Calendar year 2009 Financial Results

2009 was the first full calendar year I finished as a lease-purchase operator. I began my lease June 6, 2008 and track my fiscal results from the first week of June each year to the first week of June the next, but I thought it might be of interest to show some of the numbers just for the year 2009.

Note that these numbers don’t exactly align with the calendar because the start of 2009 didn’t align exactly with the payroll cutoff day each week, but it does represent the 52 week period as closely as possible.

I drove 126,330 paid miles during ’09. I didn’t note my starting and ending actual truck miles during that time period, so I don’t know how many more miles I drove Out-of-Route.

My truck grossed 147,016 and my net, after all truck expenses but before taxes, health care or other personal expenses, was 62,121. Dividing my paid miles by my net pay shows a CPM of 49.17, just shy of my 50 CPM target. I also saved an extra 5,000 in an escrow account during this period, so the actual net would be 67,121 and CPM of 53.13.

These numbers are close to the numbers I posted for my first full fiscal year: 67,121 calendar vs 67,739 fiscal.

Lying thieving bastards

The rest of my trip out to my first stop in Phoenix, Arizona was uneventful.

My cargo this trip was 32,000 pounds of various meat products, with all but 3,600 pounds going to my first stop, a company I will decline to mention by name. I checked in three hours before my appointment time and waited around until I was assigned a door.

The unloading and breakdown of the product took an inordinate amount of time, not unusual at a food warehouse. Eventually, I was given the paperwork and I went back out to my truck. Even though the parking spaces were narrow, I only needed to move forward eight or ten feet to swing my trailer doors since the spaces next to me were empty. I did this, and as I brought around the first door I noticed that the trailer was completely empty. About 3,600 pounds of product (and a different type of product that this first customer didn’t order as well) was gone.

I went back inside to chat up the dock manager and he looked at the paperwork and consulted his computer. They got exactly 586 boxes of product that they ordered, he insisted, no more and no less. By this time the product was long gone from the dock area itself, having been sorted into the various pallets the warehouse required.

Several hours of hilarity ensued, as I called our folks, they called the Cargill folks, no one could get a hold of the dock manager by phone, etc. “They must have left it off of the load in Nebraska,” I was told by the dock people.

The only thing is, this particular shipper video tapes every load that leaves their facility so they had proof that what they said was on the truck was on the truck.

By an amazing coincidence, after a long wait one of the lumper types points at two pallets stacked in an out-of-the-way location and asks if those were the ones I was looking for. The labels matched those printed on the bills for my last stop and they quickly hustled the pallets on to the back of my truck.

Lying thieving bastards.

By this time it was mid evening and I still had a long six-hour drive into Los Angeles for an 0500 appointment the following morning. I had to take two power naps along the way to keep me going, but eventually I arrived ahead of schedule. I was feeling good enough I saved $50 by taking the pallets off of the trailer myself instead of leaving it to the lumpers. Thank goodness I didn’t have to restack anything.

The glow grows and grows!

I managed to knock out over 550 miles the day I picked up in Schuyler, Nebraska, despite traveling along a series of narrow state highways with some snow drifts up to and above the window of my rig.

By the time I reached Kansas the snow was much less noticeable and I made decent time, which allowed me to continue onwards to Guymon, Oklahoma for the night. I hadn’t parked at this particular truck stop before (it is a Shell station with considerable truck parking) and I hadn’t used their restrooms before, either.

Now believe it or not, I am not the sort who buys condoms from restroom vending machines. I could not help but laugh, however, at the advertising for one brand presented for my viewing, er, pleasure:

A bad parking decision

That was my little mistake. The Sapp Bros truck stop was packed to the gills when I arrived but there was one spot left in the parking area just west of the pumps. It had a bit of grade to it but I didn’t feel it would be a problem departing in the morning so I took the spot and went in for a shower and such.

The following morning I was ordered west to Cargill in Schuyler, Nebraska for a load of meat heading first to Phoenix, Arizona then Los Angeles, California. Ordinarily, a long run out to the left coast is a blessing but the state highway I needed to take to Schuyler then the ones I needed to take south were closed the day before due to snow and would be challenging to navigate.

Before I got to that I had to move my truck and that is where I discovered I was stuck, yet again. I tried a variety of things but eventually concluded I needed a tow of roughly 20 feet to get me off of the sheet of ice the snow on top had obscured when I was parking and in a couple hours that was taken care of.

Then it was off to our yard to get an empty reefer and some fuel. The HB yard in Omaha is a bit basic and during the wintertime heavy snowfall makes it quite a challenge to get around in. For instance, this is what our pump looked like:

This was actually the better part of the yard, as far as snow piles go.

