Omaha, then Missouri

After finishing with the PetSmart deliveries I eventually got orders to head north to Fort Collins to pick up a load of beer heading to Des Moines, Iowa. The following day this was modified to bring the load to our yard in Omaha and t-call it so they could get me a load home.

Unfortunately, by the time I got the load I didn’t have much time left to run so I decided to spend the night in Omaha. Unfortunate, since the light snow showers expected overnight turned into near-blizzard conditions from Omaha to Kansas City and I’m holed up at a rest area near KC now waiting for the weather to improve and the snowplows to get a handle on it. Other than the freezing rain storm earlier this month this is the worst weather I’ve personally encountered on the road so far.

Another PetSmart load

Late that afternoon (see previous post) I was beeped with a deadhead back to Phoenix then a trip from there to the Denver area for PetSmart. It was, of course, too late for me to actually use some of my driving hours that day to make it partway there, so I made the best of it and slept.

The following morning I was running again, first to Tonopah, Arizona to a T/A where the trailer brake problem was identified and fixed. Oh, and a shower since I needed one. I bounced about thirty miles east to Phoenix and dropped my empty trailer, only to find out my load was not yet ready so I had to chill for a few hours. I managed to head out of town right on the very edge of the evening rush hour with a heavily-loaded trailer so I’m glad it wasn’t any later. Made it to Winslow, Arizona before shutting down for the night.

Enter creepy retired trucker dude. I’m walking back to my truck with some supplies from the Wal-Mart next door when an older guy walks up and just starts chattering away. Have I heard that Pilot has bought this (mom and pop) truck stop? Where you from? Too bad you weren’t here earlier or we could have sat down at the nearby Arby’s and talk. Oh hell no.

I let him ramble on for a few minutes to be polite then said I had cold stuff I had to put away and just turned and walked. He was still chattering after me until I got into my truck. Thank goodness for door locks.

Yesterday morning I began the long drive up to Denver. 695 miles later I pulled in, ready for my first drop this morning. For some reason they had me go past Monument, Colorado to Denver first, then afterward I’m to head back south 30 miles or so for the other half of the load to be taken off.

I’m currently at the first stop this morning. Extremely poorly laid out dock with a stop sign that must be knocked down regularly and a storage container (aka shipping container) that is positioned to scrape the side of anyone backing in here. Same ole’, same ole’.

I brake for the CHP

Up at 0300 (0400 my time) and running this morning. Zipped through Phoenix along the 101 and out to the west. State route 85 to the south, then I-10 east all the way to the California border, where I (and every other truck I saw) was pulled in to the scale for a full-blown inspection.

License, medical card, truck registration, turn your head and cough. Left turn signal, right turn signal, high beams. Blah blah blah.

My truck was fine but the inspector found that one of the four brakes on the trailer wasn’t working properly. It looks fine on a pre-trip, mind you, but it doesn’t work when the service brake is used. Trailer gets written up, I get a fix-it ticket and a kick in the butt and I’m running the final few miles to Calexico to get the load delivered.

I always realize about five seconds too late when I’ve turned into a business that I have no business turning in to, in a big rig. In my own defense, I thought there was a way through to the other side of the L-shaped building but I was wrong, and there wasn’t enough space to turn around to hit “dock 3 or 4” that they wanted me to. What followed was a squeaker of a blind-side u-turn then backing up a ways before setting up for the final 90 degree turn into the dock. The smarter truckers (read: the ones that had been there before) that followed after me drove past the entrance on the street then backed in, as I should have.

Afterwards the wait began. After the hour you’re supposed to wait before pestering, I pestered my dispatcher with a short message. “Still waiting,” he replies. No, really?

An hour or so after that I called, but got his voice mail.

A while after that I called and he gave me the cheerful news that there are several other drivers in California that are waiting on loads.

I’ve noticed that it is tough getting a load on a day where you finish up with only four or five hours left to run. I would think that they would just have you deadhead for a load the following day, but it doesn’t appear to work that way most often.

My GPS located a small truck stop about six miles north so I moved up there and, as of now, plan on parking for the night. Hopefully a load will present itself in the morning.

Running hard

1300 miles have fallen behind my truck in the past two days. Starting in Omaha I ended yesterday near Dalhart, Texas and today drove almost to Phoenix, Arizona. Tomorrow I have to get up early to finish the trip to Calexico, California.

Combined with the 4,000 miles I drove last week, this has been a lot of driving. I’m heading to bed.

