Monday, August 25, 2014

Some Days It's Hard To Believe I'm Getting Paid To Do This

Well it seems that after I delivered those light poles I have been bouncing back and forth from Southern California to Arizona for the whole week.  It is a wonderfully beautiful desert area that is intriguingly harsh and yet has it's own appealing features.  I kind of figured that I would get dispatched to one of the copper mines in the area while here, and finally I did go to one in Hayden Arizona.  This is one that I have not visited before, but I would like to return someday as it was a stunningly beautiful journey.  The driving was as challenging as the scenery was breathtaking.  I passed through a portion of Arizona that is an Apache reservation territory that includes a beautiful canyon called the Salt River Canyon.  Here is my truck loaded down with about 48,000 pounds of copper anodes sitting high atop the ridge of this canyon.

Signs like this are not exactly a welcome sight when you are trying to keep 80,000 pounds of rolling steel under control and still be able to half way enjoy the view.

I've covered this nation pretty well so far in my travels and I've go to tell you that this was one of the most scenic routes I've been on yet while driving this big truck.  I also learned something about truck drivers that I didn't know yet.  Apparently truck drivers have two sets of ears, and the state of Arizona expects us to use our "lower ears" when trying to descend these mountains.

Maybe our "lower ears" don't pop as easily while going down these steep mountain roads.  That sign just tickled me, it reminded me of my story about the sign that had something about the "Untied States of America" on it.

Well the old saying says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I'm so tired tonight I'm not sure I can produce a lot of words, so I am just going to let you take a look at what I was trying to look at while descending into this beautiful canyon while earning my daily bread this week.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Little Sacrifices That Help You Succeed At This Stuff

One of the keys to success in this field is being able to make sure things happen in your favor - it becomes a part of my regular trip planning, and then again sometimes it just happens on the fly depending on the situation I might find myself in.  Anytime you can get yourself off loaded a day ahead of schedule and or first thing in the morning it will generally work out in your favor so that you are the one the planners have the first choice of giving their "good stuff" to for that day. I was a little surprised that none of the other flat-bed drivers thought of this, but I slept right there outside the gate of the construction site and woke up to an early morning sand storm over there in that California Desert area. Can you see the sand flying around in the air in this picture?

My plan worked out well because the crane truck was a little delayed in getting there. As the other trucks scheduled for a Monday delivery started showing up, they had nowhere to park but behind yours truly in an ever lengthening line. Take a look at all the trucks lined up behind me at the gate - you can't really tell from the photo, but when I left I counted the trucks lined up on the road. There were nineteen trucks waiting in line as I left out of there with my next load assignment. I've got a one thousand mile load and I'm certain I was loaded and on the interstate before the final truck in this line got unloaded. Three or four trucks back in line is another driver from my company who had stopped for a restroom break on Saturday at the truck stop where I was taking my 34. We had visited at the stop and he told me he was needing to take a 34 hour break but he was going to go ahead and get to the location so he could get unloaded first. I asked him what day his delivery was scheduled for and he replied Monday, so I just said well mine isn't scheduled until Tuesday. That's how I left it, but he was all astonishment when he came up there and realized I was ahead of him, still got my 34 in, plus got the best load available when I left there.

I love doing this stuff, and I really enjoy sharing my experiences with you all. Hopefully if some future truck driver rookies stumble across this little blog they will catch on to some of the ideas and strategies of how you not only survive in this career, but excel in it. Now let me explain one thing further about this scenario. I know it is more comfortable to stay at the truck stop, and that is what many of these drivers did - I know because as I passed the truck stop about twenty minutes from this location I saw a lot of these flat-bed trucks with the same poles that I had, just sitting there in the parking lot. The other advantage that I now had over them was that they have started their fourteen hour clock - not me - I'm sitting there watching the sand storm, sipping at my hot tea and just patiently waiting for that crane truck to show up without a care in this world.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On A Roll

I one time either heard or read a little saying that said, "if you're on a roll, you just might be going down hill".  It has stuck with me, and I thought of it today as it seemed like I was going pretty much down hill all day today.  When I got over to Flagstaff, Arizona I turned south onto I-17 which takes you down to Phoenix.  The elevation of Flagstaff is 6,903 feet.  When I finished my day's driving and got myself parked at the construction site where I hope to be the first in line to get unloaded tomorrow I looked up after I had parked my rig and here's is what I saw.

