Why Ask Why?

As I mentioned yesterday, I didn’t really see the reason why I had to take a van trailer instead of a reefer to pick up that load going to PetCo. This bit me in the butt today when my next load came up and it required a reefer. When I pointed this out to my dispatcher I was sent from the PetCo distribution center in Joliet, Illinois about 45 miles west to the PetSmart distribution center in Ottawa, Illinois to exchange my van for a reefer. Then I ran back east along the same route to Morris, Illinois to pick up a load for Nabisco. Fifty miles out of route because whoever booked the previous load put the van requirement on it for some reason.

The Nabisco place was interesting. Each trailer is tagged with a yellow GPS device as it enters so the yard dogs know where each one is as they roll around. I dropped the trailer I painstakingly took from PetSmart and picked up a loaded one and was rolling very shortly thereafter.

The rest of my driving day was uneventful and I end up about two hours away from the Kansas City area where I delivery first thing in the morning.

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Zig zagging in Iowa

That was my day today. I got up around 0300 to grab the (now empty) trailer at Sam’s Club only to find myself faced with sheets of rain and winds with near hurricane force. A storm front was blowing through just then so I sat it out for 30-40 minutes then went about my business.

Finding the shipper wasn’t difficult but when I backed in I needed to do a lot of sweeping up in the trailer. It was the filthiest one I’ve run across in more than 18 months on the road. That taken care of, the dock worker pushed in 50 feet worth of pallets of empty plastic soda bottles in one go and I was loaded. 77,000+ bottles weighing under 10,000 pounds.

Ordinarily, a light load is a blessing but in heavy winds I prefer to haul something closer to my maximum. Fortunately, the winds died down around sunrise though there was quite a lot of lightning going off in the skies around me. Some was ground-to-cloud and some was cloud-to-cloud which was fascinating to watch. At one point I saw five or six almost simultaneous lightning strikes in a 120 degree arc in front of me which was very impressive.

My dispatcher needed a scorecard to figure out my route yesterday so I tried to explain it to him. Hopefully I will be paid for the joyride.

The next trip came in late in the morning: I’m to take a load of pet supplies to — keep this a secret — a PetCo pet store in Jolliet, Illinois. We do a lot of PetSmart loads so this seems a bit sacrilegious.

I was ordered to pick up a dry van instead of a reefer and feared this load would be extremely heavy. Not to worry: its only 12,000 or so.

The fuel tanks were nearly dry so I fueled at the yard at $4.39. Later in the day a message came across my satellite unit that we get each week telling me that fuel tomorrow will be $4.00 a gallon, which I hope is a typo. That or I just spent an extra seventy or eighty dollars on fuel today, which I couldn’t really avoid.

Hither and yon, and yon, and yon…

Today is a new day, with unlimited opportunities for fun, miles, hot dogs, apple pie and The American Way. Okay, I got up this morning bobtail and after scratching the appropriate places, sent in asking for a run. After a while I get beeped and it turns out I’m to head up to Omaha bobtail since there is nothing available in Kansas City. Okay, couple hundred deadhead miles. I’m down with that.

About an hour into the run I get a phone call from the weekend planners who want to know if I can head to Ames, Iowa (just north of Des Moines) to pick up a load and bring it to Omaha for delivery tomorrow morning. I look at the distances and say sure, no problemo. After consulting The Master List of Available Trailers I’m sent to a Sam’s Club store in Des Moines to pick up an empty trailer that I’ll take up to Ames for the load.

I be-bop about twenty miles back the way I came on I-29 and crossed over to I-35, then north up to Des Moines. Arrived at the Sam’s Club and spotted our trailer on their dock. Hooked up to it, pulled it out… oops, still loaded with paper towels. Put it back into place and ask HQ for someplace else to find an empty.

Next I’m sent to the FedEx facility on the north side of town which is on the way to Ames so it isn’t much out of route. I arrive only to find an empty facility with a little old lady gate guard who informs me that any trailer they have now won’t be released until 0700 tomorrow morning as they may need it for a load. So, I ask HQ for someplace else to find an empty.

