Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Home For The Holidays

It is December 30th and I arrived home on the 23rd of the month - I have been home for an entire week!  This is unheard of, but I am really enjoying it!  I was planning on starting back to work yesterday, but I got an unexpected call from my dispatcher saying that it was a little slow this week and if I wanted I could stay home for a few more days!  Well, I jumped at that chance - it is very seldom an over the road truck driver gets this much time at home, but when opportunity knocks I'm throwing the door wide open.

I really do enjoy my job, and of course I'm only getting paid when the wheels are turning, but I have thoroughly enjoyed being home with my wife and children this week.  Since I am now working on a dedicated account (SAPA Aluminum) I am somewhat at the mercy of the demands of their workload. At this time of the year they are just getting back to work from their holiday break and the factory at Delhi, Louisiana is just now getting fired back up to start filling orders so there is a slight delay after the holidays before things are hot and heavy.  It is one of the many benefits of this new job that I hadn't realized would be available until now.  Next year I can plan more appropriately for it if I find the situation to be the same.  Part of it this year was the day of the week that Christmas fell on.

I've had such a nice time at home, it was so nice stepping into my house and seeing the way my wife and daughters had it all decorated up so festively.  The sights, sounds, and delicious smells of Christmas were abundant in our snug little home, but the best thing for me was just being able to relax and enjoy the comfort of being near the people I hold dear - that includes my close friends of 30 plus years at our church.  We enjoyed an intimate little dinner at the Alston's house in Nacogdoches just a few days after we had a brief Christmas Eve visit with our relatives down in Seabrook, Texas.

As you can see the house was completely decorated right down to the deer heads on the wall!  We have had a very nice time together and I really hate to see it come to a halt, but halt it must.  I will be gone for another month when I start rolling again, with a plan on being home for my birthday at the end of January/beginning of February.  I will begin this new year with a resolve to watch my caloric intake a little closer and see what I can do about losing a little weight.  I'm not excessively over weight, but as a truck driver it can creep up on you quite unawares.  I've seen too many of my peers out there on the road who can barely waddle in and out of the truck stops.  I refuse to let myself get like that.

I'll start posting again as soon as I leave home.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dyslexic Paperwork Blues

It is Sunday afternoon and I have parked my truck in the empty parking lot of an abandoned shopping center to spend the night here in Baker, Louisiana. Baker is a small community on the outskirts of Baton Rouge. I have on my truck some material called Flex-a-mat which is used for erosion control. This is what I picked up at the place where the grumpy old guy, who was going to be late for his date, berated me with his sour attitude and bitter tongue.

Yesterday and today were very pleasant days, just as weekends often are for me, since I am usually not dealing with shippers or receivers. They were days where all you have to do is drive. My plan was to get in here during the middle of the day so that I would have daylight hours to find a place to park, and so I could locate the place I will be delivering to on Monday morning. Parking for Big Trucks is really limited down in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. My little truck stop guide book showed there to be a truck stop in Baker, but I discovered it to be out of business when I arrived with signs all around warning you not to park there unless you want to get towed.

It turned out to be a good plan to get in here early like I did because the information on my paperwork was totally useless. The numbers in both the address and the phone number were transposed so that I could not find the “job site”, which is the only information I had for the location – no company name or contractor name was provided. And the phone number which was supposed to be my contact named Aaron, went to someone named Pierre who was just some individual who didn't have a clue what I was even talking about. After several hours of fruitless phone calls to various personnel who might could help, I finally managed to figure out that it was going to an Exxon refinery, so I got on the internet and discovered there were only six Exxon refineries in this area!

I will say that good fortune smiled on my efforts though, as the first refinery I went to, so that I could inquire for a little more information, was the proper location, and the guard even helped me get the proper numbers together so that I could make contact with the contractor. Driving a truck is easy, it is all the other stuff that goes along with the job that can make it a frustrating job for the naive souls who think all they've got to do is hold that steering wheel and point it in the right direction.

Here's what the Flex-a-mat looks like on the back of my trailer. You can't see it well because the material is rolled up, but the other side of it has little concrete waffle looking squares on it to give it some weight to hold it in place while it is doing it's job of controlling the soil erosion.