Now maybe you can understand why it feels like I've been "on a roll" today.  I-17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix is one of my all time favorite stretches of interstate in the country.  You start out way up high in some really beautiful forest land and you have an eighteen mile descent of 4-6% grades that settles you down into the Yavapai Valley.  It really is a beautiful drive full of panoramic scenery of all sorts of flora and fauna, and every type of Mesa, Buttes, Tablelands, Gorges, Mountains, Draws, Washes, and Cliffs.  Louis Lamour's skillful and voluminous descriptive word pictures of this type of territory don't even come close to doing it justice.  I would have loved to provide you with progressive pictures of my descent, but it was only safe and prudent for me to stop at one resting point and take several shots from that vantage point, but hopefully you get the idea.  I'm hoping when I get to take Abigail with me for her eighteenth birthday present we will get to travel through here together.

When you enter Southern California on I-8 you come right through the Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area.  This is pure desert country - not a drop of water anywhere, and it was 110 degrees here today.  I had driven eight hours at that point and was forced to take the D.O.T. required thirty minute break here, so I took a picture of each side of the interstate from where I was parked in a roadside rest area.

The sand here is simply amazing, like a huge beach only without any water.  It goes on and on for miles just piled up in ever changing mounds controlled by the whimsical desires of the ever present wind.  While I was driving I saw two or three "dust devils" that were maybe 60 - 80 feet tall prancing across the plains as if they were being choreographed by some unseen hand.  They looked like little juvenile tornadoes testing out their skills so that one day they could release all their fury on some unsuspecting trailer park.

I had a good day today, very pleasant in many ways.  It felt good to be moving again after taking that 34 hour break.  I guess I am a real truck driver, something starts to bother me if I'm not moving down the highway.  I love what I do, I love ending my day with a brief and always pleasant conversation with the finest woman I've ever known, I love the way she keeps the home fires burning, I love the way she loves me.

Bait and Switch!

Well, just about the time I got started moving this load toward Connecticut I got a message saying they wanted me to go to Albuquerque, New Mexico and swap loads with another driver.  This is somewhat disappointing but all you can do is follow the instructions dispatch gives you.  They don't ever explain to us why they need to change the plan, and there could be a million different reasons, but I must admit I was looking forward to that nice lengthy run.  I don't mind not having to go to the North East, and I really do enjoy being out West, so I was glad to see that the load the other driver had was bound for Imperial California.  Immediately upon getting the loads swapped I realize that this is Friday and the load I just got is scheduled to deliver on Tuesday morning, which means I've got a load with only about seven hundred miles and four days till the delivery.  That's not good.  So, I start contriving a plan of how to make the best of this situation.

While I'm driving I'm running scenarios in my head trying to come up with the best way to handle this load.  I figure out that I could go ahead and take a 34 hour break and reset my seventy hour clock, that way I could stop running on my re-cap hours - that would be a positive.  That still leaves me with an extra day that is wasted time before I deliver, and as a truck driver who is having to spend his time away from his family I want to make the most of that time as being productive toward the purpose of supporting my family.  So I decide to give the customer a call and see if I showed up a day early would that be acceptable and could they have the equipment available to unload me?

By the way, this load is two large base sections for some very large light poles.  The kind of poles you might see at a coliseum where they hold sporting events such as Baseball or Football games.  Here's a look at what I'm moving across the Arizona desert and into Southern California.  Imperial California is near the San Diego area.

After speaking with the contact person whose phone number was on the Bill of Lading papers, I find out this is a construction site, and they would be glad to have me show up first thing Monday morning.  So my plan is formulated to drive into Holbrook, Arizona and take my 34 hour break at the Hopi Truck Stop, (everything in this area is run by Indian tribes) then that will put me within a distance that I can drive the rest of the way on Sunday (today) to get to the destination, where if possible I will sleep on the site and be ready to get unloaded first thing Monday.  The reason for sleeping at the site is so I can get unloaded first before any other trucks start arriving.  Little things like this make such a big difference in this job.  The earlier you can be ready for a re-load the more likely you are to get it quicker, and the more likely you are to get something that is good for your paycheck.  This truck driving gig is very much performance based pay, and those who succeed at it have got to understand how the game is played.

