Unsatisfying hometime

After my delivery in Omaha I was given a load to t-call at our Kansas City lot then a different load to take home that delivers in Memphis, Tennessee first thing Monday morning.

I don’t mind taking loads through the house when they don’t impinge on my time off, but this load in question meant that instead of spending Sunday night in my very comfortable king-size bed and enjoying all the other luxuries of the house I had to head out Sunday afternoon to make it down to Memphis. Boo on the planner types.

Boo also on the 250ish miles of state highway driving from Springfield, Mo to I-55. Eighty percent of it was nice, two lanes each way road and the other twenty percent was hilly, narrow, jam-on-the-brake-then-pound-the-throttle type driving we truckers like so much.

My load out of Memphis was preplanned last week as well just a few miles south in Mississippi. Only one catch: the appointment was fixed at 1700 and can’t be changed. This introduces some logbook issues that I would have preferred to avoid but at the end of the day I say screw it, the load gets to Macon, Missouri as soon as I can legally make it.

It would have been easier if the consignee for this first load had overnight parking, but as I just found out they don’t. They are also located in a bad area of town. Still, I spent a good 30 minutes of my time (and fuel) looking for someplace close enough to park so as to not start my clock in the morning before I get unloaded, but to no avail. This was a mile or so away from a pair of Pilots on highway 78 that I avoid at all costs so I settled on a Loves a few miles north. Wouldn’t you know it, the nighttime security guard was parked in front of the last open space on the lot and when I pulled up with my blinkers on he gave me the universal gesture for “Do you need me to move?”

Oh hell yes and thank you very much. Keep me safe tonight, my brother.


My worst week ever.

It may not have been my worst week since I started trucking, but it was certainly the worst week since I have been operating my own truck.

I delivered the load from Georgia to a consignee on the west side of Chicago, and it took four hours for them to get around to unloading my trailer. In the meantime I was given a preplan for a load heading to Omaha, Nebraska but due to the delay it made that delivery an hour late, even though I made use of the split sleeper rule which I avoid using more than once or twice a year.

The rest of that day was spent with the truck in the shop but they couldn’t do the overhead or put on my new front shocks since apparently Volvo doesn’t make that design any more (my truck is an ’07 for crying out loud) and Monroe hasn’t started making them either.

My next load picked up any time that same evening heading to Texas. All I had to do was travel west an hour or so to Schuyler, Nebraska and pick up a load of meat, then put a couple hours of driving in to get me into range for delivery.

Everything was going fine after I arrived, I dropped off my empty and went to grab the loaded trailer. It was set at 26 degrees and I thought nothing about it as I hooked up and inspected it. Pull it out to the gate and the guards find out the load should be at zero degrees instead. No problem, I turn down the freezer to zero and ask for my paperwork.

“Sorry, can’t let you out of the yard until you are within five degrees of load temperature.”

Now, it is almost 100 degrees in their parking lot, and very humid. Since the load had been sitting for hours at 26 degrees the twenty tons of meat didn’t want drop 21 degrees in a hurry and I waited for, I kid you not, three hours before it hit five degrees inside.

Back to the gate and the guards hand me a different set of paperwork. “Oh, turns out the load needs to be set at 26 degrees.”

I look at one guard dumbly (it is 0230 at this point) as his buddy walks outside and adjusts the temperature on my reefer. No problem, I’m definitely cooler than what they need so hand me the paperwork and I’m off…

“Sorry, can’t let you out of the yard until you are within five degrees of load temperature.”

At this point I went off and told them to blow a goat, I’m turning down the freaking load and putting it back out in their drop lot and they can work out their damned temperature problems with their management in the morning. Jump into the truck and am grabbing gears as I do a tight 180 around their guard shack and back into the lot, even though I know I’m contending with very narrow spacing between trailers. I’m halfway backed in when one of the guards is dispatched to my location and explains they screwed up again, the paperwork in question with the different temperature was for a different load.

Mother of freaking pearl, sometimes.

I grab the real paperwork and blitz out of their lot before they could screw it up again and scale out across the street at which point I stay the night since it is half gone already.

