Ice, Ice Baby

I awoke this morning near Chicago to rain and temps just under freezing. First I had to head south a short distance to Ottawa, Illinois to drop off my empty trailer for one loaded with Petsmart stuff bound for Colorado.

By the time I arrived my truck and trailer were iced over, the rain having frozen to my rig. It was bad enough I couldn’t get the landing gear on the trailer cranked down for a while as the gears were frozen badly and the teeth wouldn’t connect. Eventually I applied a few light taps with my hammer and got things seated and the gear down.

The new trailer has about 38,000 pounds of pet stuff which is a good thing in bad weather. Plenty of traction for all my tires. The warehouse even had a digital scale so I got everything set up properly before I left.

My cell phone rang as I was nearing Des Moines, Iowa and my dispatcher wanted to know if I wouldn’t mind dropping this trailer there for someone else and making a pickup nearby headed to Pennsylvania. My hours are kind of slim at the moment so I told him I would have to park my rig for a few minutes and look it up on my computer. By the time I pulled over, cranked up the laptop and worked out where I could be and by when he was on the phone telling me someone else was able to cover it. I thought I might if the weather was good the whole way, but anyone living near the great lakes can tell you today is a bear.

The further west I ran the stronger the wind blew and the higher the temps got. By the time I reached Omaha it was almost 50 degrees and rather windy. I stopped off at our HQ for the day and will run this load out to its first stop in Colorado first thing in the morning.

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More mud, less room

And less fun, of course.

I left first thing this morning from St Joseph, Missouri and headed due east along a state highway. I was a bit unsettled by running 140-some miles along a secondary route but I’m happy to report it was very well maintained and sparsely traveled. Something I will keep in my memory bank for a future trip.

I arrived in the small town of Macon, Missouri and eventually found my way to the Con-Agra plant there. It was tricky finding the entry point (go all the way past, hang a left to the rear, come in down an unmarked narrow side street) but the folks there were cheerful enough. Because it was so narrow I was blocking the exit but there wasn’t much traffic at that early hour, and I was given the paperwork and the bad news.

The good news was that the trailer was ready to go and the paperwork too. The bad news was that I would have to move up a half block or so and execute the tightest u-turn I have yet made as a truck driver. It was so tight I almost hit the wall in front of me as I turned while simultaneously almost hit the obstacles behind my trailer with its swing. All while almost jackknifing it so I nearly hit the side of the trailer with the sleeper of my tractor.

The worse news was that this was the warm up for the main event. I was directed to the drop yard a few blocks away to get my new trailer. It was not only similarly tight but also muddy and I had to move a trailer just to have a shot at getting my new one out of the mess in one piece. Inch forward, turn sharp, pop the brakes, get out and look. Rinse and repeat, but remember you are rinsing with mud all over the place.

The drive from there to Rochelle, Illinois was a cakewalk. I wasn’t able to get my load scaled for over 150 miles (and over 100 miles across the border of Illinois) because there wasn’t a single scale to be found along the way. Fortunately, there aren’t any weigh stations coming in that way until a few miles past the stop where you can finally scale out. I had eyeballed it back in Missouri and it turned out to be legal, but better safe than sorry. Some states charge $1 per pound overweight and you can easily have a few thousand here or there.

I dropped the trailer off at the consignee and got an empty with a HELLA COOL (trucker term) new feature: an automatic trailer pin system! With the press of a button it automatically retracts the pins so you can slide your tandems then when you release your brakes it sets the pins! One of these days they are going to put a button for that in a truck (perhaps wirelessly linked to the trailer) and you will be able to handle the entire affair without getting out at all.

Pre-plan Update: This load and my next load were both pre-plans, so Hill Bros is a perfect six-for-six to start out. Tomorrow I grab my first Petsmart load headed for Colorado. Two drops and a very early start on Sunday when I deliver. Just like I like it.

Of Mud and Meat

Yesterday I dropped my load off first thing in the morning in Ankeny, Iowa. This was a standard affair with the Bawls drinks sitting on pallets, and they had me moving pretty quickly once the warehouse guys started work. Then it was off to Marshalltown, Iowa, just 45 miles away to pick up a load of meat.