We will just have to see what kind of loads I get after this one - the trip to Connecticut was an excellent run, and it was disappointing to be switched off of it, but I've got a sense that all is not lost.  My new dispatcher has been doing a great job so far, so I've got to trust him that this will turn out well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mountains and Valleys and Goats!

Well, if you recall, I speculated that I might get a load of copper out of the copper mine at Tyrone New Mexico.  I was wrong on that, but I did get dispatched to the copper mine over at Morenci, Arizona.  So I got up at 3 a.m. and headed out at about 4.  I had three hours of driving time just so I could get there by six o'clock.  If that doesn't sound right to you it's because I crossed the time line and there's an hour lost in the transaction somewhere.  Yes, that's one more little piece of math work that a truck driver has to understand when planning out his trips.

So, this is a great job to get - 2,700 miles on this one.

I've been to this mine before so I kind of know what to expect.  There's a quaint little town called "Clifton" down in the Gila valley just before you make the ascent up the mountains to Morenci.  It goes back to the "Gold Rush" days when folks packed up and headed west to seek their fortune.  This whole area reminds me of my all time favorite movie starring Humphrey Bogart - "The Treasure of the Sierra Madres".  I like it because it illustrates human nature, that is also why I will endure watching those lengthy Jane Austin movies with my girls - Jane Austin was a great illustrator of human nature in her works.

The little community of Clifton is sort of a ramshackle looking place to this day - it still has the look of an "Old West" town.  I kind of expect to see Miss Kitty or Matt Dillon coming out of the store fronts every time I come through this place.  It's still an active community, but it has an aura of days gone by about it as it sits nestled down in that peaceful valley below this giant copper mine up above on the mountain tops.

Here's a few views of the town, I might could have gotten some better photos, but I really didn't have the time to stop at different places and take pictures like a tourist - I am working as I come through here.

Here's an entrance to an old hand dug mine in the side of one of the hills that I came across.

From there I wound my way up to the top of the mountains where the expansive copper mine is and here is the view looking down on to the community of Clifton while I am waiting in a line of trucks to get my "High Value, High Security" load.

Here we are waiting in line to get loaded - believe it or not we hauled several million dollars worth of copper out of this place today.

Just to give you an idea about the altitude and the wildness of this area as I was leaving with my loaded truck I was getting weighed on the scale by the security people and look what was right there in front of my truck as I was getting weighed - two mountain goats gingerly grazing around in the few scrubby plants available to them.

Okay, just one last thing for you from me today.  It's a test - can you spot the mountain goat in this picture?  Here's a hint he's looking right at you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rambling Fever

Merle Haggard sang a song called "Rambling Fever", not sure why it comes to mind tonight as I'm thinking of a title for this brief little post, but it does, so there you have it.

It's six p.m. in Phoenix, Arizona and I have unloaded my styrofoam panels and gotten my next load which is 46,000 pounds of sheetrock mud that I'll be delivering to the Home Depot store in Las Cruces New Mexico at 8:00 in the morning.  I drove through the night last night just so I could make it here on time, and now I will have to do the same thing tonight.  I'm going to bed now so that I can get up at 1:30 and start moving this load toward it's destination.

I'm thinking that I may get a load of copper out of the mine in New Mexico for my next load,  Wow, if that is the case, I will have been dispatched over 5,000 miles this week.  I can't legally do that many miles in a week, so some of it will go over into next weeks work.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Eventful Trip

I'm spending the night in Moriarty New Mexico tonight and I'm going to bed early because I will have to start my day around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning to make my 10:00 a.m. delivery appointment in Phoenix Arizona tomorrow.  This 2,000 mile load allowed four days on it but I couldn't pick it up until the end of the first day which meant I had no hours left to work with after getting loaded, and then on the fourth day of the run they have me scheduled to unload at ten in the morning.  That makes this thing very tight.  I'm doing quite a bit of night driving just so that I can make it work out right.

It's a light weight load, only 4,500 pounds - it's a truck load of Styrofoam insulation panels - take a look.

The route took me right through Tulsa Oklahoma, so I called my good friend Jim Rogers and we had lunch together.  It was good to see him again - he seems to really enjoy having me "pop" in unexpectedly like I do.  He calls me about every three or four days and asks me where I am just to see if I might be anywhere near by.  He says it's like playing "Where's Waldo?"

