Near Miss

The title has a bit of double meaning. You see, as I was pulling out of the truck stop lot this morning in West Memphis, Arkansas I was making a left turn on to a narrow street. Another truck was coming up the street towards me but I was in my turn before he could possibly make his into the parking lot so I continued like I had right of way. Which I did, of course, but that is neither here nor there.

I was a bit startled to notice the cab of his tractor move past mine at a good rate of speed even though my trailer was just about halfway out of the parking lot, angled towards him at about 45 degrees. The entrance was narrow enough I knew there was no way he could squeeze by so I did the best I could and screeched to a halt. He must have realized the same thing and he slammed on his brakes as well. My trailer cleared his tractor by a few inches as I slowly made the turn.

Now fully awake and blood pumping, I turned on to I-55 south and made my way across the river into Tennessee and through Memphis, then off to points southeast.

After a few hours driving I came across a Pilot and stopped for a shower and some breakfast. Some days you have the backing thing down, and some days you suck. Today, I sucked. I tried three times on a simple dock back between two other tractors then gave up and took an easy nose-in spot (checking for ease of backing before I did so. See here for my history on that.)

I was in no hurry since I wanted to avoid the morning rush around Birmingham, Alabama so I took a long shower and snoozed for a bit. Unfortunately, when I started my truck I noticed my secondary air tank was completely empty and my primary was bled down pretty good as well. I got out and listened while my truck idled and its air compressor worked to fill the tanks; the distinct sound of hissing air could be heard from under my tractor.

After fiddling around a bit to see if perhaps one of the drain valves was blocked open for some reason I gave up and called dispatch. I spoke with the shop folks and they didn’t have any problem with me getting it looked at a few hours down the road in Montgomery, Alabama. My truck was putting out more than enough air to keep the tanks full so I drove on with a wary eye on my pressure gauges.

The fuel tanks and gauges on my truck work a bit oddly, it seems. I had traversed only 620 miles or so by the time I arrived in Birmingham and yet I was looking a bit low so I got permission to fill up there before going on. Yes, that Pilot still sucks.

A while later I arrived at the TA in Montgomery, Alabama and nosed it around to the rear of the service bays. After filling out some paperwork and phoning our team in the rear with the gear at HQ they got to work on my truck. Turns out a valve on the line running to the air dryer was unhappy with life and needed to be replaced. Oh, and the entry and exit doors to the garage there were TIGHT. Lots of scrapes on the steel posts on either side of each door.

After the tractor was fixed I started her up and moved to leave the service bay and my indicator lights started flashing and a beep went off. Something about engine problem and fluid levels. After parking at a convenient spot in the parking lot I cracked the hood and checked the radiator fluid.

Now checking this on a Kenworth T600 is a bit more involved than in your family car. First, you have to unlatch and raise the hood. Then, my way is to grab the passenger-side mirror stanchion, raise my left leg up to the second step then pivot up and on to the passenger-side front tire. After this I curse, get back down, find the keys to my sidebox, open the sidebox, fish out the gallon of pre-mixed radiator fluid, close the sidebox, get back up on the tire then proceed to fill up the radiator. Some of those steps are optional, though which ones are up to each individual.

Crank up the engine again and all the gremlins seem satisfied for now. After all the fun and excitement from earlier I’m getting a bit bored thinking about two more hours to drive so I find a truck stop in Shorter, Alabama and call it a night. I don’t have to be at my consignee until 1100 tomorrow morning, though I’m going to arrive there before daybreak to avoid morning traffic.

That was my day.

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Buckets and Buckets

Of rain, that is.

I started this morning near Springfield, Missouri heading back west to Carthage, Missouri where a pre-loaded trailer awaited me. I called in to dispatch on Saturday to learn what my plans were and I was told I could start running this pre-planned load to Georgia on Sunday or wait for something else on Monday. Since I wanted to come back Sunday anyway, I took it.

The trip itself is the same that I ran the last time I went home. Since rain was coming down in the Missouri / Arkansas area by the bucketful I decided to take a slightly longer route with better roads. At times the rain and mist was so dense it brought Interstate 40 to a halt.

Eventually I made it through to one of the truck stops in West Memphis, Arkansas leaving a little under 500 miles to run out tomorrow, for a Tuesday morning delivery.

I got my fingerprints taken on Friday for my Hazmat endorsement. My right thumb print has been on file for a long time since California requires it for your drivers license, but it felt odd having all my fingers done. At least they don’t use ink any more — a nifty little scanner thing handles the details.

Dont Try This At Home, Kids!

Another fun detail with this brokered load was that it appeared to be unloading at a construction site. These are usually more difficult to find than regular businesses (they may not have an address, even) and the terrain itself can be a challenge in a big rig.

As it turns out, when I arrived in Overland Park, Kansas around noon I realized the problem that I had wasn’t that it was a construction site but that it was silly how this parking lot was laid out. I offer as evidence:

View all Dont Try This At Home pics

And:

This isn’t as difficult as it looks, but a new truck driver would certainly be sweating bullets in this situation.

