Up, up and away

I completed my two drops in Denver and Grand Junction today within a reasonable amount of time. Heading over the Rockies on I-70 was exciting with such a light load. Eisenhower and Vail passes had decent amount of snow and ice on the western sides which made descending all the much more, shall we say, invigorating.

I didn’t think about it when I picked up the trailer but I wasn’t technically legal running through Colorado because I didn’t have an extra set of chains that would fit on the super single tires!

Tomorrow’s plan is to head back east to Denver then north up to Fort Collins to grab a load of beer heading to the thirsty fans in the Kansas City area for Saturday.

On my way to cross the Rockies

I was up around 0600 this morning checking the weather with my eyes and various online sources. The frozen rain that beat down most of yesterday morning and afternoon had finally let up and just froze in place.

When I fueled yesterday I weighed adding some anti-gel additive just in case. The forecast had it only down in the low 20’s overnight for OKC so I decided against it. I awoke to a chilly 10 degrees, but my primary fuel filter wasn’t gelled up and the truck started normally.

Heading out the roads were lightly traveled and mostly free of snow and ice. I accidentally triggered my wipers and sat astonished as they very slowly started sweeping then stopped in the upright position. Oops.

I had cleaned them off carefully before I departed and I was using the defroster and maximum heat to burn through the patches of ice left on my windshield. The blades themselves weren’t stuck, so I figured there was a problem with the swinging mechanism. I phoned our shop to see if there was a good way to push them back down (turns out, you just push them back down) then exited at the next rest area. It seems there is kind of a tray area under the wipers that allowed a good two inches of snow and freezing rain to accumulate from yesterday then freeze solid, and the icepack was preventing the bottom of the wiper arms from completing their arc. I broke out the scraper and went at it for a few minutes until everything was clear then was happy to find the wipers wanted to work again without a hiccup.

After stopping in Salina, Kansas to carefully wash my windshield and take a shower I headed west along I-70, coming to a stop in Colby, Kansas. The “Oasis of the Plains” if you believe the billboards. All I know is, I had a decent meal at the nearby Village Inn and am tucked in for the night.

Tomorrow should be fun as I head into Denver for a 10 AM drop then west over the I-70 Eisenhower summit to Grand Juction before nightfall for the second drop.

I Fought the (storm) System, and It Won

It took two years and two months, but for the first time ever I’m shut down due to weather.

Since my trailer was empty I drove carefully the last 20 miles into Ardmore this morning. The freeway and ramps were slick, though there wasn’t much accumulation at the time. The guards at the Circuit City DC were a bit amazed anyone was showing up to haul their stuff today, but I grinned my way through the cavity check and exchanged trailers anyway.

After getting everything configured and my log updated, I drove next door to use the restroom and snapped some pics:

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

Heading north from Ardmore is one of the few hills worth mentioning in the state of Oklahoma. It isn’t particularly steep or twisty, but toss in a heapin’ helpin’ of frozen rain, ice, a smidge of sand and a generous dollop of snow and it is a real humdinger, pard!

Though you can’t tell it in the pictures, the trailer I picked up is one of the few in our fleet with super single tires so for only the second time at Hill Bros all my tires except for the steers are super singles. For non truckers, this means that instead of having two tires at the end of each axle, you have one larger one:

I personally like running this type of tire. They weigh considerably less than a pair smaller tires (and the pair of rims that go along with them), they last a very long time if you treat them right and they are about 4-5% more efficient going down the road, due to much thicker and stiffer sidewalls which reduce the amount of flex that heavy loads cause. Some drivers complain that they don’t handle rain, snow and ice as well but I’ve not found that to be the case.

Anyway, after what passes as hills in Oklahoma the weather got much worse. There was so much freezing rain packed down onto the road bed it formed “ribs”, like expansion joints in concrete, and the ride went to hell quickly. More snow and ice was falling and there was little or no plowing being done so there quickly became tall furrows of ice and snow between the lanes making lane changes dicey. Drivers in cars and SUVs (“four wheelers”, in trucker parlance) became a real menace, moving out in front of you with little notice or concern about your momentum.

I passed the time as I wrestled my truck down the road listening to the CB. Drivers heading down from the north reported it only got worse up to the Tulsa, Oklahoma and Salina, Kansas areas so once I reached my fuel stop at the Flying J on the east side of OKC I called it a day.

For the first time ever, the weather beat me.

