Saving the star pitcher for the important game

I didn’t understand why dispatch would leave me hanging the way they did until I thought about it longer.

See, after I picked up the Sara Lee load heading to Clarksville, Arkansas, I got beeped with a preplan to take a load from Russellville, Arkansas to Atlanta, Georgia. One small detail jumped out at me, however: the load wouldn’t be ready to go until early Monday morning and I would have this other load delivered in Clarksville Saturday afternoon.

What gives?

It took me a while but then I think I got it. Its like a star baseball manager saving his key closer for just the right moment to get his team out of a jam and keep them in the running to win the championship. That extra day of down time wasn’t REALLY down time, per se, as much as it was a carefully crafted and thoughtfully executed pause in my schedule to put me on critical high-priority freight that absolutely, positively had to be delivered on time.

An argument could be made that the 20 tons of frozen dinners just happened to be the only crappy load left from the planners over the weekend. Go figure.

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How’s your weekend?

After returning to my truck yesterday morning at 0800 I went in search of one of the service writers and asked what the status was. He spoke with a service dispatcher and basically didn’t have an answer as to when my truck would get looked at. Since the entire dealership would be closed come 5 PM and the estimate was four hours in the shop, things were looking bleak.

I called my dispatcher and our in-house breakdown guy Andy to keep them updated and see if anything could be done. Got voice mail both times. Within an hour, though, I got a knock at the door and a technician was outside telling me I had to vacate the truck so they could forklift it into a bay to get worked on. Go Andy go!

The cat and I debarked into the driver’s lounge, as seen here:

A few minutes later they picked up the rear wheels of my truck with a forklift and maneuvered it into a work bay:

(White truck with the forklift behind it near the top of the photo)

Two hours later I was just going out to check on progress when I notice my truck is no longer in the work bay and is instead just being parked. Since it was under its own power at that point, I was amazed to think the problem had been found and fixed in such a short time.

I spoke with the guy who test drove it and he said it was driving normally. Back inside with the service writer, I’m told that the lift pump wasn’t the problem. The problem was the mechanic that installed the new filter on the side of the road forgot to install the upper o-ring and had also left the lower o-ring dirty. This allowed air into the system which didn’t let the fuel system pressurize properly, causing the engine to not want to turn over.

So, according to the Volvo folks, I likely had a clogged fuel filter originally when I broke down and the guy that came out screwed up the replacement, which in turn led to an enormous tow bill, a night spent in a hotel, a repair bill at Volvo, damage to my tractor’s catwalk and left mudflap hanger and loss of income for several days.

I digested this after I finished the repair paperwork and drove off the lot. My dispatcher got me a load heading to Arkansas but before I did that I had to drive across town to Garland in Friday traffic then pick up a trailer to run back across town to Mansfield, Texas. After all of that, head back in to Dallas, pick up a reefer at the local Estes yard and run over to Fort Worth to fill its reefer, then over to Haltom City to the Sara Lee plant I so enjoy to pick up my load.

The cherry on top was finding out upon arrival at Sara Lee that the load that my satellite system shows as being preloaded at 1300 yesterday really won’t be loaded until 1300 today. Since they don’t let trucks park on their lot, it meant another 25 mile round trip to the Pilot to wait and fume.

Bushwhacked in Texas

I knew before I even left the parking lot this morning that it was not going to be that great of a day. Any day that starts with me having to prime the fuel filter of my truck isn’t shaping up to be a good one.

My worst fears were confirmed about 15 miles into my trip near Sherman, Texas when my truck started chugging pretty badly going up a slight grade in the road. I just primed the dang thing, what is the problem now?

I made it over the grade and on the back side everything seemed to go back to normal but a few miles later was another grade and my truck chugged a bit then quit just before I crested the hill. I used my momentum to get over the top while I tried restarting the engine. No go, and now my power steering is out and damn these trucks are a bitch to steer with manual pressure only.

It was a bit scary for a short time as I guided her gently over to the shoulder and held my breath as I straightened her out. A light pressure on the brakes and I came to a stop just in front of exit 57 towards Sherman, Texas (along highway 75).

Blinkers on, I carefully climbed out of the cab in the early morning hours and tried priming it again several times. No go. Finally, I called in to our breakdown folks and had them send someone out. A few hours were spent changing filters out, priming, cooking franks & beans around an open campfire, the usual. Nothing we tried seemed to make any difference and in the end the problem was either a blockage of the fuel line in the tanks or a malfunctioning lift pump. Since my APU was chugging along quite nicely using the same fuel it seems that the pump is where the problem lies.

The closest Volvo dealer from there is back in Dallas, but our breakdown guy almost sent me (via wrecker) to Oklahoma City instead. Turns out they haven’t had the best experience there before but it was a hundred extra miles (at the low, low rate of $185 an hour *cough*) out to OKC and Hill Bros would have to eat the tow bill if we didn’t take it to the nearest dealer. Woe is me.