On the plus side, my cargo was being offloaded at this funky warehouse so at least I didn’t have to take my chances at a construction site.

After I was unloaded I got a preplan over to our Kansas City, Missouri yard to take a load down to Carthage, Missouri then go home for a few days. I barely had the hours but I made it and I’m waiting to be unloaded now.

SNAFU

As any trucker can tell you, some days are better spent not getting out of the bunk in the first place. Today was such a day.

I stopped for the night just north of Fort Worth, Texas and I didn’t have a dispatch this morning so I asked my dispatcher if I should go get my trailer washed out or see if the location I was going to be dispatched to takes care of that for us. He advised me to get it washed out so I would be ready for anything and gave me a location about 10 miles away.

Traffic was horrendous and it took me about thirty minutes to arrive in the vicinity and another fifteen or so to actually find the place. Kind of a mom and pop truck / trailer wash place run by some Hispanic folks. The parking lot was rough and bumpy but they were quick and the trailer ended up clean.

One of the places I had been to along the way was a nearby truck stop so I went back there to wait for my dispatch. After about three hours I get sent a message to exchange my refrigerated trailer for a standard van trailer at our drop yard in preparation for a load. Must be awfully heavy to need that last ton or so, I thought.

Turns out, our drop yard is on the far side of Dallas about 45 miles away. I motor over there dodging the moderate to heavy traffic and the bad street address the system gave me. There is quite a bit of difference between XYZ street and XYZ avenue. The location they gave me was nearly at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, which I’m just guessing isn’t in the best part of town.

Finally, I arrive at our drop yard only to find two tired, rusty, beat-down van trailers to choose from. One isn’t going to go to market because the tandem pulling arm is broken off, and the other has a lighting problem.

It turns out our dropyard is also the lot for a truck repair company we do business with, so I was told to tow the trailer over to their building and have them figure out what was wrong. It turns out the problem isn’t the trailer, it is the electrical connector coming from my tractor. It is a wire we call a Pigtail. Seems they are all out of those items so they have to phone a different company to deliver one. Two hours later and everything is legal and I hit the road.

During my wait I was given details on the load I am to be carrying. It is a brokered load, meaning one we booked to keep a truck moving when we don’t have any freight in a particular area. These loads typically suck, in my experience, because most of the details for the load aren’t in our system and it takes some puzzling out to figure where the pickup and deliveries are, who has to be called when and that sort of thing.

I’m getting beeped and phone calls from my company asking me to call so-and-so at some other company to verify this-and-that. Here I thought I was a driver, not customer service, or a load booker, or whoever should be in charge of this stuff.

Before I get to my shipper I have to fuel which takes some more time, and more phone calls and existential angst. Not on my part, as by now I’ve stopped caring, but I’m sure someone was quietly weeping in a corner as this soap opera unfolded.

Eventually I arrive to pick up the load in Grand Prairie, Texas only to find out we didn’t have to have a van since the load is light — literally in this case, as I’m hauling light fixtures. All boxed up in cardboard, no threat to the insulated sides of a reefer. More thanks go out to the person in the rear with the gear who blew that call.

After I get loaded and send in what information I have from the Bill of Lading, I get beeped back telling me it is due near Kansas City, Kansas tomorrow morning by 0900. As I had been running around town hither and yon for the past eight-and-a-half hours, this isn’t happening. More angst on someone else’s part as I message in that I’ll be there around 1200-1300 tomorrow.

The traffic leaving Dallas around 5 PM on a weekday is fairly brutal and the roads have surprisingly few lanes for the amount of traffic the Metroplex can throw at them. By the time I reach Ardmore, Oklahoma I’m beat and call it a night. I spent more than ten hours of my time for around 220 miles, or about 22 MPH. Brokered loads suck.

There to here

Does this look like a question mark to you:

That is what I drove yesterday and today.

I began in Elm Creek, Nebraska and had to get started early-early to make my 0600 appointment in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I arrived shortly before 0530 to find another Hill Bros truck backed up to the dock and a Crete truck waiting. After going inside to make sure I was on the list, I went back to my truck and waited. And waited. And… you get the picture.

The Hill Bros truck was done in under an hour from the time I got there but the Crete guy took forever. It wasn’t until 0810, more than two hours after my appointment time, that I finally bumped the dock and I was unloaded about an hour later. I put in for detention pay (my second one, the first being this one) so we’ll see what I get for them eventually.

My dispatcher gave me a tentative pre-plan down to Fort Worth, Texas, even though he was aware the shop had sent my truck a message earlier to get its scheduled maintenance done. Apparently they had too much freight in the area and not enough trucks, so maintenance waits and loads get moved. I was deadheaded across the border into Omaha to a meatpacking plant to get a load of yummy “beef scraps”. The last load I pulled like this went to a Sara Lee plant to make hot dogs or something, just so you know.