Anyway, fueled up and headed out to the snowy and icy highways. Ninety minutes later I was in Schuyler trading trailers and preparing to head south along a series of state highways from Nebraska to Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico before joining up with I-40 westbound.

The day after Christmas

The rest area parking lot added more snow as I spent the night snoozing so leaving the following morning was a bit challenging. After some quality time spent bulldozing through a few smallish snow drifts I was free, free at last, and navigating northward on I-29.

Of course, the electronic signs I passed telling me that I-29 was closed northbound at mile marker 84 in Missouri didn’t raise my spirits. I sent in a brief message to our HQ folks to see if anyone knew what that was back and got back a message telling me they don’t do highway updates. This is clearly untrue, as I show below.

(It turns out the Interstate was open by the time I arrived)

About three hours later I arrived in Omaha and made my way to the western edge of town, noting numerous electronic billboards telling me that I-80 westbound was closed from the west side of Omaha past Lincoln. One of the last open exits was the one that I needed so I carefully made my way on to side streets towards the Omaha Steak warehouse I’ve delivered to before.

Snow was piled up quite high at this point, some drifts actually blocking my view (10+ feet tall). Narrow two lane roads became wide one lane roads with the encroaching snow. Vehicles coming from opposite directions had to find places for one to edge over a few feet and let the other one by.

The Omaha Steaks parking lot was a big mess and I had to wait about 30 minutes before I was even at the dock area. The Hill Bros driver in front of me was told to drop his trailer in the lot opposite the docks so I did the same. Hell no I was not going to volunteer to unload those stupid containers. Ten minutes later, having secured the signature of the dock manager on the bills, I was a free man once more. Minus a trailer, though.

HQ dinged me around this time and ordered me west about 60 miles to Schuyler, Nebraska. I responded that the roads to the west were closed, and they responded that they would be opened later in the afternoon. AHA, I snorted: they DO issue highway updates when it suits them! Hoisted on their own petard!

I very carefully bobtailed to the nearby Sapp Bros truck stop for a long overdue shower. This is where I made my own little mistake, but I only realized it the next morning.

Xmas Eve video repost

Several folks wrote in to let me know my last video was still marked “private” on YouTube so it couldn’t be played. I’ve corrected this problem and repost it here for those if you who don’t like that whole “scroll down” thing:

Christmas Day

I wanted to include a video with this post but I haven’t had the time to edit together the various shots I took and I don’t happen to be in a location with speedy internet service, so the baby Jesus weeps yet again.

On Christmas Eve I had delivered in Lawrence, Kansas and I was tired. Since the Bud distributor there lies next to a dead-end street with enough room for me to park my rig out of the way, I asked if anyone would blow a gasket if I snoozed there until morning. They had no problem with this so that is what I did.

I awoke to find several feet of snow drifts on the street in front of my truck. There was some room to get moving, though everything was a bit icy, so for a while I tried to carefully play battering ram to see if I could make my way through the snow. No joy, so I backed off and regrouped.

The side of the street away from the Bud distributor had a curb and a narrow sidewalk, but the lot beyond was just weeds. The snow was only a few inches deep there so I decided to see if I could inch my way around the mess on the road just long enough to get clear and get moving again.

This… almost worked. During one of my backups I managed to get stuck well enough that nothing from that point on got me moving and I needed a tow. My folks called our nationwide tow folks, they called around to local Kansas tow folks and found a wrecker about 30 minutes away. I intentionally avoided asking the bill for a wrecker to come out on Christmas Day and will be opening my next month’s settlements a bit gingerly to help dampen the monetary shock when it gets deducted from my maintenance account.

Anyway, the video I shot is priceless. Wrecker shows up and wrecker driver tut-tuts at my super single drive tires. “No wonder you got stuck, can’t get any traction with those!” I have several minutes of video showing wrecker driver subsequently getting stuck into the same snow drifts I did and eventually deciding the only way out was my sidewalk maneuver. Eat that, doubles driver!

30-40 minutes later and I’m rolling again after being winched forward about 200 feet. My next load was a very light shipment of Styrofoam containers heading from Kansas City, Kansas to Omaha, Nebraska for the Omaha Steaks folks. The shipper in KC was shut down (naturally) but I knew they leave all the trailers outside the gates of their facility which is tucked underneath an overpass in the industrial section of town. I also knew the roads getting there were secondary in nature and thus poorly plowed, and the storms had dumped quite a bit of snow over the past few days.