To go West, one must first go East

I delivered my load of boxes for Banquet TV dinners in Russellville, Arkansas Sunday night. Afterwards I bobtailed to a nearby Walmart to purchase supplies then to a nearby truck stop to sleep the night away.

Mid-morning Monday my dispatcher calls me with news of a pre-plan.

“That really isn’t a PRE-plan, is it mister dispatcher since I’m just sitting here.”

He agreed, but shot back with news that he had a plan and a pre-plan to follow. My ears perked up.

First, take a trailer of frozen food from Russellville to a Walmart DC in Terrell, Texas then deadhead about 120 miles north to Ardmore, Oklahoma and take a load of Circuit City electronics out to two stores in Colorado. Yes, apparently they still have some stock left in the pipeline even though they are going out of business.

The only snag in the ointment was this wintery weather system forming here in the midwest. The forecast had freezing rain, snow and ice over most of Oklahoma and the northern part of Texas, and snow the rest of the way into Denver. Perhaps I should have demurred, but that damn Protestant work ethic won out and I took it.

I put the details of my first trip into the GPS and at first I thought it had blown a fuse. It was telling me to get back on to I-40 and head East, towards Memphis. I brought up the full map for the trip and played around with various routes for a bit but couldn’t come up with anything better. Believe it or not, this is how you drive from point A to point B on this trip (in a big rig at least):

I arrived 40 minutes early for my 7:25 PM appointment and was soon checked in and backed in to a door. I walked the paperwork in and they gave me a cool little electronic pager gadget that would go off when the trailer was unloaded. I ate a meal, diddled around on my laptop, slept, and yet it did not go off. Realizing I was one of the last truckers still left in their compound three hours later I went inside, only to be told that it was going slow because they had over 4,000 cases to count.

Now, this is what irritates the crap out of me. It took probably 20-30 minutes for the lumpers to extract the pallets from my trailer on to their dock. At this point, MY JOB IS FREAKING DONE. I got hired (indirectly) to haul cargo from point A to point B in a certain time frame. Only because my time has absolutely no value to anyone but myself do I have to stick around for company x (Walmart, in this case) to find out if company y (ConAgra, in this case) have screwed up what was on the load. I had nothing to do with the loading and nothing to do with the unloading, and certainly nothing to do with the counting on either side. Companies x and y should yell and bitch at each other about who sent or didn’t send what, when and to whom. I don’t have a dog in that fight.


Anyway, I eventually made it out of there and headed Ole Betsy north towards Ardmore, Oklahoma. I saw a truck stop about 20 miles south of there that had some parking and stopped for the night.

Take a break

After I delivered near Kansas City there was a load waiting for me in Independence with a long delivery time down to Russellville, Arkansas so I took a break. I’m fine, the truck is fine and I’ll resume updates tomorrow.

Out of the Frozen North

I made my delivery appointment yesterday around noon and after a few hours a new load was assigned, picking up first in St Micheal, Minnesota then in New Ulm, Minnesota, then delivering near Kansas City, Kansas. I picked up the first half of the load last night (29,000 pounds of eggs in various forms) then the rest this morning (12,000 pounds of butter).

I made a boo-boo when we I went to fuel in Des Moines. I was kinda close to the gross weight limit for my truck and figured I would just take on 50 gallons or so. Not thinking (I mean, REALLY not thinking), I filled the tanks then the reefer tank as well. This put me several hundred pounds over gross and I was sweating it a bit until I made it to the scale just inside Missouri and it was closed. Yay for me.

Crappy brokered loads

I told my dispatcher when I was in Omaha the other day after being assigned the load to Mississippi that the three times I was down there were all followed by crappy brokered CH Robinson loads. I considered declining the trip, but flipped a mental coin and took it anyway.

Yep, it was followed by a crappy brokered CH Robinson load.

The trip distance wasn’t bad, going from Tupelo to pick up in Olive Branch, Mississippi, then delivering near Minneapolis, Minnesota the following day. The first problem was that they stopped receiving at noon and the load wasn’t scheduled to go until 3 PM, so only 21 hours to go 900ish miles (deadhead included). That simply wasn’t going to happen.

I moved up to the shipper and went through a needlessly complicated check-in process then was given a dock. The security guard (at the “welcome center”, as the guard shack was euphemistically called) told me to back it in then “get comfortable.” I took this to mean that it would be a while, and I was right. Oh, a few pallets were put on board during my first hour… then an hour or so went by and a few more, then a few more… Five hours later, all 11,000 pounds of whatever was aboard and I was allowed to move out.

