Sunday, June 29, 2014

Remedial Math for the Truck Driver

I thought you might enjoy looking at a brief explanation of how to secure a flat-bed load. This is just the very basic stuff that I used on a recent load of three electrical "step down" transformers. This load originated in Bland, VA. The two transformers on the back of the load were dropped in Philadelphia, PA, and the third unit was delivered to Branford, CT. There were phone numbers on the BOL's for the crane company that would unload them, and it was my responsibility to call and set up the appointment times to get them off-loaded.

Here's a photo of what this load looks like.

Before a flat-bedder can figure out how to secure his load he must first know what it weighs. Unlike some "reefer" loads, the flat-bedder"s BOL's usually have fairly accurate weights listed on them - this is because their load securement practices are based on that information, or at least it is supposed to be. I did have a load recently though that had the numbers way off. I could tell immediately as I drove off with that load that it was way heavier than they said it was, so I drove right to the nearest CAT Scale and found I was going to be about twelve hundred pounds over gross weight if I filled up my fuel tanks. So I had to get that one delivered on fumes while dancing around the scales, but that's another story for another time.

Okay, once you know the weight of your load you've got to figure out what the WLL is. WLL is the "working load limit". If you can divide by two you just might qualify to be a flat-bedder, cause that's all a flat-bedder does to figure the WLL of his load. This load has three transformers on it and we need to know what each of them weighs because they each need to be secured as a separate unit. My BOL's tell me that the two units in the back weigh 17,400 lbs. each, and the smaller unit in the front weighs 5,500 lbs. After dividing these numbers by two we get a WLL of 8,700 lbs. for each of the larger units, and 2,750 lbs. for the smaller unit. These transformers are supposed to be secured to the trailer with chains through some steel rings welded near the base as per the manufacturers instructions. So now we need to know how much weight these chains can handle so we can make sure they are capable of keeping this load on the trailer until we can get it to it's destination. That means we need to know the WLL of the chains. This is called our equipment WLL.

I have on my truck ten sets of grade 70 5/16" chain. These chains are rated at 4,700 lbs. WLL. The 5/16" grade 70 snap binder we will tighten the chains with are rated at 5,400 lbs. WLL, and the stake pockets on the trailer which we will "tear drop" anchor our chains to are also rated at 5,400 lbs. WLL. These are D.O.T. required standards for these pieces of equipment. Okay the weakest piece of equipment in our example here is the chain itself at 4,700 lbs. WLL. So that will be the equipment WLL we will use for our calculation. The heaviest of our load WLL was the large transformers at 8.700 lbs. Two chains with a WLL of 4700 lbs. each should give us a WLL of 9,400 lbs., so two chains will secure each of the larger transformers and of course will be more than sufficient for the smaller unit.

Those of you who are observant are already wondering why the above photo shows a strap over the top of each transformer, and I am happy to satisfy your curiosity. There are two reasons why I added the strap across the top. First, I like for my equipment WLL to exceed my load WLL by 20% and we weren't quite there on the larger transformers if you examine the math. Secondly these transformers are tall and if some unexpected event such as an accident were to occur which might possibly cause a chain to fail these things could easily topple over onto a mini-van full of children. That strap over the top is just a little extra insurance. By the way, a 4" synthetic strap is rated at a WLL of 5,400 lbs., so this load is now very secure and safe for travelling the 700 mile trip to CT.

Here's a close up photo of how the chain is "tear dropped" around the stake pocket on the trailer.

Here's a photo of the steel rings that the chain passed through on the transformers.

I always take my excess chain and wrap it around the binder and secure it in place with a bungee - some of those D.O.T. inspectors can get real nasty about loose chains laying on the bed of your trailer.

When ever I have a lengthy piece of strap out there in the breeze, I just put a half twist in it like this and that keeps it from flapping around and causing me trouble later on down the road.

