I don’t have $3,000+ weeks very often so it was nice to see that my yearly longevity bonus show up when I opened my settlement email yesterday. Hill Bros pays each driver one cent for each dispatched mile you rack up in the previous year, and an extra half cent each following year. Last year was my second year at the company so I made 1.5 cents per mile in longevity bonus money, or $1,928.43. Coupled with the 3,200ish miles I drove, the net was $3,517.88. Yay team.

The preplan out to Frontenac, Kansas originated at the dreaded Central Beverage Distribution plant in Aurora, Colorado. It always seems to take them five or six hours to get a truck loaded there, and this time was no exception. I napped some, played computer games, watched some Hulu and basically vegetated.

By the time they had their act in gear I could only make it to Oakley, Kansas for the night and set my alarm for 0330 again.

The rest of the drive was easy and boring, and the guys at Eagle Distributing in Frontenac had me unloaded at a pretty good clip. From there I sped away south to Joplin, Missouri for fuel then east on I-44 to Springfield, Missouri for some home time.

The Denver Pilot

Against my better judgment, I said in my last post. If I only knew…

My delivery was scheduled for 0400 hours local time so I set my alarm for 0330. A quick pre-trip showed me that my rig was ready to go, but the guy who pulled in next to me was way too close for me to pull around him safely (diagonal parking — only one way out). I delicately tried for five minutes or so before concluding it would probably cost him a mirror for me to get out and I decided to rouse the driver and get him to temporarily move back ten feet or so. I don’t like waking up other drivers but sometimes you gotta.

Only, there was no waking this driver. The truck was idling, windows down an inch and no amount of banging, knocking or pleading would raise him or her.

Plan B was a rehash of Plan A but getting my rig absolutely the farthest forward I could get it before exchanging paint with the trucks facing me and trying to make the turn. Forward a little bit, watching carefully. Backing a little bit to get a better angle. Forward again, set brakes, get out and look. Rinse and repeat fifty times. Finally, I was around the corner with an inch or so to spare and ran into the next obstacle: I was so far forward and close to the trucks facing me I could no longer turn right at the corner to exit the lot. Nor could I turn left, as a driver with an oversized load had ghetto parked on the end. Sigh.

Carefully I tried the corner and couldn’t make it work to the left no matter how far I swung, so I backed and filled for a while until I was able to straight back down the alley between the two rows of trucks far enough to let me swing back to the left and not hit anyone. Twenty minutes of my life down the tubes.

There was some road construction on I-70 but no traffic to speak of so a few minutes later I was dropping anchor at the consignee. A few hours later and the load was off and I was heading to nearby Aurora, Colorado for a preplanned load heading to Frontenac, Kansas.

Kansas State Police gone wild

Dispatch gave me a load picking up in St Joseph, Missouri heading to Denver, Colorado with two days on it, on account of my thin log book. Being a devotee of laziness, I stopped for the night in Junction City, Kansas instead of pressing on. I did enjoy a light dinner at an A&W restaurant — I haven’t been there since I was a kid.

This morning I headed down the road only to dodge one Kansas State Trooper after another with cars and trucks pulled over. There must have been six in less than 100 miles, which is a bit extreme in my book. Since municipalities and states only make money with one kind of revenue enhancement law enforcement, perhaps that explains it. No one gave my lumbering 60-mph truck a second look.

I finished the day at the Denver Pilot, against my better judgment. There was no place to park at the consignee and the Pilot was only a few miles away.

Very long run with little notice and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

I had parked in the back lot of the Farley’s & Sathers plant in Chattanooga Sunday night, next to the shipping docks. The receiving docks were on the other side of the building and a bit of a hassle to pull in to, but I dutifully moved my truck around on time for delivery then brought the paperwork in to the receiving office. At which point they said they had way too many shipments coming in that day and I should just drop it in the back lot… right where I had been parked. Ah well, at least I didn’t have to wait for it to be unloaded.

There was another HB trailer on the lot but it too was full, and this plant was only getting part of the load. I was told to wait for an empty but my trailer was sitting where I had dropped it and the other trailer was being shuttled to a different F&S facility on the east side of town.

Late in the morning the planners finally decide what to do with me and I’m dispatched up to Smyrna, Tennessee to take a load to Kansas City, Kansas for the following morning. I’m not complaining about the miles (700ish) but I sure wish they had given me the heads up five hours earlier when I delivered.