Next, I’m sent (literally) around the corner to ConWay to pick up an empty and they even include the trailer number! I arrive and the gate is padlocked shut and I’m about to phone HQ to complain bitterly when a little old man guard comes over and opens up the gate. He’s a bit confused, says there is some paperwork for the trailer. I say I’ll take a look and wouldn’t you know it — the trailer is full of product leaving for Dallas soon.

Dispatch is looking around trying to find a trailer but it seems that the closest ones are either 60 or 100 miles away, double that for the return trip. Eventually, they decide that we’ve spent enough time playing Send Jim Around In Circles so I head to a nearby truck stop. I ask to be put on the board for a load tomorrow morning but am told that we won’t have anything nearby tomorrow so head over to Omaha first thing.

Sigh. 285 miles of driving headed hither and yon and I didn’t get anything productive done today.

Pesky Rent-A-Cops

My unload in Arlington, Texas included the run-of-the-mill issues that plague many loads. My truck wasn’t allowed past the entry gate right at the street so instead I had to use a call box next to the gate. There wasn’t a door available at my appointment time so go wait another ten minutes then come back and ask again. Ten minutes later, same drill. Eventually, I was given the secret handshake to get me through the gate and unloaded.

Except this isn’t like most other places we unload at. The consignee tells you what door number to take but you aren’t supposed to back up to the door fully. Instead, get it in the general vicinity and break the seal, taking it and the paperwork up to the receiving department at the other end of a long building. Or, in my case, walking back and forth a number of times to get these steps coordinated.

Then you are given a paper you put in the back of your reefer for the warehouse jockeys to use as they unload, THEN back up to the dock and chock your wheels. By this point I was tired of the games, a bit irritated and I rolled right over their stupid chock and by golly, it was in place in front of my tires right after. A bit flatter too, but that is so not my problem.

SMALL PHYSICS 101 NOTE: My combined truck and trailer weight, empty, approaches 18 tons. Chocking one or more of my wheels with a 6″ tall rubber mallet thing is about as effective as going to stop a rampaging elephant with a nerf bat. When I bump your dock and don’t want to move, nothing you have is going to change that. Conversely, when I pull away from your dock, no freaking chock is going to make any difference whatsoever. That is all.

It was a food warehouse so the entire place runs on what I like to call a relaxed schedule. They get to you when they get to you. Several hours later I got the paperwork and sealed everything back up, though one of their dock guys moved the chock before I could try my luck at running over it on the way out.

The street around this facility is basically a big square, entirely marked no parking. Despite this, trucks were lined up ten or fifteen deep the previous night and others during the daytime, as I did. The consignee certainly knew this when they built their warehouse there, and the police certainly are aware of the issue but no one cares. Waste of money on signage, in my book.

For a change our crack planning team hadn’t arranged a pre-plan so I waited and waited. Called in a few times, they’re getting right on it, yada yada. Around noon (six hours after my appointment time to drop off the previous load) the buzzer went off and I was to go about ten miles away to pick up a load of appliances headed for Kansas City, Kansas. Load information said it would be ready in about two hours, so I hustled over to drop off my trailer and start moving for the day.

It turns out the load planners hit the wrong button or something because, while it was a legitimate pickup number, the load wasn’t going to be ready until after midnight. So instead of picking up the load yesterday afternoon and running it to Kansas City last night, I had to do so first thing this morning and I’m a day behind.

The shipper told me I could park where I was in their bobtail parking area, since I had dropped off the trailer to be loaded. I slouched back out to the truck, rigged up my curtains, turned the APU on to max cool to handle the heat and spent the afternoon napping, watching TV, et cetera.

About 1800 the guards changed and the new guy knocked on my door. I answered by rolling down the window and he asked what I was doing parked in that spot. I told him the shipping folks said I could, to which he harrumphed and said that wasn’t his understanding of the parking situation. I replied that if he found out otherwise, I would move and he went away.

Thinking no more of it, I eventually went to bed and at 2000 the guard was at my door again. “Yes,” I growled.

“Its okay for you to park there, just wanted you to know.”

“Thank goodness, now I’ll rest easy. I’ll grab the trailer first thing in the morning if that is okay.”

It was and he went away. Until 0130 when again he banged on my door. I was groggy and mostly unclothed and I think I shouted a bit when I asked him what in the name of creation he wanted now. “Your trailer is ready!” he answered.