So, there you have it, I don't just go through life holding on to a steering wheel all the time.  I do get to use my head a little every now and then.  The variety and the challenges of getting it done just right with all the various types of loads I haul make this job both rewarding and challenging.

Changing Course

Sometimes in this job you get a message in the middle of your trip saying that they need you to switch your load with another driver that is in the same area as you are.  That is just what happened to me on the load of copper that I was to deliver up to Norwich CT.  I had made my way up to Effingham, Illinois and was spending the night there when I got an e-mail that said they wanted me to switch loads with another driver and that he would be contacting me in just a little while.  Sure enough the driver called me and showed up about an hour later and we swapped trailers with each other.  So my course was changed to delivering two aluminum coils up to St. Paul, MN.

But before this happened I had the opportunity to spend part of a day and the night in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  So, I took the chance to contact my dearest old friends the Rogers who reside there.  It is always good to see them, they have both meant so much to me through the years, I've known them for more than thirty years now.  Jim and I had lunch together at one of those good old Tulsa Bar-be-que houses, and then I went to their home in the evening for some really good homemade spaghetti - the food was really good, but the most pleasant thing was just being with the people that you love.

Isn't that just the cutest picture of Virginia?  Beside my wife, she is the sweetest gentlest woman I have ever known.  It was very nice seeing them.  She was having some trouble with the brakes on her walker, so I was able to adjust them for her while I was there.  They are definitely getting on in years, but Jim still drives like Mario Andretti through the streets of Tulsa, I thought he was going to make me car sick for a little while, but I managed to take it all in stride.

So, I took my new load up to St. Paul and delivered it on Saturday morning.  It is unusual for me to have a Saturday morning delivery, and with that and the new dispatcher I have, I wasn't sure of what to expect next.  My old dispatcher has never left me stranded over the weekend without something to accomplish, and I had sent my new dispatcher two messages on Friday that I would appreciate having a load to work on over the weekend.  Well, I had to sit and wait for about an hour or so, but finally I got an e-mail with a load to pick up in Ft. Dodge Iowa.  It is a sheetrock load that is going to Onalaska, Wisconsin which is only about a 500 mile run, so that gives me a chance to put in a 34 hour break this weekend which will re-set my seventy hour clock and give me some more flexibility in managing my time next week.  I managed to pick up my load and get about 180 miles from my destination before I had to shut down for my break.  I can now leave about 5:30 in the morning Monday and be right on time with my delivery and still get the benefit of resetting my seventy hour clock.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Nomadic Lifestyle

One of the greatest difficulties, and the greatest pleasures of this job, is the simple fact that you are always on the move.  It's a conflicting statement, I realize, but perhaps only another truck driver would really understand.  The pleasures and joys of always moving and seeing new places, meeting new people, encountering new challenges, cresting new hills, enjoying the ever changing and ever new sunrises and sunsets are all dulled by the painful empty loneliness that is part of this job.  To have a wife whom you cherish and adore and children who you would give your last breath for and yet you really only get to talk to them on the phone for the most part.  Oh, I'm not wanting to come across as whining or complaining, I'm grateful to God for this provision He has provided for us, and I really do enjoy what I do.  But there is a loneliness to this job that takes a toll on a person.  Even when I feel like maybe I'll go ahead and eat inside a diner and maybe sit at the counter where I might have a conversation with someone on the next bar stool, it seems I'll end up with a nut case truck driver who is angry at the world, and a toothless waitress who insists on touching my arm every time she calls me "hon" or "sweetie".  It makes you cynical, and I don't like being that way.  I want to be warm and friendly with people, but it's hard when they are so fake with you.  I think these things are why I so enjoyed having Sarah and Esther ride with me when they did, it gave me a chance to have someone with me to be real with.  Of course, I have a Friend who is closer than a brother, who promised to never leave us or forsake us.  I'm getting way off track from the title I gave this post, but sometimes my thoughts flow in awkward directions when I get at this keyboard.