Some drivers listen to music all day long but I’ve kind of gotten tired of the radio myself. I’ve never been able to listen to the rantings on the various talk shows (and my lord, the commercials every two minutes!) and listening to sports doesn’t do it either. This leaves mostly audio books to keep me company as the miles drone by, and I’m currently listening to the Robert Heinlein book The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Not one of his best, but he was a master of the form and even his mediocre work is better than most in my book (pun intended). If you want what I consider to be some of his better work try The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Glory Road and Starship Troopers (the book NOT the movie!).

I got a dressing-down when I was in the process of leaving the Estes terminal in Smyrna. Some safety or managerial type was driving around the lot in a dark SUV and I passed him before stopping near the office and getting the paperwork. He growled at me to obey the 5 MPH speed limit they post at the gate, and I said I would. I didn’t mention the suggestion to post more than one sign and not just at the front gate if he wanted compliance, as many times drivers that are entering parking lots are having to juggle paperwork, the satellite unit, unfamiliar directions and signage and any one sign can be missed. Not to mention, the yard dogs were moving trailers around like Mario Andretti, but I let that go as well.

The book made the next twelve hours go by tolerably and just after midnight I delivered in Kansas City then immediately hit the sack. Even though the lot is smaller than most of their competitors, they didn’t have any problem letting me snooze off on the side — FedEx and ConWay, you could learn a lesson here.

The candy man can

I loaded yesterday morning in the greater Dallas area then headed east, ending up in Jackson, Mississippi for the night. Both Pilot’s in town were overflowing but the nearby Flying J had dozens of empty parking spots. I, of course, had a guy with Opti-Idle (aka keep your neighbors up all night idle) roll up next to me after I had gone to bed and the lot filled. Thanks a pantload, dude.

I’ve actually needed to use my AC for something other than defrosting now two days in a row. The weather has been cloudy but no rain, snow or ice is to be found.

The remaining 380 miles went by quickly this morning and by early afternoon I was at the consignee in Chattanooga with 33,393 pounds of bubble gum and other candies. I was planning on stopping short at the rest area just inside the Tennessee state line but it has been closed and the concrete ripped out.

Farmer’s Co-op

I was beeped this morning to head up to Lubbock, Texas to Farmer’s Co-op #3 to pick up a 45,000 load of something that I would drop off at our yard in Garland, Texas. Turns out, that something were bales of cotton bound for the textile mills of China, to be turned into socks, shirts and the like. Amazing how chinese slave labor globalization makes it cheap enough to ship raw materials across the globe for processing, then back to be sold.

Loading took forever, heck even finding the right warehouse took a long time. The docks were outside and difficult to get lined up on, but eventually it was sorted out and the trailer loaded.

The drive to Garland was over hundreds of miles of mostly narrow state highways, which actually aren’t that bad in Texas. I’m holed up at our yard with a preplan for tomorrow heading from nearby Grand Prairie, Texas to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Ottawa to Odessa

The trip from Ottawa, Illinois to Odessa, Texas was blessedly free of snow and ice. For the first time in months, I was able to leave my APU’s heat off for the night.

The PetSmart store I delivered to is a new one that opens March 1 and my load was one of many being brought in to establish the initial inventory. The parking lot was kind of a doozy but it did include a mexican fast food joint, a Starbucks and a McAllister’s Deli store.

Now, I’ve heard of McAllister’s before and the people I’ve talked to recommended it highly. I got half of a sandwich and an ultimate spud and, frankly, wasn’t impressed. Seems too much like a bad ripoff of Panera. I will say this, though: the place was packed with people.

The same could be said about the Starbucks. With as many people were lined up to pay $4 for a cuppa I have to think this whole recession thing might be easing up a bit.

Ah, Chicagoland

I stirred before my alarm went off and shortly thereafter headed out to complete the journey to the Pepsi folks in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. In just under three hours I arrived and wandered around their facility for a while until I found someone to give me instructions.

My instructions: head back to the street to park and wait. When I see a particular truck pull its trailer out from one of their inside docks, put my trailer into that dock, disconnect and pull forward so they can close the doors again. Oh, and be prepared to wait ’cause its almost lunch time.

The real thing I was waiting on was a preplan. No such luck yesterday, and no such luck today. As the trailer was being ignored slowly unloaded I did get several messages telling me to pick up a load about 35 miles south and bring it back to our yard just a few miles away from the Pepsi folks to stage for someone else. WTH?

After some back and forth with HQ I agree to help them out with this load and I’m told after I’m done shuttling trailers hither and yon to head over to Ottawa, Illinois for a PetSmart load. I did pick up a bump fee of $50 for helping out, but it didn’t do much to assuage my righteous indignation over having the rest of my day ruined waiting to get loaded.

