Slow road to Denver

Saturday morning I picked up a load of Pop-Tarts in Minooka, Illinois for a Monday night delivery at a food warehouse in Denver, Colorado. Looks were a bit deceiving in this case: a 900 mile run isn’t bad for two days, but since I picked up Saturday morning and couldn’t deliver until Monday night it stretched to three days, which is poor.

I dropped by our HQ in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday to refuel then ended the day at the Pilot in Grand Island, Nebraska. I’ve been putting off getting a haircut for more than a month and since there was a lady on duty I got that taken care of. I got it cut so short it is the next thing to bald. On the plus side, my scalp hasn’t developed any bald spots on its own yet.

After I dropped in Denver I was assigned a load from the Fort Collins Budweiser plant back to Grand Island, Nebraska. Unfortunately the trailer developed a problem so after I arrived I had to turn back around and return to Denver to a trailer place to have it fixed, which is where I am right now.

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Worst Load Yet

I’ve been driving now for almost 18 months and yesterday’s (and today’s) load was the worst one I can recall.

It all started innocently enough. While I was taking my 34 hour reset in Omaha, Nebraska, my dispatcher pre-planned me on a load picking up there at the yard and delivering the next day in Chicago, Illinois with a stop about halfway between in Altoona, Iowa. It wasn’t quite as many miles as I would like to run in one day, and it terminated in Chicago which usually hints at problems, but I took it.

My basic plan was to get loaded in Altoona as early as possible (“Is 0800 too early for you to get there?” my dispatcher asked) so I could get into the Chicago area in the early afternoon to avoid the worst of the Friday traffic. Just before 0500 I rolled out of Omaha and I arrived at Altoona around 0730. I took a wrong turn on the very last street to the shipper but I got turned around quickly enough and checked in.

Only the shipper didn’t have any information from Tyson (who’s load of meat products it was; the shipper in this case was just a cold storage warehouse) on what was supposed to be loaded on to my trailer. I informed our people, our people talked with their people, blah blah blah. Oh, and I parked my truck out of the way as dozens of other trucks came and left.

By noon it was apparent there was a serious snafu somewhere and calls were flying right and left. By about 1400 I was assigned a dock but they didn’t really start loading until 1530 or so. Finally at 1630 the product was on board, the doors were sealed and I had the paperwork. Nine hours waiting.

The next problem presented itself. The consignee in Chicago doesn’t receive over the weekend so I had to arrive before midnight in order to get unloaded before Monday. My handy GPS showed that I would arrive with a few hours to spare so I got underway.

By the time I arrived in Chicago it was dark and the traffic on the highways wasn’t too bad, but the local city street traffic was fairly well packed, even at 10 PM. The markings for the consignee were nearly nonexistent and I passed the warehouse once each way going down a street that I couldn’t turn around in. I had to go miles each time to find a parking lot big enough to go back the other way safely.

Finally, I made a guess where to turn in and found the entryway which was an extremely narrow pothole-ridden gravel path lined with tractors and trailers with very little clearance on each side. Potholes so big I didn’t dare get out of first gear as I plodded along.

The docks were a mess with little area to turn around in, except for the two along the end. Fortunately the workers realized this and had the big rigs use those docks and their yard dog put trailers into the other ones.

Then, the second long wait began. There were four trucks ahead of me when I arrived at 2230. It was four hours later before I was summoned to back into one of the docks to get offloaded.

Better yet, this consignee doesn’t allow overnight parking so as soon as I was unloaded my butt was kicked to the curb out front, which of course is no parking as well. I was already pre-planned for my next load out to Denver for Monday so I slogged about fifty miles to the small town of Minooka, Illinois where I would swap my empty trailer for a full one in the morning. Morning being relative, of course, since I arrived at 0400 and fell asleep around the time I normally rise.

S-Mart. Smart. Get it?

A couple days ago I picked up a load of Petsmart stuff headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I could have driven the roughly 510 miles in one day but I had to shuttle some trailers around for over a hundred miles before I left to make sure other drivers had some for their loads today and tomorrow.

The trip was unremarkable except for the follow up load, which was pre-planned again. I had to run down I-29 to the Tyson plant at Dakota City, Nebraska and grab a pre-loaded trailer, then bring it down to Omaha. Everything went great until I left to scale it and no matter how far I moved up the tandems it was still 700 pounds nose heavy.