The exit ramp from I-70 to 57th street was the single scariest piece of driving I’ve ever done in a big rig. The ramp is fairly long but steep and I was skidding for about half of the distance, even though I was doing less than 20 MPH. I am pretty good about keeping my trailer in line and I keep plenty of extra sets of underwear on the truck, so it turned out okay.

The two miles from there to the entrance I needed was bad, but mostly level and I’m used to being empty or bobtailing on snow and ice now. The turn into their entrance was interesting (narrow driveway, curving away to the left and descending pretty rapidly at the beginning) but I managed that.

The fun began when I dropped my trailer along a line of similarly empty trailers that faced the gate along their long driveway. I know since I was here last winter that the loaded trailers were the ones facing away from the building and there was just one there, which happened to be mine. The problem came when I had to turn my bobtail tractor around on a narrow road with snow piled up on either side. After searching for a while I made the best of a slightly less bad section of road underneath one of the overpasses and very carefully got my rig turned around so I could hook up to my new trailer.

After all that I barely made it back up the driveway with my new trailer (Styrofoam hardly weighs anything) and back on to the road towards the Interstate. About thirty hair-raising minutes later I parked my rig at the northbound rest area just north of KC, having dodged deep troughs of snow in the parking lot to do so.

About thirty minutes after I arrived I hear a commotion outside and take a peek. It is a Werner truck that tried parking near me in a marginal spot, then tried pulling forward as if to leave. The combination of the deep snow and the turn was enough to get them stuck and the pair of drivers spent several hours spinning their wheels and digging out before I had enough and went to bed. The following morning they were gone, so apparently whatever they did worked.

That was my Christmas Day 2009.

Xmas eve storm

Nine freaking hours is what it took for the folks to get my trailer loaded. Well, 30 minutes is what it took once they started loading my trailer… By the time they finished I was way past the end of my 14-hour clock so I parked it and snoozed.

At 0300 my alarm went off. I had to start that early in order to have a shot at making the 1500 delivery time in Lawrence, Kansas. Only one problem: there is this freakishly huge storm between here and there.

The Denver area was peaceful and cold when I started up my truck. Hours later as I entered Kansas, all heck broke loose. Winds were gusting from the north up to 35-45 MPH, perpendicular to the road I was on, which made the rear of my trailer dogleg to the right by 12-18 inches at times. For several hours I had to travel in the left lane so the crown of the road helped keep me from being shoved over. Some stretches of the Interstate were icy and snowy, while others were relatively clear. None of today’s journey was easy, however.

I shot some video that I present here. The first clip starts just after sunrise when things are still fairly mellow, but as it goes on you’ll see the winds kick up and the snow blowing hard from left to right. There is also a piece showing a truck rolled on its side and if you listen closely you can hear my satellite unit beep.

My deadline was 1500 hours and I arrived at 1430. Unloading was quick and painless… why couldn’t loading be that way?

A frozen day in Denver

I did manage to stumble out of bed around 0500 this morning, only to find the lot of the Pilot in Colby, Kansas I was parked at covered over with powdered sugar-like snow. I trudged inside to get some radiator fluid and topped off the engine before I got running.

The weather between Colby and Denver was fairly nasty. Lots of ice and snow, and plenty of poor drivers as I closed in on the city. Still, I avoided hitting anything or letting anything hit me and by 0845 I was at the FedEx gate in Henderson to drop off the load.

I asked dispatch if I should get a reefer or a van for my next load and after a long pause I was told to go for a reefer. The next load would be going back to Lawrence, Kansas through the storm I just made my way through and would need to be temp controlled.

The instructions said fuel at the Denver Pilot so I took care of business:

My poor truck’s paint job.

Less than fifteen minutes later I was in Aurora, Colorado on the east side of Denver waiting along with dozens of other drivers to get loaded with various alcoholic concoctions (the trailers being loaded, not the drivers I trust). I was first given an impossible door to back in to and after nearly scraping some things that shouldn’t be scraped I gave in and admitted I was not yet a Supertrucker. They relented and gave me a nice new door to back in to that a student could probably hit the first time. Pride has long since left this driver.

That was six hours ago. The green light still blinks next to my trailer, indicating it hasn’t even been locked to the dock yet. Very few of the 20+ trucks here before me have left as of yet, so it may be a while…

Episode 1: The Phantom T-Call

My dispatcher called on Monday to let me know that they had a short run from Joplin, Missouri up to Kansas City, Kansas lined up to get me back into our main freight lanes. No biggie, I told him to shoot the info over to my truck and asked when it picked up.

“Not sure,” he said. The broker hadn’t gotten back to the CSR folks yet to let us know. “Okay, call me back when you know,” I said.

