Avon calling!

After delivering that load of meat in Chicago I was told to head north about 25 miles to Glenview, Illinois to an Avon distribution center to pick up a load heading to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I had been to this place before and the last turn you have to take to get there is very tight — as in, swing wide to the left as far as possible and turn hard right to make the single lane turn. If anyone was offended they got over it.

I was told the load wouldn’t be ready until 1700 but I got there early hoping it might leave sooner. It was, and right at 1500 I was loaded up, sealed up and revved up heading out to the closest freeway. The traffic was heavy but moving, and more building up as time passed but I made it to I-90 heading out of town at the forefront of a large wave of automobiles rushing to leave the city.

Last night I was at Albert Lea, Minnesota and I arrived this morning at 1130 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the local UPS facility. Avon loads thousands of packages on to a trailer then they get injected into the UPS system closer to their destination. I suppose this saves them a lot of money.

What it does not save is time on my part, as they told me the trailer would be empty in about four hours. This did give me time to head over to the nearby Pilot to have one of my super single tires looked at (it wasn’t keeping pressure as well as the other three), have lunch and grab a shower.

UPS finished with the trailer around 1500 and I took off to the nearby town of Round Lake, Minnesota to pick up 38,000 pounds of candy heading to the Menards distribution center in Shelby, Iowa. Why Menards, a competitor of Home Depot and Lowes, needs 19 tons of candy is beyond me.

The candy people had a trailer preloaded for me so I dropped my empty in a door and hooked up to the new one. This was interrupted by the yard driver informing me the trailer wasn’t clean enough to pass muster and I had to go back and sweep it out. It was 90 degrees out and humid, so by the time I finished that (pointless) task that shower I had taken a few hours prior wasn’t wearing too well.

Why pointless? I spent a good 20 minutes sweeping out small pieces of pallets, a bit of dust and a small amount of plastic — a total amount that would fit in an adult’s cupped hands. The load of candy that would soon be on board has the following protection:

1) The candies are individually wrapped.
2) The individually wrapped candies are bagged in plastic.
3) The bags of plastic individually wrapped candies are placed into cardboard boxes and sealed.
4) The sealed cardboard boxes filled with bags of individually wrapped candies are stacked on pallets then the pallets are shrink wrapped.

I think it fair to say if I had butchered a goat for a pagan sacrifice in the back of the trailer and let the blood and intestines drop where they may the shrink wrapped pallets of cardboard boxes filled with bags of individual plastic candies would have made out just fine.

My truck and stinky self drove south to a rest area near the consignee for this load and took a 10.

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Surprise Stampeed

I departed Omaha this morning and made the consignee in Columbus on time. The guard had difficulty raising anyone in the plant to take my load but that eventually sorted itself out.

Just as I’m in the middle of a relatively difficult back the dock guy comes out and asks to take a look inside the trailer. No problemo, I break the seal and we look.

“Oh, we have tons of that stuff on the dock already. Park it over in the drop lot.”

Sigh.

I grab an empty trailer from them and beep dispatch for my next trip.

Seems that someone didn’t finish delivering a load nearby and I’m the fix for the problem. Run over a mile or so away, follow some dirt roads to a drop yard and swap my new empty for a different loaded trailer. Away I go.

I drop my empty trailer in a very muddy lot and hook up to the only other trailer there. It is supposed to have 43,000 pounds of cargo in back but it sure didn’t feel that way when I got under it. There is no seal on back and I pop the door: trailer is empty. Surprise!

Dispatch doesn’t believe me for a while but finally they agree I am qualified to look inside a trailer and tell if it is empty and that delivery goes away.

New orders appear and I’m directed to the Cargil plant in nearby Schyuler, Nebraska to pick up a load heading for Stampeed Meats in Chicago that delivers in the morning. I have just enough hours to drive it in one shot, ending at the consignee so I hope they have overnight parking.

