Figures don’t lie, but liars sure figure

Yesterday I decided that this run will be the first one I make at top speed, with a full load. Ordinarily, I cruise down the interstates at a sedate 60-62 MPH and watch the world pass me by. This trip I will put the hammer down and see what that does to my fuel economy.

Surprisingly, unless my fuel readout is completely bonkers, the difference between 60 MPH and 70 MPH in my truck with a full load is small. I traveled 665 miles to Terrell, Texas this morning and afternoon, ending with a 7.4 MPG average for the run. Either my instrumentation is way off the mark or I have one heckuva sweet engine and transmission combination.

I’m about an hour out of my consignee so I have the alarm set at 0300. My appointment is 0500 tomorrow morning and I’m actually getting low on hours for the next few days. I will have about 12 hours total to run after I get unloaded and don’t get any significant amount back until Tuesday at midnight where I pick up 7.5.

UPDATE: I aimed for the T/A in Terrell, Texas because it was about as far as I could legally drive today and it has IdleAir, which I’m hooked up to as I’m typing this.

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Overnight Sensation

After attending the safety meeting I fueled up my truck and began the drive to Littleton, Colorado, a Denver suburb. I thought the safety meeting was going to start at 0900 but it was at 1300 instead so I didn’t arrive in the Denver area until just before midnight. Finding the PetSmart wasn’t difficult and I backed into their dock to catch some shuteye.

Four hours later, the knock came at my door and I gave the worker the paperwork and moved my truck to open the doors. It turns out that about 90% of my load was going to this one store with just a handful of pallets going to the other side of Littleton to a different store. After getting emptied I slept until late morning until my masters beeped me with a nice long weekend run that will keep me busy.

First, I was ordered to deadhead about 400 miles back the way I came yesterday to Grand Island, Nebraska to pick up a load heading to Tyler, Texas. Its always nice having a long deadhead with no load aboard, for the fuel economy if nothing else. It will be a heavy load, though, and tomorrow I will have to run my truck faster than normal down the highway in order to make an 0500 delivery time Monday morning.

This will be trip #12 in my new truck for those of you keeping score at home.

The Sixth Cents

So I’m puttering down the road this morning towards Omaha and my satellite unit beeps. Apparently, fuel will be six cents cheaper at our yard after midnight tonight which works well for me since I will be there until late morning for our safety meeting.

My MPG today wasn’t so hot due to driving through high winds from the west. Around Des Moines the winds and rains lashed out very hard and I pulled off at a truckstop. Figuring to make productive use of my time, I went inside and took a shower.

My extra “chicken lights” on the side of my truck stopped working this morning and it turns out the fuse that watches over them blew when I hooked up to the trailer at the PetSmart DC in Ottawa. The mechanics here tell me it can happen any time you have your truck lights on when you hook up to a trailer, which I’d never heard of. Apparently there is a mini recall for this problem so the next time my truck is over at the dealership I’ll have them fix it.

Speaking of fixes, I took my truck over to ThermoKing down the street to have them fix my APU. It turns out that after just 128 hours of use, my generator blew its little head gasket all over the place and it will have to be replaced. Naturally, they don’t have any in stock so I will have to wait a while longer.

Tomorrow it is off to Littleton, Colorado in preparation for two very early morning deliveries then perhaps back to Omaha if the part for my APU comes in.

I’ll take trailer babysitting for $300, Alex

The Powers That Be decided that $300 would be fair recompense for the time and effort I spent the past two days dealing with that trailer. I wasn’t insulted or overjoyed with the amount, so I suppose it is in the fair range for both parties. Still a heckuva lot better than a kick in the shorts.

Today’s driving was between West Memphis, Arkansas and Rochelle, Illinois. Most of it was in the state of Illinois and I managed 8.0 MPG even with a 37,000 pound load. Before I arrived at my consignee my next preplan was ready: deadhead over to Ottawa, Illinois then take a Petsmart load with two drops in Littleton, Colorado for 0300 and 0500 Saturday morning. Yummy.

This will let me take care of a few things as I travel back west. On Friday, I can attend a safety meeting so I will get a bonus for the miles I run this quarter. Also, I can get the ThermoKing folks to resuscitate my APU so I won’t have to idle as much. The Idleaire service I used last night was functional and if I didn’t have an APU I would definitely look to using it frequently, as Hill Brothers covers the charges.

“The Juice is Loose!”

That was the text I sent in to HQ via the satellite when the trailer was finally unloaded. I swear, in the past 24 hours I talked with people from every department wanting to know this-or-that, or instructing me to do such-and-such (or not do something). Go here, call this person, remember to do this…

The people at the reefer repair place did a good job cleaning up the front of the trailer with some sort of acid wash then a power sprayer. Some of the more charred sections didn’t change much, but the reefer unit itself looked fairly untraumatized. The lights were still acting a bit funny, and some of the markers didn’t work but because I didn’t need them in the daytime we pushed off sending the trailer to yet another shop until this afternoon, after the load was dropped.

I was a bit nervous when I pulled up to the security gate to enter the facility, as loaded trailers have their seals checked. The guard lady was brisk and waved me on after checking the numbers against the Bill of Lading. The parking lot was broiling, so I had to spend several hours with the engine on to stay cool while they unloaded. Eventually, they were done without incident and the Juice was loose, baby!

