Suds and more

After a lengthy wait I was beeped: I’m headed to Houston, Texas to pick up a load of beer headed for El Paso.

I drove along a fairly well maintained state highway direct from Austin and pulled in to our designated fuel stop in Houston around 1530. The Budweiser plant is across town so I’ll take my break here then head over in the dead of night to swap my empty trailer for one full of beer.

Lots of wind yesterday and today. With a full trailer it is just a pain to keep up your speed, but empty you can get blown around quite a bit. Not quite bad enough to pull over, but enough to keep me awake.

Irony alert: As I was passing through a small town along the way, I came across Memory Lane. Then I forgot to take a stroll. Ah well.

Wide Angle Goodness

While I was shooting stills at Crowder a few weeks ago I found several problems with my camera setup. First, when it is cold out batteries don’t hold their charge very well so having a backup is a big plus. I got an extra battery and an add-on for my Nikon so it can use both batteries simultaneously or separately.

Second, the base lens I purchased with the camera is a Nikon 18-200mm. It really is a fantastic lens for what I need but occasionally I want to be able to go wider. I picked up a Sigma 10-20mm which is about as wide as you can go and not be a true fisheye lens.

So, here are some pics I shot this morning while I was parked next to another company truck:

View all Wide Angle Goodness pics

Austin power

I departed Denton, Texas as early as I could this morning and arrived at the consignee in Austin by 6:45 AM. I would have been there 20 minutes earlier but the directions weren’t written very well and it took a while to sort out which warehouse was the one I needed. It didn’t help that the street out front is kind of a divided highway thing with a decent amount of traffic so getting turned around was a bear.

Anyway, got unloaded by 0830 which isn’t bad, given that my appointment was for 0800. I’m #3 on the board in the “southwest” region, though that is really not the case since I’m in the area controlled by the Laredo terminal, I think.

Back in the saddle again

I decided to go back on the road after nearly three weeks off this morning. Everyone was cool with that, right up to the point where I was chatting with the local dispatcher. “You’re blocked,” he said.

Apparently, someone at HQ had put a block on my getting back on the board and didn’t bother mentioning it to me.

I trudged over to the main building and chatted up someone in Safety. “Isn’t us,” she said. Apparently, it was someone in dispatch, so I marched upstairs while speed dialing my fleet manager.

Eventually it was determined that when I changed my original “due back” date in the system someone decided to put the block on. Not sure why.

Anyhow, I sashay back across the parking lot to local dispatch and now I’m not blocked. I’m immediately offered a delivery in Colorado for Friday or Austin, Texas for tomorrow. Good luck to the driver heading west, I chose south:

I arrived just north of the DFW metroplex as the afternoon traffic jams were starting, which I had anticipated. I’m overnighting at a truck stop here and will get back to my usual early morning departure tomorrow when I finish the last 200 miles. There is, apparently, a super tight right turn that you have to make to get to the consignee which should be fun and giggles.

Despite the fact my truck was in the shop twice while I was on vacation, it still hasn’t been turned back to 65. Sweet!

The drive today dragged by terribly slowly. After 13 months of driving, a few hundred miles in a day can go by in a blur once you get into the rhythm. When you aren’t used to it, however, it can feel like ages.

Crowder Skid Pad

Last Friday I returned to my trucking alma mater Crowder College to shoot some stills and video while their skid pad was put through its paces. When I trained with them in November 2006 the skid pad wasn’t being used because of persistent droughts. Since then, they have installed a 1.3 million gallon pond and pumping equipment so they don’t have to rely on the local water supply.

The skid pad itself is a large area of smooth concrete, surrounded by a number of irrigation pumps and nozzles to flood various areas so the trucks hydroplane and lose traction.

During the course of videotaping, I took position a bit too close to the action… as you can see in this short clip:

I have hundreds of pics and 25 minutes of video I shot. When I get time I’ll see if I can get some of the highlights uploaded.

Time off

Well, I made it safely back to Joplin on Thursday. Friday morning, after a good night’s rest and doing four loads of laundry, I put my truck in the shop for a variety of repairs and maintenance. The body shop was notified about my fender issue so they will take a swing at it after the mechanical folks get done with their part.

It turns out my last oil change work order wasn’t closed out in the CFI system and if I hadn’t have mentioned that it was a bit past the proscribed interval it wouldn’t have been caught.

