Saturday, January 31, 2015

Frustration - It Comes With The Territory

My work day started at 3:30 am today, and ended at 4:30 pm. I drove 648 miles today, only stopping to check my load occasionally, to have a brief 30 minute luncheon, and to take just enough time to pump 175 gallons of diesel into my tanks. I rolled out of Delhi, Louisiana this morning and I'm sleeping in Greenville, Tennessee tonight. Tomorrow I will be starting early also. By starting the day early a truck driver has a lot easier time of it at the end of his day when trying to find a place to park his truck. When you finish your day at nine or ten at night in some parts of the country you can just forget about parking at a truck stop. That is why late at night you will see trucks dangerously parked on the exit ramps with weary drivers inside them trying to get some much needed sleep. Fortunately, I have yet to park in such a dangerous fashion.

I've been thinking I should clarify a statement I made in here a couple of days ago since it was a bit vague. I said, “I'm pleased with this new job, it takes a lot of the stress and difficulties of the truck driving career out of the picture”. What I'm referring to is the unnecessary waiting that so many over the road truck drivers frustratingly go through as they visit shippers and receivers all across the country. I had places that I used to frequent that I knew even before I arrived that I was going to be waiting at least six hours to get loaded once I arrived there. The way the “Hours of Service” rules are written, this really limits your pay because it counts against the time that you are allowed to drive for that particular day. This job I'm doing now is considered a dedicated driving position for one particular customer – SAPA. Part of the benefit of it is that they always have my load ready and waiting on a trailer when I get there. So I can avoid those costly frustrating wait times. I still have to take the time to secure and tarp my load, but I don't have to sit there with my clock running while I'm waiting for them to get me loaded. That is a BIG deal when it comes to your income potential. Also, I'm usually dealing with the same customers, so after a while you get pretty familiar with where they are and know the most convenient ways to get in and out without the frustration of constantly trying to find out how to get to your destination. I still have the occasional “back haul” loads like the bricks that I just delivered, but being dedicated to this one major shipping location in Delhi makes a huge difference in how much you can get accomplished each week. Truck drivers get paid by the mile, and therefore it is a performance based job.

The dedicated account I work with now helps me be much more productive – that is what I wanted to clarify. This job does not alleviate the feelings of loneliness and disappointment that are second nature to this career. I was very disappointed this past week when my mother in law passed away while I was stuck in the blizzard in Connecticut – there was simply nothing I could do. Tomorrow I will be working all day on Sunday while my family will be attending worship with our dear friends, and on top of that it will be my birthday. Those things are difficult to take, and you just hate being separated so much from the people you love dearly. I'm not complaining, just pointing out some of the very troubling aspects of this job that I otherwise thoroughly enjoy.

Here's a view of what this load of extrusions looks like as I move it down the road with my lime green tarps protecting it from the elements. I took this photo after fueling up today in Meridian, Mississippi.

Friday, January 30, 2015

North And South

I made it to Monroe, Louisiana in record time. I arrived at 2:30 – one and a half hours early! While they were unloading me I found out my next load goes right back to the really great customer we have in Farmington, Connecticut. So, I just now managed to get myself extricated from the blizzard up there earlier this week, and now I'm headed right back up there. I also have one stop in Lawrence Massachusetts. Here's a look at the guy unloading me in Monroe, with the fancy building in the background where these paving bricks will be used.

I've got my next load all secured, tarped, and ready to go now - I'm exhausted. I'm getting in the bed now to rest up for an early start tomorrow. I'll be back in here in a day or two.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Heading South With A Load Of Bricks

Have you ever heard someone use the phrase “It hit me like a ton of bricks”? Well, I've got more than a ton of bricks on my truck today, in fact I have 23 tons of bricks on this thing! I hope I don't hit anyone.

I finally got my little igloo rolling out of the clutches of that winter storm I got caught up in while in Farmington, Connecticut. Yesterday after they opened up the interstates for travel I headed down to Hanover, Pennsylvania for my back haul load that goes to Monroe, Louisiana. I couldn't make it there by four o'clock which is when they quit loading trucks for the day, so they told me to show up at six this morning. I got there about five thirty, and I was loaded and ready to roll this load of bricks down the road by about six thirty. The sun was just starting to rise as I rolled out the gate.

I have to deliver these bricks in Monroe by four o'clock Tomorrow. That's a 1200 mile run, and it's not easy to do with the encumbrances of the Hours of Service rules plus the fact that my truck is governed at 63 miles per hour. I had a great day today, did a little more than 600 miles and stopped for the night in McDonald, Tennessee at the Pilot truck stop.

An over the road truck driver's days are usually long if he's doing it like he should be, and I guess I'm doing a good job, at least my dispatcher always seems happy about what I'm getting accomplished. I'm pleased with this new job, it takes a lot of the stress and difficulties of the truck driving career out of the picture, and the pay is very good. They expect a lot of you, but I knew that would be the case. I'm happy to do my job and not disappoint them. The truth is that I love doing this stuff. So many truck drivers do nothing but complain about their jobs, and I know it can be frustrating, but for me it is very rewarding to make a plan each day - execute the plan, and then either enjoy your success, or learn from your mistakes.

I've got to get up early in the morning to keep this momentum up on this load. So, I'm getting in my sleeper, but tomorrow night I hope to jump back in here and let you know how everything came together on this load.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Caught In A Blizzard!