Anyway, I end up tonight in Ottawa, having bobtailed down from near O’hare airport where our yard is located. Tomorrow I get to pick up an empty at the local Kohls DC and run it approximately four blocks to the PetSmart DC where I will exchange it for a full trailer that I’m now told will be heading to Odessa, Texas.

The USS Lazy Butt

Monday morning came and went, as I delivered my load an hour early in Springfield, Missouri. I was hoping for a preplan to get me rolling as soon as I was done but this was not to be and I sat for three or four hours before The Powers That Be decided to give me a Buske load from Springfield that I figured was in my future as soon as I signed on for my last load.

The thing is, it had to deliver this morning (Tuesday) in the greater Chicago area and here it was after 1400 hours already. I went over to the Springfield Underground to be loaded, pleasantly surprised to find no line for a change and I was in and out in less than an hour.

Many drivers will tell you that it is difficult to remain motivated the first day or two back on the from a break. Sometimes I feel it and other times I don’t, but this time I definitely felt it and by the time I was passing Springfield, Illinois I was ready to hole up for the night. I took a stab at a nearby rest area and parked the USS Lazy Butt in the last legit spot.

Oh, while I was at the food warehouse getting unloaded I caught another driver giving me the eyeball. You know, staring at you, flashing gang signs, that kind of thing. I thought maybe I was in his way but he pulled his rig around mine just fine then set his brakes. Hmm, fight or flight?

It turns out Bruce emailed me a while back to comment on the site and the fact that Hill Bros doesn’t hire from North Carolina at the moment. He went with a Springfield company called O&S and says they have been treating him well. For my part, I noted no obvious bruises or lash marks.

1000th Post!

I made my first blog post on March 21, 2007 and since then 999 more have joined the first for a total of 1,000!

Back then I was a company driver for CFI just a few months out of school, driving a 2005 Kenworth T-600 tractor. Since then I changed over to Hill Bros where I did a three-month stint as a company driver, then became a lease-purchase operator which is what I’ve been doing ever since.

It has been a long journey so far and I expect there remains a longer journey still before me.

What part of the country am I in again?

What is this state? Iowa? Nebraska? Wisconsin?

(Answer: Arkansas)

And these?

(Answer: Both are Louisiana)

The rest of the way from Calhoun, Louisiana to Dallas was a bit slippery, as these trucks (and numerous four wheelers) found out:

Despite arriving at the appointed hour at the consignee there was a general cluster going on at the time and I was sitting on a dock for five hours as my shoes and socks dried out from wading through 3-6″ of snow mush. Dispatch really wanted me to pick up my next load before calling it a night, so I made my way over to a company called Niagara (not a misprint, and not the geographic location you may be thinking of) for 43,000 pounds of bottled drinks.

The weekend run itself is very sucky. I’m to take this load from Dallas to Springfield, Missouri and deliver it Monday morning, a whopping 420 miles or so. On the plus side, I happen to live there so I took advantage of a bit more hometime.

Calhoun to Calhoun via virgin freeway

I spent last night in Calhoun, Georgia and tonight I find myself stopping earlier than I had wanted at Calhoun, Louisiana.

Finding the shipper in Chattanooga was no problem, but it took the poor lady in shipping almost 30 minutes to figure out the correct set of paperwork to go with the load. After straightening that out and swapping my empty trailer for the loaded one I took one of the few interstate freeways left in the nation that I’ve not yet traveled down, I-59 from Chattanooga to Birmingham, Alabama. For some reason our handy fueling software told me I should fuel up near Nashville on my way to Dallas (!) and I decided that was crazy talk.

My plan was to get as far as possible today since I knew a nasty storm was heading from the west through Dallas and towards Atlanta. Alas, 90 minutes before my driving time ran out I was in the middle of a moderate blizzard and passing a truck stop in Calhoun, Louisiana. The vibe felt right and I pulled it off for the night.

“I swear, I’ll never go hungry again!”

Sometimes I swear there is an inner gremlin in my body that just can’t pass up bad food. Like this morning when I stopped in West Memphis, Arkansas to take a shower I just couldn’t avoid grabbing a pair of 99 cent Double Stacks from Wendy’s. Pure greasy junk food, yes, but for two bucks? C’mon. My lack of willpower is disturbing sometimes.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I also snagged four of those damn Cadbury egg things. One or two a day, what could that possibly hurt? They had disappeared by the time I crossed to the far side of Memphis. So sue me, everyone’s gotta have a vice.