A Monster Week

I started driving big rigs almost 30 months ago but this last week was the corker of the bunch. Since Wednesday is the cutoff for trips for each pay period and I was running very hard all last week I thought it would be a nice paycheck, but wow.

The numbers:

Loaded miles: 3,593
Empty miles: 426
Total miles: 4,019

Total fuel purchased: 921
Total FSC paid: 643
Adjusted fuel cost: 278

Net pay after all truck expenses: 2,336 (plus 500 more to my savings escrow towards the balloon payment).

I had thought that with the time I took off in early December then again near Christmas that this quarter wouldn’t be as profitable as my first two but I’m on track to match or surpass them, depending on how the next two weeks turn out.

Good news on that front: my dispatcher got me a trip tomorrow from Omaha to Calexico, California for delivery Monday.

Flatbed on its side

I took this video a month or two back, though I don’t recall where. What is interesting comes at the very end where you see the trailer this guy was pulling on its side 90 degrees but the load still tarped and strapped in place.

Take this trailer… please

After dropping off a load of Sam’s Club stuff last night I parked in their parking lot to snooze. Across the street was a Wal-Mart supercenter so this morning when I got up I grabbed supplies.

Today’s orders: run southwest to Dodge City, Kansas to pick up a load of beef heading to Waterloo, Iowa. I had told my dispatcher the day before that I didn’t have enough hours to complete the run and when I asked this morning they said go ahead and pick it up, we’ll t-call it somewhere.

By the time I arrived in Dodge City plans had changed. A driver picking up a load last night from the same plant had his clutch go out so I was told to grab his trailer and paperwork and bring the load up to Omaha for a t-call. It took a while to locate the Kenworth dealership he had been sent to but eventually that was sorted out.

Then I look at the trailer as I’m hooking up. The unit is running but the readout is showing a fault. I walk around the trailer doing my usual checks only to find one of the trailer tires very flat — so much so the thing was just hanging from the rim. Hmmm. Apparently the previous driver wasn’t very conscientious.

I phoned in to our breakdown guy and he got a truck rolling to repair the tire. I reset the alarm on the reefer and it didn’t pop back on immediately so that was okay for the time being. It was keeping temperature just fine.

A couple hours later I’m rolling with one less screw embedded in the trailer tire and about eight hours later I’m in Omaha. The Safety Lane folks that check our trailers added some engine coolant to the reefer, which is what it was bitching about and I swapped it to a different truck that was taking it the rest of the way tonight. I don’t know what the reefer was having a problem with, the coolant jug was more than 2/3’s full and the sensor on the side was under the coolant level. Maybe it was a bad sensor.

Tomorrow I have a rare day off while I’m out on the road. I only pick up one hour on my 70 and I only have about one hour left from today so my dispatcher agreed that I would take a 34 and come back Saturday morning. Yay me.

Weird cat

I seem to have a weird cat. She spent a good fifteen minutes splashing water out of her water dish today, interspersed with licking her paws off. I’ve seen some water on the floor around the dish before and assumed it was splashed there when I went around a corner too fast. Now I know.

This morning I was offered a trip to central Indiana, but they neglected to read my message yesterday telling them I only had 4.5 hours to use today. Then an offer came to pick up a FedEx load in the early evening hours and run it overnight to Denver that I passed on. Finally, they got me a short load of Sam’s Club stuff heading to Salina, Kansas so I ran that using my available hours.

Another preplan shows up subsequently, this time taking me southwest to Dodge City, Kansas then back to the north into Iowa. Unfortunately, not enough hours available in the next two days to run that, either.

On the plus side, this means my work this past week must have racked up some pretty decent miles. Ordinarily I can estimate such things but I haven’t been keeping close track lately. I will find out Friday when my weekly settlement gets emailed to me.

654 miles

That is the distance from Windsor, Colorado to where I delivered in Kansas City, Missouri this afternoon.

The old industrial area where I delivered is filled with boarded up brick buildings that look to be 50-75 years old. Lots of railroad tracks and activity nearby. At least there weren’t many pedestrians wandering around trying to find a way to get hit.

I’ve been running so hard of late that tomorrow I only have 4.5 hours to use. I might get deadheaded up to Omaha or to a shipper in Kansas or Missouri then I’ll have the rest of the day off. That should give me just enough time to clean up all the cat hair the furball has been shedding these past few weeks.

I’m glad I busted my butt

I roll up to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Loveland, Colorado 45 minutes early for my 0900 appointment. The security guards checked the appointment number I was given and it turns out the load isn’t due until 0900 tomorrow. Arrrrgh! I went back to the truck to verify my information, and it was listed as being today on my satellite unit.

