A Bad Review

My satellite unit just beeped me with a message from my overlords at CFI… they took my case over the incident in Nogales a couple months back to a board of review of a few drivers who ruled it was, after all, preventable.

You can read all about the incident preventable accident here and here.

Scared to death… over nothing!

This morning I got up at 3 AM and ran my load from Waco, Texas to Laredo, Texas. It was originally due in Laredo at 0600 this morning but I know that almost none of the brokers we use are open 24 hours a day, and if they aren’t they almost never open before 0800 or 0900 so I had the delivery time bumped back to let me run down here easier. I arrived at our terminal for the trailer inspection in the eight o’clock hour and by nine I was in front of the broker, fourth in a line of CFI trucks waiting to get in. Naturally, they don’t open until 0930.

Eventually the broker folks arrived and got things sorted out and one-by-one the drivers dropped their trailers and drove back over to our terminal. When I returned and finished my paperwork I went by dispatch and wouldn’t you know it, they already had my trip home to Joplin waiting for me. I figured it was some load that a bunch of people had already passed on but as it turns out it is very light and the trailer is solid. Lucky me.

So, after taking care of a small issue with one of the trailer lights I refueled and pointed my rig north along I-35 and cruised up to New Braunfels, Texas which lies halfway between San Antonio and Austin.

I’ve been driving my truck for just under 100,000 miles at this point so when I enter a truck stop I have a routine I follow when I’m looking to park. I keep my eyes peeled for any easy backing situation (a pull through, a straight pull in, a slot with a lot of space in front of it, etc.) as I mosey through the lot then circle around and grab the best I can find. This time it was a spot on the end of a line of trucks where the parking lot changes a bit so there will be no truck parked next to me on one side. There was a bunch of space in front of my spot, with two trucks facing me and an open spot between them I could use to get aligned before I made a straight back.

So, I turn away from my spot and move the cab of my truck between these two trucks and come to a stop, preparing to put my rig in reverse. All of a sudden, my truck seems to lurch in reverse and no matter how hard I stomp on the brake pedal I can’t slow down!!!

It turns out that one of the trucks that I was positioning myself between decided to help me out by backing up a bit to let me make my turn and setup easier. From my perspective, though, it looked like I was suddenly in reverse and moving quickly, despite being out of gear and my foot on the brake.

Jim’s backing mastery: 0
Fresh pair of Fruit-of-the-Looms: 1

Sigh.

Wacko in Waco

There were a handful of accidents on the various roads I traveled today, including two cars and one big rig mess about twenty miles north of Waco and the aforementioned Flying J (just down the street from the Hooters, natch).

As I pulled off of the interstate on to exit 331 I noticed there were a line of trucks and four wheelers backed up a bit, and the intersection seemed to be closed. I didn’t have my camera out at the time, so after I parked I walked back and took some photos from the opposite side:

View all Wacko in Waco pics

The driver of this rig apparently took the right hand corner too fast and managed to roll it over… you can see the number of wreckers they had to call out to deal with it:

All the traffic going to the Flying J was routed through the secondary gas fuel island exit which made things exciting for us big rig drivers. After we turned in like cars would we had to take the other gas fuel island exit then make a big u-turn to come in the diesel side:

Flattened in West Memphis

I began this morning at our terminal in West Memphis, Arkansas with my pre-trip and fueling for today’s journey. My tire pressure gauge has been giving me low readings for a while now so I decided after another set of uniformly low numbers I would go down the street to the closest Pilot and buy a new one. It confirmed that my tire pressures were just fine but when I checked my left steer tire the core inside the valve stem blew and wouldn’t stop the air from releasing, flattening the tire in a minute or so.

View all Flattened in West Memphis pics


After a short cry I got on the phone with our Road Service folks and they whistled up a mobile tire changing unit to come by and fix me up. About thirty minutes later an old, beat up van arrived and the gentleman inside jacked up the front axle and had everything set straight in another thirty minutes or so.

Between the pre-trip, fueling and tire issues I was now almost two hours behind schedule and I drove from West Memphis to our Lancaster, Texas yard non-stop, where I fueled again. Barely fifteen minutes later I departed, headed for Waco, Texas to stop for the night at the Flying J truck stop just down the street from a Hooters restaurant.

Duck!