I have a week of paid vacation coming to me and I’m adding seven more days of my earned time off for a total of two weeks to rest and relax. I hope to (finally) get my web site up and running and there may just be a change of direction in my life shortly so stay tuned!

Kansas City fun

I arrived in Kansas City at 0700 and the last five miles into the city itself took almost 30 minutes. The traffic was absurd.

After an hour’s wait, I was instructed to hurry up, quick quick, pick up a trailer here at the dropyard and run it across down (and into Kansas) about 15 miles away as the crow flies. Or 30 miles away as the only moving roads in the KC area lie. I arrived there in a reasonable amount of time, dropped off my new trailer, picked up yet another trailer… then was dispatched back to our yard across the river in Missouri. Whereupon I dropped the new (empty) trailer and am currently waiting on a loaded trailer to arrive here from one of the local drivers CFI has, after which I will be moving it down to Joplin.

Digital disaster strikes

I use a product called Driver’s Daily Log to keep track of my Hours of Service. Once a week or so, I print out my logs and send them in to the folks at HQ and everyone is happy. Rarely, they have lost a day or two (each is printed on a single page), but I can just print a fresh copy and send that in.

Last night my laptop crashed and I restarted it. I do a restart perhaps once a month or every other month, normally leaving it on in Hibernate mode while I’m bouncing down the road.

It turns out that it stores the data I input into one file for each month. So, December of 2007 has its own file, and January 2008 had one as well. Apparently, something went awry with the program or with Windows when it crashed and my current (January) file was blanked out.

Now I get to go back to New Years and recreate every stop, pickup, drop off, fueling, etc. for the past nine days. Thank goodness I’m taking time off.

Off to Kansas City

After an hour or so wait, the buzzer went off and I got my new instructions: take my (now empty) trailer about an hour away to Columbus, Ohio and trade it for a loaded one that is due in Kansas City, Missouri tomorrow around 0800. The schedule is a bit tight, but I can make it work by leaving the Troy, Illinois truck stop I’m at this evening by around 0300.

Nose-in parking is the devil’s playground

Most of the time when you park a big rig, you back into a spot so the next morning (or whenever) you drive out. There are a couple good reasons for this: you can see where you’re going a lot better, and since you are turning the (relatively) small tractor ahead of the kingpin, you can negotiate around problems better as you depart.

Yesterday, when I pulled in to the truck stop I was ending my day at, I really, really needed to use the little driver’s room. There were a small number of parking spots available, one of which was easy to drive into nose first so I went that route and took care of business.

Then the mistake. My mistake was to not immediately afterwards backing up and maneuvering over to a spot that I could back in to. I wanted to take a nap, I had just bought some yummy Popeye’s chicken strips to munch on, I had that movie I wanted to finish watching… basically, stupid excuses. The devil made me not do it!

When I awoke this morning, my worst fears were realized. There were a gaggle of trucks parked illegally behind me (illegal being a relative term in a truck stop). If I had backed in I could have squeaked by without getting anyone to move, but since I was lazy the day before I had to wake two drivers and risk hitting one rig behind me and one next to me when I couldn’t get the other driver to respond to me pounding on his door. Fortunately, the drivers were pleasant and a flatbed driver off to the side helped me over the CB letting me know how close I was to the guy behind me as I was backing.

Oh, and I did all of that at a decent uphill grade in reverse with a 42,000 lb load, which is a chore, particularly when you have to turn while you’re doing it.

Anyway, made my delivery this morning in Bellefontaine, Ohio and I’m sitting here waiting to be dispatched. Story of my life.

Cracking up

The drive today flew by between Mississippi and Kentucky and I arrived this afternoon just south of Cincinnati, Ohio. The only thing of note today was the unwelcome rock that cracked my windshield, just above the driver’s side wiper blade. I had three windshields go in my first three months but this one has lasted almost a year.

I’m about 120 miles away from my destination and I have until 0800 tomorrow to get there. No problemo.

The waiting game

I arrived this morning at my consignee around 0500 only to find out their warehouse operation doesn’t open until 0700. So I waited in my truck, browsing the web and having breakfast.

A while later, I went back to the security shack and watched an informative video about plant safety, then got sent back to the warehouse area, where I waited some more.

Finally, someone got around to my paperwork and it was determined that I needed to get offloaded at a separate warehouse a few miles away. This is a problem, as CFI requires us to call in any time a shipper or receiver wants to change where we load or unload. While I was waiting for permission from the folks in the rear with the gear, two other CFI trucks pulled up, an owner-operator and a finisher with a student. We chatted for an hour or so and finally pestered HQ again until it was grudgingly decided that we could actually unload where the consignee wanted us to.