A while later I get a phone call and its the dispatcher again. The short load is off and I’m set to head up to Edwardsville, Kansas to pick up a Fedex load heading to Henderson, Colorado. Since the total distance was on the order of 770 miles, we agreed I would pick it up and he would find a swap for the load down the road and we’d go from there.

The weather in Springfield was nice, high 40’s and clear. Kansas City was a bit warmer and still pretty nice as I swapped my empty trailer for the loaded one at Fedex. As I drove east, however, the noonday sky darkened and clouds closed in, until I was driving in moderately foggy conditions for the last three hours of my tour this evening.

As I was nearing my designated stopoff point, my dispatcher calls to inform me there isn’t going to be a t-call after all. Seems there weren’t any other trucks up to it, so this Fedex load will be a bit late.

When I pulled into the parking lot of the Pilot in Colby, Kansas it was really closing in, no doubt a part of the big snowstorm coming from the west that will make tomorrow very challenging.

I’m off to bed shortly to rise before dawn and continue my trek into the wild snows of Colorado.

The long way home

The trip from Hadley, Colorado to Springfield, Missouri was longer than the 620 miles I actually drove might indicate. Ninety percent of the route was over state highways, most notably US-400 through most of Kansas and it goes through an amazing collection of small towns with low speed limits and no jake brake signs.

I pulled up to the gates of the consignee in the early evening hours on Friday and went to bed after setting my alarm for a 0230 wakeup. By 0300 I was backed into a dock and the lumpers were doing their thing. By 0530 I was empty and the paperwork complete, at which time I headed a few miles across town where I parked the truck and went to the house.

Hey, do you smell something burning?

After my second drop in the Denver area I drove to the north side of the city to fuel up. The price of diesel in Denver was almost twenty cents per gallon cheaper than it had been in Arizona and New Mexico and I took full advantage.

Just as I arrived so did the new orders: run back south more than two hundred miles to Center, Colorado to pick up a load of spuds heading to… wait for it… wait for it, Springfield, Missouri! I do get to go home this week after all!

After I arrived at the potato shipping warehouse, the individual running the forklift tells me the interior of my trailer smells of smoke. Odd, since I just had it washed out back in Denver. I sniff, his boss sniffs, another boss type sniffs and we conclude that any odor in the trailer is too faint to be a factor and loading begins.

As usual, however, this wasn’t the only issue. The shipper tells me I’m loaded with 42,000 pounds of potatoes, yet this takes the gross weight of my rig up to 81,500, according to the on-site scale.

Now, I’ve been driving professionally for just over three years now. I know my rig, and I’m familiar with the weights of the trailers we haul. There ain’t no damn way that 42,000 pounds of anything puts me over 80k gross, even with full fuel tanks.

After a bit of back and forth they agree to take off a pallet and I rescale, with my total weight now at 79,500. Unfortunately, I’m heavy on my steers and I have the tandems all the way at the front so its just that the concentrated weight of the pallets up front is putting me a smidge over the limit. Since I burn a pound a mile or so of fuel, and all of it comes from the steers and drives, I decide to get moving and try to put a couple hundred more miles behind me before my 14-hour clock stalls out.

Tonight I finished in the tiny town of Hadley, Colorado at a cute little rest area I ran across.

Off to Denver

I was beeped with a preplan heading to Denver but the load wasn’t ready yet, so I got to sit around until noonish when a new message popped up telling me the trailer was loaded and the paperwork ready. I joined a line of three other HB drivers at the PetSmart guard shack who apparently got the same heads up and began hooking up to our various trailers.

One of the drivers was having a terrible time trying to get his tandems slid and another driver was trying to help as I drove up. After watching the fun for a few minutes I broke out my tandem sliding bar and some WD-40 and soon the tandems were sliding (and the other driver who stopped to help had an oddly contented look on his face; go figure).

After the trucker union mandated squawking broke up we lined up at the scale to make sure our loads were set up legally, then marshaled at the guard shack to finish up the paperwork and install load locks. My load was full all the way to the doors so my load lock was completely unnecessary, but still required by the PetSmart higher-ups who must know better than we drivers.

Yesterday’s drive ended and today’s began in Grants, New Mexico. I was listening to a fairly good audio book today and only stopped a couple times to use the facilities. Denver traffic was starting to back up pretty good as I arrived this evening around 1630 local time. Worse, this is the same PetSmart that a dumbass commercial architect who will be languishing in hell for all of eternity decided that it would be fun and games to make me back up from a busy WalMart parking lot into a tight dock where the rear of the trailer is higher than the cab of my truck. Stupid idiots.