I drove up through Memphis and across the river to West Memphis where I got my grimy truck washed and fueled up. I met a down-on-his-luck driver at the Pilot while I was fueling who was either what he said he was or a damn good liar. Either way it was worth the two bucks for a couple Wendy’s Value Menu burgers. I stopped yesterday at a truck rest area (meaning, a rest area that has no facilities; normally a closed weigh station) just north of West Memphis.

This morning I was up with the sunrise and heading north through snow flurries. Most of today’s drive and almost all of tomorrow’s will be along state highways — always fun in the snow. Luckily, none of the occasional snow I ran across seemed to want to stick to the roadway even though it never got above freezing.

So the delivery got pushed back a day and I can deliver as soon as 0630 tomorrow. I stopped tonight at Waterloo, Iowa and just got back to the truck from an honest-to-goodness buffet dinner.

I feel like such a trucker.

The 17th Freaking Hole

So I get planned on a trip to the Birthplace Of The King, Tupelo, Mississippi from Council Bluffs. I don’t accept it immediately since I wanted to brace my dispatcher in his lair office and see what happened to that California trip.

“Don’t have anything headed that way,” I’m told.

Now, the problem going from Omaha to Tupelo is the Ozarks between them. There are a variety of state routes that take you from the Kansas City area down around Springfield, then over towards Memphis but they aren’t really designed for big rigs, and especially not during winter. Thus, the 740 miles you’re paid for doesn’t come close to the 800 actual miles you end up driving to deliver the load.

Then there is the shipper. For some reason the people at Plumrose USA can’t manage to figure out how to load a trailer properly. The one I was stuck with was so heavy towards the rear I had to move back my tandems three times to get the weight right and it took the freaking 17th hole on the slide to even out the weight. In non-trucker parlance, that means the tires on my trailer were damn near the very back, making turns very wide and potentially giving me legal grief since some states don’t allow tandems back past a certain point.

I was called in to scale twice in Missouri but the weights were (barely) within limits and I don’t think they care about where your tandems are unless they really want to bust your chops.

This load also had an usual 2100 delivery time. I arrived an hour early and am currently on the dock ahead of three other Hill Bros trucks waiting to be unloaded.

Hold up in Kansas City

I made my delivery at FedEx 30 minutes early and grabbed the last empty trailer we had on their lot before calling it a night. Yesterday morning it took our crack team at HQ a while to figure out where they would deploy my driving skills, so I waited. And waited. Then, I waited some more.

BEEP! Went the QualCOMM. Head north to Fort Collins for a beer load. No big surprise, and I headed north.

Half an hour later, BEEP! Nope, we were wrong, don’t go there. Instead, head back south to Denver then hang a left and head east a hundred miles to the charming little village of Arriba, Colorado. Grab a load (“LOAD WILL BE HEAVY” the satellite unit indicated) and take it to Kansas City, Kansas. I get turned around and head off again.

A few hours later I arrive in the tiny village of Arriba, dirt streets and all. I follow posted Truck Route signs to the grain silos that sit next to the freeway and am told I’ll be taking about 22 tons of Hard Red Wheat to Kansas City. The truck and I are scaled to determine the empty weight (remind me to lay off the Fritos next time I ask, k?) then I’m directed around back to the loading facility.

I was expecting some kind of dock setup and heavy, pallet-size bags of the grain. Oh no, that would be too easy. Instead, they have me back up to what looks like a giant nozzle apparatus with the doors on the trailer open and they proceed to jet 23 1/4 freaking TONS of wheat in the back! Right on the floor in a big heap!

That isn’t a misprint… the net weight of the load was just over 46,500 which is the heaviest load I’ve pulled yet for Hill Bros. My gross was nearly 80,000 so it took a while to get the tandems slid to the right spot. The load shifts by itself as it bumps down the highway but I wanted a nice legal scale ticket to show John E Law in case I get pulled in.

This morning as I was pulling in to KC it was 15 degrees out and moderate to heavy snow coming down. I-70 eastbound was a mess and I got delayed for about 30 minutes or so passing a succession of cars involved in accidents on either side of the road. My trusty super singles kept me on the straight and narrow and I made my way to the consignee, only to find out the one piece of equipment they need to unload a van happens to be broken.