I'm parked at the TA truck stop just outside of Farmington, Connecticut. The snow is about knee deep in the parking lot, and there are trucks jammed in here just as tight as they can get. This is one of those rare truck stops that charges a fee for parking. I don't normally frequent the ones that charge you to park, but in this case it was just about my only option – truck parking in the North Eastern part of the country comes at a premium. I could have stayed in the parking lot at Stanley Access Technologies where I made my delivery yesterday morning, but not being sure just how long this storm is going to last I chose to be a little more comfortable by having access to restrooms, a restaurant, and another form of shelter than just my walk-in closet sized domicile that I cross the country in. The interstates are closed and there is a travel ban in place for now.

This happens every once in a while – last year I remember getting hung up in Indiana for about three or four days due to highway closures from a winter storm. I also remember that the Denny's restaurant in the truck stop finally ran out of food because no deliveries could be made due to the storm. There were some waitresses in there putting up with a bunch of whining griping truck driving idiots. The waitresses had not even been able to go home from the restaurant because of the roads. They were sleeping back in the kitchen as best they could, and then coming back out to face these pathetic truck drivers who did nothing but complain about them not having any food. I felt sorry for the waitresses, but the truck drivers should have had better sense than to get caught unprepared for such an event.

So, how do yo prepare for such an event? That's easy! You should always have several days worth of food with you on your truck. I keep a decent amount of food in my truck because I enjoy preparing my own meals for not only the economy of it, but also because I can eat healthier meals that way. So here's how I prepared for this little crisis: I knew I was headed into a storm of “historical proportions” as the news forecasters were fond of saying. (I seriously think they say that stuff just to sound important or authoritative – I mean, it is just a blizzard – we have them every year) So, as I was traveling up into Connecticut I was thinking about how I wanted to handle this. First thing I wanted to do was fix me a nice pot of black bean soup – nothing like hot soup on a cold wintry day! So I stopped along my way at a rest area and put the ingredients together in my faithful little crock-pot. Then I turned it on and let it simmer it's magic away as I cruised along my journey. Hot soup – that will be wonderful tonight. Here it is cooking away as I roll on down the road. It gets a little crowded living in a truck and you've got to have that crock pot right down there on the floor where you can reach it because you don't want that thing tipping over if you were to have to slam on the brakes for some reason – yes, if you're thinking I learned that lesson the hard way then you are correct.

Next I like to have a little something to snack on – some chips and hot sauce will do the trick! I'm supposedly on a diet, but I'm gonna slack off a little for this storm.

Okay, so now we might need a little form of entertainment, after all we just don't know how long we're gonna be in this predicament. We'd better make sure we've got a good book to read – I think I just might enjoy one of my old favorites by G.A. Henty. Yes, he will be a slight more interesting than listening to the truck drivers tell their lies at the lunch counter in the truck stop.

And if this storm puts me out of business for too many days I just might have to dig out one of my all time favorite “old school” movies – nothing like a little bit of Humphrey Bogart in his epic film about human nature to tie me over.

I'm just about to start eating my supper – there's no fanfare here – soup tastes just as good in a Dixie paper bowl as it does in Staffordshire clay! Man, this soup is good. Only thing that would make it taste any better is if my sweet wife were here to share it with. Food just always tastes a little better when you can share it with someone you love.

This storm caught me right in the middle of being on a roll. I ran a record amount of miles this week – 3,767! It is very difficult to find the necessary legal hours to do that kind of mileage. Somehow it all came together this last week for me. I think my previous record was something like 3,425. My clock was at it's very limit as I parked here at the TA. So, this forced break will give me a chance to not only take a little breather, but it will also reset my seventy hour clock so I can keep moving the goods down the highway while not so fettered by the clock.

When I parked at the truck stop here's what the view outside my windshield looked like:

Two hours later it looked like this:

Another two hours later, as I pulled back my curtain to take another photo so I could share with you the progression of this storm, here is what I saw:

I'm realizing that while turning that record amount of miles this week, I was mostly driving at night. There are several advantages to night driving. Some of which are complicated to try and explain because it has to do with the re-cap hours that roll back onto your legal driving hours at midnight, so I'm not going to bore you with all that technical stuff – I'm sure I've bored you enough with all this other stuff. There are, of course, problems associated with night driving also. Things like the glare of oncoming headlights, driving fatigue, and here's one that I bet you wouldn't think of. If you drive all night, and then go to sleep at around 9:00 am, when you wake up at about four in the afternoon (which is what I do fairly often) what do you eat for breakfast? I keep some cold cereal and milk in my truck, and that is often my breakfast of choice. Occasionally I will get a nice breakfast in a restaurant, but that usually needs to be in the morning time. The other day while in Ft. Payne Alabama I woke up and decided to see if I could find me a decent steak to eat – that's right steak for breakfast! I was kind of rewarding myself for having accomplished such a gang buster week. Of course after being celebratory, I am now sitting idle in a blizzard! Oh well, the Santa Fe Cattle Company in Ft. Payne did not disappoint – this small rib eye with a baked sweet potato and green beans was delicious!

I fear I'm starting to sound like my wife's dear old late “Grandma Kitchen” who always spoke of the food that was shared when ever we would be talking about a past family gathering.