Influenza, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

My night at Santa Rosa was spent tossing and turning in my bunk, feverish. The cold had turned into a run-of-the-mill flu and my feet remained cold while the rest of my body roasted.

The outside air temperature hovered around 40 throughout the night and for a change I didn’t need or use the bunk heater. The upper window just above my head in my bunk kept the top part of my pillow cold so every fifteen minutes or so I flipped it vertically to give a jolt of cold to the back of my neck.

I couldn’t get to sleep with my nose runny and my temperature and for some reason the last song I heard on XM before I shut down (“The girl is mine” by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney) would not leave my head. Flip over, hear (“Mine, mine”) in my ears. Clear my nose, hear (“The dog gone girl is mine”). Over and over and over again.

I spent twelve hours in the bunk then headed out to complete the trip to Phoenix. I wasn’t feeling all that great but the drive covered 600 miles of mostly unpopulated territory so traffic wasn’t a problem. My eyes started gushing out snot as well from the tear ducts, leaving my face a runny mess but I soldiered on.

For the first time since I was a young child my right ear actually blocked coming down from Flagstaff into Phoenix. The gunk built up in my sinuses washed up the tube connected to my right ear and as the pressure increased with the greater air pressure it jammed more and more snot higher and higher until it was completely blocked. Ah, the little joys of the profession.

I dropped around 1900 local time then headed off to bed for some better rest. Got up early this morning and showered and I feel a bit better. At least the snot isn’t running out of my tear ducts any more.

South by southwest

Yesterday around 1300 I was given a new trip, taking a preloaded van trailer from our Omaha yard down to Phoenix, Arizona for PetSmart. By the time I got the paperwork, found the trailer, hooked up and made sure everything was ready I noticed there was a huge line at our single, solitary fuel pump. Getting closer, it seems that one of our newer drivers has managed to get his rig stuck on ice just in front of the pumps, blocking everyone from them.

I’m at a quarter tank and the next place I would normally fuel is Salina, Kansas when running southwest. I consulted the onboard display and it shows my cruising range with available fuel at 400 miles, so I pulled up stakes and hit the road.

Four hours later I’m fueling in Salina and found myself one of the last “non ghetto” parking spots in the Bosselman lot. It has been a few days since a shower and I wasn’t about to leave without cleaning up, and I figured I’d stop for a rare burger in their restaurant.

The shower was great, the burger was fine, the waitress perky and apparently the cold bug I woke up with this morning was on the job as well. I try to keep my hands washed and sanitized frequently year-round but it just isn’t possible to avoid every bug that could come your way.

After overnighting in Salina last night I knew I needed to put in a full day’s drive to get within striking distance of Phoenix for tomorrow. With only a short break in Dodge City, Kansas I managed to get to Santa Rosa, New Mexico tonight which is under 600 miles.

Short trip, no home time for now

Yesterday morning I was told to pick up a load in Sioux Falls to take to Fort Worth, Texas. At first, it was to deliver today at 0900. Then today at 1200. Then Monday at 0900. I got on the satellite to ask for an explanation and was told to take it to our Omaha yard and t-call it for another driver. So be it.

The trailer was clean but not spotless and the meatpacking plant that I loaded at told me to get it washed out. There is a place a few blocks away that we have an account at so it wasn’t a big deal. Back to the plant, swap my trailer for the full one (a blessed 41,000 pounds in these wintertime conditions) and take care of the paperwork.

The trip down to Omaha was boring and I was having some difficulty staying alert and focused. Still, by early afternoon I had swapped the trailer with the new driver in Omaha and was given the plan to get me home:

I would go to the east side of Omaha with an empty and get live loaded for a trip to Russellville, Arkansas. After I delivered I would be released to head home, either 170ish miles over a twisty and narrow “scenic highway” in Arkansas or 230ish miles over a slightly better route.

This is the fourth time in a row with this kind of nonsense, as I mentioned here before. The head of operations did offer to consider my next load dispatched from Russellville so I would have a good chance of having the miles to the house counted, but I didn’t feel like taking the risk of deadheading home through the Ozarks with an empty trailer in wintertime.

Instead, I’ll stay out until later this week until the folks in the rear with the gear can figure out a set of trips to get me relatively close to home.

Welcome to the Old and Improved OTRjournal.com!

I’ve owned this domain for years now and it was originally slated to be the site of all my Over-The-Road musings. But, as things so often happen, I got busy and it was more convenient for a time to simply use Blogger to host first one then both of my blogs.

