Its 0100, let’s wake up the driver…

I awoke to someone pounding on my door a few hours before my alarm was set to go off. Groggily, I climbed down from my upper bunk (it is about six feet off of the floor of the truck and even includes its own ladder!). At the last moment I noticed a potentially disastrous sequence of moves one can make lowering oneself from the perch which could, in an extreme circumstance, perform an immediate and most likely unwanted vasectomy.

Anyhow, it turns out to be a security guard for the underground installation I was overnighting at (outside in the parking lot, of course). He just wanted to know if I was making a delivery inside that night, to which of course I mumbled “you-horse-maggot-I’d-like-to-gouge-out-your-eyes-no”, stressing the final part. He seemed satisfied, or perhaps it was intimidated by my presence and left me be.

Alas, I could not get back to sleep after this so an hour later I did my pre-trip and headed out. I stopped at the Lamar, Missouri Wal-Mart to stock up now that I am fairly confident my refrigerator manages temperatures well. Too well, as it turns out: three hours later most of the water bottles I had placed inside were half ice. So I turned it down a notch.

One of the really nice things about having this APU is that it has a setting that leaves it off but in a monitoring mode. When it sees the batteries running low, it starts up and charges them, then shuts back off. Same with the engine fluid temperatures which lets the big diesel start easier. Anyway, it means I don’t have to run the APU all the time in order to ensure power remains on and my cold stuff remains cold.

For money some reason I was taken fifteen miles out of route to fuel at the Pilot in Joplin instead of the Flying J directly on my route on the other side of town. The company saves a buck or two, but I’m stuck with the driving, which isn’t a good deal for a company driver in my book.

Anyway, I eventually make it down to a ConAgra plant in Russellville, Arkansas and drop off my fully loaded trailer. They don’t have any empties so my new fleet manager helpfully asks if I had checked the Americold facility nearby. No, I had no idea they were in town or we had any trailers there, so he pretty please sent me directions. Turns out they had an assortment of empties there, so I grabbed one.

The second pre-plan I got yesterday had me retrace my steps back to Fayetteville, Arkansas to a Tyson plant to pick up a load headed to Arlington, Texas. After I arrived at the plant, was strip searched and patted down by an overly-enthusiastic grandmotherly type, I was allowed to fill out some forms, collect a reflective garment and enter the plant. Only to find out that the 30 pallets of whatever I was supposed to grab this afternoon won’t be “produced” until 0600 tomorrow at the earliest.

I phoned in the news and our people and there people jawjacked for a spell, while I cooled my heels. Eventually, I decided to head over to the only truck stop in town and wait it out. It is a smallish Pilot with parking for about two dozen trucks tops but I managed to grab the space from a truck that was pulling out right as I was entering the parking lot. Took me a while to get what should have been an easy back done properly; this Volvo is easier to back in some respects but I haven’t yet absorbed the different turning rates and viewing angles to make my life easier.

Finally, consensus was reached and the galaxy can continue on its path again. I will get loaded at 0600 (“it will be ready by 0600”, I’m told) then run it over to Texas to be delivered a day late. Sunday morning, instead of Saturday morning.

Such is the life.

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Ghost in the machine

I mentioned in an earlier post that the driver’s side mirror isn’t working, and this morning I found out that isn’t exactly correct. It turns out that the selector switchs that goes from right side, left side and “nothing” activate themselves randomly when the truck starts. So, for instance, when I started it up this morning I could adjust the driver mirror. Later I could adjust neither mirror, and still later I could adjust the right-side mirror again. Volvo’s and electrical bugs — my mom could go on and on.

Anyway, I did indeed get up early-early to pick up a load of soft drinks headed to Kansas City. I was moving out of the Chicago area by 0500 or so and I’m sure glad I wasn’t headed the other direction. I had a couple short slow ups but nothing to worry about, and an hour later I was full steam headed west. Well, as much as 55 mph is “full steam” of course.

I stopped off for a shower and a bite to eat as soon as I crossed into Iowa and when I got back to my truck I asked my dispatcher if it would be possible to “T-call” the load in Kansas City. That is trucker talk for transferring the load to another unit, in this case a local driver. See, I would arrive around 1500 today and the load doesn’t deliver until tomorrow morning. Shortly thereafter I got approval to drop the trailer at our yard in KC then not one but two pre-plans show up over the satellite unit.

There was some disagreement over when I was going to do what to whom and where but eventually it got sorted out. I picked up a load at every truck driver’s favorite underground storage facility in Independence, Missouri which I visited once before when I worked at CFI (details here). The test of my driving skills didn’t disappoint, but I managed to get in and out without a scratch.

The ominous entrance, this time from inside my wide-cab Volvo 780:

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There are seemingly endless corridors with stone pillars as you can see here through which we (very carefully) maneuver our big rigs:

Finally, I got it backed into a dock and here is the beauty pic:

Here is today’s run. Tomorrow’s I’ll get to tomorrow.

Screech! Change of direction

I ended up going east to Chicago this morning instead of north to South Dakota.

I woke up at 0200 to get fuel and find my loaded trailer I noticed the right-side headlight was out. No problemo, I think, we have repair folks and its just a headlight.

Nearly seven hours later the corroded wire on the other side of the chassis that was the root cause of the problem was fixed and everything under the hood tidied up. The load I was to take was critical so it was given to another driver and I got a load of plastic resin material to bring to Chicago. It was a 460-mile trip and I had just over eight hours to run it, not to mention the slow Illinois truck speed limit and fighting Chicago traffic on the way in. In any event, I made it to my destination slightly ahead of schedule, and completely out of hours.