So I return to the facility and get put in line with all the other drivers who have similarly messed up loads. Each of us drops off his or her trailer inside, then bobtails outside for a few hours until they fix the problem and notify us. Almost four hours later, I’m ready to go… again.

Now this isn’t some teensy-tiny operation here. They probably load and unload several hundred trailers every day at this one plant. They have dedicated trailer washout docks, yard dogs running this way and that hauling trailers around, the works. You would think with this degree of experience they could avoid making this type of mistake with such regularity. But you’d be wrong, I suppose.

Anyway, made it back to HQ in Omaha without any more incidents and passed off the trailer to a different driver to take it back to Ottawa, Illinois about a block or so from the Petsmart facility I just left yesterday. As for me, I’m taking a much-deserved 34 hour reset and resuming my tour of the midwest Friday morning.

That is all.

“Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee”

That is their phrase they use a lot in advertising. I personally didn’t care for the guard dweeb at the Sara Lee guard shack this afternoon who wouldn’t let me drop off my loaded trailer there because the extra-large fuel tank wasn’t 3/4ths full. Many reefers have 50-gallon tanks, but most of the ones I’ve seen at Hill Bros are 75 gallons so what is 3/4ths on a 50 is about half of one of our larger ones. But nooooo, couldn’t argue with The Man.

“See you in a few minutes,” he said, meaning after I left the property and fueled. Obviously he hasn’t driven a semi before, as it was close to 45 minutes before I was able to fight my way to the fuel island, fuel and return to drop off the trailer.

Other than that the rest of the day was peaceful, if long. I put 630 miles on the books with a lot of that in slow-ass Illinois, using almost all of my 11 driving hours. I was asked to grab an empty from where I delivered this afternoon and run it down to Petsmart in Ottawa, Illinois then bobtail back and grab another tomorrow morning before I take a fully loaded trailer from them out to South Dakota. Miles and miles.

The 800

Pardon me, I’m still gasping a bit. I just finished putting 800 dollars worth of diesel into my truck tanks and reefer.

That load of Taco Bell tortillas was cursed. I showed up at midnight only to be told no one will be around to unload it until 0400. At least they let me in the gate this time, as no one else was there.

I set my alarm for 0400 and after about 30 minutes of waiting one of the yard dog drivers comes by and tells me which slot I can back in to once he grabs the empty from it. I take about a dozen pullups but manage to get it backed in one piece, then I wait. Finally, about 0645 I feel the unloading begin and I’m done and gone by about 0730. What a pain in the bunions over a 350 mile load.

My next pre-plan had me run across town to a Sara Lee plant in Haltom City, Texas. I’ve never heard of it either: it is a section of Fort Worth. Anyway, I managed to go in the wrong gate marked “Shipping” — very clever, those pastry people — but eventually got it sorted out.

This load was marked as a drop and hook with a preloaded trailer waiting for me, which turned out to be incorrect. Naturally, the only person in the group of (Sara Lee’s people, Hill Brothers people, and the driver) that is out of that loop was, of course, the driver. They assigned me a door and the wait began again.

I was done after almost exactly two hours and left. My usually-smart Garmin took me over Texas route 121 north out to the north of Dallas which was a real cluster. It is ripped up for over 20 miles with traffic forced on to the frontage road with lights galore. Naturally, they are replacing a free state highway with a toll road. Hope you longhorn types enjoy that.

I stopped inside Oklahoma at a fairly new Wal-Mart supercenter to restock and almost couldn’t fit all the frozen stuff into my fridge’s freezer. Guess that means I’ll have to start eating it.

Anyway, finished the day in Joplin, Missouri at a truck stop. Tomorrow’s journey is about 550 miles up to my destination, and I’ll be a day early so I’ve already notified my dispatcher that I’ll be taking 34 hours off and resuming work on Wednesday morning, which I would have done if I had run this load their way anyway.

Triple digits

Ah, Dallas.

I arrived in the early afternoon to the consignee for this load only to find temperatures just over 100 degrees outside. My appointment for this load was changed from this morning to tomorrow morning at 0900 but I played “dumb trucker” and went up to the site to see if they would unload me anyway. Apparently, I need better acting skills as they weren’t having any of it.

The load turns out to be about 15 tons of tortillas for the Taco Bell chain. The place I’m at in Texas handles deliveries for them.

The helpful, but stalwart, gate lady did tell me I could come back at midnight and someone should be around to unload me then. Since I have a pre-plan for 0800 tomorrow heading up to Illinois, I just may take her up on the offer.