Well, that's enough of me going on about truck driving, blizzards, and good food for one day. I'll let you know when I can get back on the road.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hauling Logs

Okay, it is now Thursday afternoon and I am sitting at the Gulfport, Mississippi terminal waiting (I wish I could say patiently, but I am anxious for them to get me out of here – I have a very nice load that runs up to Farmington, Connecticut waiting on me at the plant in Delhi) for my truck to be serviced. Knight Transportation is very particular about taking care of their equipment – I am glad of this. They want you in a terminal at least every 7,500 miles, for greasing and changing of some filters.  If you are getting the job done like you should be, you are going to be stopping in at a terminal around every third week. It is not unusual for me to run around three thousand miles each week, but when I have to stop in at a terminal I never know how long it will take. They are usually very efficient, but it seems that today they are extra busy. Oh well, it gives me a chance to catch you up on my goings on. I slept at my receiver Tuesday night and around five o'clock the next morning I started hearing some noises outside my truck so I peeked out my curtains to see the welcome sight of a gentleman pulling out of the warehouse door with a forklift to unload me!

That is one of the many benefits of sleeping at the receiver, occasionally you will get lucky and get unloaded quicker than you expected. Since I was in the Atlanta, Georgia area it was a welcome sight because the traffic around there is terrible at just about anytime of day, but at this time of the morning it gave me a chance to get out of there, avoid the morning rush, and move on down the road to my final stop in Northport, Alabama. Here we are getting unloaded under the cover of darkness.

Once I got that done I got a pre-planned load to pick up a load of logs down in the Port of Mobile, Alabama. I bet you never thought I'd be hauling logs. Being from East Texas we see a lot of log trucks on the road, and to be honest, they are a little scary looking. Okay, I've got to come clean here, I'm not talking about these kind of logs:

No, the logs that I've got on my truck are aluminum logs – that's what they call them... logs. I've got 46,000 pounds of them on here. I'm taking these 7” round by 20' long "logs" to the plant in Delhi. This is what goes in one end of the factory and comes out the other end as the extruded shapes that I haul all across the country. They heat these logs up until they are glowing cherry red and pliable, then they are forced through a “die” and come out the other end as a usable shape in various industrial uses.

I've been entertaining myself with these unusually named towns in this area, names like Chickasabogue, Pascagoula, Chubby, and a few others that I can't remember right now. I've seen interesting names of places all across the country. I stayed in Possum Trot Kentucky one night, and I've driven through Hell's Gate (why would you name your town that – who would want to move to that town?) I even passed by a town called Toad Suck! Oh yes, and who could forget the town of "Boring" New Mexico?  I'm not sure why I got distracted on this thing about the town names like this, but I guess I'm just getting bored sitting here on hold when I'd like to be moving down the road.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


It's Tuesday night, and for the third night in a row I am sleeping in the parking lot of the place that I should be delivering to the next morning. This is a strategy that I have found to be very helpful in enabling me to get more done in my day. Remember, truck driving is performance based pay. The top performers have their own little secrets as to how they accomplish more than the next guy, but as far as I'm concerned, arriving into the area you want to deliver to during the night before your appointment has many benefits. Of course it also has downsides; like no restroom facilities, maybe no place to eat, and sometimes little or no security.

I started out on this trip with almost 35,000 pounds of aluminum extrusions on my truck. I have now delivered to five of the seven stops on this load and I'm traveling fairly light now. I have just about 11,000 pounds left to be delivered to my last two stops. First thing in the morning I will get unloaded here in Powder Springs, Georgia, then I will steer this gentle giant across the state line and make my way to Northport, Alabama for my final stop. Here's a look at how this load is looking now. You can also see in this photo how the “Connestoga” trailer's sides roll open like an accordion so that a fork lift can reach over from the side to get my freight unloaded.

I've been covering the Carolina's on this trip, and if you remember I have mentioned in this blog before how I like this area. It reminds me of East Texas, the people are mostly good hard working honest stock, and they are friendly and considerate for the most part. There are also a lot of pine trees, and there is just something about the whole area that just feels right to me. I traveled through so many of the towns that folks in a generation past heard mentioned by Barney Fife, and Andy Griffith on their popular T.V. Show - towns like Charlotte, Raleigh, or Durham.

These people definitely have their own way of talking – they have what I like to call the “Billy Graham” accent, and as you get over close to the coastal parts there is a distinctive “Island dialect”. But I'll tell you one thing they are really keen on around these parts and that is the “biscuit”. These folks love their biscuits! I mean, there is even a chain of restaurants called “Biscuitville” over in these parts. Many of the restaurants sell breakfast biscuits all day. And in most towns of any decent population you will find the popular restaurant in these parts call “Bojangles” (Famous Chicken and Biscuits)

In all our states we have trades like electricians or plumbers where you must be licensed to ply those trades. There are usually differing levels of the license that you can obtain, going right on up to the master's license. Over here in the Carolinas they have competitions to see who can be honored with the title of “Master Biscuit Baker” - that's right, they have Biscuit Baking Contests, and it is a BIG deal to win one of those things. I'm quite sure that biscuits had a very lowly beginning, probably some poor hardworking farmer's wife came up with the idea as an economical way to keep her children's bellies full. But over in this part of the country they have raised the biscuit to an art level. They are serious about their biscuits!

I had a very good day today, making the four stops that I had planned, and arriving here to sleep at this receivers lot for the night. It's always good when your plans come together out here on the road. It's also good when you finish up the last leg of your day's driving witnessing God's goodnight kiss on the day, as it were, with a beautiful and vibrant sunset.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Working With A Plan

It's Monday night and I'm settling in for the evening and getting comfortable while parked in the truck parking area at Eastern Metal Supply in Charlotte, NC. When I left out of Delhi with this load late on Saturday night my dispatcher was a little bit upset because the folks at SAPA had taken so long to get my load ready. It had a critical delivery time for the first stop at 7 am this morning. Since they didn't have it ready until 7:30 Saturday night it makes it difficult to have the legal driving hours, while taking the required breaks in between, to make it on time. Of course the way this works is that the dispatcher gets blamed for not getting it done, when nine times out of ten, it is the driver's fault. The dispatcher wants to try and get the right drivers on the right loads, so that they can handle the delivery times depending on their available hours. If a driver is careless about wasting his time when he should be giving it all he's got to get there, then the slightest problem that might arise can mess everything up. When you live a life on the road, you just have to plan on Murphy's laws coming into play – there are just too many things that might possibly go wrong.