Meat loads we treat differently than other loads in several ways. For one, the trailers are always washed out and sanitized before they are allowed into the plant. For another, we at Hill Bros always have trailers washed out after meat loads… that kind of perfume hanging around isn’t usually a plus at the next shipper’s dock.

Like many places in the midwest this time of year, the lot where the trailer was to be washed was a muddy mess. This made no difference to the trailer, as I backed up to a dock and they worked on it from inside, but my shoes and the area in front of my driver’s seat was a disaster for the rest of the day.

The trailer I was to pick up had been there a while and was already loaded, so I dropped off the old one. As I attempted to disconnect my fifth wheel, however, I came upon a snag: it didn’t want to let go of my old trailer! It turns out that the particular kind we use requires a driver to pull left first then pull out, then pull left again to get it to hang in the “open” position. My shoulder wishes I had figured that out quicker.

Anyway, that settled I hooked up to the new trailer and went to the local truck stop to get it weighed. I was legal so I ran it down to St Joseph, Missouri to a Sara Lee plant where they took the load off. And took their sweet time as well, but that is neither here nor there.

Since it was a load of meat I had to find a trailer washout someplace nearby. I followed a line of other trucks leaving the facility and wouldn’t you know it, they led me to the place I needed.

Four for four

Dummy me, just a few minutes after I typed that I might not have a preplan the satellite unit goes off. Just a short run tomorrow with a preloaded trailer of meat going down to Missouri, so hopefully they will get me a load from there back up to Omaha so I can trade trucks into a Volvo 780.

Staging for tomorrow morning

I followed this path today, from Cornersville, Tennessee up through Nashville, then over to Illinois where I spent forever driving at 55 mph. Just for variety I put the hammer down and rolled the old speedometer up to 57 or 58 just to see what that was like.

My truck rolled over 200,000 miles today at almost the same time as the engine hours hit 6,666. Thus, on average, this truck has spent its hours “alive” at an average speed of 33 mph. In other words, a lot of idling.

Tomorrow I have to show up just north of Des Moines, Iowa to get unloaded at 4 AM. I could have driven a bit further today but the welcoming sight of the Iowa 80 truckstop and its 800 parking spaces, and more importantly its DQ restaurant beckoned.

No preplan as of yet. Could this be the first time I get unloaded before I know my next trip?

This trucker has Bawls!

No joke, about thirteen tons of Bawls soft drinks in the back. Not even a refrigerated load!

My load was taken off by a lumper yesterday morning. Lumper is an industry term meaning someone who loads or unloads freight, typically on a casual basis with the shipper or consignee. It took me a while to get coordinated with my guy but he was quick getting the product out of the back and I got moving up to Huntsville, Alabama.

When I arrived I managed to pull in to the wrong driveway for this plant (they have two, both at 2700 such-and-such a street). After conferring with the guard I drove down another block or so and entered the second gate, which the company was repairing as a Wal-Mart driver had knocked down one of the ends with his trailer earlier.

Loading was quick, as they had it staged and ready to go. As soon as they cleared a dock I backed in and about fifteen minutes later I had paperwork in hand and was almost ready to pull out.

Almost ready because they loaded all of this Bawls stuff at the front of my trailer and my load gauge was reading fairly heavy. I slid my tandems all the way back yet it still looked iffy. Fortunately, I know that the inbound Tennessee scale on I-65 north is beyond where I was going to fuel so I could scale there. If push came to shove I could float a pallet or two back by hand, as the floor of the reefer is a kind of corrugated metal.

It turns out I’m legal but nose-heavy, even with the tandems all the way forward and my sliding kingpin all the way back. I fueled at a tiny and poorly-designed pilot in southern Tennessee then drove back across the freeway to an independent truck stop and had a peaceful night there.

Boring day in to Georgia

Today was just a boring day of driving, listening to an audiobook and knocking out 480 miles in eight hours. No stops in the middle except one quick pull off into a rest area to check the reefer temps then on about my business.

The consignee for this load isn’t accepting loads today and my appointment is for 0700 tomorrow morning. As soon as I’m unloaded I’ll be running back up to northern Alabama to pick up my next load.