Several mornings ago I, when I was at the Greencastle, Pennsylvania Con-Way yard, I woke up to this loud chattering and various goings-on outside my cab. I’m a fairly deep sleeper and normally truck stop noises don’t bother, so I was curious what was happening. I poked my head out the driver door and saw the root cause of the ruckus:

View all Duck! pics

Yes, two large bunches of ducks doing duck things in a pond that Con-Way keeps at the back of their property. They were squawking at each other, preening and basically causing a commotion.

Eventually one group flew off to bigger and better pastures (ponds?):

I was at a pretty high zoom level with my Nikon and holding down the capture button as I turned from right to left so there is some motion blur in most of these photos and you don’t see all the birds that took off (there were probably two dozen in that group).

Eventually the remaining adult ducks split, and about ten minutes later one of the groups came back in for a landing:

I didn’t realize it but there were a handful of baby ducklings in the pond as well — their coloration makes them damn good hiders in a duck pond! Can you pick them out of this photo? (HINT: look at the center of the photo at the edge of the water)

Do you have all your ducks in a row?

On the road again…

It took several more hours for everything to sort itself out and a trailer released to me so I could run with it. I had started work at 2:30 AM this morning so by 10:30 more than half of my work day was shot just with waiting around.

Apparently there were seven trailer loads going from this plant down to Mexico with CFI and the broker that we got the loads from had some screwed up load numbering system that neither CFI or the shipper normally used. They really, really, really wanted load 1234xz-bob-666-A4 to be on trailer 12345, towed by truck 54321 and nothing else would do. Everyone concluded this was nuts and eventually we convinced the folks in the rear with the gear to let us take loaded trailers as they were made ready and just call in which trailer and load number we happened to have aboard.

I did something I’ve never done before in a big rig today. I passed an exit ramp near where I was planning on shutting down for the night and went to the next exit and made a U-turn, eating up four extra miles. Man has to do something when he’s suddenly craving a DQ Blizzard, after all.

I have a TON of pics I shot this morning; perhaps 80 or 100 images in all. I’ll try uploading them in Laredo as that many will require some serious bandwidth that isn’t available here.

Laredo, my old friend

I dropped my trailer at Con-Way very early this morning and waited for about five hours to get a dispatch. It turns out we have seven trailer loads of dishware going from a plant here in Greencastle, Pennsylvania down to Laredo, Texas, destined for Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico. It is an 1,800 mile run that will take me about three-and-a-half days to finish.

For some reason the load numbers are screwed up so I’m parked here at the shipper waiting for CFI customer service to figure out which load I’m getting. The one I was set up for left on another truck several hours ago.

Running in the Rain

I got up early, as usual, and made my way south through Chicago then out the east side along the Indiana toll road and into Ohio, ending the day just inside Pennsylvania. I wasn’t out of driving hours but I just didn’t feel like pushing any further today. I will finish out the last couple hundred miles tomorrow morning then see what fun my corporate masters have in store for me.

The sweat off my brow

After my second drop this morning my trailer was empty. Well, nearly empty. You see, the 31,000 pounds of glass windows that were offloaded from said trailer were held in place by hundreds of pounds of dunnage (dunnage is a term used to describe things that hold cargo in place, like straps, chains, lumber, rope, etc.). In this case, probably 400 pounds of brand new pine 2×4’s of various lengths and perhaps a hundred pounds of cardboard.

It turns out the consignee for the second part of the load didn’t want any of this stuff so they left it for me in the trailer, which I took to Franklin, Wisconsin for my next pickup. Before I dropped that trailer I had to clean it out, which meant finding a home for all of this scrap wood and cardboard. I asked the local Con-Way folks for whom I will shortly be hauling a load if they had any need for this stuff and they said nope, go thataway to the dumpsters and take care of it.

View all Dunnage Destruction pics

That particular dumpster was empty when I began.

The cardboard from the load fit into this dumpster.

All told it was another hour or so of unpaid work to take care of this. I’m very thankful it was an overcast day and only about 80 degrees out. If the temperatures were extreme it would be quite a miserable job.

Cottage Grove Middle School unload

The second unload this morning was at a middle school under construction in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, just west of Madison. This was the first time a load of mine was moved out of my trailer directly into a storage trailer, like this:

View all Cottage Grove Middle School Unload pics

Across the way was a drill rig putting in a new bore hole for water, and water gushing out as they drilled:

When I departed I had to back up at least 300 feet around a corner then make a very tight left turn to head back out the muddy parking lot.