I finally figured the best way for me to handle this first stop was to just give it all I could on Saturday night, then after getting my ten hour break out of the way, go at it just as hard as I could again.  That would put me arriving at Chatsworth Products at around 1:30 Monday morning and I could park back behind the building near the receiving docks to get a little sleep in while I wait for them to start receiving at seven in the morning. Now, here's the trick in this plan: I'm kind of cheating a little (let's just say that I may not be following the letter of the law). Let me explain my plan... when they get their product off my truck, I'm going to roll just down the street to a road side rest area that I know is there. If I move my truck less than two miles it will not start the electronic logs showing me as being on duty. So I can move down the street, go back to sleep and start back to driving at around 11:30 am, and I will have gotten in my required ten hour break that way. Technically, I'm not supposed to be doing any work during that time, but it would really mess up the rest of my schedule if I had to start that ten hour break after they got their product off the truck. This way I start my break when I arrived, instead of when I leave here. That will put me about five or six hours ahead of the game. These are the little kinds of details that one has to know how to handle in order to be successful at this career.

I'm not sure what was happening with all the other drivers this morning, but when I sent in my message showing that I had gotten that critical first stop unloaded, and was going to be heading over to Charlotte around 11:30 to get set up for the next delivery, I received this message in reply from my dispatcher: “It's nice to hear some GOOD news this morning. Thanks Dale. It's nice to be able to count on you. I truly appreciate it.” That is what I'm talking about when I try to teach other drivers about how important it is to establish a relationship of trust between themselves and their dispatcher. It will make their lives so much easier if their dispatcher knows he can count on them, but still most truck drivers think they have to bully their dispatcher into giving them the kind of runs they think they deserve. I have been very fortunate in the three dispatchers I've worked with so far. I didn't care much for the second one I had at Western Express, but he knew he could trust me to take care of my business and that made it so that we could work together successfully.

I ate a simple meal tonight without even leaving the confines of my truck – the last few pieces of some homemade bread and butter pickles that were given to me as a Christmas gift, along with some crackers and an ice cold can of V-8. Simple fare for a simple man – Life is good!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fond Memories, Doing What It Takes, and a "Prodigious Bargain"

It's Sunday afternoon about 4:00. I'm sitting in Madison, Georgia where I just woke up from sleeping after driving all through the night last night. I arrived here about 8 or 9 in the morning – I was so tired I really didn't even check to see what time it was. I'm at the Pilot truck stop where Sarah and I stayed last year on Easter Morning. I mention that because it may help her remember it – we walked together down a few blocks from here last year and attended a local church for their Easter morning service. We also took a nice walk through a field of bright yellow wild flowers.

Do you remember that Sarah?

I'm on my way to deliver this load of extruded aluminum products to seven different locations. My first stop will be at seven in the morning at New Bern North Carolina. Then I will proceed to Charlotte, NC - West Columbia, SC – Duncan, SC – Anderson, SC – Powder Springs, GA – and finally, Northport, AL.

I had originally been assigned a load going down to Miami, Florida, but as it turned out the driver who was supposed to deliver this load didn't have the legal working hours available to him so they swapped it over to me, and here I am back on the night shift trying to work a miracle and get this all accomplished. The successful truck driver always does what he can to keep that relationship of trust between himself and his dispatcher.  The way you get the good runs, and therefore the good money in this job is to always exceed that dispatcher's expectations, and believe me, they sometimes expect a lot!  Performance is everything in this business, and it is a challenge to always keep yourself at the top of the food chain.

I really appreciate my dispatcher, he is a hard worker, and recognizes that same trait in me – we work together real well, and he is all the time throwing extra pay onto my paychecks just because he appreciates the fact that I often go the extra mile to make things work out properly. I do what it takes, and he makes sure I am compensated for it – I have never asked him for a single extra dime, but almost every week, I will see a line item on may paycheck for what they call x-pay.

I stumbled across a bargain this week. I had been on the look out for a small electric skillet to use in my truck for cooking. I often use a crock pot, but that is for the kind of meals that will be cooking all day while I am driving down the road. I love to cook, and it definitely helps me save money out on the road, while it also helps me to eat healthier meals. A small electric skillet could be used for a quick meal of some sauteed vegetables, or even the quick cooking of a piece of meat like a pork chop, or a small steak. It could also be used to cook some eggs in the morning – it just seemed like a useful appliance, but I was having trouble locating one with a small enough amperage rating. I'm limited on my electricity output by the inverter that I'm using in the truck.

I was in a Fred's Discount store recently getting a few groceries when I spotted a small skillet that had all the right requirements. I purchased it for the mere price of $12.95! I dare say that Henry Tilney, the man whose passion was his Pinery in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, would have declared it a “prodigious bargain” had he known as much about electric skillets as he knew about muslins. Here it is – it's very small with only a six inch cooking surface, but I think it will suffice for my needs. I haven't used it yet, but next time I get to do some more grocery shopping I will definitely look for something I can try to prepare in it.