No problemo, they tell me, there is another facility a few miles down the road that I can use. Great, head on down there only to find out I can’t get my trailer tandems slid back because of the snow everywhere doesn’t give me enough force to break the friction and let the slide move back. I eventually figure out a way to solve the problem involving a number of curse words, some neat-o backing and a one-legged duck. Well, minus the duck.

Once my trailer was set, I drove into this offloading building with extremely tight doors (like three or four inches on either side of my truck), got weighed, then backed the trailer on to a special lift device. I detached my tractor and moved it out of the way then this hydraulic lifter thing took over and tilted the entire thing up 35 or 40 degrees! The wheat poured out the back into a large pit and in a few minutes all but about fifty pounds of the cargo was offloaded.

My dispatcher asked if I was still looking for a load out to California… well DUH! I never turn those down. Anyway, he said he’d look into it and while my trailer was doing the unloading tango a new trip zapped in. Do a live load in nearby Independence, Missouri then head up to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Did he confuse CA with CB (Council Bluffs)?

The shipper was one of those in the caves that I’d been to before so I headed over. I don’t currently have a broom on my truck and there was a lot of wheat chaff in back still, so the shipper loaned me one of theirs. After carefully sweeping the floor twice, I dumped as much as I could in a trash barrel they provided and it came out to at least 50 pounds. I guess as a percentage it is no big deal to the folks on the last load.

They shoved their cargo on board and I grabbed the paperwork and shoved off.

I didn’t have enough hours to make it up to CB, so instead I stopped in St Joseph, Missouri for the night and a tasty Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich from Arby’s. At least I’m staying away from the Fritos.

The Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turning

Turns out, I was wrong about the trip. As I detailed before in the My Wray or the Highway post, there is a potato processing plant in Wray, Colorado that we occasionally haul from. I was sent there, complete with an invalid load number from the folks at HQ to get a load heading to the far side of Kansas.

After a round of calling my HQ, the potato people doing there thing and some extra hand wringing the problem was resolved and I was still given a load to haul. The deadline was the following morning between 0500 and 1100, so I shot for 0900 since I was about 450 miles out after I made it to Wray and got loaded.

I was unloaded before 1000 and as I was pulling out from the dock a trip plan came in over the satellite unit: run down to Kansas City and grab a FedEx load heading to Henderson, Colorado. In other words, head back to where I started yesterday at, oh and you’re picking up two hours late and it still needs to be in the greater Denver area by 2200 tonight.

I boogied down to exchange my empty trailer for the full one then put on a 65 MPH head of steam to the west along I-70. Yes, I really did pull out all the stops in order to deliver on time.

The weather in Kansas was cold, between 15 and 18 degrees with a nasty bit of wind chill. As I approached Denver it warmed up, eventually reaching 31 degrees.

1200ish miles in the books for the first two days of this pay period. Can’t beat that by much.

Blizzard in Denver

This morning I had a delivery at 0500 in Castle Rock, a southern suburb of Denver. I arrived an hour or so ahead of schedule in nice, clear weather, 37 degrees and little wind. During the next hour it changed to blowing snow, 25 degrees and about 4-6 inches of the white stuff hit the ground.

Worse, the first stop took all but six pallets from my trailer, leaving me light and with no extra weight on my tandems. My Michelin super-singles performed flawlessly as usual, but on the drive to my second stop I caught the trailer “walking out” to the passenger side four or five times and had to correct it.

Ah, the short little jaunt across town. I had to deliver those last few pallets in Wheat Ridge, a western suburb and about as far away as you can drive from one side of Denver to the other. It meant joining thousands of four-wheelers during the morning rush while another 6-8 inches of snow poured down. Most people minded their business, though there were a few accidents and one memorable scene with a bobtail semi caught on a bridge at a 45 degree angle and unable to move due to the bank of the curve.

Near the destination there was a street I turned down that belatedly informed me that trucks over 7,000 pounds gross weight were forbidden. If they would have mentioned that before the turn I would have honored the rule, but since I was already on the stupid street I kept everything under control the best I could and moved through. City streets in Denver along the way had a few places with big dips and corresponding hills to climb on the other side that had to be taken very carefully but I managed.

I arrived at the second PetSmart to find another Hill Bros truck uncoupled from his trailer and having trouble hooking back on. Yesterday he had arrived, dropped the trailer and went off to the local truck stop. In the intervening time all the snow and ice had developed and he didn’t have enough traction to get back under the trailer. I suggested dropping his suspension enough to help get under it and he was hooked up in short order.