For the past few months I’ve been working at my day job (driving), keeping my blogs updated and working with a professional designer to update this site. Now, almost everything I work on that is related to my driving career will be found here.

Software called WordPress is used to run this new site. I’m still getting used to some of its quirks so “pardon the dust” as the saying goes.

This is the first post for this new (old) site, and the 948th overall when you add in my two previous blogs. I’m looking forward to passing 1,000 posts in a few months and lots more beyond that.

Enjoy!

Jim Townsend

Truck and Trailer sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g

In the three years I have been driving, the most 18-wheelers I have seen wrecked or in a ditch in a single day was four: on my very first day of driving on December 1, 2006 between Joplin, Missouri and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was the day after a horrendous ice storm blew through, causing a lot of misery along the I-44 corridor.

This morning I saw four wrecked semis in the first fifteen minutes of driving from Walcott, Iowa where I was forced to stop yesterday. I snapped pictures using my hand held so I could concentrate on the road so some of the shots are blurry and I missed at least half a dozen. I didn’t even bother attempting to snap pics of the wrecked 4-wheelers; there were at least 150 between Walcott and Des Moines.

Speaking of Des Moines, the rest areas just to the east had no fewer than four separate semis off the road, two on each side. Remind me to avoid that place in the future.

Here’s the truck and trailer in a tree (kinda):

(That isn’t a UFO to the left of the scene, by the way: it is a chip in my windshield)

Here’s not one but two bedbugger vans in the median, next to each other:

A Hill Bros driver even got into the spirit of things, parking his truck in the middle where there was lots of room:

Will His Airness ever forgive the driver for parking a load of His cologne in the median?

The full album can be viewed here.

I had two scares of my own today. The first was an idiot 4-wheeler who lunged in front of my truck, then slowed down not once, not twice but three times before I left him behind. How he managed to be one of the lucky few not in a ditch is beyond me.

The second scare I got was in the western half of Iowa. This morning I checked the reefer tank and it was about half full, down a bit more than a quarter over night. They are notoriously inaccurate so I try to check on it each time I pull over and when I got into a rest area west of Des Moines I saw it was under a quarter tank. Worse, a few minutes later the repeater light on the left front of the trailer went from a white “T”, indicating normal function, to an amber “K”, meaning something is wrong. Fortunately, this trailer was equipped with a low fuel sensor and it didn’t simply stop when it was out, it gave me a warning.

I had enough time to pull into a nearby truck stop and fill up the tank; keeping fishies alive at 76 degrees when its 5 degrees outside uses up quite a bit of fuel, it seems.

Oh, I also got to use my truck as an impromptu snow plow for the first time. The very first rest area west of Des Moines had the truck side blocked with several trucks and a repair vehicle so I carefully drove to the car side. There were no cars there since it hadn’t been plowed and I must have (gingerly) pushed my way through a football field length of 18-24 inch snow. I didn’t even dare stop to take care of business, as I was concerned about getting stuck.

This load was originally set to deliver this morning at 0300. At one point they rescheduled it for tomorrow morning at 0300, but as the day wore on they saw the logic of dropping the load off at 1600 instead and a few hours after that I was empty and headed over to a local truck stop where I sit this evening.

For once I am letting my truck idle overnight instead of using my TriPac. The forecast has it down to -5 or so overnight and even though it shares the same coolant system as my truck does to keep the engine slightly warm, this is a bit much.

Dog kennels and boxing equipment

You might think that those items have little in common, and you would be right. Somehow, the people at Kennel-Aire in Ottawa, Kansas and Everlast Sports (the guys who make all kinds of boxing equipment) both needed to get some of their products to the Elwood, Illinois Walmart distribution center and a broker knitted together the result into a load for me. The timing was poor since I was supposed to load before I was even dispatched and by the time I made it to Moberly the Everlast folks had already split for the day (insert joke about not lasting here), everything ended up just fine as I made the original appointment time in Elwood.

While I was being unloaded I got my new preplan: deadhead over to Ottawa, Illinois to pick up a trailer heading to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for 0300 Thursday morning.

What could go wrong with that?

Up, up and a weigh: conclusion

When the Soviets built and launched their rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome they designed them to be built and maneuvered level with the ground, then hoisted into place before launch. Imagining these huge rockets being gently raised up made a connection in my mind as I delivered my load of spuds this morning in Topeka, Kansas:

As you can see in this picture, I backed my trailer on to this special lift, disconnected then pulled forward at which time the operator did his thing and 30 tons of trailer and spuds lifted skyward.