Well, time is slipping away, I must start getting myself down the highway and through the night so I can be at New Bern by seven in the morning. I'll probably sleep on the receiver's property.  Next time you're at the store getting your favorite brand of toilet paper off the shelf, take a moment and realize that some lowly truck driver may have risked life and limb passing through some frozen mountain pass so you could easily reach over from the comfort of the grocery store aisle and put that little item in your basket.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting 'Er Done

Keeping your word, or doing what you say you will do is important to me. I like to think I've learned some of life's hard lessons by not doing that very thing. I never intentionally have not kept my word, but when I was self-employed all those years and was trying to meet the demands of so many customers at once, I would some times promise something to someone and then not be able to accomplish it when I said I would. Then it could quickly begin to escalate or “snowball” from that point on. When I left the SAPA plant for Corpus Christi, TX the other evening the man in the shipping department asked me point blank “Dale, can you get this load to our customer on time?” I said “Yes sir, I am well rested, and have a clean slate on my available hours – I can do this.” He smiled, but then he pressed it further and queried me as to what was I going to do if I got sleepy on the trip. I told him not to worry, I was prepared both mentally and physically to make this run. He then told me that his supervisor had told him to start looking each truck driver that makes this particular run in the eye and make sure they know how important it is that they don't mess around and cause them to lose this customer. I've already garnered a lot of respect here.  They know they can trust me, but I still felt a bit of pressure on me to make this happen.

I actually arrived at the customer at 5:45 – one hour and 15 minutes early, and still had about twenty minutes left on my available driving hours. In this environment arriving early is considered being on time. As demanding as this customer is about us being there at seven in the morning, they are also equally relaxed about not bothering to get you unloaded very expeditiously. I remember the last time I made this run I didn't get emptied out until around 11:00 – this time they did a little better, my truck was empty by 10:00 am. Here is the kicker though: at that point, if you do the math, I started my clock at 6:00 p.m. - so now I'm past that 14 hour window in which I can drive. I can't even legally leave their facility to go to a truck stop for my rest, and they do not allow you to park here.

A truck driver has to be aware of his surroundings all the time, and one of the things I'm constantly doing is looking for places I can park when I'm pulling into a receiver when I'm out of legal working hours. I had already spotted at least three possible locations that I could try to park at right here on the same block. One of them was a little privately owned Mexican restaurant named Daniella's with a fairly large parking lot. I rolled over there and spoke with Daniella herself who very kindly allowed me to park in her lot while I slept. I also discovered a great place to eat – their homemade corn tortillas were exceptional, and the carne guisado that I rolled up inside them was as tender and tasty as it could possibly be.

This load was on a regular flat-bed trailer so it had to be tarped. I've had almost exclusively “Connestoga” trailers lately and I had almost forgotten how challenging these tarps can be. Here's my load as I'm removing the tarps.

Then I've got to lay them out on the concrete so that I can get them folded up properly. This step is important so that they unfold just the way you need them to be next time. You don't want to have to wrestle with these things unnecessarily, they weigh in at around 135 pounds.

Once they are rolled up properly I put them on the trailer and strap them down. If you are wondering why I have them separated like that, it is so I can reach them while standing on the ground from each side of the trailer. One of the strictly enforced rules at the SAPA plant is that the drivers are not allowed on top of their trailers.

I am now back in Delhi Louisiana on my ten hour break awaiting my next marching orders – or I guess I should say “rolling orders” - Let's roll! I arrived back here at around 4 this morning and have been sleeping very well since then. This flipping of your sleep patterns back and forth is a challenge.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Everything went really well for me getting through the night and down to Corpus, but I just now woke up and have got to get right back on the road to Delhi.  I'll arrive there around 3 in the morning and as soon as I get some rest and wake up from that I will update you on my trip.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All Night Long

I got my next load assignment. I'll be pulling a load of aluminum extrusions to a customer down in Corpus Christi, TX. This is a regular customer who demands that their product arrive at seven o'clock in the morning the day immediately following the day they order it. We have this as a regular run once every week. I've only had to do it once before, but it is a bear to get it done. For one thing you have to drive all night because by the time they get the product all ready to go and loaded on a trailer it is usually 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and then you've got at least a two hour minimum just to get it secured and tarped. Then you have got to make sure you have got the legal driving hours available because you can't waste a minute on this run or you will stump your toe and be running illegal. It is a 10.5 hour drive to get there, and you can only legally drive for 11 hours in a 14 hour period, plus you've got to allow 15 minutes for a pre-trip inspection, and the laws require you to take a 30 minute break at some point in any eight hour stretch. So, I'll be pulling an "all nighter" tonight.

I'll be back in here tomorrow to let you know how it went. I'm going to take me a little nap right now before I move just down the road to the SAPA plant and get started on getting this load ready to go. I'm well rested and ready to go after my 34 hour break, but I'm going to try and get a little nap just to make sure I can pull this off.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Blissfully Boring Day

Today is Tuesday, I think... yes, I just glanced at the calendar, and it is Tuesday indeed.  You know I honestly do lose track of the days out here on the road at times.  My schedule gets so crazy at times switching things around from driving all night to driving all day just so you can legally and safely meet the customers needs.  Plus there's no such thing as a routine or schedule - a truck driver works seven days a week putting in long hours and having to keep a log of every hour of his life.  Are you aware that a truck driver has to be able to show proof of how he has spent every hour of his life for the previous seven days when he is pulled over by an officer of the law?  Yes!  That is one of the many onerous government regulations that today's modern truck driver works under.

