Hometime

Yesterday I did indeed end up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I didn’t have enough hours to run the rest of the way to Joplin so I stopped early and finished the rest this morning.

The good folks in the inspection bay at our HQ looked over my tires and sent me over to the tire shop. They caught an impressive gash in one of my rear tires but missed some worrisome marks on my left steer. The guy in the tire shop looked it over and quickly concluded that it was time to replace, so I ended up with two fresh steer tires and one used rear super single that matched the tread depth on the other side. The super single was one of the originals on the truck, having provided about 293,000 miles of service. Its opposite number is still doing well and will probably last another 20,000 or so.

I checked in to the local Holiday Inn that CFI has used as long as I’ve been a driver, only to find out they have changed the corporate account over to a different motel. Holiday Inn is still honoring the same rate for CFI / Conway drivers and I definitely won’t be changing over. The rooms, food and service here are superior.

Level 1 DOT inspection

The title of this post typically brings anxiety and fear to the mind of most truckers.

After I had dropped my trailer in Nogales, Arizona, I went over to our drop lot and picked up the new one, bound for Kentucky but via Joplin so I can take my time off. I did my usual pretrip, checked the tires, lights, brakes and such then took off up I-19 towards Tucson. About halfway there is a rest area, and the northbound side had signs instructing all commercial vehicles to pull off for inspection, and a dozen or more DOT agents milling around. And a lot of trucks with their hoods open for inspection.

They had a portable truck scale there, which I didn’t care about since my load is not even 20,000 lbs and I couldn’t possibly be overweight on any of my axles. I had my window rolled down and the two officer types there mentioned that as soon as I had scaled I was to pull in to one of the truck parking spots and they would “be right along.” Oh goody.

What followed was about 30-40 minutes spent checking all my lights, brakes, air system, drivers license, medical card, registrations and permits but not, for some reason, my logbook. I have my computer sitting on a special automotive desk in my passenger seat with the screen on my electronic logbook and once the officer saw that he didn’t even bother getting a printed copy from me. Which wouldn’t have been a problem since I run legit, anyway.

In the end I was given a completely clean bill of health and a printed report I have to turn in to HQ to have them review it and mail it back to the DOT folks. Oh, and a cute green sticker thing on my windshield… kind of like a gold star in elementary school, I guess.

Anyway, I drove and drove and drove, using up all my 11 driving hours for the day. I made it to the middle of New Mexico where I am stopped for the night. Tomorrow I will finish up in Oklahoma, then I will pull in to Joplin early Wednesday morning.

Nogales, Arizona

I started in towards Nogales early in the morning and arrived by 0630 local time. The border transfer company we use here doesn’t open until 0800 though.

The satellite unit went off as I was closing in with a load plan heading towards Kentucky. I told my fleet manager I needed to be back in Joplin this week so I will see if I can get it relayed there.

Stopped

This is a picture from the same metal forms plant as my previous post:

After we back up to their dock to get loaded a forklift picks up a metal base with one of these signs and sticks it in front of your truck. So you don’t drive away with one of the loaders in the trailer, apparently.

What gets me is the fact that the sign is all dented and scratched up.

Marmon sighting

Marmon was a small company that produced semis in the second half of the 20th century (Wiki here). They were considered by some as the Rolls-Royce of trucking and were produced in small numbers by hand, with considerable attention devoted to the details.

I’ve heard them spoken of but haven’t seen (or noticed) one until today:

Wickedly windy

Today I drove from Big Spring, Texas to Lordsburg, Arizona in heavy wind from the southwest. I’m hauling just over 32,000 lbs of tires which is enough to keep the trailer in line and not rocking too badly, but there is a limit to everything.

I could have gone on for two more hours but there wasn’t much point. In the past eight days I’ve driven almost 4,000 miles and I’m out of hours. I get back six hours tonight at midnight which would let me finish the trip to Nogales but then I would be low on hours Monday morning after I deliver. Instead, I’m going to stay put here until Monday morning to reset my hours then finish it off then.

Stopped short

I only drove nine hours today, leaving me only ten hours tomorrow to get closer to my destination. I need about twelve hours total, so the rest will have to come either Sunday or Monday morning perhaps. The driving itself was boring and uneventful, and I ended up between Dallas and El Paso along I-20 for the night.