I waited until 2200 last night for my load to be reworked but my trailer sat off to the side, forlorn. My alarm set at 0400, just in case they forgot to wake me, and I was off to dreamland.

BEEP BEEP BEEP at 0400. Drat.

They not only forgot to wake me, they also took off only 650 pounds… I was hoping for an entire pallet (2,500 – 3,000 pounds). More paperwork, guard house shuffle, scaling out… I’m right at 80,000. I move the tandems to the right spot and hit the road.

After Memphis I drove straight through to Atlanta. I wanted to take a lunch break but I had pigged out in the morning and took rather perverse pleasure in denying myself more wholesome food I keep on the truck. Plus, I was up against my (new) delivery deadline and didn’t want to be any later.

I dropped the loaded trailer and grabbed an empty around 1730 this evening and headed north towards Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tomorrow’s preplan has me taking a load of candy from there to Dallas on a schedule I can’t legally meet, but my dispatcher called to let me know he’d work something out.

A tale of three weights

I spent Thursday through Tuesday at the house, in part to watch the Saints beat up the Colts (take that Manning!). Yay team.

My dispatcher called and wanted to know if I could bobtail to our yard in Kansas City then pick up a loaded trailer and take it to Bolingbrook, Illinois in one day. Let’s see, 670ish miles over mostly snow- and ice-covered roads in eleven driving hours. Probably not.

But wait, I’m told. The Ops folks have a meeting each morning to figure out what parts of our service area have too many trucks or too many loads and I was told to hold on for a bit, plans might change. I was in the process of retrieving my truck from the local ThermoKing people at the time, so no problemo. They have, in theory at least, fixed the leaky fitting that was dripping radiator fluid each night.

The phone rings and brings a new plan: we’re short on trucks in Arkansas to run freight, so could I pretty-please relocate to Russellville and take a load to Atlanta? The preplan shows the weight at 34,000 pounds, to which I automatically add about 5,000, which still seems suspiciously light for ConAgra. Since there was a major storm that just passed through and lots of snow left on the ground I said I would do it only if I could take highway 71 down instead of taking my chances on the Ozarks, and they agreed to pay most of the additional deadhead miles.

The roads in Springfield where I live were a bit of a mess but almost immediately after leaving town the pavement cleared up and the only thing causing me fits were some strong winds.

A few hours later I make my grand entry at the ConAgra plant in Russellville at which point I’m presented with paperwork describing a 44,600 pound load. You might remember a few paragraphs above where I discussed the 34,000 pound load. Worse, once I found the trailer, hooked up and went through the guard shack shuffle then scaled, I found out the load is really about 45,500 or so and my total weight is 80,600.

Now, under the right conditions I can legally run with 80,400 and I was several hundred miles away from the first open scale I would have to cross. The intervening distance would burn off roughly 200 pounds of fuel, so if everything went perfectly I would cross the scale at the absolute maximum. I debated all of this for about three seconds before sighing and heading back to ConAgra for a load reshuffle.

Alas, the people loading my trailer apparently mugged a few other drivers as I found myself sixth in line to have loads adjusted. You would think that ConAgra would prefer to get loads right the first time, perhaps by leaving 500-1000 pounds of weight off each load to ensure that any truck could scale out legally. After all, if I was running with duals instead of my trusty super singles it would have put me at 81,000 pounds when I scaled.

This issue will likely cascade onto tomorrow’s preplan and timing, since I had arrived today with six hours to run which would have put me more than halfway to Atlanta. The only thing the shipping people told me was: “It will be done sometime tonight, and we’ll send out the yard driver to wake you up.”

Email issues

I’ve been busy merging four email accounts on three different laptops using three different email applications (don’t ask, I know). During this process I’ve found a number of emails that have managed to fall through the cracks in the past few months. If you have sent me something to one of my various accounts (see the Contact page for the proper one for this web site) and I haven’t responded in a timely fashion, please feel free to send along a friendly reminder.


Held Up

After the adventure in Olney my dispatcher offered me a 3-stop load picking up in Ottawa, Illinois at 0200 and delivering between then and 1100 and ending Green Bay, Wisconsin. After that was a load heading to Arkansas that would kinda sorta get me near the house, at which point I would head home on my own dime. Ah hell no, in other words.

Since time was drawing nigh for me to get sent home for some much needed R&R I offered to rest until the following day (Wednesday) then pick up something headed towards home. The plan this time was for a Budweiser load from nearby St Louis, Missouri to Omaha, Nebraska that I would t-call at our yard in Kansas City.