(For those of you reefer operators out there, no that isn’t the deflector from the inside of my reefer; it belonged to the truck before me who managed to leave without even checking inside).

Several hours after completing my assignment I was ordered to nearby Ottawa, Kansas via Kansas City where I needed to get my (very dirty) trailer washed out. From there it was on to Moberly, Missouri to pick up the second half of a load heading to Walmart in Elwood, Illinois that I will deliver tomorrow afternoon.

First Ice of ’09

Yesterday morning I awoke to find a thin blanket of snow covering my truck and the parking lot of the Flying J in Limon, Colorado.

The air is so dry this time of year there is a lot of static cling, leading to what I refer to as moguls on the back of the cat as her fur bunches up:

The trip distance was a manageable 460 miles from Limon to Topeka, Kansas, almost due east. Most of the ride was along roads with a small amount of blowing snow and a lot of freezing rain — so much so I had to stop at almost every rest area in Kansas to knock off accumulated ice from my headlights and windshield.

I was told by the broker that my delivery appointment was set at 1800 and I arrived 30 minutes early. The receiving clerk looked up the load number on his list and it showed my appointment seven hours earlier at 1100. Receiving clerk wins argument and I retreat to parking lot to phone broker. Broker swears up and down that it is really 1800 and I wish her good luck convincing the clerk inside that he’s wrong. She suggests I offer a $20 “tip” to get unloaded sooner, I suggest she stops taking whatever drugs she’s on. The usual trucker game.

Year Two, Second Quarter Results (September 09 to December 09)

This past week was the 18-month mark in my lease-purchase with Hill Bros. As before, I’m going to be comparing numbers from each quarter this year with the corresponding numbers from last year, with the previous year in parenthesis.

Paid miles for this quarter were 31,025 (33,355) and total miles driven were 34,300 (35,583), resulting in an OOR (Out-Of-Route) of 10.56% (6.68%). Those extra hundreds of miles OOR going home that I recently complained about contributed here.

I purchased 11,244 (15,723) in fuel and received 7,639 (12,145) in FSC, for an adjusted fuel expense of 3,605 (3,578). Divided by miles run shows 10.51 (10.06) CPM for fuel this quarter.

Average paid miles driven per week rose to 2,387 (2,566) compared to last quarter and my weekly net income rose to 1,274 (1,127). Per-mile revenue rebounded to 1.26 (1.33).

I’m starting to track my net CPM each quarter. My goal is to pay myself at least 50 CPM and last quarter it was 48.95. This quarter it is 53.38 CPM.

Net Pay By Week:

14: 1225
15: 1646
16: 518
17: 1993
18: 1799
19: 934
20: 1091
21: 1521
22: 1088
23: 629
24: 1544
25: 1326
26: 1246

Analysis and Goals

I took a lot of extra home time this quarter, mostly because I bought a house in August and have someplace nice to spend my home time! My overall money goal for this year was to make as much income as last year and also take a week off. I spent almost six days at the house over Thanksgiving and a handful of weekends I’ve been taking a third day off so the extra home time has been seen to.

My goal of 1,200 per week net income was surpassed even with all the extra home time, so I’m going to shoot for 1,300 next quarter. This will put me on a trajectory below that of last year, income-wise, but I’m hoping for the price of diesel to start rising and to figure out a way to keep a lid on those OOR miles to make up the difference. I suppose I could work harder, but where is the fun in that?

A Dead reefer, a plasma cannon, planning and reprogramming

So I wake up an hour or so before my alarm is due to go off and two hours before the appointment time to be loaded. It is quiet… too quiet. My APU is running but I don’t hear the reefer. I pull back the curtain a smidge (it is freaking cold out and the front half of the cab almost has icicles) and peer at my driver’s side mirror. In it I can see the activity/alarm repeater on the front left corner of the reefer and it is blinking green and orange in rapid succession. Oy vey.

I toss some random clothes on and slip my feet into my frozen shoes and try to open my door. Then I put some beefcake into it, ’cause the door is frozen shut. That works and shortly I’m outside at the altitude of 8,000 feet or so and -5 degrees or so trying simultaneously to gulp air like a guppy out of water and hold my breath because the air I’m inhaling is killing my lungs. Such happy circumstances we drivers get to enjoy.

The display on the side of the reefer tells me it failed to start. How informative. I clear the alarm codes and it tries again, but after some starter noises come and go the screen tells me it failed to start. A failure that early in the morning must be some kind of record.