I'm getting side-tracked as I write this, but I'm reminded of a funny little story that happened to me at a weigh station one time.  I believe I was in New Mexico, but the location isn't important.  One of the law enforcement officers chose my truck as a random selection to go through an inspection, so he motioned me over to the side and informed me that he would be doing a "level 2" inspection on my vehicle and that he wanted me to get my bills of lading and my permit book along with my license, medical card, and proof of registration and insurance together so that he could look it all over.  Then after that he wanted to see my past seven days of log book records, and then he did a thorough inspection of my truck to make sure all my lights, tires, brakes, air horn, windshield wipers, and safety triangles were all in good working order.  I passed the inspection, by the way, but I was a little nervous about it because just the previous day I had gone over on my legal driving time by about fifteen minutes, and it was all recorded on my log records.  It was not a blatant thumbing of my nose at the law, but it was just one of those days where I needed to get in so many miles so that I could reach my destination by the deadline on the next day, and if I were to have any unexpected delays, like this crazy random inspection, then I just might not make it on time.  So, I set my goal to get to a certain truck stop knowing the timing of it could be tough, but when I got there I had gone over by about fifteen minutes.

Our log book records are recorded electronically on a satellite communication device in the truck called a "Qualcomm".  When I handed the officer my unit it appeared that he didn't quite know how to operate this particular model, and he commented that it was older than the ones he was accustomed to.  I could see the screen as he began punching around on the keyboard, and it became very obvious that not only did he not know what he was doing, but he also didn't want to have to admit it to me.  I kept prudently silent as he unsuccessfully pecked away at the keys in a vain effort at locating my log records.  He finally ended up over on a page that shows my performance measurements in things like fuel mileage and maximum RPMs recorded on any given day.  It was at that point that I was thinking "well, I guess I'm going to have to show this guy where I went over on my legal driving hours", when he abruptly announced "looks like everything is in order to me."   So, there's my totally off the subject sidetrack story.

Back to this boring day I'm having.  I started at five this morning and made it into the plant at Delhi at seven.  I dropped my trailer and rolled on over to a nearby truck stop and set my logs to off duty at 7:15 this morning.  I have been on that log status all day now, and it is 9:00 at night as I'm writing this.  I let my dispatcher know that I was available for a load, but that I had also for the most part used up my legal seventy hours in an eight day period.  Once you've reached that benchmark you are not allowed to drive.  So technically I only had about five hours of legal driving hours left for today, and I would have roughly around four hours tomorrow which would come back to me on another crazy government rule called my "re-cap" hours.  The way to get around all this hogwash is to take what is called a "reset", which is a 34 hour break which will recreate a clean record of my logs giving me a fresh set of seventy hours that I can work on during the next eight days.  So, together, my dispatcher and I made the decision to take the reset which allows me to be off duty for 34 hours straight.  Fortunately this new Republican majority in Congress has already removed one of the particularly onerous rules we have been under which was the fact that when we are doing a 34 hour reset it also had to include two time periods between 1 am and 5 am.

So here I sit, confined to my little cubicle by this cold weather, waiting patiently so that I can get back to work tomorrow afternoon.  But for me, boring is blissful!  I'm not dealing with those ridiculous wind chill factors blowing in to town off of the shores of Lake Michigan that I just left up in Chicago, and I'm not having to figure out how to get my huge truck into some impossible contortion so that I can maneuver it through the little narrow streets of a city that was built long before we ever had trucks like this.  Yes, today I kind of like boring,, but by the end of tomorrow I will be ready to face some more of those challenging situations that make this job one new adventure everyday you are at it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Those Pesky Little Details

I'm settling into my bed while parked in the small town of Olla, Louisiana. It's Monday evening and I made it down to Houston, TX today and got unloaded in the Downtown area just off of Commerce street at National Oil Well Varco. I'm on my way back to Delhi, Louisiana to start pulling some loads out of the SAPA plant again. I didn't have enough legal driving time left to make it all the way to Delhi so I'm taking my ten hour break here tonight. I'll get going again tomorrow and get this trailer back to the plant so they can load it with some more stuff. Not sure where I will be going next, but I had a pretty good week this week. Tomorrow morning is the cut-off day for turning in our paperwork for the jobs we've accomplished, but I was just too tired tonight to work on it – I'll feel refreshed in the morning and I will get that little task completed.

I had to wait till the end of the day today to turn in my paperwork because there was some confusion on one of my trips in the computer system that calculates our payroll. I discovered it, and realized I had gotten shorted on about three hundred miles, but my dispatcher couldn't seem to figure out why it was like that. Then today it all came clear to me what had happened. When I explained it to the dispatcher he agreed, and thinks I'm the smartest truck driver that ever rolled down the interstate. He sent me a message earlier to wait until they got it all sorted out before I sent my trip-sheets in. He had to get some of the upper management types involved to get it all sorted out, but just before he left for the day he sent me another message stating they got it straightened out and I could go ahead and turn everything in.

It was a load that came to us via a freight broker, but it had the wrong zip code in it for my final destination. Some times the smallest details can make the biggest difference in how something actually turns out.  The computer program bases it's calculations on your miles by the zip codes of the locations where you pick-up and or deliver to.  I delivered this load to Houston, TX, but the zip code used was in Dallas, TX.  I came from Chicago, so once I passed through Dallas those miles on down to Houston were not included in the calculation for my pay.  The thing that clued me in to all this was that the computer program also uses those same zip codes to calculate where you should stop and get fuel.  I needed to get fuel for my trip back to Delhi, and I was already surprised that the system had let me go this far without suggesting a fuel stop for me.  It will usually not let my truck get down to less than 3/8 of a tank, but I was down to 1/8.  When I received my dispatch notice which should have been sending me from Houston to Delhi it suggested my fuel stop at a truck stop in Dallas.  There was no reason in the world for me to go North up to Dallas.  That's when I realized, this computer thinks I'm sitting in Dallas when I'm all the way down in Houston.