The security guards had me make a u-turn then park while I contacted my dispatcher. I asked what day it was this load was due to arrive and he said today. I relayed what the guards told me (they double checked) and he went off to chat with the customer service people to find out who screwed it up.

Four hours later I’m told to take the trailer full of pop tarts down to our drop lot in Denver, grab an empty then return to a few miles away from the Wal-Mart DC to a shipper for my next load. Some poor driver will be stuck delivering my original trailer in the morning due to the poor planning.

The new shipper makes cans for soft drinks. Cherry Dr. Pepper in this case. There is a long wait to be loaded and the trailer was thoroughly inspected before they began. The floor was clean enough to pass muster any place I’ve ever been since I began driving but I had to sweep it one last time, resulting in a handful of dust and debris in the dustpan.

I accepted the load with an open appointment time for the following day in Kansas City, Missouri. When it was loaded and I punched in the proper codes, the appointment read 0700 the following morning. I told the night dispatcher to have the CSRs put down the crack pipe, I’d be there late tomorrow.

Then I slept.

Long driving days

The day before yesterday I drove my full 11 hours. Yesterday, I drove my full 11 hours. Today, I drove my full 11 hours. Each day started before dawn and ended up after sunset (additional time being spent doing things like eating, fueling and such during the course of the day).

Before I dropped my load in Rochelle, Illinois yesterday I was given a pre-plan then it was changed to a different one, then that one was modified to a t-call in Omaha. The story is long and I’m tired, but suffice it to say I ignored what my company told me about the hours that a particular shipper were open and this morning grabbed my load a couple hours early, which will give me just enough time to rush it from Minooka, Illinois to Loveland, Colorado tomorrow morning if all goes well.

Today’s drive was from Minooka to Lexington, Nebraska, stopping once in Walcott, Iowa for some food and to scale the load and again in Omaha to refuel. Other than that, hour after hour of trodding down the road watching my fuel gauge slowly head towards empty.

100,000 miles

I forgot to mention, last week my truck rolled into the six-digit range and I wasn’t even driving at the time!

I had my truck in the shop for service with 99,995 miles on it and they test drove it for about ten miles so it rolled over when I wasn’t even in my rig!

Around the Ozarks

On the way to Clarksville yesterday another pre-plan came over the satellite: load up in Russellville and run it up to Rochelle, Illinois.

The problem: the Ozarks.

Now, if you chart a direct route in Google Maps, you get this:

Note that course right at the start, up Arkansas route 7 to Springfield, Mo, then I-44 to the east. I drove that route once in my rig, but never again.

So instead I had three or four alternative, longer routes to choose from. I could have gone back west a spell then up I-540 through Fayetteville and up to Joplin, then over on I-44 but I dislike backtracking. I could have taken US-64 and US-67 (and a few other state highways) from Little Rock and basically cut the corner between I-40 and I-55, but the northern half of that isn’t that great to drive on.

Instead, I sucked it up and took 80 miles of Out Of Route and went east to West Memphis, then headed north. I probably wouldn’t do it again due to the extra miles (and fuel burned running them) but that’s what I did.

A Wasted Day

Thursday was jacked up.

I delivered first thing in the morning at the beef plant in Fort Worth, Texas and before that was over I got a pre-plan to go from nearby Haltom City, Texas to Clarksville, Arkansas.

No problem. I got the paperwork taken care of, went up the freeway 15 miles to the Pilot and filled the reefer tank, came back down the freeway and got the trailer washed out (there were some chunky beef parts left on the floor — probably not what the Sara Lee folks would appreciate) and got to the shipper.

“That load won’t be ready to go until 8 PM,” I’m told.

Since I unloaded at 9 AM, this is almost twelve hours to wait. I got to drop my trailer with them then bobtail to a nearby truck stop and wait. Since there was no appointment on the drop side of the load, I decided to pick up first thing in the morning and run it to Arkansas, which is what I did.

Giant Grain Cannon

Regular readers may remember a few weeks back when I was sent to tiny Arriba, Colorado to pick up a load of wheat. That load used a Giant Grain CannonTM that shot over 20 tons of wheat directly on to the floor of the trailer.

Here is video evidence of said episode:

I am a DQ Blizzard addict. I have been clean for five days.

Yesterday morning I contacted my dispatcher to find out what was up. My truck was out of the shop the previous afternoon and I let him know then that I would be ready to roll first thing in the morning. First thing in the morning rolls around and I’m not rolling. Not good.