(Turns out, they did)

Columbus day

Around 1000 I am told to run over to the south side of Kansas City, Missouri and pick up a trailer then bring it to Lenexa, Kansas to pick up a load going to Columbus, Nebraska. The trailer itself is old and creaky, but the load is only about 11,000 pounds so it sufficed.

The whole trip is about 300 miles and I don’t deliver until tomorrow so I was lazy and stopped at our HQ in Omaha. I’ve been out for the past four weeks and I’m going home this weekend so I don’t feel like working that hard.

Day and a half off

I was told that the load of beer delivered up to noon on Saturday. I couldn’t get it there much earlier due to my hours, but I arrived in Olathe, Kansas at 1130. Bud distributor tells me they stop taking deliveries after 1030 on Saturdays and our dispatchers must know this because they consistently screw it up. Sigh.

Quick phone call to the weekend people and I’m sent up to our Kansas City, Missouri yard to t-call the trailer. One of our local guys will take it back down when they ask for it pretty please, I suppose.

The truck and driver needed a good scrub so the truck went off to Blue Beacon and the diver off to the Flying J down the street. Beacon does a better job than the J in terms of washing facilities, I note.

Holy Creepy Factor: This morning I find a business card on my driver’s door from the manager of the Beacon saying he swung by to check out the wash after my truck had dried off. I guess they keep a list or something.

The rest of my weekend was spent eating, scratching, watching movies, playing games and the like.

Sleep with cats get… fleas?

Yetch. I noticed a pair of fleas on Snowie today. Since she was clean when I got her and has only been on my truck and at the house, those dratted other cats gave her some friends. I’m going to introduce her to my friend “Advantage” here shortly.

Yesterday I drove from Jamestown, New Mexico to Denver and parked at the first customer on this load. This was the same place I was at back in winter time with all the black ice and snow crud on the sides of my truck and trailer, pictures linked to on the right sidebar. Absolutely jacked-up parking lot entry and exit and I got there right at rush hour. Wish I had a camera rolling.

(No, I didn’t plan it that way but the rest areas just south of Denver are still shut down and I decided to roll the dice.)

The first drop was scheduled for 0300 but the boys were there at 0215 pounding on my door. Got the tandems back and doors open and into the dock forthwith and the product disappeared as always.

Got the signed bills and headed out through the maze-like parking lot. Drove south for a little over an hour to Colorado Springs and found my other consignee. Turns out it was a different one than I got Miss Fleabag at, a mile or two north along the same road.

The docks were jacked up as usual but I got it into place and hit the bunk for an hour of quality time. When it came time to unseal the load and back into the dock fully, my engine started making sputtering noises and was running poorly. Another Hill Bros driver (lease purchase guy with the same make and model truck that I have) happened to be there and we looked over the engine compartment. Sounded to him like a fuel filter problem so I got a quick lesson in priming and worked up a sweat. Truck started up fine after that and our shop boss explained that because I was parked on a slope for a few hours it caused a problem.

My next trip came in while I was being unloaded: Grab a preloaded trailer at the Fort Collins Bud plant and take it to Olathe, Kansas for delivery tomorrow by noon. I ran north to grab the load then back south to Denver, then east on I-70 to Colby, Kansas where I am spending the night. Early tomorrow morning it is time to fuel then off to Olathe.

I warned my dispatcher that my hours were low so I’m going to take a 34 and get rolling again Monday morning.

Major Accident in Phoenix

Just as I arrived at the I-10 / highway 101 split in Phoenix there was a huge crash with lots of dust and debris kicked up on the northbound ramp from I-10 west. I saw a big rig or truck of some sort on its side with lots of cargo or something flying off, blocking the entire ramp area. I was about a half mile away when it happened so I saw the entire thing but wasn’t able to make out many of the details, but it sure looked nasty.

A few minutes later I dropped off my inbound load and grabbed a preloaded trailer with the cargo heading to Colorado. The first drop is at a store I’m familiar with in downtown Denver and the second happens to be the store that I adopted Snowie from in Colorado Springs.