I left out of Tulsa this morning at about three in the morning.  The full moon was beautiful as it shed it's borrowed light on the open road before me.  I saw a lot of deer out grazing beside the highway under that light also.  Once the sun came up I saw two wild turkey hens with about eighteen or twenty little baby chicks scurrying around with them in the grass along the side of the road in the Texas  Pan Handle on I-40.

I had a bit of a surprise yesterday when I got a phone call from my friend Daniel Babayev inquiring where I was at.  This is strictly an internet acquaintance of mine from a web-site that helps people understand how to get a truck driving career started off on the right foot. is where he and I are both moderators in a forum where folks ask questions about anything and everything related to the trucking industry, but mostly it is new people seeking information on how to get started in a new career.  One of the features on that web-site is a tracking page that helps you keep up with where other truck drivers are at.  Daniel had told me earlier in the year that one of his goals this year was to catch me on the road and meet me.  He is only 22 years old, and we have enjoyed teasing each other at times on-line.  He teases me about how old I am, and I him about just being a kid.  Well, it turns out that we were going to be passing each other on the highway as I was headed to Tulsa.  So we planned it out and stopped and had breakfast together at a truck stop.  We had to be quick because he was hauling his first "high value" load, and wasn't even supposed to be stopping anywhere.  His driver manager actually called and interrupted us telling him that he needed to get moving.  So we cut it short and went on our way, but it was fun to get to meet him.  He is an interesting young man.  His parents came here from Russia and settled in the Sacramento California area, but he was born in the U.S.  He also is a Christian.  He gave me a handful of nice teas to try on the road.  Apparently those Russians are big tea drinkers.  Here we are together at the truck stop.

One more event happened that I missed.  I found out today that another member of the forum was spending the night at the same truck stop I was at in Tulsa at the same time.  So, this was quite an eventful trip, I'm only sorry that I missed getting to meet "Mongo" at the truck stop.  I talked to him on the phone today and discovered that we had both been sleeping there at the same time.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hauling a Building... A Big Building to it's Final Resting Place

The other day I got dispatched a job to go to "such and such" a site in Waltham Massachusetts to pick up my load.   In this flat-bed work if it says "site" on the address that usually means it is a construction site, and I would most likely be picking up a piece of equipment that is no longer needed on the site.  But on this particular occasion when I got to the site it was a demolition site where they were tearing down a five story commercial building so that some new monstrosity could be built in it's place.  There were seven or eight other of our trucks there and after talking with the job superintendent I discovered that we had been hauling pieces of this building out of this site for several weeks now.  It seems that there were some environmental concerns that the old construction materials in this building may have asbestos in them so the whole thing had to be hauled off to a toxic waste site in Ohio.  Here's a shot of what the building looked like when I arrived.

When it was my turn to get in line to be loaded some laborers on the site came over and rolled out some heavy plastic sheeting on the bed of my trailer and others proceeded to load some large ten foot wide concrete sections on my truck - that makes it an oversize load.

Then after it was all loaded they wrapped the plastic completely around the load and sealed all the joints with glue - this was a tedious task, but they had some sort of environmental consultant team there overseeing their every move so it all had to be done just right.

After that was all taken care of then I had to secure and tarp the whole thing after which I was handed my "oversize" permits and my manifest papers.  Then someone from the environmental consultant group came over and put three stickers on my tarp's sides and back declaring what possible dangers might be lurking underneath those protective layers - I'm not sure what that was all about unless maybe some of the people on the highways might decide they shouldn't be cruising along beside me, or at least they might want to hold there breath until they got past me or something.

Every day is a new adventure doing this and you just never know what may be involved in your next load.  Because this was a permitted "oversize" load I could not drive at night, which made the load take longer than a normal load, but there is extra pay for that situation so it all comes out in the wash.   I actually meant to get a shot of the dump site and show you the final resting place of this building after it's demise, but I completely forgot to do that because I was all excited about my next load that I would be picking up in Talmadge, Ohio.  It has a little more than 2,000 miles on it and delivers to Phoenix, Arizona.  Woo-Hoo!  Here I go!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sweet Home Alabama... and a Few other Places

Okay, so while I was delivering my fiberglass insulated panels in Montgomery, Alabama, I met a very nice black man who helped unload me and we enjoyed some pleasant conversation together.  As I was leaving I told him that it sure was nice being down in the South.  He wanted to know what I meant, and I told him that the people here are so much more pleasant than the folks in the North East.  I know that is a generalization, but for the most part it is true - although I have met some really nice people in Upstate New York, they are completely different from the people in the city of New York.  Anyway he grinned and said yeah he knew what I was talking about.  He queried me as to where I was headed next and I said New Jersey - we both laughed, because that place is famous for rude people.

