Sunday, June 23, 2013

Random Ramblings

I've actually had the day off today because I got my load of steel slinky coils within about 75 miles of their destination yesterday and they aren't due until Monday so I got to take a break today.  So I have the extra time to make another blog post today.  This brings up something that I'm not going to go into a lengthy discussion about with you because it is boring and very confusing, but that is the subject of legal driving hours for truck drivers.  When you take a 34 hour break, which is what I'm doing now, it resets your hours giving you another set of 70 legal working hours.  In short it's easier to get your job done in an efficient manner when you get that fresh set of hours started because your not so limited on how much you can drive each day.  Legally you can drive 11 hours as long as you get it done within a 14 hour period.  Okay, I've got to stop myself here or I am going to get into a lengthy discussion even though I said I wouldn't.  Suffice it to say that when you get a bunch of government regulators together and ask them to come up with a feasible plan to regulate trucker's hours so that they can be safe and well rested, you could probably get an easier to understand plan if you just hired ten drunk monkeys to do the same job.

Oh, that paragraph raises yet another question, "what in the world are steel slinky coils?"  Well, if I could ever figure out how to get a photo from my phone on to this blog I'd show you, but that will have to be another day.  Slinky coils are several thousand feet of continual steel rod rolled up into a coil that is about 6' long and 4' tall.  I've got 9 of them on my trailer (about 45,000 lbs. of them).  They are going to Salt Lake City Utah.  I'm in Evanston, Wyoming tonight and when the sun comes up in the morning I'll be slipping these things across the state line and delivering them in Salt Lake.

I had an enjoyable Sunday today just taking it easy and resting.  I ate a couple of good meals at local restaurants while I was taking this break.  I get a little tired of living on Slim Jims and pop tarts!  I'm joking, I actually eat pretty good on the road, I've got a crock pot in my truck and I'm learning to be creative with that thing.  I made some pretty good Jambalaya this past week, and it smells so good while your cruising down the highway and your supper is gently simmering away in that little pot.

Here in Evanston I can see some snow capped mountains to the south and west of me (part of the Rockies).  I traveled through some beautiful areas of Colorado and Wyoming yesterday, while running some complicated calculations in my head trying to figure how much weight I would burn off as I burned up my fuel before I got to the weigh station in Cheyenne Wyoming.  Did you know a truck driver has to do a lot of math work?  Yes, after I got loaded in Pueblo Colorado I was about 600 pounds over the legal limit on my drive axles, but according to my calculations I would burn off enough fuel by the time I got to the weigh station to be legal.  It worked, and I simply filled my tanks after I got past the weigh station.  Diesel is eight pounds a gallon, I'm getting about 6 miles to the gallon and about 75% of my fuel weight goes to my drive axles with the other 25% going to the steer axle.  Well, it's really not all that complicated, but it does make life interesting with all the stuff you have to figure out as you're out here getting the job done.

If it seems like this post has no common thread running through it to hold it all together you are absolutely right.  I'm just rambling because I have the time to ramble.  Did you know that many truck stops hold church services on Sundays?  That's right, and some of them even have a special room set aside for prayer and meditation.  There are even some of the larger ones that have a chaplain on staff during the day.  Some of them have a make-shift chapel in an empty 18 wheeler trailer with air conditioning, pews, and a pulpit.  There are people that conduct these services much like the people who volunteer to do services at jails and prisons.

Being from East Texas I often see deer on the side of the road, but yesterday I saw a small herd of antelope prancing around in a wide open field.  They almost looked like they were choreographed because they seemed to be in rhythm with each other and were keeping a steady beat as they moved across the open prairie.  That reminds me, I saw a black bear in Wisconsin a few days ago.  Sadly the bear was dead on the side of the road from being struck by a vehicle.  I also saw a beautiful buck deer in Iowa.  He was proudly standing by the road with his head held high showing off his beautiful velvet covered head gear.  He struck such a pose that you'd think he was a vain creature enjoying the fact that  people were admiringly gawking at him as they drove by.

Well, I think I've squandered enough of your time on this ridiculously incoherent post.  Goodbye for now!

Guardians of the Highway

Sorry, but I've been just so busy lately that I haven't had much free time to post, and or my schedule has been so tight on my legal driving hours that I've been having to spend the night in shippers and receivers parking lots because I didn't have time to get to a truck stop.  I get internet access at the truck stops, so I haven't been able to post anything because of the places where I've been parking to sleep.