As you can see, I am pulling gone of those "Connestoga Wagon" trailers.  They are very nice in that they eliminate the need for dealing with those heavy tarps.  Almost all the loads that I pull for Sapa must be tarped.  This is a back haul load that didn't require tarping, but it got protected any way due to the equipment I had with me at the time I got dispatched on the load.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Meeting The Challenges

Well it's Saturday morning and I just woke up to a gentle snow here at the T/A truck stop in Florence Kentucky.  Friday went really well for me with only a slight disturbance near the end of my day which I will tell you about later in this tale of a truck driver's day.  As I was making my way from St. Louis up to Indianapolis I was formulating a plan for the next day in which I decided I would sleep in Hoosier Trim's parking lot so I could get unloaded first thing in the morning.  I've been there once before and I was thinking they had a large enough parking area where I could sneak in there and bed down for the night.  But, just to make sure I stopped at a rest area and pulled up "Google Earth" to take a look at the site from a "bird's eye" view, which thankfully reminded me that there is a gate at this plant and they close it at night.  So plan B took shape which was to find a truck stop just outside of Indianapolis and get some rest there.

I woke up on Friday to an early morning foreboding looking grey and wintry sky.  From the drivers seat of my truck I nibbled away at my bowl of Raisin Bran cereal as I watched the trucks rolling in and out of the truck stop, thinking about how to manage my time for the day ahead.  I don't know what I'm doing after I finish this load, which is information that always helps me when planning, but since my regular dispatcher is out this week, I'm having to make do with whatever tidbits of information I can get from the person who is halfheartedly standing in for him.  I don't mean to sound critical - I'm sure this gentleman has his other responsibilities to tend to also this week, it's just the way it is, and I certainly can deal with it for a week or two.  I got everything done on Friday and sent my empty call in over the qualcomm at about 1:30 from the parking lot of my final stop in Edgerton, Ohio.  Then my phone starts ringing and it is the temporary dispatcher letting me know that they have a back haul for me that picks up in Sharonville, Ohio and delivers to a job site in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  That's great except for the part where I have to be there in three hours and it is four hours away on little state highways that run through small towns with stop signs and traffic signals all along the way.

So, I have to make some phone calls while on the road to let people know I will be late, and so far it appears that they are fine with waiting for me, as I will be the fourth truck load going out from there today to this job site, and it is critical that we all get the product delivered on Monday.  I actually got there thirty minutes ahead of the ETA I had given them, but I was immediately given a royal cussing out by the grumpy old guy who had been forced to wait on me by the boss.  I literally had to bite my tongue to keep myself from going off on this guy and let him know that I didn't really care if his load got delivered or not, and as far as I was concerned he could find someone else to pull it.  It really made me angry - he was accusing me of "dragging my ass" all day and making him be late for his "date" tonight, when the truth is that I have been giving it my all since probably long before he even got out of bed this morning, and I would just about give anything in this world to have just a few minutes with the woman I love.  But I remained calm and just grinned at him, gladly knowing that the power of Christ in me has thankfully made me a new creature which doesn't react to unkindness in a like fashion.  This of course just proved to make him more angry.  I'll spare you all the details of getting loaded, but after I left there I was stuck in a traffic jam on I-75 south for hours due to a bad accident.  As soon as I could I got myself into the T/A here in Florence Kentucky, I crashed in the bed exhausted from a very long day with a trying end to it.

But here it is, a new day with a fresh start.  I have the whole weekend ahead to make my way down to the Southern most parts of this great land, and I will be two or three days closer to getting home for Christmas by the time I deliver this load down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On Time - Barely!

It's Thursday night and I am bedding down in my sleeper in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Love's Truck Stop.  When I returned to Delhi on Tuesday they had my next load ready to go about four o'clock that afternoon.  It is a load headed for Edgerton, Ohio and it has it's first stop in St. Louis at a place called French Gerleman.  They stop receiving at 3:00 and by the time I got my load secured and ready to roll at Delhi I had about five legal hours to drive, which I used as carefully as I could to get myself up to Marion, Arkansas where I stopped for my required ten hour break.  Then just as soon as I could I got myself back on the road and made it into the Shipping/Receiving clerk's door at ten minutes to three!

Sometimes it helps to make friends with these people who have the power to really mess up your day, and I knew I was pushing all the limits by rolling in here at quitting time, but what else could I do?  I had done everything in my power to get here on time, but the folks who give this stuff to me don't really understand what all we do to make things happen, or if they did I would think they would try to get these loads ready a little sooner so we aren't breaking our necks to make their company look good to it's customers.  The receiving clerk just rolled his eyes and then looked up at the clock on the wall and asked me "You do know it is quitting time don't you?"  So I tried my best to be comical with him and said "Yes sir, and I am very sorry about that, but if you only knew what I went through to get this to you on time, then you would probably agree that it is nothing short of miraculous that I am here as early as I am.  Now surely you wouldn't take a guy who just experienced a miracle to get this to you on time and tell him that you are not going to unload him would you?  He tried to hide his smile as he told me which door of the huge warehouse to back my truck into.