A jolly fellow named John showed up about an hour later with his truck-sized wrecker and started hooking up the rigs. Quite a lot of things to do, including the removal of my truck’s drive shaft. Eventually we hopped in his truck and I brought Snowie along in her cat carrier.

Miss Fancy Pants wormed her way out of said carrier in short order, right after John mentioned another trucker with a cat that sat on his lap most of the way in when he towed the other guy’s truck. Wouldn’t you know it, Snowie spent most of the time roaming the cab, jumping on our laps and complaining about lack of attention. Some cats.

About $825 later we show up at the dealership only to find out that trailers aren’t allowed. This mostly due to the small, jam-packed lot they have. Naturally, this isn’t determined until we’ve already turned the wrecker, my tractor and the trailer into said parking lot and there is no exit other than the entrance we just came in. Oh, and no place to turn around a Yugo much less the football-field length of our rig.

After some conferring, small bribes, hair pulling and other pish-posh we were given the keys to a day cab they had sitting around. The original plan was to have me use the day cab to hook up to my trailer after John pulled my tractor out from under it but the day cab turned out to be two sizes too small for this driver and John gracefully slid behind the wheel. Queue a thoroughly amusing back through the narrow parking lot then on to a busy 6-lane city street with me helping him and directing traffic. There was a spot along a nearby side street — a crappy spot that had the trailer leaning over at a pretty good angle, but a spot — and we parked it there.

Back into the dealership to my truck where John gets everything unhooked and stowed, and I find my catwalk ripped to heck. Looks like the last turn we took into the dealership had enough of an angle at the curb that the front left edge of the trailer ripped right through it leaving an impressive divot. The mechanic at Iowa 80 who spent all that time getting it to work just right with my chain box must be crying about now (sorry dude).

The final indignity of the day comes when I get told I can’t spend the night in my own truck because I’m parked on their lot. If I could move the damn thing I’d park on the street but noooo, my fuel pump is hosed. After some quick packing me, some clothes, the cat and her stuff are stuffed into a hotel shuttle and shuttled off to an EconoLodge about ten miles north. Don’t ask.

What foods cook at 125 degrees?

I don’t know… I do know that truckers cook in a parking lot that is 125 degrees, like the one I am at tonight in tiny Anna, Texas.

I delivered my load of Fruit Loops in the morning in Garland and the consignee made me take an empty van trailer in exchange. My next load was on the other side of Dallas in Grand Prairie, so I made the 25-mile trip with the new trailer. Only to find out that the next load requires a reefer and our reefers are back at our yard in (you guessed it) Garland. Fifty miles of out-of-route for that little boo boo.

Most warehouse folks I’ve run across are easy enough to get along with, if only in that “I’ve got a crappy job but it isn’t as bad as being on the road” kind of way. Today’s loader was an angry little turd that has erectile dysfunction problems, I’m guessing. He wasn’t happy to see me, my truck or the load he was forced to move into the trailer. Tough noogies.

He was also slow and between that and my gallivanting earlier it had me leaving Grand Prairie right at 1600. Not the greatest time to be in the DFW metroplex in a big rig. I took a chance and braved the traffic, managing to evade most of the traffic jams on my way out of town.

Manic Monday

The loading at Buske actually went a bit faster this time: just four hours from start to finish. Since I didn’t bother showing up until about noon this wasn’t a hugely bad thing.

Better yet, they only put 18 pallets on weighing 34,000 pounds! Not the lightest I’ve pulled but about five tons less than the other loads I’ve pulled from there.

The trip up to Omaha was uneventful and I dropped off the trailer this morning. It did take a half hour to find someone to sign off on the bills.

Then the wait for my next load began. I got the pet some supplies at PetSmart, filled up the truck with human supplies at Wal-Mart then cleaned up at a local truck stop. Finally I got the word to head over to the yard and grab a trailer filled with Fruit Loops from Kelloggs to run down to Dallas tomorrow morning.

It is a nice one-day run, right at 660 miles but leaving so late causes me and my metabolism problems. I had to stop several times to take power naps then I stopped for the night in Oklahoma.

Home Time

I delivered the load of candy to the Menards distribution center in Shelby, Iowa on Friday morning then was directed to my usual go-home load from ConAgra in Council Bluffs to Carthage, Missouri. Unfortunately, the load didn’t pick up until about 1600 so by the time I got down to Missouri, dropped off the trailer, searched around for 30 minutes for an empty then went home it was very late and I slept in the truck.

The dreaded Buske load from Springfield to Omaha is on me again. Next time off I am going to get home a day early and come back on a Sunday just to see if I can avoid it.

My right front turn signal on the truck is working intermittently. I’ve already changed the light twice in the past year so I’m thinking it is more of a wiring problem. Something for the shop folks to look at next time I have the chance.