I went right up to Birmingham and picked up this crazy looking load of vinyl fencing products.  This load is hanging a few inches over the front and the rear of my 53' long trailer and it is about eight foot six tall from the bed of the trailer.

I had to use 16 straps to secure this conglomeration of mixed sized bundles just to make it safe to roll down the highway.  There is no easy way to climb up on top of this load with a 135 pound tarp so I got the fork lift operator to lift both me and the tarp up onto the load.  I only had to put one tarp on the front half of this load - that is called a smoke tarp - it supposedly protects the load from getting stained by the smoke from your diesel exhaust.

After delivering that to Millville, New Jersey I picked up a load of steel tubing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that I delivered to another driver in Lorain, Ohio.  Then from there I rolled right through some very beautiful, predominately Amish, country so that I could get to Coshocton, Ohio to load two suicide coils that I'm taking to the Penn Terminal port in Eddystone, Pennsylvania.  The corn fields that I passed had corn in them that was "as high as an elephant's eye, it looks like it's reaching right up to the sky".  Today is Sunday, and I started my day at 2:00 am driving from Coshocton to Eddystone.  There are a lot of Amish people on that route.  I guess they don't work on Sunday, but they sure do like to take a buggy ride on the Sabbath.  I saw more traffic backed up due to various buggy riders along my way than I ever recall seeing over in this area before.  It is so ironic to see the traffic backed up and waiting for the buggy to find a place to pull over and let them by because the whole world seems to have moved on and left the Amish in some kind of a time warp, but on days like today the Amish seemed to be holding back the rest of the world from their progress.

Here is my current load of coils.  They are actually bound for New Zealand - they will be loaded on a ship at the port where I'm delivering them.  They are tarped for protection from the elements, but this is the first black and white tarp I have ever even seen in our fleet, it came to me from the driver that I delivered the steel tubing to.  While running down the highway with this load the wind was filling it and deflating it so that it swelled out and sucked in sort of like a bellows.  With those black and white stripes and the bellows effect of the wind it looked like I had an enormous angry caterpillar on my trailer as I watched it in the mirror.

Speaking of suicide coils, here's a photo that will help you understand why these coils that are loaded with their eyes to the side are called by that auspicious name.

That is a coil being extricated from some poor drivers cab.  When he hit his brakes hard he got a wake up call.  Now what went wrong here is not that he stopped too hard, it was that he didn't do his job correctly in securing his load.  That name "suicide" ought to make you think twice when securing one of these loads.

As I was coming through Somerset Pennsylvania (one of the highest elevations in that state) I decided to stop and check my load, take a little walk, and find me a place to get some breakfast.  I happened upon a neat looking little diner called "Summit Diner".  It was so picturesque with it's retro design complete with a 60's muscle car parked out front, I had to give it a try.  Turns out it was opened in 1960 and was owned by the same folks for forty five years until 2005 when it was sold to the local family that owns it now.

I had a delicious and hearty breakfast for only 4.99, and the girl who waited on me was decked out in a poodle skirt!  I wanted to get a picture to show you, but decided I didn't need to be asking young waitresses if I could take their picture!  But, I did sneak a picture of the beautifully tempting pies on display in the pie safe.  I didn't do it, but some folks were ordering pie after they finished their breakfast.  It's funny how some things will give you a random memory, but those pies reminded me of how Alton Herring used to just belly laugh when he would tell that old Jerry Clower story about the guy ordering "Apple Pie and Coffee"

Well, that's just about how my week has gone.  I've driven 3,000 miles this week, and had a grand time doing it.  I'm just a truck driver, but you'd be hard pressed to find a man who is more content and satisfied with his life.  I miss my wife and family, but I know that "The Lord is near to all who call upon truth.  He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them."