The delivery in the Dallas area goes off fairly smoothly two morning’s later but the next plan has me waiting around almost an entire day for an 0400 pickup heading to the Denver area. This equates to yet another blown day followed by one full day of frantic driving to get as close to Denver as possible then a few more hours on the following morning to finish the load.

All of that transpires, and the load is there on time. Eventually, I’m dispatched to Fort Collins to pick up a heavy load of beer heading to Omaha. I clean up one of our trailers and drop it off there and grab the reefer trailer that is waiting for me with the load already aboard. I notice that there is at least 12 feet of empty space at the back of the trailer and since this is a reefer it almost certainly means that whoever loaded it didn’t bother noting the huge fridge up front or the heavy diesel tank below and the load would be too nose heavy to take and be legal. My instincts are spot on as the on-site scale reveals 35,150 pounds on my drives with the trailer tandems all the way up.

This unnamed beer company decides it isn’t going to rework that load, hoping another truck in our fleet will drop by and by some miracle make it out of the lot legally. If they were thinking that then the load is still there since there ain’t any truck in our fleet that can make that happen.

By the time our incredulous weekend dispatchers and planners are on the case it is too late for my driving hours since I had to be up incredibly early to finish off the last part of the Dallas-to-Denver run. Thoughts of getting 3-4 hours down the road and a nice steak and shower at the Boss at exit 107 in Nebraska go bye bye, replaced by a new bobtail parking area a football field jog away from the restroom and the stink of hops or barley or whatever crap they are putting into their suds nowadays.

Another day down the drain.

Next morning I get a load assignment to Independence, Kansas and Pittsburg, Kansas, of all places but I need to get the repairs finished at our shop so I see if they can’t find me something other than the heavyweight load going to Omaha. Finally, such a load is found and I scale out legally.

I manage to work out the timing so I could still grab a shower and steak at the Big Springs Boss, leaving just enough time to make it to Omaha for the night. Along the way traffic began to slow down and back up and I rolled past this:

Less than a minute before I arrived this tractor trailer was on the opposite side of the freeway. An automobile cut into the driver’s lane forcing a quick stomp on the brakes and an evasive maneuver, which resulted in the driver losing control, crossing the entire median and ending up on its side where you see it here.

If you look at the larger version of the photo you can see the lady driver sitting on the edge of the grass between the trooper’s car and the trailer.

In a few seconds her day (and week, and month, probably) went from some sense of normalcy and routine into chaos, terror and probably a new set of underwear.

My week was tough but I’d still rather have it than her week.

Naturally, my mouth-breathing cat would rather have her week out of any of the above:

Recent travels and trevails

After my QualCOMM unit was repaired I was given a load from Omaha down to Russellville, Arkansas. My hours allowed me to drive to Lamar, Missouri before shutting down and I took advantage of shopping at the nice Super Wal-Mart there with nice truck parking before going to bed.

The next day got me to Russellville where I had a preplanned load leaving from the same place I delivered to. Said load was 43,000 pounds according to the documentation which was almost immediately proven false when scaling revealed my truck was over 81,500 pounds gross. This would mean at least 47,000 pounds in the box. I’ve never understood how a shipper moving their own boxed goods could not know the actual weight of their cargo to the decimal place.

Back to the shipper for a rework and 1,700 pounds were taken off in under three hours, a record. I very carefully scaled out and set my axles properly then headed down the road, ending in West Memphis, Arkansas for the night.

Up early Friday morning and through Memphis before traffic got shitty, then south along highway 78 (“Future I-22 corridor” according to the signs). Survived Birmingham, Alabama and arrived on the west side of Atlanta mid afternoon.

Somehow our folks didn’t have the load marked as a drop and hook so the receiver wanted me to park elsewhere for a few hours before returning for a live unload. Oh hell no. A quick message over the QualCOMM and our people and there people did whatever these people do and I was allowed to drop off the full in a door and take out an empty. I happen to know of a warehouse a mile or so away that has been closed for some time and parked there for the night.