I walked over to our dispatch building and pierced him with my steely gaze. “There just isn’t much freight up here today,” he protested.

Me and my gaze walked out and I took my truck over to a nearby PetSmart to stock up on a few things for Miss White.

Finally, just as I was getting ready to go in and shop at a WalMart, the satellite unit beeped. A trip from Omaha to Tennessee, set to deliver the following day. I had gone over the weather that morning and I knew that the entire Ohio river valley and east would be pounded with high winds and rain for much of the day. I apologized as I turned the load down.

After shopping another beep came with a load from the same shipper in Omaha, this time to Fort Worth, Texas. About the same number of miles, almost a straight shot due south and no nasty weather to worry about for the rest of the day. BAM! Took it.

I was told to bobtail over to the shipper, where I was told to come back with an empty. Grrr. Ran back over to the yard, grabbed the only empty reefer I could find, fueled up then drove back to the shipper. Pushed the trailer into a door, got the bills, drove another mile or so from there to a drop yard, got the new trailer and headed across the river to scale in Council Bluffs.

The drive down to Fort Worth is right at 650 miles which is a long day, but doable. I knew that along the way at exit 203 on I-35 in Oklahoma is a truck stop called the Cimmaron Travel Plaza that has a nice, easy-to-access Dairy Queen but I’ve been free of their clutches since Friday and decided to see if I could pass it up. As I drove towards it, I realized I would need something to distract me so I pulled into one of the service plazas along the Kansas toll road and got an iced mocha coffee at the Mickey D’s there.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t frequent Mickey D’s and pretty much anyone who has ever met me knows that I mostly drink water and juice, never tea or coffee. I really don’t like the bitterness of coffee (or drinks that are hot, in general, thus the iced part) but I decided it was the closest they had to a Blizzard and the caffeine might not hurt.

Bletch! How do you people drink that swill!

It did, literally, leave a bad taste in my mouth and I did managed to pass up the DQ I was really hankering for so I suppose it did its job.

I arrived just before midnight in Fort Worth at the gates of the consignee. They run shifts 24 hours so even though the electronic gate was closed, I just waited until some workers arrived from outside the company and made my way inside to park for the night.

The disappearing feline

I had to get the entire front part of my interior packed up because the changes I’m having made requires the entire upper and lower dash to be removed to run new air lines and such. This took an hour or so and the rest of my truck is looking like a salvage yard, but I’ll manage.

Snow White and I moved into a room at a nearby hotel for the night. She was freaked out a bit, but eventually was quiet and I plugged away at my computer for a while.

Quiet. Too quiet.

I realize I hadn’t seen or heard her in a few hours and glanced around the room. No cat.

Look under the bed. No cat.

Move the chest of drawers and night table around to peek behind. No cat.

Look in the (smallish) bathroom. No cat.

I was afraid that maybe there was a hole large enough in the air conditioning unit in the window that she could squeeze into and somehow get outside, but I checked that thoroughly as well. No cat.

I went down the hall to the front desk and told them I had basically tossed their room and couldn’t find my cat. If they saw a 6-pound pure white cat rampaging around contact me.

Still no cat.

I looked everywhere. Under the sink to see if she was balanced on the pipes. Behind the TV. In my luggage. The pillows. The sheets and comforters from both beds.

No cat.

Both beds have wooden frames enclosing the bottom but I checked those just in case for holes she could have squeezed through. No cat.

Getting desperate, I moved the top part of each bed off of its base and looked underneath. Scored some naughty magazines and an empty-yet-messy bottle of baby food (there’s a combo). But no cat.

Finally, I lifted the base of one bed up and looked underneath. There was a lattice of steel springs and wood slats with a thin, gauze-like covering with some holes torn in it.

Found cat.

Weekend of fun, then the shop

The original plan was to have me take that load from the boonies of Arkansas and t-call it in our Kansas City, Missouri drop yard. By the time I arrived, a message sat on my satellite unit telling me they had no freight to move me out of there so I would have to sit on this 450-mile load all weekend.

Oh hell no.

I went back and forth with the weekend folks for a while and they eventually saw it my way and let me t-call it then deadhead up to Omaha. My truck has been needing some fixes for a while now and the local Volvo dealership finally has the parts in, so into the shop goes the truck and into a hotel go the cat and me for a night.