I tell the shipping people my reefer has a problem. I tell our night dispatch the reefer has a problem. I tell my dispatcher the reefer has a problem. Heck, I even told our shop people the reefer has a problem. I’m told to expect to head up to Denver (the closest ThermoKing shop, and in fact the only one in the state) to drop off the trailer and grab a different one. I’m told I might just be headed to FedEx in Colorado Springs to swap out then come back. I’m told a bit of Diesel 911 additive might do the trick.

I’m told all manner of things but eventually it is decided that the spud folks will put this plasma cannon thing in the back of the trailer and warm it up for a while, then load me up. This thing is a 155,000 BTU heater thing that looks like it was appropriated from a band of Klingons and it is h-h-hot. Meanwhile, some of the ranch hands with diesel skills take a look at the reefer and eventually conclude its dead, Jim. Wow, two Star Trek references in one paragraph.

They have a movable conveyor belt system that efficiently takes tons of spuds at one end and tosses them into the back of a trailer on the other. An operator guides it back and forth as a handful of his colleagues watch the potatoes go by and pick out the damaged ones.

After what they think is enough are in place in my trailer I head over to their scale and weigh each axle. It seems everything is fine though I’m only at 76,000 pounds so they ask if I want any more. Me? Hell no. The broker and thus my company? Of course! Since loads of this sort are paid by the pound delivered it is most efficient for a pasty-skinned geek behind a computer someplace to, um, encourage drivers to take as much as possible.

They say they’ll put on a couple thousand more pounds. It somehow turns out that I weigh in at 79,250, so those last spuds must have been bulking up or something.

By this time it is just past noon and it has been more than four hours since I started complaining to everyone that would listen or receive my satellite transmissions that my reefer is broken. Dead. Won’t start. My last directive was to head to Denver to have the TK guys fix it, then continue to Topeka, Kansas to deliver. Being the obedient type, I agree and head up to Denver.

I arrive around 1700 local time to find a very closed ThermoKing dealer. They don’t even work weekends, it would appear. By this point it is about 18 degrees out and even with the insulation in the trailer the spuds will freeze if we can’t get the reefer running.

I call our night dispatch and leave a message. I call our shop and leave a message. I call the ThermoKing number they have listed on their door and get told to have my dispatcher call them to authorize the after-hours work. I call our HQ again and get a mild tongue lashing from the solitary night guy who is up to his neck in problems like mine.

It boggles my mind that after everything that went on no one bothered to tell ThermoKing I was on my way.

After 30 minutes or so a mechanic showed up and had me back the trailer into a bay. I detached to give him room and he set about doing whatever it is they do. Within twenty minutes he had the unit up and running and diagnosed the primary problem as old software that preventing the unit from starting. He showed me on the display where the unit thought it had run 1.6 MILLION hours and decided it was tits up and on strike. Another thirty minutes and the software is updated (and various filters and lines cleaned out), the unit is running fine and I’m on my way.

Up, up and a weigh

(Trucker humor – bear with me)

It was early afternoon yesterday before I regained consciousness. The latest plan had rolled in on the satellite which is probably what woke me. I’m to head north to the southwestern part of Colorado to the tiny hamlet of Monte Vista where 20+ tons of spuds await my tender mercies along their path to Topeka, Kansas.

Most of the driving to this gem of the wilderness took place along narrow state highways. Much of the trip was spent climbing, too, and there was a decent amount of snow on the ground for about 20 miles. Any truck driver can tell you this is a barrel of laughs when you are empty.

I followed the directions sent via satellite and as I was making my final turn just 2.5 miles from the shipper I saw a lot of flashing lights, cop cars, tow trucks and what appeared to be a broke down semi. Not having a dog in that fight I went on my way and shortly thereafter pulled into the shipper’s parking lot.

After angling towards the edge of the lot to park out of the way I shut my truck down and pulled the curtain separating the front and back sections of my cab. I was just about to start on some dinner when a light “tap tap tap” noise came from up front. Curious.

A lady in a bulky coat was standing outside my cab and she asked if I was there for a load in the morning. I confirmed this was the case and she asked me if I wanted to make a quick hundred bucks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was a bit flattered for about two seconds. I might not be much to look at now but I’ve got good genes. Sadly, she mentioned that it was one of their trucks that was involved in the accident I saw and if I be able to help them transfer the palletized spuds back to their warehouse they would happily compensate me for my time.

As I was preparing to move my rig to help out she and some other workers had a big pow-wow and decided that it wouldn’t be any easier than the way they were doing it already (with a small flatbed truck), so I finished wiping away the tears and headed off to bed.

In part 2 of our narrative (coming tomorrow) I’ll explain the dead reefer, the plasma cannon, the lack of planning and ultimate redemption found reprogramming a refrigerator.