As soon as we got his stuff off I headed on to Indianapolis where I will deliver all but five of the pieces left on my truck to Hoosier Trim first thing in the morning.  Then I will make my way over into Edgerton, Ohio where I will empty out my trailer and then find out what I am doing next.  It snowed on me a little bit at St, Louis, but then it cleared as I started heading out to Indianapolis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Brief Respite

It is Wednesday morning and I am just taking it easy!  I spent yesterday resting and taking a few nice walks in the pleasant but cool weather here in New Albany Mississippi.  I've got dispatch directions to head back to Delhi, but I'm not going to leave until around 10 a.m.  My experience has been that they won't have a load ready for me until late in the afternoon, so there is no sense in me starting my clock only to have it run out on me before I can get something profitable accomplished for the day.  This is where some of my experiences help me be the kind of driver who know how to keep himself available for loads, and helps me manage my available working hours more efficiently.

I could have kept running on my re-cap hours, but I kind of had an ulterior motive in taking this break.  Besides the advantages of being more flexible in the game of time management this week it will also help me to make sure I have some hours left next week when it is time to head home for the Christmas Holiday.  Several times in the past I have had enough time to get my work accomplished and then I get stuck somewhere for an extra day waiting for my clock to regain some legal driving hours so that I can get home - that is very frustrating, especially if you aren't really even tired.  I remember one time I made it to Carthage, TX on my way home and I had to stop and take a ten hour break there before I could drive to my house which was only about an hour and a half away!  Such is the life of a Truck Driver.

I'm really looking forward to seeing my dear wife, and my daughters at Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Just Like Clockwork

That's how my day went today.  Everything went off as planned and I will be emptying out my trailer at my final destination first thing in the morning when the employees at CEC Metal Processing show up at work.  I am sitting in their driveway waiting to back in the door of their building.  I will sleep right here tonight and I will be the first truck to get unloaded here in the morning.

My alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, and I started rolling down the highway by 6:00.  I made it to my first stop in Nashville, TN at Thyssen Krupp about 10:00 A.M., was unloaded and on my way by 11:00.  My next stop was General Electric in Selmer, TN - they stop receiving at this location at 2:00 P.M.  I was going to be hard pressed to make it in time, but I got there at 1:52, and they were glad to see me.  Once I got that portion off-loaded I began the last leg of this trip down to New Albany, MS.  Arrived here about 4:00 P.M. (they close at 3:30) but my plan was to just get in here tonight so I could shut down in their parking lot for a first thing in the morning delivery.

Now, I have the option of taking a 34 hour reset of my clocks if I want to.  I will have to decide that in the morning when I get unloaded.  Since I was able to get here and shut down tonight, I will have one of my time periods of 1 A.M. - 5 A.M. out of the way for meeting these silly regulations.  I can just take the day off tomorrow and get started back to work on Wednesday morning at 5 A.M. and I will have a fresh set of seventy hours to work with for the next eight days.  That will give me a lot more flexibility in planning my days and making sure everything works out properly.  I ran this whole last week on my re-cap hours which meant that each day I had to look back and see how many hours I worked eight days ago, and that was how may hours I could work for that particular day.  The reset will give me more freedom to manage my time efficiently, plus I've been getting after it pretty hard, so a day off is actually sounding really good right now.

Our new Republican controlled congress just sent a ridiculously massive spending bill to our dear leader's desk, and tucked away somewhere deep in that voluminous stack of unsustainable, reckless, out of control efforts at buying off the uneducated masses votes, there is some language inserted in there that will remove the silly provision for truck drivers to have to include those two time periods of 1 A.M. - 5 A.M. in their 34 hour break.  It will also eliminate having to wait 168 hours in between each reset.  That will really be a big help to the American Truck Drivers.  Now, if they would only see the light on how restrictive the 14 hour rule is, the American Truck Driver would be able to rest when he needs it instead of when the government's elitists think he needs it.  As the rule stands now, if a truck driver feels the need to take a 2 or 3 hour nap because he's tired then it will take away from his legal driving hours.  So instead of taking a break when he needs it, he just has to keep on working and driving when he is really too tired just so he doesn't lose the income.  We are a highly regulated industry, and I understand the whys of that, but some of this stuff just takes a little common sense to figure out.  Sadly, common sense went out of vogue back in the days of Thomas Jefferson.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What A Difference One Day Can Make

Today I rolled out of the pleasant little town of Cressona, made my way out of the state of Pennsylvania, through Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia and landed myself at the Pilot truck stop in Dandridge, Tennessee.  I drove 552 miles today and that just about puts me where I need to be to get my two stops here in Tennessee accomplished tomorrow.  We will see how everything goes - there's a million ways for a glitch to develop in a truck drivers day, but having a plan and taking the steps that have proven successful in the past always help to give you a little bit of an edge over Murphy's laws.