Computers do some really amazing stuff for us, especially in this business.  But they can only work with the data they are given.  God gave us the abilities to think and reason - two very powerful attributes that we have not been able to replicate with all of the amazing technologies we have developed.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Headed South

It's Sunday morning and I'm in Cuba Missouri. Yesterday I made it into the downtown Chicago area (West Side), and somehow managed to get my rig through the challenging maze of tight turns, low bridges that will open up the top of an eighteen wheeler like a sardine can, and unemployed people hanging about on the street corners. I don't care what numbers the government puts out about our nation's unemployment numbers – I don't believe them – they are disingenuous at best. Any truck driver who makes his way in and out of these big inner city areas can see it right before his own eyes – there are a lot of people out here drinking beer and hanging out on the streets on the government dole – it's sad, forgive my digression into politics.

Okay, so everything went really well this morning despite the cold weather. I started out at about ten o'clock and left Aurora working my way into the inner parts of Chicago. I got to the Overton Gear Company which is an old company that is located in an area where there is mostly residences now, and everything is so tight in this part of town that they don't even have a place where you can park your truck to get loaded. So they told me to pull over to the side of the road and they would load me right out there in the street! Here's what it looked like as we blocked the street with my truck while the forklift was loading 2 gears and 2 shafts weighing in at a total of 15,000 pounds on my truck.

After that I proceeded to Addison, and they loaded 2 more gears and 2 more shafts exactly like the ones I already had. While on the way to Addison my dispatcher called and said they had canceled my third pick-up which didn't bother me at all considering the bitter cold weather we were working in. So once I got loaded at Addison I started working my way out of the Chicago area and turned south. Thankfully this load is bound for Houston, Texas. I made it down here to Cuba Missouri and slept very well last night. I took a walk when I arrived here at 11:00 o'clock last night in the nice balmy 36 degree weather.

Oh I know I shared the photo of the start of my day when I was driving the last leg up to the Caterpillar plant, but I forgot to show you the view from the cab of my truck as I was getting unloaded at the plant.

Yep, there you have it. A nice way to end your day. You can see why the grumpy old fork-lift operator wasn't too excited about it. It's all in a days work, we have pleasure and pain, comforts and miseries, joys and sorrows. I hope to deliver these large gears that are bound for some oil field well site down in the Houston area early Monday morning. If all goes well I should be on schedule and ready for another load Monday. The SAPA plant is still struggling a little to get up to speed, so it is quite possible I will just be doing another load like this one. I don't really mind – I enjoy this regular flat-bed work, but I'm sure I will be back to my regular dedicated account in a short amount of time.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


That name of a popular movie right now is all I could think of for a title to this post. I find it intriguing that C.S. Lewis associated evil with bitter cold weather in his “Chronicles of Narnia”. I seriously thought I wasn't going to be able to get my load unstrapped and ready to be off-loaded when I got to the Caterpillar plant in Aurora, IL. It is so cold up here. It was about 6 or 7 degrees with a stiff wind blowing the whole time I was trying to get things ready. I have some very good winter time clothing and gloves, but still my toes and fingers began to ache and my poor mustache would have broken in half if I had tried to smile or change my facial expression.

I had a 3:00 appointment to get to the plant, and the further North I traveled the weather just got worse. I started getting into some snow and ice on the highway and then I started noticing cars stuck on the sides of the highway where they had slid off. Then I saw the one thing I was dreading – flashing lights ahead. I simply didn't have time for a traffic delay and still be able to make it on time. It was critical that I get this stuff off so that I could get another load. If I can't make it then I'm stuck until Monday morning. The flashing lights were emergency vehicles and we got choked down to one lane because of several big trucks that were jack-knifed on the interstate. Once I got on up to the Lincoln Highway the traffic slowed even more just because it was Friday afternoon and lots of ice on the roadway. Consequently I got to Caterpillar at 3:45. It took them a little while to figure out what to do because the shift changes at 3:30 and there was now no one there in the particular department that was to receive these blocks. At first they told me I would have to wait until Monday, but thankfully after talking with a helpful supervisor, they got a forklift operator from another department to come unload me. He wasn't too cheerful about it, but I still expressed my sincere gratitude to him.

The weather plays an integral part in the problems faced daily by an over the road truck driver. Frankly, it can be quite unnerving at times – trying to manage a vehicle that is so large and so heavy through all kinds of road conditions will test your limits. Ice is particularly challenging. It was 8 degrees here when I arrived. When I bedded down last night it was zero, and I awoke this morning to 8 below zero. With the famous winds that come off of Lake Michigan up here, that makes it very difficult to be outside the truck securing my loads. Which brings me to the news about my next load. It starts in downtown Chicago, and then has two additional pick-ups in Lombard, and Addison – suburbs of Chicago. I'm not real excited about having three pick-up locations in this weather, which of course means three different times I will have to be outside making sure this stuff can ride all the way down to Houston, Texas without falling off the truck.