Grey day

Today I drove 650 miles west along I-85 then I-20 under cloudy skies. It rained nearly the entire way and the sun didn’t come out even once. The only real hitch came around Atlanta in the morning traffic but I timed my arrival just about right at 1000 and by then it was moving, at least.

Here is the whole map of the journey. I’m about 1/3rd of the way complete now. Tomorrow I will spend most of the day crossing half of Texas.

Thwarted

I got up this morning with a plan. A fine plan, involving delivering my load then taking the rest of the day off to rest and recuperate. It would be about six hours from where I stopped last night (the very last parking spot at a crowded T/A near Jacksonville, Florida) and that would be enough.

I was running long before dawn and made it to my drop in Columbia, South Carolina by 1100 local time. It was a single dock that some numbnutz had surrounded with tight cinder block walls but I made it in with one dinky pull up. The warehouse guy was on the ball and got me unloaded in a half hour or so and I’m thinking great, time to hit the truck stop and call it a day.

Run over to the nearest one and turn the truck off and am about to enjoy some soup when my satellite beeper goes off. Goes off with the sustained beep that I know means I have either a long form message or a new dispatch. Boom… I’m dispatched about an hour northwest to Laurens, South Carolina to a Michelin tire plant I’ve been to before.

“Can I pick up the trailer tomorrow morning instead of today?” I asked my fleet manager. No luck.

So I run an hour north, drop my old trailer, get the paperwork for the load then run around and find the loaded trailer. It is one of the newest in the fleet with the white and blue Conway logos, super-single tires, everything. Oh, and a heckuva oil leak coming from the back axle. Something that would have been obvious to the idiot who dropped the trailer there as he was STANDING NEXT TO IT WHEN HE SLID HIS TANDEMS BACK.

Ahem.

So, I call in to Road Service and wait. And wait. And wait. I wait about ten minutes on hold and finally someone answers and gives me the phone number to Duck Pye. I kid you not, there is a trailer repair joint in Greenville, South Carolina named Duck Pye.

Getting there is an adventure as it is located in the boonies and if your trailer doesn’t have a tire or suspension problem before you get there, the last turn you make and the road that follows is nearly certain to jar something loose.

The mechanics are quick and have me in and out in under an hour and by then it is about 1530 and it being the east coast, it is time to decide where to park. I know that a few miles away is a Pilot that I’ve been to before so I rush over… and get the next-to-last parking spot. The guy behind me took the last one next to my truck.

The load I’m on could have been a good one, were it not for the timing. I have five days to get it to Nogales, Arizona, a distance of 2,000 miles. Since the folks there don’t work weekends, I can’t deliver before Monday so I will just slog it through.

Oh, then I got beeped as I was leaving the trailer repair place. A certain “Tim Townsend” is tied for 5th place in the current recruiting contest. Lucky bastard.

Could I be unloaded early?

I arrived in Miami, Florida at my consignee just before 1330 local time, eleven hours ahead of schedule. I was expecting some flack from the gate guard but he was surprisingly gentle with the rubber gloves and lubricant. Then, he directed me to the receiving folks and amazingly, they didn’t kick me off the lot. Instead, they took the paperwork and pointed me at an open door.

“Take door 18, we’ll try to get you in between three and four.” I was told.

I busted a move (silently, and without moving of course) and took my truck over to the right spot.

Could I get unloaded this afternoon?

UPDATE: It took a good long while, but eventually I was unloaded. I ran over to the only truckstop I know in the area and managed to snag the last empty spot. Woo hoo.

Water Torture

Today I drove from just west of Houston, Texas to the panhandle of Florida through some of the roughest thunderstorms I’ve seen on the road. I spent almost 300 miles in the pouring rain at speeds ranging from 10-65 mph. When I was nearing Pensacola, Florida I saw a series of five or six bolts of lightning hit what appeared to be the same spot over a period of two or three seconds, then several times more in the next 15 minutes or so as I passed the town.

As described in USA Today: (link)

Severe storms stream through South and destroy homes

MOLINO, Fla. (AP) — Severe storms blew across the South on Sunday, producing at least one tornado and destroying homes in the Florida Panhandle and Alabama. No injuries were immediately reported.

