parking lot is one of the worst Pilot has, and anyone who knows Pilots also knows that is an impressive accomplishment. It is small and poorly designed, so much so there is additional parking across the street (which isn’t designed particularly well either).

Anyway, I managed to get all three items marked off my list and out of there in one piece, so I guess there is something to be thankful for.

It is often easier to Apologize than to first ask Permission

This morning I forgot one of the things taught to me earlier in life, that it is often easier to do something that you believe is right and apologize if necessary instead of waiting meekly for permission.

I arrived at 6 AM local time at the Good Humor plant (owned by Breyers, apparently) and found the front guard shack uninhabited. There was a single quasi-legal place to park out on the street and dire warning signs about not parking inside the gate or going past the guard shack until permitted. I parked outside and walked in with the paperwork, only to confirm that the guard shack was indeed empty.

Now, what I should have done was to nose around and looked for a Shipping and Receiving door… just about every place with big rig docks has one. Most often labeled, too. Instead, I meekly turned around and went back to my truck and waited for 90 minutes until I got fed up and went back inside. I saw a worker on a smoke break and asked politely where the Shipping and Receiving was and he gave me vague directions.

After traipsing around the building for a few minutes I found a likely door and went inside and found another worker on a forklift. I showed him the paperwork and he waived me over to an empty dock and told me to back in and he would take care of it. Ten minutes later I was in the dock, and twenty minutes after that I was unloaded, just as my original appointment time rolled by, in fact.

So now I sit a few miles away at a service plaza on the Massachusetts Toll Pike idling in the 85-90 degree humid morning air, taking in the No Idling (more than 5 minutes) signs and the other dozen or so drivers doing the same thing. I think I will try to apologize instead of asking permission this time.

Kudos to TA

I stopped last night at a TA in Connecticut with a headlight that needed some TLC. I spoke with the guys in the shop and they didn’t mind changing it out where I was parked so I didn’t have to move (or give up my choice spot). If I didn’t have to walk inside to sign the paperwork or watch the kid spitting tobacco juice behind the counter it would have been perfect, in fact.

Shut down in Connecticut

My GPS unit disagreed with Google Maps on the best route to my consignee, so I flipped a coin and chose my Garmin. Glad I did, in retrospect, as I lost a headlight on the way and there were two T/A truck stops along the more southern route I followed. The repair garage is backed up with at least a dozen trucks so I parked nearby and hopefully can get them to come out and fix the light late tonight while I sleep.

I-84 in Pennsylvania has the most amazing series of construction bottlenecks yet witnessed by this writer. Every 5-10 miles traffic is funneled into one lane for a mile or three then its opened back up again. So they can do bridge work, apparently. I hope to not be leaving the northeast via that route.

I’m 105 miles from my drop in Massachusetts for tomorrow at 8 AM local time. I will be out of here by 4 AM local and will hopefully be the first truck on the dock there when the Good Humor folks put in an appearance.

Misdirected

I stopped last night earlier than I had planned in Sullivan, MO, about an hour south of St Louis. By the time I got there I realized I would be fighting the St Louis evening traffic if I continued on so I called it a day. Another CFI driver was inside at the restaurant when I went in (steak and salmon, yum) and we chatted for a while. Poor guy’s truck has been hit three times in the past few months, all while parked.

My head was pounding this morning and I didn’t feel all that well. Not like food poisoning, but something else. I had a banana, some strawberries and a cinnamon raisin bagel and left anyway.

After just over an hour I crossed into Illinois and the slow, slow slog of 55 MPH driving began. Three hours later, I was entering Indiana where it sped up for just a while before getting to Indianapolis, then back to 55, then 50. I was going to follow I-70 through Indy and out the other side but almost smack dab in the middle of the city signs were posted that trucks over 13 tons weren’t allowed eastbound on I-70, and the only other choice was I-65 up towards Chicago. So I had to basically boomerang around and head northwest instead of east then get to the outer I-465 loop and reverse course again.