The trailer got dropped at a nearby repair yard and I made a list of the things that needed some work for them, then ran back to the other side of Russellville to grab a loaded trailer and head out on an indirect path towards Rochelle, Illinois. I say indirect, because one way is to basically drive due north along Arkansas route 7 to Springfield, Missouri which is a horrendous road for a SUV, much less a semi. The other way is to take I-40 east towards Memphis, then turn north along I-55.

The flame-broiled load was #9 for my new truck. Load #8 was my go-home load from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Carthage, Missouri last week. My new load to Rochelle is #10. MPG continues to show over 7.0 on my trip computer and aside from my APU, everything seems to be running properly.

Oh, speaking of the APU… since it is 90 degrees in West Memphis tonight I’ve gone and used IdleAire for the first time. For the uninitiated, it is a system of air conditioning, power outlets, internet, tv, etc. that plugs into a window adapter in your truck. Hill Bros apparently reimburses drivers for the service, though I expect as a lease-purchase driver I will get socked with the bill. Still, it is cheaper than idling and I can take the hit for a few days until I get back to Omaha.

No, Bud light!

Imagine you are behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler on a state highway early in the morning. The sky is beginning to lighten with dawn, traffic is light and you are making good progress.

Suddenly, you hear a “POP!” noise and realize one of your tractor drive tires on the passenger side has exploded. Soon, dark black smoke is billowing forth, even as you wrestle your rig to the shoulder and bring it shuddering to a stop. By now more “POP!”s have been heard, there are more flats and lots and lots of black smoke is pouring from your truck.

You quickly jump out, locate and prepare your fire extinguisher for use. As you round the hood of your truck you see the left side is engulfed in flame, the smoke and fire pulsing up to the trailer located just over your drive tires and the reefer at the very front, sucking in that smoke.

The glow is what you notice next. One of the wheel hubs on that side is glowing red it is so hot. It must have leaked out the oil inside and the heat and pressure kept building and building until eventually it burst the tire around it and caught fire. Quickly, you bring the fire extinguisher to bear, but it really isn’t a fair match. The hub is at possibly 800-1000 degrees and you have a chemical extinguisher that won’t cool it down a bit. Since you can’t deprive it of oxygen, as soon as you blast away the flames and smother the fire it immediately relights and your expensive vehicle continues to burn.

Meanwhile, inside the reefer just above is 44,500 pounds of frozen foods destined for America’s grocery stores. The front end of the reefer is charred and the reefer unit finally fails when the fuel line is burned in two, cauterized neatly. The lines providing air and electricity to the trailer a shriveled husks now, the connections burnt in place along the leading edge of the trailer. It really doesn’t matter that there is no more air being supplied to those connections, as the lines carrying it back to the brakes and suspension at the rear have been burned away as well.

An off-duty firefighter happens upon you and his fire extinguisher drives the flames back for a short time, but it too is unable to stop the damned hub from igniting seconds later. Eventually, the fire department arrives and spends fifteen or twenty minutes pouring water on the hot spots. They become unable to sustain ignition and the fire is out, though the smoke from the charred corpse of the tractor and trailer remain.

Thankfully, none of this happened to me.

When I came on duty this morning I was first told one of our trucks had a fire near Carthage, Missouri and needed someone to repower the load. I said sure, and was given the name and number for the driver and I got directions to the towing company that was handling the mess. About twenty minutes after I arrived his tractor and the trailer were brought in, at which time I found out it was something more than what I had expected — I thought it was an engine fire, probably — and this was going to take a while.

The first repair priority was the reefer unit, as the product inside the trailer must remain frozen. Surprisingly, the engine came away mostly unscathed and the problem was confined to running a new fuel line back to the reefer fuel tank. Once it was primed, it coughed back to life and informed the mechanic that the temp was just below freezing, up from -10 or so that it was set to. It immediately went into full cooling mode and the temperatures inside began to drop.

That being taken care of, the next step was to repair the air lines and electrical connection. During this process it became clear that the main wiring harness had been melted during the blaze, leaving a mass of copper wires living together in something akin to a Philadelphia tenement. Incredibly, the lights and blinkers worked but the wiring would have to be pulled out and replaced to make the trailer road worthy.

A few other items needed fixing, and it took a long time waiting, but this evening I was told all was in readiness and I can take the trailer down to Arkansas tomorrow morning to its destination.

As if in sympathy for the reefer, my own auxiliary power unit decided to conk out this evening. There happens to be a repair facility where I’m headed tomorrow so hopefully I can get it taken care of there.

At Home

I picked up the load from ConAgra in Council Bluffs, Iowa nice and early this morning and ran it down to Carthage, Missouri just like I planned. No surprises.

I spoke with the Conway driver that inherited my truck a few months back and heard his tale of woe. Apparently, a different company waved a carrot in front of him (nice dedicated run with plenty of hometime that he wants) and after he quit Conway and was in the process of joining up with them it turned out that “opportunity was no longer available, but there are plenty of OTR jobs.” This isn’t an uncommon story in the trucking industry, so if someone makes you an offer that makes you think about switching make sure you get it in writing.