Finally, my turn came and they removed the last six pallets from the trailer. Instructions came across my satellite unit to head over to a drop yard of ours, drop off my trailer, bobtail about eight miles then pick up a reefer. With the problems of traction the entire city was facing, it was an easy call to turn it down. This meant no load for the day so I found a spot at the local Pilot, only because I had to fuel up there.

I’m guessing tomorrow’s load will be the same one I was supposed to pick up today, only with the deadline moved back a day.

Three for the road

I haven’t blogged for a few days because, frankly, there hasn’t been much going on. I finished the trip down to Phoenix and immediately picked up a PetSmart load heading to the greater Denver area. Yesterday I drove halfway, stopping at Albuquerque, New Mexico then shut down for the night.

The scantily-dressed lot lizard pounding on my door at 0330 got me moving 30 minutes early. She moved down the line of trucks where I was parked and I noted my (temporary) next door neighbor let her in so she could warm up. Or something.

A quick shower and pretrip and I was off to Colorado Springs, Colorado. I’m about 45 minutes south of my delivery tomorrow morning but I had to take care of something.

I’ll enlighten everyone more tomorrow.

The Return of the Lazies

Okay, so I’m a slacker today.

The beer load took a few hours to depart the trailer, courtesy of a slow dock worker. At least I had time to chit-chat with a newer Hill Bros. driver while we waited. Both of us got preplanned to the same Iams pet food factory in nearby Aurora, Nebraska, to take loads to the PetSmart DC in Phoenix, Arizona.

I got unloaded first so I moseyed over to the Iams plant, did the drop-one-trailer-grab another shuffle, then shoved off. The new trailer is one of the oldest in the fleet with the frumpy spring suspension I abhor. At least the miles are good.

Taking a slightly different route south from Nebraska, I found a bridge with a 30 ton weight limit out in the middle of nowhere. My 38 ton semi magically teleported to the other side I think.

I’m fairly certain that I will have another PetSmart weekend run after I deliver so the lazy part of my brain took over and calculated the hours and distances involved. If I stop tonight in Dodge City, Kansas, the logic goes, then the next four days will all have about eight hours of driving so that will keep me moving at a good clip but not cajones-to-the-wall. The other part of my brain was bored with driving and wanted to park it for the night and I couldn’t find more brain to fight with so here I am in Dodge City.

Steak, a Washout and Wal-Mart

Since I only had to cover about 350 miles today I took it slow and got some things taken care of.

First, I stopped in Big Springs, Nebraska at the Bosselman Pilot and had a steak at the Sam Bass saloon located on the same property. If you haven’t had a chance to try it yet, I recommend the food.

Then I headed about an hour east to North Platte, Nebraska and got my tractor washed at the Red Arrow truck wash next to the Flying J. They were a bit slow but once they were done my truck was looking good and clean so I can’t complain.

Another hour east got me to Lexington, Nebraska and one of my favorite Super Wal-Marts where I loaded up on veggies, fruit, some frozen stuff and a few snacks. They have great parking up close to the doors (and more behind the building) and I was in and out in short order.

About ninety minutes more driving got me to Grand Island, Nebraska where I’m parked at the big Bosselman Pilot for the night.

Building Architects are Going To Hell

Yesterday I arrived at the first of my three stops in the greater Denver area. Even with the help of satellite imagery from Google it was a challenge to get my truck to the store, get it going the correct direction then actually backing into the dock area. By way of example, I had to pull forward into the parking lot of an adjacent fitness center, blocking in a dozen or more cars temporarily, just to get lined up for the dock. Better yet, there was no way I could turn tight enough to go back out the way I had come in and there were various obstacles (handicapped sign posts, a light stanchion, curbs, etc.) in the way even with the parking lot deserted this morning.

Still, with a bit of luck, the parking was doable and I did it. At 0300 this morning the first PetSmart store took all of its six pallets off of my truck and I split, heading up to Longmont, Colorado.

Finding the right big box store in the midst of a dozen or more similar darkened stores at 0430 in the morning is challenging. I had to wind my way through several parking lots that were never designed for big rigs before I spied the PetSmart store and made my way around behind it. At which point I found this:

Now, I was traveling down the street from the left of where this picture was taken, so I had to make a very tight u-turn into the parking lot. I had to miss the cinderblock wall in front of me, then the large dumpster on my right as I continued and of course that lovely parked trailer there to the left.