I took the opportunity to depart Olney for nearby Effingham, Illinois where I got my truck washed and trailer washed out. The rest of my driving day was consumed with the 75-minute drive to Troy, Illinois where I would be staging for the load, and completely by coincidence I would be spending the night at the Pilot there that happens to be next door to a Dairy Queen. And they say truck drivers can’t plan…

Wednesday afternoon I crossed the mighty Mississippi river and dropped my trailer in the large Budweiser yard, then waited with the rest of the other suckers drivers. After a few hours the load was ready and I was sent back into the yard to fetch my trailer. This is what it looked like when I backed under it:

Note the angle of the floor of the trailer compared to the one next to it:

When I get out from under a trailer I leave 1/2″ to 3/4″ or so below the gear and set it down on the ground with my air suspension as I’m pulling out. This makes getting back under the trailer easier and avoids situations where the kingpin might be up high enough so it misses your fifth wheel and the front of the trailer rams the back of your truck cab as you back into it.

One of the yard drivers was being a complete jackass (they have specialized vehicles with hydraulic lifts for their fifth wheels, so they don’t ordinarily touch the landing gear) and ratcheted my gear up a foot or so above my fifth wheel.

Worse, there was 44,400 pounds of beer inside the trailer now and as any truck driver can tell you, when a trailer is fully loaded it is a bear trying to lower the gear.

I could have waited for one of the sockcuckers yard jockeys to come by and shanghai him into lifting the trailer so I could crank the gear up a bit without the pressure, but wouldn’t you know it there isn’t ever one around when you need one. Fifteen minutes of cranking in low gear, huffing, puffing, cursing, spitting and such followed and I eventually got it lowered far enough to get under it normally and latch on. Bastards.

My complaint at the guard shack was rebuffed with the revelation that the spotters here were from a separate company and to “have your folks contact the Bud folks and…” yada yada yada. Fine, I did all that too.

Anyway, grabbed the load, got scaled out and ran it to Kansas City where I arrived just before midnight. Dropped the trailer in the yard with a note asking the driver picking up the load to please take my load locks (sealed in back) to dispatch in Omaha so I get them back then headed off to bed.

Only, there was a reefer across the parking lot with an orange indicator light (green means good, orange means there is a problem) and a flashing screen. I went over to see what the issue was and got it running again. It seemed to be a problem starting, so I took it off of cycle mode and had it run continuous. Sent a message in to dispatch advising them and hit the sack, having done my good deed for the day. Or night, whatever.

If I Olney had a load…

My dispatcher lined up a load for me on Monday that was one of the ones that was held over from the weekend. I asked the weekend dispatcher if they needed me to go stage for a load or to wait until Monday and he indicated they had more trucks than loads so I would be fine taking the day off.

Monday morning the story was a bit different as I got the message to head to nearby Schuyler, Nebraska to pick up a loaded trailer heading to Walmart in Olney, Illinois for the following morning. What would have been a nice, full day of driving had I been sent to Schuyler on Sunday turned into a logbook battle to keep the trip legal.

Then there was the snow. A front was coming through the Omaha area as I left the yard and drove west towards Schuyler the snow began to accumulate. I didn’t waste any time turning and burning once I got there and a few hours later I was driving southwards towards Kansas City when the bad weather tapered off.

The long night drive continued until I finally arrived in Olney, Illinois and checked in with the Walmart folks. Got a door, dropped the trailer in it while they did the bump and grind routine with the cargo and was awoken a few hours later and told the paperwork was ready. I even scored a parking spot at the small truck stop a mile or so away and slept away the rest of the morning.

New and Even More Improved Financials!

I liked the second edition of my new financial spreadsheet enough I really, really went all out on it. I laboriously entered all the settlement information back to the beginning (I’m missing two weeks at the moment which will be filled in when I get home and get the info from my paper copies), organized it by quarter and year and added a Goals and Metrics page to track my progress.

There are now Total, Year-to-date and Weekly summaries along the top of the first page showing all that information broken down.

Try it, you’ll like it. Get it here.

Silencing the leak

I had a rare day off yesterday as freight in the Omaha area was sparse and others were here before me (and wanted to run harder, no doubt). I took the day off, got caught up on my TV shows, went out and had lunch at Panera and basically fiddle-farted around.

This morning the folks in the shop (specifically, Matt in the safety lane) took two minutes and fixed the air problem with my driver’s seat. You can see my ghetto repair goodness here:

Afterward it looked the same minus the vice grips.