Shortly after I managed this traffic came to a standstill and rumbled along slowly for a few miles until I came across an electronic sign that said they were clearing an accident about 4 miles ahead in the two right lanes. I dutifully moved into the left lane along with most other folks and crept forward. For an hour. Eventually, I make it up front to where they are picking up after the accident and it is the left lane that is closed and the two right lanes are open! Indiana DOT folks were dropped when they were born apparently.

I made it across into Ohio to exit #10 near Eaton. One of our authorized fuel stops is there and they also have a Subway so I figured I would knock out two birds with one stone. I got off of the interstate and turned right only to find a line of trucks waiting to just get into the Pilot, much less fuel. I figured I would get some eating done first and go in the other truck entrance (many truck stops are set up like the letter “U” with two entrances / exits) and only at the last second before I passed the front truck waiting on the street to get in did I realize this place only had one entrance for trucks and a separate, blocked off entrance for cars.

Now I’m heading down a narrow two-lane road heading to the next town with corn fields on either side. I drove about a half mile until I found an Ohio Department of Transportation garage (where they store graders, snow plows, sand, etc.) and used it to turn around in, disregarding the No Trespassing sign entirely.

On my way back I approached the entrance more cautiously and eventually made my way inside the entry, in line for the pumps. I quickly fueled up and decided to leave at that point to help with the crush of trucks in line and I just barely missed two JB Hunt trucks slamming into one another when a third JB Hunt truck wouldn’t get out of the way.

Between the speed limit, the rerouting in Indy, the wreck and the fuel stop nonsense I managed to only knock out 610 miles in a LONG day. I used every legal minute today, a rarity. I was going to run over about five minutes to make a truck stop just a bit up the road but then I came across a Pilot that our fuel book has mislabled.

Tomorrow I hope to run most of the 650 miles from here to my destination early in the day so I can get a spot at one of the small truck stops or rest areas there in the northeast. We’ll see.

Picking up in Jopmo

Turns out its boxes for products like cereals that are sent out from this plant. I took the initiative to call first thing this morning and spoke with the shipping folks and they rescheduled the pickup to 11 AM instead of 6 PM which will help me immensely.

The empty trailer I picked up was fine except for a tire with a nail in it, but the folks at the trailer shop had a new one on pronto and I was off to the wash bay then across the street to load.

Since I’m able to load early I can boogie on down the road and get into Illinois tonight which will make my delivery time much easier to make.

Cute girl in the shipping department, too. Might have to request another load out of here sometime if I can.

Best laid plans

It turns out the load I’m taking isn’t scheduled until 6 PM tonight so I will lose a day heading out to Massachusetts. I’m going to try to see if they will load me early so I can get down the road this afternoon. Otherwise, making this deadline will be difficult because our system expects me to load at 6 PM, possibly be rolling by 8 PM then going for 11 more hours before I shut down. My sleep schedule won’t safely allow this, so instead I would have to load, shut down until the wee hours of the morning then take off which will put me in danger of not delivering on time.

Being of Good Humor

This afternoon I got back on the board for a load and after a few hours I got called in by local dispatch to take a look at the loads available. Dregs, mostly. Three to Illinois, one to Missouri (three days to deliver in the same state, yetch), one to Colorado over three days, one to Canada and one to Massachusetts. I eventually decided on the Massachusetts load because I haven’t spent much time in the northeast and while it is over 1,400 miles, it doesn’t deliver until Friday morning. So, even though I will be traveling through slow states like Illinois and Indiana to get there, I have plenty of time.

The load is coming from a factory across the street from our Joplin headquarters. If I remember correctly, it is some sort of roofing material. It is going to a Good Humor plant in Massachusetts. Hopefully not for their product.

With a bit of luck I’ll unload first thing Friday morning and get a hellacious run over the weekend. Probably to Laredo.

Meteorology and Thunderstorm Cells

Early last week on my way to Nogales I had chance to take some pictures of a fantastic cloud formation in New Mexico and Arizona.

I’m not a trained meteorologist but I am a licensed, instrument-rated pilot and also a licensed aircraft dispatcher. Training for both licenses includes a lot of weather-related information.