Up and at them early again (0400 local time) on a preplan from Tunnel Hill, Georgia to the Chicago area. Load picked up any time after 0300 and delivers noon the following day. I arrive around 0600 local to find there is no such load any more, though there is an identical load set to head out the following morning for the same location. Back and forth with our company’s inside broker department until it is eventually revealed that the shipper claimed we didn’t have a trailer there when they needed it so they put it on a different company’s trailer and let them have it. Surprising, given the fact there was an empty HB trailer there when I arrived, but I’m just a driver.

I’m told to stick around for the day and pick up the new load heading out Sunday morning for a first-thing Monday delivery up in Chicago. The princely sum of $75 is deposited into my account for layover, an amount I note doesn’t even cover my fixed expenses on a daily basis. The rest of the day is whiled away playing the StarCraft II Beta, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Runes of Magic and getting caught up on various Hulu shows.

Yesterday morning I bugged out early towards Nashville, Tennessee where I fueled up. The shorter interstate route to Chicago was to continue north along I-65 through Louisville, Kentucky and Indianapolis, Indiana but I instead chose to add 30 miles of Out-of-Route heading west along I-24 into Illinois then north on I-57. No big cities to go through and fairly flat terrain, resulting in 8.1 MPG for the trip.

I finished yesterday in Monee, Illinois, just 13 miles from the consignee.

Do you recognize these cars?

I shot this pic a few months ago in Arizona heading north from Phoenix towards Flagstaff, if I remember correctly. There were two cars with identical decal jobs heading north and I suspect they were either going to be used for a movie or commercial someplace.

Anyone recognize them?

QualCOMM issues… solved?

Yesterday after delivering my (fairly expensive) dog chow in Omaha I went by the company yard to have our shop look over my QualCOMM unit. After discussing my issues briefly with the guy who does many of the installs he had me open up my passenger door and took a look at some of the boxes of circuitry behind the seat. A light that should have been green was instead blinking red, indicating a problem with the antenna or the cellular modem.

After a few hours of waiting he was able to take a look at it and replace whatever wasn’t happy and even changed around the electrical system so I can turn on the unit by turning my key to Accessories! This has bedeviled me since the beginning with this new unit, as it turns off quickly after I shut my rig down and doesn’t seem to realize there is plenty of power coming from the APU. Now I can turn it on (and not interfere with the APU, as was the case before) whenever I need it while my truck is off.

If they fix the issue with messages being missed when the unit is off I think I will be in nirvana.

201 more reasons to dislike shippers

The load out of the house was a familiar one: head west to Pittsburg, Kansas to grab a load of dog chow heading to Omaha, Nebraska. Since I was set home before the weekend bobtail I was also instructed to pick up an empty in Carthage, Missouri along the way to the shipper. There actually was an empty there when I arrived… be still my heart.

This particular shipper loads trailers very quickly and this time was no exception. About fifteen minutes after I backed into the correct dock there was a tap on my door and I went inside to finish up the paperwork. I noticed an unusually light gross weight — 24,000 odd pounds — and mentioned this.

“Oh,” the clerk said. “They put a partial additional load on the back to fill it up, no more than 34,000 total.”

Lying sack of excrement.

The empty (now loaded) trailer that I picked up was one of our newest, with nice fat super-single tires which not only roll much nicer than duals but also weigh about 400 pounds less, in total. A few minutes pulling it down the road and the weight given seemed to me to be in the right ballpark and I headed off.

Now, Pittsburg, Kansas isn’t exactly the be-all and end-all of the known universe and there are no commercial scales there, to the best of my knowledge. The company I was loaded at has a scale at a different plant a few miles out of route. I figured I would drive with it up KS-69 up to Kansas City and if it felt heavy I’d weigh it somewhere up there, perhaps in Edwardsville (which is the only commercial scale along my route, as far as I know).

By the time I reached KC I knew I couldn’t possibly be over the limit on my total rig’s weight. One advantage to a smaller engine (if it can be said there is an advantage) is that it makes it very clear how heavy my total rig is by just pulling a few familiar hills and watching my tach and spedometer.