It is amazing what a difference one day can make in your scenery when you are living like a modern day drifter.  Yesterday I was looking at knee deep snow and frozen bodies of water.  Today I was watching a mowing crew mowing grass along the highway in Virginia!  Yesterday I was driving in a dense fog and having to take mountain roads where the "truck speed limit was 25" - Today I almost exclusively ran on Interstates under clear blue skies and will soon be back in the deep south.  I don't know where I will go next, but it is quite possible that I will be running right back up into the North East.

Back in Cressona

Well, I'm sleeping in another shipper/receivers parking lot tonight.  I made my way down to Cressona Pennsylvania today despite getting a difficult start through a dense fog for several hours of my early morning drive through upstate New York.

Upstate New York is filled with beautiful rural scenes of gently rolling hills and quaint little farms that have a look of days gone by about many of them.  One prominent thing you see over in the Western portion of the state is vineyards.  I assume that the weather and soil in this area must be conducive to the successful propagation of grapes.  There are small little wineries here and there, some of them with signs advertising "free tastings".  Here's a shot of some grape vines on a small farm that I passed.  Of course this is winter time and the vines look dead and dried up, but come spring time these vines will burst forth with green growth and renewed life.  What an annual reminder and affirmation God gives us in nature of how the power of His indestructible life can burst forth in anyone, no matter how dead and dried up their spirit may seem.

It's funny how the thought of "New York" brings up thoughts of a busy city with people hustling about to get to Broadway productions and over priced restaurants with uppity atmospheres, but for the most part the vast majority of the state of New York looks much like this.

I'm here a lot, and to be honest with you, if it weren't for the difficult winters I wouldn't mind living here at all.  It is very pretty up here, and the people are always friendly.  Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm looking for somewhere else to live, it is just that my stereotypical opinions of New York have been shattered by my many visits to the state.

I made it into Cressona today with two minutes left on my clock for legal driving time today.  Hows that for trip planning and timing?  It was a beautiful drive through a mountainous area of Pennsylvania, which made the roughly 300 mile trip take much longer than it would have if I could have traveled on interstate highways.  On a good day of driving on interstates I can do about 600 miles legally, but today I did about half that and was exhausted at the end of the day.  The constant attention and vigilance required when commandeering a vehicle this large through two lane roads curving their way through steep mountain passes is exhausting at times, especially when you are dealing with snow, freezing rain, ice, and heavy fog.  It's all in a day's work for me, and this time of year I get more than my share of stressful, yet satisfying days.

I ate some crackers and lunch meat for my meal tonight, didn't really get a lunch break - just snacked on some almonds, and started my day with two Pop Tarts while driving.  This is my third day of sleeping at a customers location - I am starting to look forward to a night at a truck stop where I can get a shower and a maybe a decent meal.

I will leave here in the morning for the first leg of this trip which has it's first stop in Nashville, Tennessee.  I can't quite make it that far due to the regulatory restrictions I must abide by, so that will give me the chance to find a truck stop to sleep at for my next ten hour break.  From there I hope to deliver in Nashville on Monday morning, then make a second stop in Selmer, Tennessee, followed by the last leg of this trip down into New Albany Mississippi, where I hope to make it to my receiver on Monday night so that I can once again sleep in their parking lot for a Tuesday morning delivery.  That allows me to turn in my paperwork for this job by the cut-off time for the week's work which will give me another week of doing over three thousand miles, which means a good solid pay-check for my efforts.  This trucking career is completely performance based pay - if you can figure it all out and be willing to make the sacrifices necessary, it can really be worthwhile, but if you don't then it can really wear you down and keep you in the poor house.