The (new to me) truck ran fairly well during the trip, though a few differences from Kenworth rigs were immediately apparent: the 12-liter Volvo engines are underpowered and the air-ride suspension is a bit skittish, especially in the high winds I encountered today. And, for some reason, most of the buttons on the dash work backwards to what I am used to. For instance, in most American vehicles when you flip a switch up it turns on that function, and down cancels it. In my Volvo many of the features are the opposite.

I didn’t mention yesterday several other features of the Volvo that I appreciate. For instance, there is a built-in wraparound curtain with a curtain track just behind the front windshield and side windows which makes it very easy to “bundle up” at the end of your driving day. There is also a nice, informative dash display right in the center of your steering wheel with many different screens of information. For instance, I reset the fuel tracking after I topped off this morning and it tells me how many gallons I burned and what my MPG was.

The pre-plan of the day arrived just before I arrived at my consignee. Tomorrow morning, at my leisure, I will take a load of soft drinks from a plant about 10 miles away and relocate it to Lenexa, Kansas, which is a suburb of Kansas City. The only downside to this trip is that I can’t deliver early, instead having to wait until the following morning at which time I would prefer to be running my next load. Perhaps my dispatcher will have a solution for me tomorrow…

FANTASTIC April 15th

Yes, I know that for most people “fantastic” isn’t the word to describe today. For the first time ever I did my taxes at the last moment, filed them electronically this morning in fact. I got a hefty chuck of cash back from the feds and the state because of my trucking activities, even though I took two extra deductions last year in anticipation.

Then I motored in the last few miles to my consignee and it was an easy drop, in-and-out in 30 minutes or so. From there I went about four miles to our company yard and — wait for it — turned in my Kenworth T-600 for a Volvo 780! My new truck has a few more miles on it (251,768 vs my old truck’s 210,000 or so) but it has three things the old truck did not: an inverter, a refrigerator and a Tri-Pak APU unit.

The inverter takes the DC electricity that the truck alternator produces and converts it to AC, so I can use most household appliances, not just the DC ones (which typically suck by comparison). The fridge in a Volvo 780 is humongous; probably double the interior volume of others I’ve seen on Kenworth and Freightliner trucks. The Auxilliary Power Unit (APU) is a separate small diesel engine with its own air conditioning and heating units that can also keep the coolant in the engine above freezing for easier starts and keeps the batteries topped off.

Today was very windy, with gusts in the 40-50 mph range and lots of flying dust. Just transferring stuff from one truck to another coated me in a blanket of dust mixed in with my sweat, and my eyes, ears, mouth and nose got an extra dose.

The truck itself (#2358 for anyone interested) had a few issues. The APU needed a bit of TLC from the on-site mechanic. The freon in the AC unit had leaked out. One of the cabinet doors was missing. The driver-side mirrors won’t adjust, though they are in a workable orientation at the moment. All but the last item was corrected by the shop this afternoon and I have my next load already waiting:

Tomorrow morning I get up around 0300 to fuel then grab a trailer that was brought in from Illinois this evening heading north to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for an 0700 appointment. After that I head west along I-90 to Rapid City, South Dakota to drop off the other half of the load. This happens to be a Petsmart load with live fish, so our reefer unit is set to maintain 76 degrees continuously for the unfortunates.

Oh, and one Big, HUGE, GINORMOUS advantage of the Volvo 780 vs my Kenworth is this very nice RV-style settee I’m typing this at right now. Very comfortable, with lots of space to stretch out and live a little.

Pictures soon.

Scary Clouds

Last week when I was in Paducah, Kentucky there was a storm front moving rapidly through the area and some really neat and scary clouds. Like this one for instance:

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I have plenty of pics with beams of light emanating from above…

… and even some showing the storm front itself as it blew through:

Enjoy!

Off on a date with the Morton’s Salt girl

As I was getting unloaded in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, my satellite unit went off with a load heading up to a suburb of Omaha to deliver tomorrow. First, I was sent to Hutchinson, Kansas to the Morton’s Salt facility to pick up just over 44,000 pounds of salt, then north to Salina, Kansas to fuel.

When I entered the plant I noticed another Hill Bros truck getting loaded. I spoke for a few minutes with an older driver and he gave me directions to the local truck stop where I could get scaled out.

Since I’m still pulling a dry van instead of a reefer, this load is yet another brokered load. This means I have to call in before I get loaded, after I get loaded and when I get unloaded. This is one area that CFI beats my current company at hands down… there were customer service folks that handled all this stuff and let us drivers drive.

Anyway, I ended the day on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska ready to unload at the unlikely hour of 1030 tomorrow morning at an Italian food place. Also, hopefully, I’ll be able to swing by the yard and get my grub hooks on a pretty Volvo 780.

Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Okay, this will take some time to set up so bear with me.

When I arrived yesterday I learned that I needed to park behind the business in question along this alleyway:

You’ll notice the two telephone poles flanking the entrance, which is only 12 or 13 feet wide at most and I had to swing a 90 degree turn in there with my 53 foot trailer.

Down near the end of the block along this alley was a small dirt and gravel parking lot that I spent the night in, my rig barely fitting in:

That power pole in the foreground is basically along the edge of where my truck would have to be in order to back up against this dock door at the back of the consignee’s building:

However, first thing this morning there is a bangin’ on the door to my cab and one of the folks at my consignee tells me I have to move so the people who work there can use this parking lot, and oh by the way, we don’t use that dock so could you pretty please move to this nearby side street so we can take the pallets off you by forklift?

Here you can see the rear of my truck on the right and to the left a small warehouse they used to store all the paper:

Whew!