Okay, so I was thinking about the Nomadic nature of this job, and I think most people who have never encountered this type of work may not realize how much the average "over the road" truck driver moves around.  "I've been every where man" is a catchy line from a cute little song, but it really is true for a truck driver.  Here's a run down of my last two weeks worth of work:  I was in Aliquippa Pennsylvania and picked up a trailer pre-loaded with two aluminum coils for aluminum can production at one of our terminals there.  I delivered it the next day to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York.  From there I dead-headed (that's trucker speak for driving with an empty trailer) over to the lush green forests of Greenfield New Hampshire and got my trailer loaded with lumber.  While I was there I helped another driver from my company who was an older man who was having some trouble getting his tarps on his load.  He felt compelled to tell me his life's story of how he was a Navy Seal during the Viet Nam war and after that he worked for the CIA as a special agent.  Huh?  It seems that according to him the Government had to make him disappear, so now he is like a person in the witness protection program with no history or background that can be confirmed so that people who are in positions of power over in certain foreign countries can not find him.  Yeah, this is what I'm talking about when I say I would just enjoy a few moments with a person who seems like they might be for real every now and then.

I delivered my lumber load down in Glenwood, Arkansas where my parents lived for many years.  From there I went over to De Queen, Arkansas to "recover" one of the trailers that belongs to the company I work for.  Apparently another driver had an accident there and the trailer was at a repair shop and was ready to go.  So I had to get it loaded on top of my trailer and then take it to a customers yard in Calvert City, Kentucky where it will be loaded with a load of steel.  Take a look at this photo.  Can you see the trailer in the background that is being hoisted into the air by a couple of wreckers?  That's how we loaded it.  They lifted it up and I backed under it so they could set it down on my trailer.

Well, when I got to Calvert City I picked up a load of steel, and after spending the night in "Possum Trot" Kentucky, I rolled on over to Hammond Indiana to deliver it.  Then I picked up my next load in Porter Indiana which consisted of two steel coils headed to Portland, Tennessee.  After that I headed over to the Unarco Plant in Springfield, Tennessee and picked up a pre-loaded trailer of warehouse shelving, or racks, for stacking palletized goods on.  These I took to a brand new P & G distribution center in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  This is an interesting place for me as I have made several trips to this particular place already during the various construction phases.  I have delivered sections of concrete tilt wall, steel girders for the roof, metal roof decking, and now shelving for the inside of this monstrous building.  Here's a few views of my trip inside the warehouse and a shot of the shelving on my truck.

After that I went over to the JLG manufacturing facility right there in Shippensburg and picked up a big piece of equipment (a man lift for doing aerial work) and delivered it to Sunbelt Equipment Rental in Clarksville, Indiana.  Then I roared my way over to Shoals Indiana to grab a load of Sheetrock that went up to Madison Wisconsin.  From there I made my way down into a rock quarry in Eden Wisconsin to get a load of stones that were bound for Des Moines, Iowa.  Oh this was fun, I kind of felt like Fred Flintstone coming up out of that rock quarry loaded down with enough rocks to put my weight at just under 80,000 pounds.  I left there early in the morning with the sun struggling to shine it's light through the heavy cloud cover from the previous evenings thunder storms.

Then I headed over to Pella, Indiana to get these huge pulleys or rollers for a conveyor system that is in a copper mine over in Morenci, Arizona.  This is the load that I am currently under tonight.  I am spending the night in Deming, New Mexico, about 120 miles from my destination.  In the morning I will leave here about 4:30 a.m. and go over to the mine where they will unload these rollers and then load me with a load of copper that I will take to Norwich, Connecticut!  "I've been every where man!"

Well, there you have it, now maybe you understand a little better about just how much I move around across this great land to deliver the goods to the people who need them.  And just in case your thinking this all sounds like fun and games, just take a look at this pair of leather gloves that I just purchased three weeks ago.  Yeah, there is work involved in all this.