This is an adventurous job, but it takes it's toll on many of the people who attempt it.  I can't tell you how many truck drivers I come across that moan and groan about how it's killing them.  I really enjoy what I do, but I realize how difficult it can be on someone who doesn't really understand what you have to do to succeed at this stuff.  I am doubly blessed with such a wonderfully patient and gentle loving wife at home who also makes the sacrifices necessary for this to be a successful career for me.  My love of this career is a drop in the bucket compared to how much I love and adore the gentle woman God so generously blessed my life with.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Best Laid Plans of Mice And Men...

Well my plan didn't exactly come together like I hoped today, but I always have a back-up plan working in my mind.  A truck driver has lots of time to think, unfortunately most of that time is taken up by thinking about his job.  My first two stops didn't get themselves in too big a hurry to unload me, and with the weather being foul and a long ways to go to get over to North Collins New York, I quickly realized I wasn't going to make it there before they stop receiving.  So I made a phone call to the plant, and the helpful gentleman on the line told me that he understood, and said if I would be there first thing in the morning, he would have someone there to unload me!  That is even better!  Now I don't have to rush myself through the snow, and I can still get unloaded and keep my wheels turning this weekend.  I wasn't even considering asking for someone to unload me on the weekend, but he offered it up and I accepted.

This is really helpful since I already have another load to get on that is waiting on me down at Cressona Pennsylvania.  So, once again I am sleeping in someones parking lot.  That way I can get unloaded in the morning without driving my truck in here which allows me to not start my clock until I start rolling on to the next destination.

It was a long day - I went from Connecticut up into Massachusetts, then over into upstate New York, and all the way across the state to the Buffalo area where I ended up in North Collins.  I passed just north of the Catskill mountains and a little south of the Adirondacks, it is a really pretty area of New York.  The people of upstate New York are usually very friendly, they remind me of East Texans, I don't know why when you get into New York City they get such an attitude, but the people out here in the rural areas are totally different.

Just in case you are wondering what I eat when I'm camping out in these places, I will assure you that I always have plenty of food on my truck.  Sometimes unexpectedly I have to operate like I am this week, or also I might get caught like I did last winter in Indiana where the interstate is closed and hundreds of trucks are parked at a truck stop for several days.  I remember on about our third day there the restaurant ran out of food because no trucks were allowed to come in.  It got interesting around there for a little bit.  People act crazy when they don't have access to food.  Tonight I had Ritz crackers with a slice of Swiss cheese, and a dollop of deviled ham with a cocktail onion nestled in the middle of it all.  Delicious - and fun to create also!

You can tell I'm tired when creating snacks for my supper amuses me.  I'm going to bed early tonight, and looking forward to another day tomorrow of delivering the worlds goods to the industrious folks who produce the things that the consumers want.  Good Night!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Working With A Plan

It's Thursday night and I am parked in the parking lot of my first stop in Hamden, Connecticut.  I am waiting for them to show up for work in the morning so I can get their stuff off of this trailer and I can move on to my next stop in Farmington, then hopefully I can make it over to North Collins New York and get my third stop completed.  That is the plan, and so far my plan for getting here on time has worked out.  Here's how it unfolded: last night I left Knoxville TN around 8:30 P.M. and drove all through the night to get to "The Bandit" truck stop in Kutztown Pennsylvania by 7:30 A.M.  That allowed me to get in a required ten hour break before I started for my last leg of this trip to get to this location that I am at now.  My arrival time here was 9:30 P.M. which will allow me to get unloaded first thing in the morning and I will have a ten hour break in by 7:30 in the morning so that I can get started moving on to my other two destinations.  Had I taken the liberty of a more comfortable stop at the nearest truck stop about forty miles from here I would have to start my clock before I even get here and then while I am getting unloaded my clock would be running and I may not have enough time to get everything done.  By doing this the way I did, my clock won't start until I start rolling toward Farmington, and I will be much more efficient with the management of my legal working hours.  That is how you do this stuff.

I hear many truck drivers complaining about how they can't make enough money doing this, and partially it is because they are just not willing to make the sacrifices that I do when I'm planning out a trip like this.  I often sleep right on the property of my shippers and receivers, and it makes a huge difference in how much you can accomplish in a weeks worth of work.

I was in a bit of a snow storm over at Kutztown, PA, but there is no snow to be seen here at Hamden. I'm a little concerned about the journey over to North Collins, they were supposed to have 16 inches of snow today, but it is hopefully going to be sunny and clear tomorrow.  If the roads are plowed between here and there it ought to be a relatively easy trip.