“Turn left at the dead coon, dodge the tree stumps and watch out for the tight turns”

After I delivered the final bunch of live fish in Little Rock, Arkansas I waited and waited, then waited some more. About five hours later I’m on the phone with my dispatcher and he’s suggesting I deadhead home (not happening) when he happens to note that they’ve booked a brokered load for me from Danville, Arkansas to Kansas. It doesn’t deliver until Monday so my orders were to pick it up then t-call it at our Kansas City yard the following day.

I get the load information and address for the shipper but my GPS software doesn’t find the street and my online Google Maps software shows it in the middle of some other streets. It isn’t that big of a town, so I figure I’ll head out and find it the old fashioned way.

Hilarity ensues.

A couple hours later I’m in what passes for downtown Danville and there sure isn’t a lot of businesses there that seem to need the services of a big rig. I already called the broker but got the answering machine, so I’m kind of stuck. I called the shipper and it turns out they are about twenty miles away near the town of Centerville, Arkansas and the lady I’m speaking with can’t believe they ever sent me to Danville (like I would make that up).

Unfortunately, she isn’t real good with that compass thingie so I have to take her directions and translate them a bit. Then, I get a call from the broker and he gives me another set of incomprehensible directions that I compare with the first, resulting in something close to the title of this post.

An hour or so later I am in the boonies, at the plant in question. And when I say boonies, listen up: this is Arkansas folks.

The load consists of three huge bags of pet food protein product… think the raw materials that are turned into pet food. The factory itself has a nice odor about it, and several splashes of gore and blood liven up the dock area. They take the “trimmings” from chicken and beef plants in the area and do stuff with it. Yetch.

Anyway, three pallets go in the back for a whopping 6,500 pounds. Because of the delay between loads I only have time enough to head back to civilization, which in this case is the Pilot in Russellville, Arkansas.

My, what big green eyes you have!

Some of my friends have been asking me when I would get a new cat. My last cat, Blaze, spent 17 years with me until I had to put her down a year-and-a-half ago.

When I have delivered at PetSmart stores I spent some time in their adoption centers looking over the cats there. I wanted just the right pet to succeed Blaze and I found her at a store in Colorado Springs, Colorado a month or more ago. It took some work but eventually I found the contact information for the organization in charge of the adoptions and my dispatcher helped hook me up with a trip that got me through there a few weeks ago so I could pick her up.

As you can see, she has had a tough time adjusting to the truck:

I have dubbed her Snow White, as her fur is entirely white. She was born in the fall of 2007 and I’m told she had a run-in with some dogs, which made her timid. I have discovered over the past few weeks that she isn’t timid at all, and she enjoys romping around the cab of my truck and helping me “play” on my computer. It must be a cat thing, as she is utterly fascinated by my onscreen mouse cursor (get it?) and likes to pounce on it when she can. I’ve also discovered various switches on my dash clicked on or off some mornings, like the one that drops the rear suspension or unlocks the fifth wheel slider. This helps keep me on my toes.

Ghetto Fixes

I was planned on a PetSmart load of fish last night, from the Ottawa, Illinois distribution center down to Memphis, then Little Rock. They wanted the pickup by 0500 which was no problem, and I checked in my empty then hooked up to the new trailer with the fish.

The previous driver was probably an owner-op, and was most certainly inconsiderate. The reason I believe he (or she) was an O-O is that the landing gear was cranked so high I had to lower it about 3 inches before I could get under the trailer, which is normally how people using 24″ tires leave them. Since our regular fleet uses 22.5″ tires like mine, I suspect this was someone with their own truck.

The inconsiderate part has to do with the trailer lights. When I hooked up my electrical pigtail and pulled the trailer out of its spot all was fine. Then I made a right turn towards the gate and the trailer lights went out. Straightened out, the lights flickered on and off a bit, then went back off. The electrical junction box felt a bit loose when I plugged in, and the previous driver had to have recognized this problem if he was using his mirrors.

So now I get to wait for repairs at the T/A in Bloomington, Illinois.

I tried a ghetto fix with some zip ties, but the connections are poor enough that it doesn’t keep contact well.

The 14-hour rule

So I’m sitting in Rochelle, Illinois yesterday afternoon after being unloaded at a nearby consignee. Ten minutes before my 14-hour clock is about to wrap up I get a phone call from our afternoon / evening dispatcher asking if I can drive about 120 miles to Oak Grove, Wisconsin and pick up a load that was sitting on their dock because another truck of ours had a breakdown.

This is the same joint that screwed me out of over 20 hours of detention pay that I mentioned in passing in the Garlic and the Bong post a few months ago. So it was not with a heavy heart that I had to gently tell him they could stuff their garlic bread.