The trailer tandems were in the fifth hole which is a bit further forward than normal, but the combination of my super singles and the super singles on the trailer should have made up 800 pounds “net” in my favor.

How far off could I be under these circumstances?

As I moved north along I-29 from KC I came across the North Platte City scale and was pulled in along with a handful of other trucks. One by one the rigs moved through and were on their way until it was my turn. Steers… fine. Drives… fine. Trailer tandems…

“Driver! Set your brakes, exit your truck and come in to the office!” I hear over the loudspeaker. I’m guessing it isn’t to present me with the Missouri Truck Driver of the Year award.

As I enter the office I glance at the scale display and groan inwardly: 36,040 pounds, more than a ton over the legal limit for my configuration. Before I could turn on the charm the officer told me to head back out, move my truck off the scale and out of the way and bring back all my paperwork.

It is a long trudge out to your truck in these situations, I find.

Paperwork was easy, in part because I’m now using electronic logs. I have yet to find a DOT officer that wants anything to do with them. Driver’s license, medical card, truck registration, proof of insurance, etc. He immediately sets to writing out a ticket and asks if I know how to slide my tandems to make my trailer legal. I slouch back outside and take care of it, running through the scale again to prove the weights are now right.

Missouri uses a system where a certain weight is this many cents per pound, and more weight is on a higher scale. The math came out to be $201.50. Sign here and here, here’s instructions to mail in your payment, have a nice day. Blah blah blah.

After having all the weights listed I realize that the shipper took a 24,000 pound order and added on not 10,000 but 18,000 pounds of dog chow, all the way back to the rear of the trailer. Yes, I would have realized they were lying sacks of shit if I had elected to scale, but I didn’t so the boo-boo is on me.

Now, before you go all “Don’t cry for me Argentina” on me, let’s keep things in perspective: this represents about 1/6th of my average weekly take so while it stinks in the short run in the long run it doesn’t really matter much.

Does sting a little, though.

July 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th

From Russellville, Arkansas I took a load north to our drop yard in Kansas City, Missouri and t-called it there for some other lucky driver, then was sent home bobtail. This is unusual since it means the planners need to do some extra thinking to get me out of the house to first get a trailer somewhere, but I didn’t mind the extra fuel economy.

The flu bug, or whatever it is, has gradually weakened to the point where I have a cough and a stuffy nose part of the day. A few more days should mean a full recovery and I’m back on the road this morning.

My new QualComm unit is having fits and tells me that there is a sensor problem. This means I may need to go to paper logs temporarily until they can get me through Omaha which would kind of suck since I haven’t done a log by hand in more than three years and I didn’t feel like adding another laptop and laser printer to my truck just to run the Driver’s Daily Log software.

The joys of trucking.

One flu under the cookoo’s nest

I was told on the way to Plano, Illinois that I could drop my trailer and take an empty over to Rochelle, Illinois for my reload. This was news to the consignee who was adamant we had no empty trailers there, we weren’t permitted to do drop-and-hooks and oh, by the way, dock 18 needs you backed into it soon.

Our HQ was convinced they were right, even giving me the number of a trailer that had been left there. I looked after I was unloaded just for giggles and no trailer. On the plus side, they let you park overnight there so I took care of my snooze break.

The Rochelle part was unusual as we bring in many loads to that plant but I’ve never taken a single one out of there. My trailer was one of three HB units on the ready line set to go and despite a balky slide I managed to get it out and scaled then heading south without too much trouble.

That night I stopped just inside the Missouri border in Charleston at a Pilot I hadn’t been to before. One of the older, more run down stops that I’ve seen so I won’t be back soon.

I woke with a stuffy nose, sore throat, fever and headache so some bug bit me a few days previous. Driving isn’t that much of an issue with the flu so long as you’re not swapping trailers or the like.

Arrived in Russellville, Arkansas around 1300 and by 1330 the trailer was in a door and I was off to the nearby Pilot (nicer one) for some rest. My logbook is pretty much shot, having spent the last three days using what I got back at midnight to take care of business.