I don't know if you noticed how I have planned my trip with two consecutive nights of driving through the night, and then this last leg of the trip was started at about 5:30 P.M. which got me here at 9:30 P.M. thus allowing me to get in my required ten hour break before I start up tomorrow, but that also makes it all work out so that tomorrow I am working in the daytime so that I can get to each of my customers while they are open.  It takes considerable planning to comply with all the regulations and meet the customers requirements also.  Then when you throw in all the uncontrollable variables like weather, traffic, and road construction projects it seems any time that your plan works out right it is almost a miracle.

This was my first time to stay at the truck stop in Kutztown, but they had a surprisingly good restaurant there.  It reminded me of the restaurant at the "Spaceway" truck stop in Meridian Mississippi, in that a lot of the local people eat there - that is usually a good sign.  I wanted to eat lightly so I had a bowl of French Onion soup, which of course is always good on a wintry day, and a small serving of boiled cabbage.  This restaurant had an extensive menu with foods that you would find in finer restaurants like Prime Rib, and sauteed scallops.  But as I was looking over the sign on the wall showing their daily specials I was surprised by one of the items listed.  Take a look for yourself and see if one of those items on the list sounds like something "granny" on the Beverly Hillbillies would prepare.

I wouldn't mind eating a stuffed pepper, but that stuffed pig stomach reminded me of "granny" always talking about having possum innards for supper!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It's six P.M. Eastern time here in Knoxville, Tennessee where I just woke up after a good rest in my sleeper.  Yesterday I waited all day at the SAPA plant in Delhi for them to get my next load ready.  It is a load going to Connecticut, and upstate New York - specifically the Buffalo area (North Collins) where they are predicting 16 inches of snow for the next few days.  Welcome "Old Man Winter", may your visit be shortened!

I didn't get my load until about eight o'clock Tuesday night, which means if I am going to make it on time I will have to drive for two nights straight through my legal working hours.  Part of what makes it important that you get something like this done on time is the negative effect it will have on your pay.  I need to get two stops unloaded in Connecticut and a third in North Collins, New York by Friday.  If I don't make it to that stop in North Collins then I will be stuck up here in this land where it seems like C.S. Lewis's "White Witch" is running everything for the entire weekend, while I am waiting for them to come back to work on Monday morning to unload me.  But, if I can "get er done" then I can move on to my next load which keeps my wheels turning and profitable.

I don't want to come off as sounding driven (sorry for that unintended pun), but in this job when you already are having to spend so much time away from your family, it is nice to try and make the sacrifices worth the trouble.  I'm not greedy, but I do have obligations, and I need to be doing the best I can at this.

Well, I am getting out of the truck now to take a little walk around and get my blood circulating so that I can get ready for my next "all nighter" on the road.  I haven't decided what time I will leave just yet, but after getting a little exercise in I will start formulating a plan of how I will roll through the night.  Last night I drove from around eight P.M. to about eight A.M.  I crossed the time zone, which explains how I legally drove twelve hours - I really did eleven, it just looks like twelve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It's A BIG Country!

The United States really is a big place, although being a truck driver and travelling all across the continent all the time tends to make it seem a bit smaller.  It is funny how after doing this for awhile you start to get to know places all over - you recognize intersections, places to park, and points of interest, or places that have good food.  Having the knowledge or the stored data base of these things starts to make the job much more efficient because you can anticipate how to manage your trips easier and you don't have to be a slave to the map.  I find it amazing how I can drive now from Texas all the way up into New York or Connecticut without even having to consult my map, and still do it without getting off the route of the path that is the most efficient as far as turning the least amount of miles to get there.

Another thing that shows the vast size and geographic diversity of our great nation is the differences in weather that one experiences when constantly moving across the country.  I just completed my work week yesterday afternoon, By work week I mean the time period in which I will have to turn in my paperwork showing my miles that I accomplished for that time period.  In my case we need to have our miles turned in each Tuesday morning by 10 am Central Standard Time.  I started out this week by leaving my comfortable bed and lovely wife in Texas early on Monday morning.  I drove to Delhi, LA to pick up my first load which had several stops on it.  First I went to the Chicago area, then down to Louisville, KY - back northward for two stops in Indianapolis, IN - then all the way up to Wausau, WI.  Form there I was sent to Eau Claire, WI where I picked up almost fifty thousand pounds of sand that was bound for a well site in Baton Rouge, LA.  This brings me back to the point I was making about the differences in the weather.  Once I got as far North as Wisconsin I started seeing things that are so strange to this East Texan - frozen rivers and lakes!  We are still growing produce in our gardens down in Texas in early December, and these poor folks up North are almost ready to start the ice fishing season.