I drove out of town the way I normally avoid, taking I-10 east to I-17 then going north. Traffic was heavy but moving and I was glad to put Phoenix behind me before the afternoon rush started. After a long slog up the mountains to Flagstaff I turned east and ended the day in Jamestown, New Mexico. 680 miles for the day and I’m beat.

Fiscal Year 2008-2009 (June 6, 2008 – June 5, 2009)

The first and, hopefully, hardest year of my lease-purchase is behind me.

I’ve posted the numbers in exhaustive detail elsewhere so I’m going to try to stick to a subset of the totals, along with some numbers that jump out at me in good and bad ways.

A bad number that jumps out at me is 11,270 Out Of Route miles. This is the difference from the miles I was assigned and the miles it took to complete those assignments. Hill Bros, like most trucking companies uses Rand McNally’s “HHG” miles to calculate the paid miles for trips. As truckers anywhere can testify, this ends up shortchanging drivers on most every trip.

The reason the number 11,270 sticks out is that it represents a full month of my driving. In short, I spent eleven months of my time in the past year operating my truck generating revenue and the twelfth month I spent driving around, along with all the expenses (like fuel, and wearing down my tires). This irks me to no end.

I knew before I started that my dedication to efficiency would keep my total miles down, and it did. Just over 12,000 miles per month (including the dreaded OOR miles) is fairly low for lease-purchase drivers.

Ordinarily, the largest single expense for trucks nowadays is fuel, followed by the cost of paying the driver. With my efficiency I managed to flip those two around, taking home almost $68,000 and spending almost $59,000 on fuel.

That 59k was the price I paid at the pump, minus the discount our company gets for its patronage of the various truck stop chains. Then, when it came time to settle up each week, I got paid a certain number of cents per mile in Fuel Surcharge (FSC), which ranged from about 15 to 58 cents, depending on how costly the average price of fuel was that week. This totaled almost $42,000 so instead of paying 59k for my fuel, I was out only about 17k.

Fuel expense is the only area you can make money on in this fashion when you drive for a fixed cost per mile. If you divide that 17k into the miles I drove during the year, it computes to 11.73 cents per mile. I’m not privy to similar numbers for Hill Bros or any other company, but I would wager for company drivers that figure is double, and that is comparing APU-equipped trucks. I doubt most company drivers at companies without APUs see less than 30 cents per mile fuel expense across a fleet.

If you are a company driver, you make more money the more miles you run. As an owner, however, you make more money running miles more efficiently. I could have run 65 or 70 MPH this past year and added another 15,000-20,000 more miles but doing so would have made every single mile I drove less efficient and would have cost me money. As the old saw goes, a millionaire isn’t someone who has spent a million dollars but someone who has saved a million dollars.

Overall, there weren’t many surprises financially in the first year. There are some things that I would have done differently, but their economic impact was small.

Looking ahead, the biggest change I want to make is taking a full week’s vacation this winter, on top of my regular home time. I will also need a full set of tires at some point in the next 6-12 months. My objective is to do both of these things and still make at least as much net pay by next June as I did in my first fiscal year.

How am I going to get there? For one, as my tires wear down they become more efficient. According to the tire maker Bridgestone, a tire worn down to 50% of its tread is 4.5% more efficient than when it was new. Down to just 20% of the tread remaining and the efficiency is up to 6.5%. Four percent of my fuel bill would be almost $2,400 in fuel savings, at the prices I received this past year.

I am really, really, REALLY going to watch my routing like a hawk to kill as many OOR miles as I can. My goal is 7%, which would be about 2,000 miles fewer OOR than this past year.

I did get another engine computer printout from the shop when I had them do a PM last week, and it still shows my MPG in the 7.7 range. I had the belts changed, new shocks all around and other items that I hope will keep everything running swimmingly over the next year.

Check back this time next year!