Oh well, enough about my difficulties. Let me tell you about one of the pleasures of this job. I start early on most days, it just makes sense to get things done so that you can move on to something else. It is purely my choice, and somewhat of a business decision. A truck driver makes his own decisions and those decisions have a big impact on his earning potential. It is a performance based job, which suits my personality well. A side benefit to getting started early is that you get to see the dawning of each new day. Some are more spectacular than others, but that fresh first peek of daylight rising above the horizon is always a welcome sight to me. It is like the promising and powerful statement of our King when he declared “I make all things new”. Here's what I was greeted with this morning as I was leaving Missouri.

I love seeing the morning take shape - it is almost like a new birth, or a promise that the darkness will not prevail.  Light is always special, but nothing compares to when we first see it overcoming the darkness.

I don't have to get to my first pick-up today until noon, so I'm taking the time to make this post and just sort of taking it easy here in the confines of my little rolling house.  It is cramped quarters to be sure, but it is toasty warm in here right now, so I'm not even going to crack a door open.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Calamity Jane Rides Again!

It always amazes me just how much I move around with this crazy job. Last night I slept in southern Mississippi near the Gulf of Mexico, yet tomorrow night I will be in Chicago, Illinois near the shores of Lake Michigan. It's like a whirlwind, a couple more nights and I'll probably be right back down in the swamps of Louisiana.

I had to laugh at myself today, here I am giving it all I can, within the limits of the government's “Hours of Service” regulations for truck drivers, trying to get to “the Windy City”. I felt like Doris Day in “Calamity Jane” racing up to “Chicaggy” to fetch Adelaide Adams! It's silly I know, but sometimes your mind just entertains itself with silly notions like that when you spend so much time alone on the open road. I realized also that I tend to talk to myself when I'm out here all alone on the highway. I noticed it after being home for a couple of weeks during the Christmas break. You just get lonely, and sometimes the sound of your own voice helps ease the separation from your own family.

It is unnatural to be separated for such lengthy periods of time. I mean, if you didn't have a good marriage it might be alright, but every time I go home it only confirms for me that I have the finest woman God ever blessed a man with. She makes me a better man. Somehow, in a mystery, He teaches us of the depths of His grace through the trials we go through together. She not only makes me a better man, she gives me a great desire to be a better man. That can only be accomplished through the power of Christ at work within me. He has conquered so much of me, and yet the more of me that is put to death the more I realize there are greater battles to be won. One thing I know for sure is that He is the Victor.

I was reading in Joshua today and came upon the place where Joshua encountered a heavenly helper and inquired whether he was “for us or against us” - he replied simply that he was neither, he was here as commander of the Lord's army. I'm so glad that the government of His kingdom rests on His shoulders. I have proven to be a poor manager of many things, even when I was convinced I could be good. I love that He has come to be Victor over all, and I am glad that everything in me that I despise is a part of that great “all” that He will conquer.

Well, I'm rambling on and on and hopping around with so many different thoughts that I'm probably sounding incoherent. I promised to tell you about this load, and it is 45,000 pounds of wooden blocks. That's right, 40 pallets of approximately 8” x 8” wooden blocks. The gentleman who loaded me this morning said that they are used at the Caterpillar plant as spacers when building some type of flooring in one of the large pieces of equipment they manufacture there.

I'm going to bed now, going to get up early in the morning and see if I can get this load delivered tomorrow so I can move on to something else that is hopefully headed south! It's too cold up here. I'm in Steele Missouri tonight on I-55 at the Deerefield Travel Center.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Rolling Down The Highway Again

I'm back on the job today after a nice lengthy stay at my comfortable little house. It is January the 7th, and I've been home since Dec. 23rd. I so enjoyed this nice break with my dear family, and getting to see many of my close friends at church was a nice reward also. It really is unheard of for an over the road truck driver to have this kind of a break at home. When I arrived at the SAPA plant today I asked my dispatcher if this sort of thing takes place every year at Christmas, and he said yes. Apparently they close the plant for a week for maintenance and re-tooling of the equipment. So once they get the plant back up and running there is still a lag in time until they are pumping out their product at the rate we are accustomed to. Consequently it is really slow this time of year for the drivers like me who are dedicated to keeping this account's freight moving across the country.

Even though they asked me to come back today it turned out that they didn't have a load for me to get after all, so they found me a regular flat-bed load that I can haul that picks up in Richton, MS and delivers to Aurora, IL. I've been to Aurora many times, it is a suburb of Chicago. The weather ought to be really tough up there this time of year. I'm parked tonight at a truck stop about thirty miles outside of Richton, and I will be starting my day tomorrow around 4:30 in the morning. I'm picking up at a place called American Wood, and delivering it to a Caterpillar plant in Aurora. I don't know yet what I'm getting, but I'm assuming it is some lumber or wood of some sort. It could be the lumber that the Caterpillar plant uses to make crates with – I don't know, but I'll let you know what I've got with my next post.

I'm pulling a “Connestoga” trailer that had some tears in the fabric. My dispatcher asked me if I could repair it and I said yes, so I took some PVC glue that I had on my truck and some old scrap pieces of tarp that I keep on board for this very purpose and made an extra 45 dollars today in about an hours worth of work. He said he would put it on my pay listed as a local delivery. Not bad for doing my dispatcher a favor!

It's about 8:00 p.m. And I'm getting ready to go to bed – I want to be well rested for my early start tomorrow. I will drive as much as I legally can tomorrow, then shut down for ten hours and start early again on Friday so that I can get up to Chicago and get unloaded on Friday with hopefully enough time left to catch a load for the weekend. The last thing I want to do is sit up in Chicago for the weekend. I'll let you know how those best laid plans of mice and men turn out.