As you can see, the turn itself was greater than 180 degrees and it left me with the problem of which of three separate (and completely unmarked) docks belong to my customer. I knew there was a bookstore to the left so I assumed they had the dock furthest to the left. On the other side was a retailer like Target or someplace like that, so I assumed the right docks belonged to them. Which left the middle dock:

Do you see the shadow of the trailer just out of view to the right of this picture? See how it is angled one way and my truck isn’t parallel. In short, I had to back through a minefield of garbage and recycling dumpsters, cinderblock walls and steel poles — did you see the one next to my driver’s door in this picture? All in the dark, which didn’t much matter because it was a blind-side back anyway.

For these reasons, and many more, I boldly make the claim that Building Architects are Going To Hell. You will be made to back into these terrible excuses for docks for all eternity, blind, in freezing rain, ice, snow or some combination of all three. You rotten bastards.

By 0900 I had made all three of my stops, and I even swept out the trailer at the end since (a) I figured my next load would probably be Budweiser and they are sticklers and (b) the last stop had one of its pallets tip over sending torrents of pet bedding, cat litter and such on to the floor.

Since I was getting low on fuel, I puttered over to the Pilot on the north side of Denver and filled up. The pumps were backed up as usual, and the line to the Blue Beacon truck was was at least a dozen deep. Since that location only has one bay, I couldn’t see waiting 3-4 hours to get my poor, dirty truck washed so it suffers still.

Speaking of suffering, I managed to twist my back just the wrong way and it is giving me grief again. I used to have terrible back pain in my teens and 20’s until a friend suggested I give waterbeds a try, which not only worked but were incredibly comfortable as well. Alas, I’m not going to have such a thing in my truck any time soon.

Worse, my dispatcher does one of Jim’s No-No’s by waiting six hours to throw me on to a Budweiser load (see, I knew it) heading out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Apparently, we are judged as a carrier by the promptness of removing filled trailers from this plant so my request to pick it up in the morning was denied. I thought longingly of just turning down the load, as is my right, but in the end I gave in because this past week I’ve been running so well.

Unfortunately, taking this load has some bad consequences. First, I can’t make the original scheduled delivery time in Grand Island, Nebraska tomorrow so it is pushed back a day. This will screw up tomorrow (short run) then the following day as well (late start). This tends to cascade for a few more days ruining my rhythm and making everything ever so much harder to accomplish.

Anyway, I ran up to Fort Collins, swapped my dirty trailer for one that was even dirtier then managed to sprain my ankle on the way out. It doesn’t feel too bad and isn’t swelling much, but I won’t know until tomorrow how hobbled I’ll be.

Today ended in Cheyenne, Wyoming with ominous electronic signs proclaiming 60+ mile per hour winds to the north. I’m glad I’ll be heading east tomorrow morning but according to a state trooper I chatted with they are expecting high winds all week.


P.S. The hijacking fun continues. Apparently, not only did the bad guys take a trailer full of Pepsi syrup, they nabbed one full of Corn Flakes. Are we looking at a resurgence of the Apple Dumpling gang I wonder?

Black Ice

While I was in Phoenix the new instructions came over the wire: I am to take a trailer from the PetSmart DC and make three stops around Denver, Colorado early Monday morning. Its only about 900 miles but my hours are running a bit short until Tuesday morning so I won’t complain. If I’ve calculated it right, I’m up to about 3,600 miles for this week.

Yesterday’s drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico was uneventful. It happens to be located almost exactly halfway between Phoenix and Denver so I decided to stop after about eight hours instead of pushing on.

This morning I added fifty gallons of fuel to my tanks to get by then headed towards Denver. Believe it or not, fuel in Denver is cheaper than Albuquerque or Winslow, Arizona at the moment! With any luck it will remain so at least until tomorrow when I fill up.

Leaving just before dawn it quickly became apparent that today’s trip would be much different. Within thirty minutes there were stiff gusts of wind and snow flurries, and as I climbed towards Santa Fe the roads began to be covered in sand and the shoulders filled with ice and snow. Conditions deteriorated as I moved north towards the Raton pass at the border to Colorado and it was down to one lane scraped clean and the hammer lane left icy.

Despite that, the temps below before crossing were in the low 20’s and at the top of the pass, several thousand feet higher, it was 31 degrees! Quite unusual.