It is amazing all the stuff you see when you spend all your time like some travelling Hobo moving all about with no place to call home.  If I could safely take pictures while driving, this blog would be filled with all kinds of stuff that just sort of happens right before my eyes - like the intriguing site of a grey fox gingerly prancing it's way across a frozen lake, or a white-tailed deer with her triplet set of white spotted babies peacefully grazing in an open field.  It's like living three life times when you are on the go all the time.  It has it's pleasures, which are almost addictive, and it's pains which are only eased by the brief visits at home with the people you love.  Although it was very cold in Wisconsin the snow isn't anything like it was last year, but we are still early in the winter season.

Just in case you are the inquisitive type and are wondering how I hauled a load of sand on a flat-bed trailer, I am happy to show you.  A trip from Wisconsin to Louisiana with fifty thousand pounds of loose sand would leave quite a trail of sand along the way, so it was all packed away in these nice little "gift bags" to keep it all on my truck as it made it's way down south.

This job I am doing is serving a dedicated customer, SAPA Aluminum, but when we get so far away from Louisiana like this, we will try to find a "back haul" load such as this one to help pay our way back to the plant where we will pick up our next load.

So, getting back to the thoughts about how big this land is, when I turned in my paper work showing that I had accomplished the things that were sent to me to do this week, I had driven around thirty six hundred miles!  That is all in a weeks worth of work - the crazy part is I do this all the time.  That is a lot of miles, and you have to be very careful with your time management to be able to do all that legally.  To be honest with you, I actually broke the law in a couple of different ways this week, I'm not excusing it or saying it is right to do, but let me tell you how it happened and you can be the judge of what I should have done.

Just before I picked up this load of sand my dispatcher had scheduled me a fuel stop with instructions to fill up.  This truck holds 250 gallons of fuel - that comes to about 2,000 pounds of fuel.  This load of sand put me over the legal weight limits by about six hundred pounds.  What is a truck driver to do in this situation?  He has the authority to refuse the load, but that means he will sit idle while they unload him and try to find another load for him, which foolishly burns up his legal working hours.  He could demand that the company get him some overweight permits which costs the company more money on a back haul load which they may have taken on the cheap just to help pay for the cost of the trip, plus depending on which states we will be travelling through this may take a couple of days to get processed.  Had I known the weight of this load beforehand I would have instructed my dispatcher to let me wait until loaded to see how we were on the weight before fueling, but I wasn't privy to that information.  So here's what I did: I first contacted my dispatcher with the information and told him what my plan was.  I decided to roll with it because once I had driven about six hundred miles I would be legal due to the burn off rate of the fuel.  This is where math is so useful to a truck driver.  I studied my route and knew that I would be passing two weigh stations in that first six hundred miles.  I also knew that one of them was closed, or at least it was closed earlier that morning when I passed it.  Another part of this calculated risk of mine was that they will usually give you a pass if you are only a small percentage over weight, and by the time I would be at the second weigh station I would be down around less than two percent overweight.  So, I took my chances and what do you think happened at that second weigh station?  They were closed also!

Part of this whole scheme was that I instructed my dispatcher how far I needed to go to become legal, and then I told him where I would like him to dispatch my next fuel stop.  That way I could get myself down to a legal weight, and then when I needed to get fuel I could just weigh my truck at the certified CAT scale at the truck stop, and determine just how much fuel I can take on and still be legal.  I can then manage my fuel intake and burn off to keep me legal the rest of the way to Baton Rouge.  The whole point of telling all this is so that you can realize the challenges I face daily, and the creative ways one can develop to overcome them and keep the wheels turning so that I can maintain a decent level of income.  So many drivers get overly frustrated and give up on this career early on into the learning curve, but I enjoy facing the problems while safely, and creatively coming up with ways to succeed at this stuff.

Okay, I said I broke the law in a "couple" of ways.  The other thing was that as I was on the last leg of my trip, which was from Baton Rouge back to Delhi, I had only three hours and fifty three minutes left on my seventy hour clock.  It was tight but doable, until I got into a construction project where they were stopping the traffic for lengthy periods of time.  So about fifteen minutes before I got to the city limits of Delhi, my Qualcomm started going crazy with it's alarm warning me that I had gone over my seventy hour working limit.  I just calmly ignored it until I got into the plant at Delhi where I am now taking my ten hour break hoping to start all over again on a new work week.  This week I will be working off of my re-cap hours since I didn't get the benefit of a thirty four hour break.  Re-caps are a crazy regulation which states that each day you can only work the same amount of hours that you worked on the day you were working eight days before.