WARNING! METEOROLOGY CONTENT! WARNING!

Thunderstorm activity has three phases: developing, mature and dissipating.

The developing phase is characterized by warm air near the ground being sucked up into a cloud mass. As the warm air rises it cools, releasing any water vapor into the cloud. As you watch a cloud in this phase you will see it billowing upward rapidly, almost boiling with activity.

The next phase is called mature, and it is characterized simply as the point at which water starts falling out of the bottom of the storm cell. The water droplets have been drawn up and down repeatedly inside the cloud, gaining more mass as they collide together, until eventually the rising air is unable to prevent them from dropping down to the ground.

The final phase is dissipation, when the bulk of the water vapor in the cloud is expended and the top forms a characteristic “blown anvil” look as the remaining water particles aren’t dense enough to remain together and the cloud top blows apart.

Here are the first two pictures I took of the storm cell as I noticed it start to billow up:

I noticed how uniformly flat the bottom of the cloud was… a possible sign of a temperature inversion. An inversion simply means warmer air above colder air; as a general rule, air gets cooler as the altitude increases. It was this warmer air that fed this cloud, I think. If you click the second picture you can see that there is water dropping out the bottom, so we’re in the mature phase at this point.

Here we can see an absolute textbook picture of the third stage, dissipating. In fact, this was better than the pictures in the textbooks I used during my training! As you can see, there is still rain dropping from the cloud even as it is starting to fall apart.

Further on down the road I stopped again (for those of you interested, my Nikon is way too heavy to use one handed so all pictures I take using it are when I am stopped) and you can see the top is really starting to blow over now.

Finally, all things must come to an end and this thunderstorm cell has burned out and is now blown apart:

In total I shot 99 photos of this cloud which you can see together here. I’m not yet skilled enough with my camera to maximize the contrast in the sky (the ground in some of these shots causes the camera to emphasize those colors too much, basically) but if you have any interest in this topic you may find them interesting.

END OF METEOROLOGY CONTENT

Working for Pay. And no pay.

This afternoon I also had chance to speak in person with my fleet manager about the three aforementioned driver assist loads about a month ago. The bottom line is that I was authorized to assist with the unloads (Authorized being CFI’s terminology. I use the term ordered myself.) but because I didn’t phone or Mobile Max in the time spent assisting CFI has no way to bill the customer in each case and if CFI doesn’t get paid, neither do I.

I still did the work though.

An Accounting in Joplin

I arrived in Joplin early in the afternoon on Friday, July 20th. A bozo in the inspection bay determined the tire pressure of one of my new super single tires was a mere 30 PSI and directed me to the tire shop to have it inspected and repaired. After no more than 15 seconds of looking it over it was determined said bozo doesn’t understand how to use a tire gauge and I was rolled out and into the regular maintenance area for some other items to be taken care of.

The incident in Nogales required that I speak with the folks in Safety and I made my way to the headquarters building and found the right person to talk to. After a long wait I was brought into a conference room with the safety person and my fleet manager and the safety person presented me with a form to sign. Apparently, the folks in safety used my single spotty cell phone conversation to conclude this was a preventable accident. Had I known then what I know now, that would have been a much longer and more detailed phone call. I was under the mistaken impression I would be meeting with safety to go over the events in detail.

Another issue reared its head as a download of the engine computer on my truck revealed several anomalous numbers… among them a high speed at some (unknown) point in the past of 87 MPH at an engine RPM of over 2050! I’ve never approached either of these numbers, and for some reason when the last driver of this truck quit and it was reassigned the shop failed to reset the computer, as is policy. Since company trucks are governed at 67 MPH on cruise controll and 70 MPH with the accelerator floored this means 17 MPH over the governor and apparently still in gear.

I, frankly, believe that these readings are spurious. Back in February, I was traveling along I-90 from Seattle to Spokane and the rotation sensor on my drive shaft malfunctioned and it had my instruments going from 0 MPH to pegged repeatedly because it wasn’t able to correctly see the rotation of the drive shaft and multiply it by the gear ratio.