Anyway, my dispatcher told me it was a simple drop and hook with a preloaded trailer. The folks at the plant collectively said “Huh?” and had me back into a door for a live load. At least they were fairly quick about it.

I ran back across the river to Council Bluffs and scaled the load with no problem and got running south for the last six hours of my day until I had to stop. This happened near Emporia, Kansas which has to win the prize for the most jacked up interchange I’ve ever seen. It has been under construction (destruction?) for a while now and it is a colossal mess. I thought my GPS was going to take a dump on me, it was that bad.

Anyway, I spent the night at the Flying J there and got running again as soon as possible down to Fort Worth, Texas. I was to grab 50 gallons of fuel in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on the way and inadvertently pumped 64 before I remembered it wasn’t a fill-up. Ah well.

It was fairly windy all the way and very much so in the DFW metroplex area. Found my consignee without any trouble and after a couple hours the truck was unloaded and I made my way over to a local truckstop. I am at the bitter end of my logbook now and can’t move until tomorrow when I get back ten hours I can use to run with.

Awakenings

This morning I jolted awake with the fear of having missed my alarm somehow, and my watch seemed to confirm this as it showed 0159 and my first appointment was at 0200!! My heart was pounding and I was furious at myself as I started throwing on clothes until I realized that I was in Mountain Time so it was really just before 0100 locally. Whew!

I motored over to the first PetSmart stop and boy am I thankful I didn’t show up there yesterday afternoon. The architect of this particular strip mall (for whom the 486th level of hell is reserved, I assure you) decided to make the docks all face one way and the natural entrance of the place for trucks backwards to this. Worse, in order to get oriented properly you had to go out back to the main street then find two places to get turned around, THEN squeeze into a single dock with cinder block walls on both sides. Grrr.

Of course, it was snowing off and on at this point and my first stop took half of my ballast load off. Also, I was running a bit low on fuel and after consultation with HQ I had to head north about 12 miles to the local Pilot, do a partial fill up, then run back down south forty miles to the last drop for this load. By this point it was snowing pretty good and there was a decent amount of ice on the road which I would have to navigate back through yet again as I made my way north to Fort Collins to pick up my next (pre-planned) load.

There was a cargo problem at the second stop, as one of the heavy pallets had fallen over on to a lighter pallet and they had to work all of that by hand. Eventually it was cleared up and I was able to shove off back out into the snow and ice.

I ran straight up I-25 to Fort Collins cautiously as there was some decent accumulation on the roads at this point. By the time I was almost there the weather was still freezing but no longer snowing, and there was no ice so it was a pleasant drive.

At the Budweiser plant there was a new wrinkle: no place to park an empty trailer! Apparently the plant itself wasn’t producing over Easter but the empties were still inbound and when I arrived all of the regular parking places were taken. By now I’m getting to be an old hand at what I call “ghetto parking” so I kind of made myself a spot on the far end of the empty lot. It was a good enough idea that when I was back there searching for my loaded trailer 15 minutes later another handful of trailers were using my technique.

I found my loaded trailer and backed under it only to find that the last inconsiderate asshole driver had cranked up the landing gear too high. The proper method is to crank them down to about an inch from the ground then lower your rear suspension as you pull away. This leaves the trailer a smidge lower in the nose so the next driver who hooks up has the landing gear off the ground by the time he walks back to crank them up so it isn’t a struggle. When you have twenty tons of beer loaded on top of them, cranking them up by hand isn’t for the faint hearted.

I eyeballed the tandems as I slid them back into place and when I scaled out it was right the first time. This is one area where an experienced driver has an advantage over a newer one.

Anyway, I chugged north a bit more to Cheyenne, Wyoming then turned east along I-80 towards Council Bluffs, Iowa where I will be delivering this load of suds tomorrow morning. I’m right up against the end of my logbook at the moment so I had to stop earlier than I would have otherwise wanted, but I can start early tomorrow and finish it up.

Early start, early finish

I went to bed early last night after eating a hearty meal and awoke at 0300. I decided I would hit the road a little earlier than I had planned and got running.

Along the side of I-80 I saw a sign for a Super Wal-Mart and pulled in. I needed to replenish my water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and get some cookies and such as well. This particular location, in Lexington, Nebraska, is extremely trucker-friendly with lots of parking nearby, even for big rigs. I joined several dozen other parked trucks and did my shopping. Way to go Lexington!

The rest of the drive to just outside Denver was punctuated by several snow showers but nothing that lasted more than 15 minutes or so. The high plains around Denver itself were warm with mostly clear skies and no snow to be seen anywhere.

I looked over my deliveries in the morning and I’m glad I did. The way the Hill Bros dispatch system works is the reverse of that I’m used to, so instead of just sending me information on each stop as I complete them they send me the information on my last stop first, then the others as separate messages. I had the two stops mixed up in my mind which would have been a problem since the first stop is loaded at the back of my trailer. I’m sorted out now and I’ll drive about 10 miles to the first store just before 0200 tomorrow morning.