Kiss My Glass

Glass windows and doors, of course. I delivered a small part of the shipment first thing this morning in Waunakee, Wisconsin then moved about 15 miles away to the township of Cottage Grove to unload about 15 tons of windows for the new middle school that is very much still under construction.

This load is unusual because while there are only two stops, there are four Bills of Lading — two for each stop. The first part was because the packages were going to two different job sites, but all of this load is going here to this middle school, so I wonder why they bothered using two bills.

Another first: The trailer will not be unloaded to a dock or to the ground, but instead to the back of a storage trailer on site, where they can get to the windows as they go to install them.

Nice day for a drive

This morning I left central Missouri and made my way through St Louis and up through Illinois to just inside Wisconsin where I fueled and parked at the Pilot in Beloit. This particular Pilot is one of the more screwed up ones, as far as parking goes. The parking lot is set up in the shape of a “U” with an entry point for the fuel island and the other end being the exit.

Among the problems at this particular location is the fact that the entryway to the fuel island has a sidewalk that runs wayyyy too far down the entrance so making it in is difficult, at least if you want the pumps closest to the main building. Worse, people enter from the exit ramp to avoid the backlog at the pumps which causes delays. Worst, anyone backing in to almost any slot at the entire truck stop brings traffic to a halt.

The only reason I use this particular pilot is because there is a Walmart down the block and I needed to pick up a few things I forgot to get on the truck when I was in Joplin yesterday.

Tomorrow I deliver at two job sites (translation: places being built, usually) which is always an adventure.

Neosho, Joplin, then off to Wisconsin

After seven hours of waiting my satellite unit went off and told me to deadhead up to Joplin, about 140 miles to the north. Wish they wouldn’t have waited all that time (and a big thanks goes out to a couple people who helped out with this; they know who they are!). Since I would be passing by Crowder College I stopped in and chatted with my old instructors and some of the new students.

I had a wonderful time in Joplin, at least as much as you can have in less than 24 hours. When I finally boarded I got stuck with a run up to Wisconsin with two drops; no other choices. Joplin was also out of empty trailers so I was sent over to the trailer shop to grab the next one that was fixed and in short order I had it. Naturally, it wasn’t completely fixed and another hour was wasted getting the air brakes taken care of.

My dispatch had me run about 35 miles away in Missouri to pick up the load and it had an incredible 3 screens of driving instructions to get there and what to do once you got there. Allow me to simplify:

From Joplin, take I-44 east to exit 18A south to HWY 60 west to Monett. Turn left (north) on Bridal Lane and go though stop sign, shipper is on the right. Take the first truck entrance to the shipping office and you are DONE. FINISHED. COMPLETED. Please, dear god, someone replace the dreck that is in there.

Anyway, was very quickly given the paperwork and directions to the back side of the plant to drop my empty and pick up the loaded trailer. Did the pre-trip and paperwork in short order then departed, finishing up just north of Springfield for the night. Load delivers in two locations in Wisconsin on Friday morning, a solid day’s drive away that I will knock out on Thursday.

Okay, I admit it… I’m a bit of a gadget freak

The wait between loads seems to be long today so I decided to go around and get all of my “rechargeable” devices recharged and to rearrange some electrical connections in my truck. I knew I had quite a few electronic devices along for the ride with me, but would you believe this list?

  • Two laptops (one about a year old, one about three years old)
  • Two cameras (one digital SLR, one point-and-shoot)
  • Two external hard drives
  • Cell phone
  • Bluetooth ear piece for cell phone
  • Two shavers (down from four… hey, I was replacing some old ones!)
  • One electronic shaver cleaner (Braun — does a fantastic job, too!)
  • Toaster
  • Large Coleman Cooler
  • Small Roadpro Cooler (works poorly)
  • Roadpro “Tornado” fan (powerful, but sounds like jet engine at close range)
  • Roadpro electronic blanket (still in packaging)
  • MP3 player
  • MP3/MP4 player (videos)
  • GPS
  • Multi-function printer
  • Small label printer (organize much?)
  • Dirt Devil handheld vacuum
  • CB Radio

Note that this does not include all the cables, and accessories like four pairs of varied headphones / earbuds, various cartridges to keep things running (printer ink, shaver cleaner, etc.) my inverter or power distribution hub or separate devices plugged into other electronic devices like my Sprint broadband card that I leave plugged into my main laptop.

I don’t have a TV because I get all my shows from my Tivo and watch on either my laptop or MP4 player (the excellent Creative Zen Vision: W 60 gig model). I have considered getting a microwave, but if I went that route I would want to replace my large cooler with a fridge and I don’t have the space unless I keep the upper bunk down all the time.