As soon as I can, I will share with you my next adventure, I never know where I may be going, but I can be confident that I will be going somewhere very soon.  My dispatcher is out this week for some training.  Our safety director will be dispatching us and it is never the same when that happens, but hopefully I will still have a productive week.

Oh, I almost forgot, Daniel and I got to meet up with each other in Baton Rouge!  It was kind of late, but we found a restaurant that was still open and we enjoyed a meal together.  He gave me a nice compliment on Trucking Truth when he told about meeting up with me.  He said that having people like me in his life has improved his character.  He is all the time asking me advice, and I try my best to give him good solid wisdom when I can.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Moving On

To do well at this job one must always be moving.  In fact, that is what I get paid to do.  I don't get paid by the hour, nor do I get a salary, I get paid by the miles dispatched to me.  Today I got to my second stop on this load in Louisville KY, where it took them a little longer to unload me than I had anticipated, then I moved my way back up to Indianapolis, IN for two stops there.  My Driver manager had arranged for me to have an appointment at our terminal in Indy to get my truck serviced, and I had to get that done before I could make my next two stops.  I barely made it to the terminal in time for my appointment.  Then my second stop here was going to be closed at 3:30, and I wasn't sure I could make that.  I stayed in contact with them on the phone and it ended up that I made it to their location at 3:29, but they knew I was running late and they agreed to get me unloaded.

Do you remember that photo from the previous post?  All those different bundles of aluminum extrusions on my trailer have now been off loaded with the exception of one.  I am now making the final leg of this journey to Wausau, WI carrying  only one bundle of product!

I'm spending the night at the Pilot in Gary, Indiana with the express purpose of getting up early to get through Chicago before the traffic gets started too heavy.  To be honest with you there is always traffic in Chicago, but early mornings are usually the best times to go through that place.  Once I'm unloaded in Wausau, I will roll on over to Eau Claire, WI to pick up something from a "sand and gravel company" that will go down into the Baton Rouge area of Louisiana.

My friend Daniel Babayev called today to tell me he has a load to Baton Rouge this weekend, so we may try to see each other if it all works out.  I am very tired tonight and will soon be going to bed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Time To Get Back To Work

Well, I had a wonderful time at home for Thanksgiving.  Stayed home for 5 or 6 days.  It is always hard for me to leave once I've been home a few days.  It is one of the greatest of the many difficulties that go with this job.  Just about the time I get to feeling nice and comfortable at home with my precious wife, then I have to up and leave her again.  It never gets easy.

We had such a sweet time together.  I enjoyed cooking a large pot of seafood gumbo for her and the girls.  Our daughter Sarah got engaged while I was home.  Her "beau" actually met me out on the road at one of my deliveries in Texas to ask my blessing before he proposed to her.  We are very happy for them both.  He came by the house and did the lions share of stirring the roux for me, so if that keeps up as a family tradition, he will be a fine son in law indeed!  We've grown to love Austin just as much as he loves our little girl, so we are glad to have them joined together.

I left out early Monday morning and headed to Delhi Louisiana where I picked up my load which has five different stops on it.  I managed to get the load secured and ready to go, and then made my way up into Marion Arkansas where I shut down for the night.  I drove all day the next day to get myself parked in the parking lot of my first stop in Chicago, IL.

Here is a picture of the guy unloading the fifteen bundles of aluminum that came off at this first stop.

This load is a little crazy in that I now have to backtrack down to Louisville, KY for my second stop, and then back north up into Indianapolis, IN for two more stops,  Then I will have one bundle remaining on my truck which I will drive all the way up to Wausau, Wisconsin.

Tonight I decided to stop at a truck stop rather than trying to sleep at the customers lot.  I'm at a Pilot just on the north side of Louisville.  I will get up and leave at about 5:30 in the morning hoping to be one of the first trucks to get unloaded there tomorrow morning.

This new job is really working out well.  It pays very well, and they seem to have all kinds of work to keep me busy.  My Driver manager often gives me my choice of several different loads that he has available.  That is something very few truck drivers have the privilege of doing.  Most of us are just told where we need to go and that we should have been there yesterday.  As of now I see this as a long term position with some very positive things about it that kind of help make up for the sacrifices one has to make when doing this kind of work.  Nothing can make up for the time that you miss with your family, but knowing that you are able to provide in a meaningful way for them, while absent, helps to mitigate the lost time together.