Conditions on the north side worsened a bit with more snow showers. About fifteen minutes north of the pass a black SUV tried gunning it around my rig and instead found himself spun out in the median. An hour later, a different black SUV tried the same thing and veered violently left into the median, went through to the other side on two wheels, crossed the southbound lanes (thankfully empty) and ran off the far side of the road through a fence! You would think locals would understand how to drive in ice and snow, but throughout the day there were numerous examples of poor driving that didn’t have such abrupt endings.

I only stopped once during the trip at a rest area to use the facilities, which is when I saw the sides of my truck decorated with black ice, sludge, sand and whatnot. This is what she looked like a few hours later after I arrived in Denver at my first stop:

I saw this curious ceramic-like substance in my wheel wells and it took me a bit to figure out what it was… try your hand at it and I’ll explain further down:

The brown substance was a layer of the clayish sand they lay down in New Mexico that built up first on my truck. Later, layers of black ice, tar, etc. went down on top of it making that combined look that you see.

Here’s a closeup of some of that stuff having peeled off of a nut on my truck — note the exact replica in the clay!

Here is a picture of my fifth wheel, shocks and airbags along the passenger side showing how completely they are covered by the muck:

You can view the entire album here.

Interesting coincidence: as I was driving north along I-25 my CB lit up. “Hey Hill Brothers, is that Jim T. driving?”

Turns out someone who is familiar with my adventures aside from my mom (there are a few of you out there) saw me running by. He used to work at Hill Brothers but now drives for someone else. There wasn’t time to get many details due to the limitations of the CB range but it was fun meeting with someone electronically at least.

Albuquerque to Phoenix, to Albuquerque, to Phoenix…

That load I picked up in Phoenix ended up weighing 20,000 pounds due to a second stop, and I got running with it around 0430 local time. Just after I had departed Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was given instructions to head back to the truck stop I fueled at and wait for another driver. He would take my load on up to Chicago, I would take his… back to Phoenix.

I don’t know why they had me wait in Albuquerque and have him drive all the way from Tucumcari, which is where I was planning on stopping for the night anyway. It would have saved him five hours of precious drive time and me about 40 miles of out-of-route to get turned around and headed back but I don’t make the rules, I just play by them.

This morning I got up early and ran his heavily-loaded trailer down to the PetSmart DC in Phoenix then packed it in for the rest of the day.

They really, really wanted the Pepsi

A communique from HQ today revealed that some no-gooders cut a fence at one of our drop yards and made off with one of our trailers. The trailer was loaded with Pepsi syrup (not the canned drinks, but the big boxes of goop that soda fountains use to dispense their drinks) — about twenty tons of it unless I miss my guess.

Pretty big sweet tooth they must have.

Rolling, rolling, rolling

The past three days have mostly been a blur to me. I was assigned a load in our Omaha yard to take down to Phoenix, Arizona and since then I’ve been driving, sleeping, driving. Ask any truck driver, they’ll explain.

I made it in to Phoenix around 1630 today in surprisingly heavy traffic. I considered shunting over to the 101 to try to run around the bulk of it but eventually kept along on I-17 and made it down to I-10 then west a bit to my exit. I was the only occupied truck at the PetSmart DC so I was in and out of there fast. A good thing, as my hours are shot for the rest of the day.

I spent several hours in Gallup, New Mexico with another Hill Bros driver because I may have had to swap loads with him. Turns out going down a steep grade with a sharp curve at the bottom with a heavy load in back takes on a new level of fun and excitement when you find out your power steering has decided to take a dump all on its own. He managed to keep it trucker proper (shiny side up, greasy side down and between the ditches) and get it to a shop.

Eventually that got worked out and I went my own way into Phoenix with my load.

I haven’t had too many loads recently sent to me with ridiculously short delivery times. For instance, one I got today for over 900 miles (short miles, of course, the realistic number would be 1,000) that delivers 0300 the following morning. After I turned that down, I got a nice one to Chicago for 1,745 miles (1,800 “real” miles, which isn’t too bad) that had to deliver 30 hours after I departed. Even driving ten, sleeping ten, driving ten wouldn’t even get me to Illinois legally, not to mention pretrips and fueling.

It was worked out that I would take the second load and run it as far as possible tomorrow then let someone else repower it. If the satellite unit is to be believed, its only 6,000 pounds of produce so it should be pretty zippy going up the hills I just came down between Flagstaff and Phoenix.