Do I need to attend Gadgets Anonymous meetings now?

Delivering Staples

Yesterday afternoon I was given the second half of a relay load from Alabama to deliver this morning in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I drove about 75% of the way then called it a night in Russellville, Arkansas and finished up the rest this morning.

I had thought the load was inventory for a Staples store but as it turns out the store is under construction and the contents of the load were things like shelving for the displays. Another driver had arrived shortly before I did but I ended up unloading first, which took about an hour. The backing was interesting, cutting across a neighboring lot then doing a slight blind-side back into a single dock arranged like a “V” so there wasn’t any real fixed point of reference for the back.

I’m back on the board and getting caught up on my favorite shows I Tivoed.

Memphis, then West Memphis

I got running early this morning, putting Fort Worth then Dallas behind me in less than an hour. I arrived in Memphis in the early afternoon, dropped off the trailer and picked up an empty to take back across the river into Arkansas, where our West Memphis terminal is located.

The skies were very cloudy all morning but not a drop of rain hit me until I crossed over into Tennessee, and it wasn’t much. It is rather hot and muggy here… apparently, something like 50 people died in the area in the past few days when it was even hotter.

I’m put on a new load to be relayed tomorrow to the west side of Arkansas, deliverable on Tuesday morning. Best that could be done, apparently.

Okay, who’s the wise guy who dispatched me through the hurricane?

It turns out there was kind of a smallish hurricane or tropical depression that hit Texas in the past 24-48 hours and it is still dumping a lot of rain in the central section that I have to cross to get to Tennessee. For a couple hours today I saw lots of ditches filled with water, some of the side roads flooded out and even a few spots along the interstate that had standing water.

I eventually made my way to Weatherford, Texas for the night and managed to fuel right behind a very inconsiderate driver who decided to eat his Wendy’s “lunch” on the fuel island, blocking those of us behind him in. It was only 15 minutes or so after I was done fueling but I’m sure people behind me wanted to get done and leave, and I just wanted to call it a night. Which is what I’m doing now.

Waiting on UPS

I was given a load last night from El Paso to Memphis, Tennessee and I got the pickup rescheduled for this morning at 6 AM. I arrive 40 minutes early to find the gate at the UPS border transfer lot chained shut and no hours of operation posted anywhere. A quick chat with the CFI overnight crew and I’m told that they will be open around 8 AM. Also that they ordinarily send over one of our guys to shuttle the loaded trailers up to our yard a few miles away and they didn’t know what made me so special to have to come down here by the border to pick up this load.

Lucky me.

UPDATE: It turns out that there are actually two separate locations, side-by-side. One is used for traffic going south and consists of a locked lot with a transfer warehouse and about 20 doors, the other is an open lot that runs 24/7 with loaded trailers and a guard in a shack. I eventually found the guard, his shack, my trailer and the paperwork and got the heck out of dodge.

Ordered to El Paso

As I suspected, a short while after I was unloaded I was ordered to drive 45 minutes up the road to El Paso and get on the board there. Why I couldn’t be put on the board while I was driving there is beyond me.

Arrived 1000 local time and have settled down to wait. I intimated to my fleet manager after yesterday’s fiasco that perhaps a nice long weekend run would be in order. “See what I can do” was the response.

What does 28,000 pounds of oak furniture look like?

The individual pieces are boxed up and they fill my trailer from nose to tail, from floor to ceiling. It looks like it is going to take a few hours to unload this puppy.

Here are some pics from the point where the trailer was about 80% unloaded:

View all 28000 pounds of Oak Furniture pics

UPDATE: One hour and fifteen minutes to empty. Very quick, in my book.

Stopped for the day in Las Cruces, New Mexico

I arrived an hour early than my dispatched time this morning in Las Cruces at the back of a large furniture outlet center. After waiting an hour for the employees to show up, I moseyed around to the front and spoke with several of the managers. The one who was supposed to be receiving this shipment told me in no uncertain terms that they only take deliveries on Fridays at 7 AM. This being Thursday, there is a problem.

I called my fleet manager and she told me “Right, just what the dispatch said.” I walked back to my truck and looked up the electronic log of my instructions on my satellite unit and it said to be here this morning at 0900 local time, just like I thought. This time, the response was something along the lines of “Oops, someone changed it and we told everyone but you.”

So I’ll be here for the day.