I’m about 550 miles out from my destination in Miami. I got running as early as I could this morning and plan on doing the same tomorrow morning so I arrive in the afternoon, which will let me get some rest in before the scheduled unloading around midnight.

Off to Miami

It is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. I got on the board last night instead of this morning because there were quite a few people waiting already and I wanted most of the weekend to run. Still, it was mid afternoon before I got beeped to choose between loads going to Missouri, Ohio and Florida. They didn’t have to twist my arm to head off to Miami, though the unload is scheduled for Monday night at midnight and the warehouse in question is a bit of a pain to deal with.

I knocked out about 330 miles today and ended up near Houston, Texas. Tomorrow is Sunday so running through Houston shouldn’t be that much of a problem and the rest of the way to Florida is a fairly easy drive.

Tired

I arrived several hours early at my destination in Houston, Texas yesterday and was told to wait in a staging lot until my appointment time. I did so, then returned and after an hour or so I was unloaded. There wasn’t room to park where I was, so I went about ten miles away to the nearest truck stop and snoozed for a while.

Late in the afternoon I was beeped to pick up a load of tires at Michelin nearby and take it to Laredo, Texas no later than noon. The way the trip was planned originally wasn’t possible due to my break so I called in and they verified that I could pick up the full trailer very early in the morning and scoot out of town.

When I arrived to exchange trailers they told me to put my empty in “the gravel lot” then go find my full one and bring it back to the guard shack for the paperwork. After ten minutes of running around I found the muddy pit they consider “the gravel lot” and found that it was brimming with other empties. It was shaped like a question mark and once I got to the back and realized there wasn’t an open space I just dropped it there next to another of our trailers and the trailer jockeys can work it out in the morning.

The trailer wasn’t bulging at the sides this time — a first for a tire load. It turns out they were truck tires piled in stacks instead of diagonally so that is why there were no bulges. Still, 40,000 lbs of tires though.

I ran the load down to our terminal in Laredo then off across town to Uniroyal-pain-in-the-ass drive to deliver, then returned to put in my paperwork and get a shower. Except, there are no showers since the terminal is being remodeled. So, I went back across town bobtail and am taking a couple days off at the local Flying J.

So there.

“Knock knock”, “Who’s there?”

Why it is the local lot lizard at 0100 hours, that’s who!

I’ve been fortunate enough to not get bothered by a lizard for probably six months until last night. Fortunately, she gave up easily and went on to the next truck.

The parking lot here in Lufkin, Texas is what I like to refer to as “informal”. It is several acres in size with enormous potholes and the foundations of buildings that have been demolished. Trucks are parked every which way which only heightens the excitement.

Getting warmer

Yesterday before I shut down in Missouri I spent several hours fighting through snow, slush and ice. My load is probably the best I’ll ever have for such conditions: four heavy Caterpillar engines with a combined weight of 26,000 pounds sitting at the very front of the trailer box right over my drive axles.

This morning the temperatures hovered right around freezing. As I drove south then west they steadily climbed until the middle of eastern Texas where they hit 55 degrees. For the first time in a few days I can actually turn my truck off tonight and be fairly confident it will start in the morning.

Off to Houston

My trailer brakes managed to freeze while I was on the dock this morning getting unloaded, but some alcohol in the brake lines fixed that in a hurry. Got beeped shortly after I was unloaded to head over towards Chicago and pick up a load bound for Houston, Texas.

Still cold as hell. Temperatures around zero with 20-40 degrees of wind chill.

Yo, the floor of my truck has frozen

Apparently, engineers at Kenworth decided it would be okay for the floor of a T-600 tractor like mine to freeze, even with the engine on and warm air coming out of the ductwork. It was mildly chilly this morning in Joplin at 24 degrees, but by the time I made it up near Chicago the outside air temperature was hovering around 2 degrees. Even with a pair of shoes and two pairs of socks on my feet were cold all day. Guess I need to get a pair of shoes with thicker soles.

I’m at my (deserted) consignee backed in to one of their docks. They allegedly open at 0600 tomorrow morning. There is lots of snow piled up here and a system coming through ready to dump more tonight and tomorrow which will be loads of fun once I’m unloaded.