When you spend your life on the road you see so many things that all the interesting stuff just starts to become a blur.  Thus you forget so much of the stuff that others might find interesting, so you forget to tell them about it.  Well here's something interesting that happened about four days ago.  I was westbound for Colorado out of Nebraska when this took place:

I was cruising down the road @ 65 mph when another truck passes me in the hammer lane (sorry, that's truck driver speak for the left hand lane), swerves into my lane, and would have hit me had I not swerved onto the shoulder. He continues down the road and I'm noticing he's all over the place - he can't seem to maintain his lane. I think about calling the highway patrol and then I just blow it off thinking he's probably trying to find his atlas, or spilled hot coffee, or something like that. About ten minutes later I see a patrolman flying by me and I think, oh no, that guys had an accident up ahead. Well eventually I see the patrolman's lights flashing and as I get up closer I see that three other truck drivers have their flashers on and they have boxed this guy in on the right hand lane. One is in front of him, one behind him, and the other beside him. They slowed him down and kept him from getting away until the law showed up.

I don't know what the issue was, but it was really cool to see some professional drivers doing what they could to protect the general public from danger, and other truck drivers from the things that give us such a bad image.

I really don't know what the problem was, but I did see him getting out of his truck to talk to the highway patrolman and he seemed somewhat disoriented.  I almost think he was having some sort of a medical issue going on, but I just couldn't tell.  I think it highly unlikely that he was drunk, because it would mean the complete end of his career, and most drivers are not willing to give that up so foolishly.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Simple Pleasures on the Road

Yesterday I stopped for the night at a truck stop just a little ways out of Tulsa Oklahoma, so I called up my good friend Jim Rogers (who just happens to live in Tulsa) to see if we could get together for a visit.  It was great fun to get to see him and we enjoyed a good breakfast together at I-Hop.  Next time you're at an I-Hop I recommend that you give their "garden stuffed crepes" a try - I think they are really good.

Jim and Virginia gave me a really nice gift of a "Daily Light", a thoughtful gift for anyone, but especially for a busy truck driver.  It was a nice surprise to get to see him.  Next time I'm through here I hope to have enough time to go see their home.  It sounds like a really nice place for them to spend their autumn years.  Of course their final home is being prepared for them in a city set on a hill far above all rule and authority.  The radiance of their King illuminates it and there is no need for the sun there.  It's a place of endless delight that we will enjoy forever.

Well, I've got to get this truck moving, I need to slip over into Minnesota today and be ready for my early morning delivery in Minneapolis.  I spent last night in Iowa, at a truck stop about 60 miles north of Des Moines.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Duty and Honor Call Me to the North (in other words I'm not going home after all)

Well so much for my "home-time".  Instead of getting to go home I got dispatched on a load that hauls 47,000 pounds of granite slabs from La Porte TX to St. Paul Minnesota.  I was really looking forward to enjoying a few quiet days with my gentle and quiet spirited wife.  She is my joy and comfort, but we will have to wait to see each other because someone thinks this is more important.  It's a part of this strange life on the road - it can be a jealous mistress.

I am grateful for the work, and the more I'm moving across the country the more money I'm making.  But there are things that are way more important than money.  This is a great run and it means there will be quite a few more miles coming because somehow or another they've got to get me back down this way also.  Hopefully it won't be too many more weeks before I can get home.

Problem Solving: Part of the Reason I Love This Job

Part of this post is a repeat from the last one, but it gives you an idea what an over the road truck driver faces every day. But those things are, for me, what keeps the job interesting and enjoyable - solving the problems that seem to rise up everyday.

I love a challenge, and with truck driving everyday brings new and unusual chances to prove yourself and get things accomplished. Last week on Friday I was unloading at a steel plant in Baltimore Maryland at around 1330 when I get a pre-planned load across the Qualcomm that picks up in York PA at noon and the notes say they quit loading at 1400. So I call dispatch and tell them the obvious "there's no way I can make that time frame", and I ask if they load on Saturdays. Dispatcher doesn't know, but tells me to just get up there as fast as I can and hopefully they will load me because this load has to be in New Orleans first thing Monday morning. I arrive about 1545 and find out from a lone shipping clerk who has stayed there late that everyone is gone and my load has to be loaded with the overhead crane and there is no one at the plant right now that is crane certified. He tells me I'm out of luck until Monday morning. I very kindly explain my predicament and ask him if their might be someone willing to come in on Saturday to load me. Well after he made a phone call to his boss we found out that the bosses daughter was coming in at 0200 Saturday morning to catch up on some paperwork, and she is certified on the overhead crane. That gave me just enough time to throw myself on the sleeper berth line to be able to start a fresh set of hours at 0200!