The individual from Safety wasn’t very understanding of these points, even after I showed him on the report that the total engine hours and the hours since reset were identical (meaning it hadn’t been reset since it was installed in the truck).

The form I was asked to sign had several incorrect statements on it and I refused to sign. The guy from Safety and my fleet manager signed as witnesses and we tabled it for the time being.

First thing Monday morning I went to see the next person up the chain of command in Safety and we went over the events in Nogales and the problems I had with the form. He allowed me to type up a statement giving my account of the events and I went so far as to use Google Maps to get a satellite view of the area in question and drew lines and points on it to illustrate what happened. Sometime in the next few weeks three drivers at random will be asked to sit down and go over a number of cases like mine and determine if they were preventable or non-preventable, and the result is binding on CFI and myself.

We eventually came to accommodation on the form as well, so it got signed by both of us and will be held in a file until after the above determination is made. If it is ruled non-preventable it will get ripped up and the matter will be closed.

There are some things about the way that CFI operates I wish were explained better, or explained at all, in the training and orientation phase.

Shaken, not stirred

Well, the load that was supposed to be ready by 9 PM for me to pick up at 3 AM wasn’t across the border yet, so I got to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Finally, around 11 AM local time it rolled into the yard and I pre-tripped and hooked up to it, then moved my rig up to where the small office was to pick up the paperwork. After three or four minutes inside I hopped back into the cab of my truck and finished my paperwork and satellite forms then slowly headed out to the gate, then the street.

Midway out the gate, during a 90 degree left-hand turn, I started hearing scraping sounds and could feel the load shifting more than it would normally do in a slow turn. To my horror, a quick scan of my left mirror showed the trailer sliding forward, obviously no longer attached to the fifth wheel. I slowed down and stopped with the fifth wheel still under the apron (the front part of the trailer’s nose around the kingpin) and the trailer landing gear buried in the tractor rear wheels. Lots of hissing air to be heard, very dramatic.

To make a long story short, one of three things happened. Either my fifth wheel had a problem and lost the kingpin (unlikely), I managed to screw up not one but three checks (a tug test and two visual checks) or someone pulled the pin on my fifth wheel, releasing it while I was inside getting the paperwork.

The trailer was stuck out on the street for half an hour or so, partially blocking traffic. Eventually, several of the drayage workers and I managed to get my tractor and its ripped-up tires out of the way and another tractor underneath the load and we moved everything back into the yard. I don’t have any pictures of the incident out on the street, as I was a bit busy right then, but I do have some of the aftermath I will post soon.

About three hours later I had two new super-single Michelin X-1 tires on the back of my tractor and after an absurd number of fifth wheel tests and checks I took the very same trailer out of the dropyard and drove a whopping six or seven miles to the local truck stop.

It was a long day.

On Friday when I (hopefully) make it in to Joplin I will get to speak to safety in person to go over everything in addition to seeing my fleet manager about the other stuff. Oh joy.

Finally, a load home

After I dropped my trailer yesterday afternoon I moved over to the (only) local truck stop and called it a day. When I got up this morning it was more than 12 hours since I had dropped and no buzzer with a new load. So I took care of a variety of housekeeping — my upper bunk now actually flips up — watched some shows, ate, took a nap, snacked some more. Still no load.

Finally I got buzzed around 2 PM with a load to pick up tonight at 9 PM to Pennsylvania that I will take as far as Joplin to get me home. I arranged to pick it up first thing in the morning instead so I can run all tomorrow and roll into Joplin Thursday afternoon at which time I will be sitting down with my fleet manager to discuss some issues.