Wasting time in Joplin

After I picked up in southern California, I drove to Jamestown, New Mexico before calling it a night. Then, yesterday I drove from there to Sayre, Oklahoma and this morning I cruised through Oklahoma City and Tulsa and on to our HQ in Joplin. The inspection bay found nothing wrong with tractor or trailer, an unusual thing, and I was admitted into the main part of the yard in short order.

For some reason, it took Enterprise nearly three hours to pick me up so I could rent a car for the day. Eventually it all got sorted out and I’m typing this from a nearby hotel room. I’ll stay here until early Sunday morning, get my 34 hour restart taken care of, then move up to Illinois to finish this trip.

Why 2k

This morning I awoke at #2 on the board. Late in the morning (central time) I was beeped to grab an empty and take it to a nearby town to get loaded for Illinois. It is a nice 2,000 mile trip, and even nicer was the fact that there was a pre-loaded trailer waiting for me at the shipper so I was in and out fast.

Neither trailer had its registration papers; not unusual for ones that come up from the border. I’m having the paperwork for the one I’m hauling faxed to me tomorrow morning.

I stopped at the Pilot in Avondale, Arizona to fuel up and regretted it as soon as I got off the freeway. That particular truck stop has way too much traffic around and through there and dropping in for a quick top-off was a mess. I was planning on taking a shower there, but after a long wait to get to the pumps and lots of CB Rambo types holding forth on the airwaves I decided to push on.

My trip was original scheduled to deliver this Saturday but apparently the factory doesn’t work weekends, so it has been rescheduled to first thing Monday morning. I was paid for two days layover between the last load and this one and expect similar compensation after this load is delivered.

Over the road, no one respects your time, except you

One of the things you quickly find out in the trucking industry is that no one, not the company you work for, not your dispatcher, not a trip planner, not the shippers or consignees, not law enforcement and certainly not other drivers give a whit about wasting your time.

Playing in this system is something of an art. Some drivers cut in front of a line of trucks patiently waiting to enter a consignee, as happened to me just yesterday. Some drivers send in satellite messages indicating they are empty and waiting for their next load while they are still being unloaded, or even before they bump the dock.

Companies have concerns that don’t exactly mirror those of their drivers, as well. For example, myself and at least a dozen other trucks are being held here in Calexico until this afternoon when it will become apparent how many trailers will make it across the border from Mexico. My sources in operations are fairly certain there won’t be enough trailers arriving today to make it down to my spot on the list, so I will either have to continue waiting or be deadheaded somewhere to pick up a load. Of course, since my time has no value in this equation, I will be held here until mid afternoon or later then perhaps sent hundreds of miles away as quickly as I can scuttle.

By comparison, imagine you arrived at your work some mornings and you weren’t allowed to begin working right away. Instead, your company would have you hang out in your cubicle ready to go at any moment, but perhaps not allow you to begin working for four hours. Then expect a full day’s work from you, as if you had begun right when you arrived.

Naturally, while you are waiting you are not being paid. This is why, in effect, no one but you respects your time. A trucker’s wasted time is the lubricant that keeps the inefficient cogs of shippers, consignees and trucking companies moving. If there was a cost associated with that wasted time (and I specifically discount detention and layover pay, as neither is real compensation for the time wasted), say an hourly wage when waiting to be dispatched, then companies would find a way to minimize that expenditure and therefore begin to respect a truck driver’s time.

Shorted

I delivered my load first thing in the morning in Ontario, California and was given a trip from there down to Calexico, California. A whopping 199 miles.

CFI seems to switch drop yards fairly frequently. In my 15 months with them, our Atlanta yard has switched locations several times and Calexico has changed at least once. Naturally, the address given for the new yard has the wrong town (it is listed as being in Calexico, but it is really north of there in the town of Heber).

I was out of hours on my 14 yesterday when I got in so our crack team at HQ asked when I would be ready. I messaged back saying I would love a load leaving early in the morning, but when I called in this morning they took it to mean I would be ready to get on the board, not leave. Now I’m 15th and not entirely happy about it. As good a reason as any to chat with my dispatcher when she gets in to work.