I got my truck loaded, secured the equipment, tarped it, and headed south to Cajun Country. Got there Sunday night with time enough to get the required 10 hour break so I can get started on a fresh set of hours Monday morning. The receiver is completely caught off guard that I'm there Monday morning because, unknown to me, some of the folks that had left that day I was late called and told them that we had missed our pick-up time so they would reschedule. Well, after discussing it with the receiver, and realizing they had to line up a crane service to unload me, there was nothing to do but wait until Wednesday morning to get unloaded. Hey, I'm in New Orleans, so I just rented a car and acted like a tourist for a couple of days.  Who can complain about solving a problem like that?

Now this was the most challenging part about this whole job: the equipment I was delivering was going to a hospital in downtown New Orleans. Since I had a rent car I drove through several different scenarios just to try and figure out the best way to get both in and out from the location. It was going to be really tough, but I found what I thought to be the best route and went for it on Wednesday morning. My last turn to get into the location was a left hand turn onto Freret St. from Lasalle St. I cleared the turn with one adjustment and had about an inch and a half between my tractor and the parked cars on the right side of the street and the same amount of clearance on the left side between the 53 foot trailer and the corner of a building - my split axles were all over the sidewalks. Just as I cleared the turn I heard someone whom I hadn't noticed that was watching the whole ordeal holler out "You are either really good or really lucky!" Yeah I'm thinking I was very lucky.

After all that, the equipment was too big to fit in the door of the building that we delivered it too. Sorry, not my problem, I've solved enough problems this week. They'll have to figure that one out. It's off my truck, I've got to go pick up another load of problems to solve.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Homeward Bound

Wow!, I'm actually in Texas tonight.  After I unloaded the equipment in New Orleans I picked up a load of sheet-rock (46,000 pounds of it) headed to a Texas A&M construction site in San Antonio.  Hopefully I'll get home this weekend for a few days.  This job has about two dozen new challenges every day, but that is what I like about it.  Everyday brings a whole new set of problems to solve, and there's a lot of time management involved that requires a clear head and some quick thinking math skills.

I had to deliver the last load right downtown in New Orleans.  The last street I had to turn onto left me with about an inch and a half of space between my tractor and the parked cars on the right side of the road and about the same amount on the left side between my trailer and the corner of a building.  My trailer tires were all over the sidewalks.  Very nerve racking!  Just as I cleared the turn I heard someone hollering at me from the street "Wow you are either really good are really lucky!"  Yeah I'm thinking lucky was just the right word.

Well, If I get home I'll enjoy seeing my dear wife and a few close friends at church.  I'm pressing on hoping my dispatcher and I are on the same page about getting home.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stuck in New Orleans

I've been sitting at "The Big Easy" Truck Stop in New Orleans since Sunday night.  Today is Tuesday, and I've been told that my truck will get unloaded tomorrow morning - I hope that happens.  This is the first time I've ever been to New Orleans, and I'm stuck in a bad part of town.  Even the streets in this section of town are nasty.  I've been pan-handled to death - it seems everybody in this neighborhood just needs a dollar so they can get something to eat.

I've got some equipment on my truck that's to be delivered to a hospital downtown, but apparently there was some confusion between the shipper and the contractor as to when this equipment would arrive.  I've actually enjoyed the break as best I could.  I rented an economical car so I could move around a little, and I did find some areas that are quite beautiful with very old live oaks spreading out their canopy across the streets and shading the front lawns of some very old and lovely looking homes.
I even wandered over into the "French Quarter", but just kind of drove through it.  I wasn't in the mood for meandering through a bunch of jam packed street vendors and open fronted shops with a throng of people who had purple and green hair, apparently no job, and still are able to be here spending their time and money trying to fill their empty lives with something they think is meaningful.  New Orleans is a city who's beautiful buildings cast their shadows on miserable poor forgotten souls wandering the streets begging for a crust of bread from the many tourists that are there.

I enjoyed some of the food they are famous for here, but mostly I've hung out at the truck stop trying to make sure nothing on my truck goes up missing.  When a truck driver gets stuck like this he's not getting paid, so it hurts in that department, but I've been working awfully hard and a break didn't hurt too badly.  I'm hoping to get home this weekend.  I've been on the road three weeks and I'm ready to see my sweet wife and enjoy sitting at my own table for a few days.