About five weeks ago I had two runs, back-to-back, which involved me helping unload the product. The first load had two stops with La-Z-Boy furniture in Tucson and Phoenix, followed by a load from Phoenix to West Sacramento, California to the baby Bell SBC. Each of these loads required my help (the SBC folks don’t even touch freight… they point you at a pallet jack and tell you to have at it) and when this happens I am due $17.50 an hour with a minimum of two hours, or at least $35.00. For those three drops I should have been paid an extra $105 total ($35 x 3, since none of the unloads took more than two hours) but it is my dispatcher’s position that I’m not owed anything more because I didn’t have the consignees write the In and Out times on the BOLs (Bills of Lading). My position is that I delivered on time (as I always have) and under direct orders of CFI I assisted with each unload, and since none of them took more than two hours from start to finish the In and Out times are irrelevant. I could see if I was at a consignee for, say, four hours and wanted to document more than two hours of driver assist time then it would matter, but if I spent a single damn minute of my time on company ordered fingerprinting then I’m due my pay. If I assist for one minute or 120 minutes I’m paid the same, and only if it is more than 120 minutes does the assist pay differ.

We’ll see what the official line is on Thursday or Friday.

Nogales, AZ

I dropped my trailer in Nogales so close to the border it was next to a tent with a bunch of National Guard guys watching everything going on. The border transfer company was ready and I was in and out in a jiffy.

This morning it was announced that Con-Way will be acquiring CFI. More details can be found here.

In short:

SAN MATEO, Calif. and JOPLIN, Mo., July 16 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Con-way Inc. today announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Contract Freighters, Inc. (CFI), a privately held North American truckload carrier based in Joplin, Mo., in a transaction valued at $750 million.

Scare in Birmingham, AL

As I was making my way west this morning there was a lot of rain in the Birmingham area. A Corvette in front of me managed to spin out of control while merging from one highway to another and looped around at least three times. I was far enough behind him I could slow down and get out of the way.

Slept terrible last night. I made the mistake of not idling and using the air conditioning because it was relatively cool out, but the humidity was bad. Tonight I idle.

Why oh why will the trailer doors not shut?

Why, you ask? It is because the morons dock workers left six inches of tires hanging out the back of the packed-to-the-ceiling trailer I am finally set to carry, so the doors won’t swing. Not even close. I’d get pictures but cameras are banned here. I took a pic of another bulging trailer just for informational purposes which I will post later.

This Friday the 13th hasn’t been a stellar one for me.

Nogales, maybe

After picking up the empty trailer and waiting around the buzzer went off and I find myself with a trip back to Laurens, SC to the same plant I dropped a trailer at earlier to get a load of tires to take to Nogales, AZ — a nice 2,000 mile trip with the deadhead. So, I pull up anchor and make my way back up I-20 and I-26 and I-395 to the Michelin plant, drop my new empty trailer and wander inside to talk with shipping.

Turns out their operation is vying with Quick ‘n Tasty for “Most Dysfunctional Shipping and Receiving 2007” as the load I was supposed to have received was somehow allowed out of the gate, past a security guard who allegedly checks documents, on another earlier CFI truck. So, pantloads of thanks to the shipping department, the gate guard and the elusive Double PantloadTM to the driver who took the wrong load and didn’t bother checking his paperwork.

Spoke with my dispatcher, our people and their people, be patient let’s see, yada yada.

Finally finished

After about five hours and a short drive to a second warehouse, my truck was unloaded and I headed a few miles away to the nearest truck stop. It happened to be a Pilot and the restaurant was a McDonalds.

I mention this because I haven’t eaten anything but a yearly McMuffin at Micky Dees in probably at least twenty years. I steeled my bowels and tried one of their Premium Chicken Sandwiches. I think I can wait for a couple more decades now before the urge will strike again.

Late in the afternoon I got dispatched for a very early morning dropoff of my empty trailer at a Michelin plant in Laurens, SC then a bobtail south about 100 miles to a Bridgestone plant to pick up an empty. I did as I was told, but when I showed up at the Bridgestone plant they wouldn’t let me in because they said they have no empties. Our dispatch shows a dozen trailers of ours inside. Our people are talking with their people, yada yada. Wouldn’t even let me park there while it gets straigtened out, either.

UPDATE: After a while they had me return to the Bridgestone plant and pick up an empty. Later, as I was on the phone to my dispatcher, I asked her what the Liar Liar Pants on Fire code for my satellite unit was, as there were at least a half dozen empty CFI trailers there.