After a short drive we turned down a muddy, dirty side street next to a dirty, muddy “parking lot” which served as the truck parking for a nearby riverboat casino. The warehouse in question had an unusual indoors mobile dock which required us to back in partway, let them unload the last two pallets at the very back of the trailer then back up to the mobile ramp that the forklifts used for the rest of the cargo.

I went in first and it was difficult to get aligned with the dock because the interior of the warehouse was poorly lit, and it was bright outside. Not to mention, you had to be careful moving from side to side so as not to rip the side of the warehouse off, as the door was only a few feet wider than the trailer. I’m sure the student had a fun time trying this one.

Eventually I was unloaded and after another few hours got deadheaded over to Baton Rouge to pick up a load bound for Ohio. Here is a map of today’s driving:

Note to self:

Running 100 miles in fog is little fun.

I tossed a coin, choosing between staying put for another day midway to my destination and finishing the trip tomorrow after restarting my hours, or moving closer today. I chose the latter and I’m now about 30 miles away from the consignee I have to be at tomorrow at 10 AM.

My rear left fender signaling light keeps falling off, despite my best ghetto mechanical skills. I tried one last attempt with duct tape this morning when I fueled. I was so low on fuel I almost got 170 gallons before filling up.

My 501 mile run

I haven’t blogged in a few days, which I try to avoid doing. Continuity is important.

Anyway, I made it from Houston to Brownsville yesterday and dropped off my trailer at the folks who are taking it down to Mexico shortly. It didn’t help that there were actually three different addresses or sets of directions sent for this particular trip… I guessed wrong the first time, then got it right the second.

I spent the night next to one of the numerous super Wal-Marts in the area, primarily because it was two blocks away from where I dropped my trailer. I awoke this morning feeling ill and vaguely hungry, so I drove around to find someplace to get something to eat at 4 AM. Denny’s was the winner. I threw up a bit before eating, as opposed to after, so it wasn’t all bad.

Got another monster weekend run: 501 miles to Lake Charles, Louisiana to deliver Monday morning at 10 AM. No biggie, I’m highlighted for Joplin now so my days waiting will count towards the deadline to send me home.

I had to pick up an empty trailer to bring over to this particular place to exchange for my full one, so I was sent to a different shipper we use that had some spares on hand. Lets just say the security there wasn’t exactly air tight and the trailers had a variety of missing or substituted parts. Ah, Mexico.

605 miles behind me

Last night, I ended up just south of Montgomery, Alabama. The only city between me and my destination of any concern, traffic-wise, was Houston so I resolved to drive as far as possible today so as to get up very early tomorrow and blow through there before the morning delays begin.

I drove and drove, finishing the rest of Alabama, then a short jaunt across Mississippi, then the entire state of Louisiana from east to west, making good time. Finally, just east of Houston I wrapped it up for today with 605 miles behind me and an easy cruise for my last 300 miles or so tomorrow morning.

My left fender light fell off several times today, forcing me to get more creative and determined with my ghetto duct taping skills. It was freezing or colder all of yesterday and even here in Houston it is barely in the 40s in the middle of the afternoon.

Absolutely freezing in South Carolina

When I went to bed last night the outside air temperature was almost 60 degrees. This morning I awoke to 24 degrees, a drop of 36 degrees overnight! It took a while to warm both myself and the truck up, after which I made my way the last 120 miles to the shipper. Turns out you DO NOT want to go past them… you find very tight turns (for cars) and a 9′ 9″ bridge as well. With nowhere to turn around. Not that I would do such a thing, mind you, just a cautionary note.


Lazy day

This morning I drove towards the shipper I pick up at tomorrow. I was originally planning to drive the entire way and park near them, attempting to get loaded early, but when I stopped to fuel I started feeling lazy. After taking a shower, eating, and taking a nap I just didn’t have the desire to drive any more today so I will finish the last 120 miles or so tomorrow morning.

Happy New… trip

This morning I delivered my load in Jacksonville, Florida then went to the local Kenworth dealer to have them look over the truck, take pictures and do a road worthiness examination. I didn’t study a bit and still passed! Lucky me.

I waited a long time to get dispatched, finally getting sent all the way up to South Carolina to get a load going to Brownsville, Texas. Nice miles, but not through Joplin so my ghetto duct tape job on my fender will have to do for now.