“Great, see you in the morning.”

He knocks on my door one more time and I’m going to hogtie him and see if his cute handheld radio will fit into any of his orifices.

Luckily, he left me alone and by 0415 I was on my way. Except for a 90-minute break at Lamar, Missouri to get a Blizzard and fill up my on board food supply at the Super Wal-Mart, I drove straight to the consignee. The freeways and side roads I needed to use to get to the consignee according to the directions were completely blocked off but my Germin routed me around with a minimum of fuss (“Recalculating!” again and again).

HQ messaged me to say there will be loads tomorrow but they are waiting on trailers so don’t hold my breath.

The Case of the Mysterious Missing Trailer

Coming back on duty this morning, I zapped a message in to my dispatcher asking where I should pick up an empty trailer. I had dropped the one I brought down from Council Bluffs the day before at the AmeriCold facility in Carthage and eventually it was decided I would go there to find a new empty.

Now, I’ve been to this place a number of times and know the layout. Up top on the surface is a guard building with some parking and a large trailer lot called the Tower Lot because it is next to a water tower. Down below is a smaller trailer parking lot just outside the tunnel complex, then the tunnels themselves but you can’t get to either of these places without first going to the guard building to get an electronic keycard.

The dispatcher tells me trailer so-and-so is empty and ready to go, so I head in to the Tower Lot and drive around for about five minutes. Not only is that trailer not present, there are no Hill Bros trailers there of any kind. Messages fly back and forth and apparently they called someone at AmeriCold who swore that trailer so-and-so was unloaded and up in the Tower Lot. This, of course, was bunk as I had just been there and went around the lot twice and there was no such trailer.

I chatted up a yard jockey going about his business and learn our empty trailers are down below in the smaller lot next to the tunnels. Apparently, it costs some extra shekels to have them brought up top and whoever has the purse strings doesn’t care to make this happen. So I had to go to the guards, get a gate pass, go back up top to the gate, go down to the lower lot, hook up, drag the trailer back top through the gate, return the gate pass to the guards, then head out. Mystery solved.

The trailer only had a half tank of fuel and needed a washout so I brought it over to Joplin to take care of this. The line at the washout place was lonnnnnng and I wasted 90 minutes there.

The trip down to Van Buren, Arkansas was uneventful and economic in the fuel department, and the shipper wasn’t hard to find. There was this strange odor in the air all around the facility, like frying Doritos. It isn’t uncommon to have strange smells wafting about but this one was pungent and not unpleasant. It turns out they process chicken into fried chicken strips and the like, so I was smelling frying on an industrial scale. Twenty tons of product loaded on and I was poultry in motion. So to speak.

It was late in the afternoon when I began my journey down to Arlington, Texas and I arrived before midnight, greeted by a long line of trucks awaiting entry into the facility. My appointment wasn’t until 0630 this morning so I found a safe place to park and called it a night.

Trip #21: Council Bluffs, IA to Carthage, MO

My go-home load this time is the familiar ConAgra load heading to Carthage, Missouri. It was fairly hot when I arrived at the shipper to pick up my load, and it wasn’t ready so I got to wait for a few hours. During that time a tanker had crashed on the nearest entrance to the interstate and it was closed down for quite some time.

Once I locked on to my trailer I found out that I couldn’t slide the trailer tandems. This is an issue from a number of different angles, the most important two being that it makes my truck horribly overweight on my tractor drive tires and taking turns with the tandems all the way back takes an incredible amount of space. Needless to say, the quick answer from the shop when I sent in this information was to bring the trailer to the shop across the river in Omaha to be worked on. After mind-numbing delays getting back to the freeway at an open on ramp I carefully drove it back to HQ and the grease monkeys started tinkering with it.

Another subtle angle that I hadn’t fully considered at the time was that there was no real point in scaling the load. For one, I couldn’t get to either of the scales on the way back due to the interstate closures. Secondly, the only information I would get that would be useful would be the total weight, as my axle weights would be wayyy out of whack.

One heckuva storm battered the Omaha area last night as I was trying to get to sleep for an early morning start. The winds howled, rain pelted down and there was a very impressive lighting and thunder show. I shot some video that I will post one of these days if I ever find the time to edit the stuff.