Saturday, February 21, 2015

Destination Limerick

I keep this blog up so you're knowing,
Of all the fine places I'm going,
But now I think that you'll find it a kick,
That my Big Rig is rolling to Limerick!

Yes, believe it or not, my next load which is bound for Farmington, Connecticut (where else?) has as it's first stop a location for Yarde Metals in, none other than... Limerick, Pennsylvania!

I've never been to Limerick, but with a name like that it's bound to be fun.

I woke this morning in Delhi, Louisiana. I'm back here now waiting for them to finish my next load to Connecticut. They will finish it this afternoon, and I will be off again for those snow covered regions in the North East.

Everything went really well on this “super hot” back haul load. I actually made it in time to get unloaded at my first stop when I arrived instead of having to sleep there and wait for the morning. That also gave me enough time to get on over to the final stop at Mount Juliet, TN and sleep on their property so that they unloaded me first thing in the morning. Remember me telling you about the e-mail exchange between my dispatcher and I where he made me confirm three different times that I could make it by three o'clock on Friday? Well, when I sent in my empty call that morning at around 8:30, it elicited this response from my dispatcher. “You are good! In fact you don't even seem to be human, you seem more like a robot. I will let those people know that you are done. I can't thank you enough – now I won't have to be taking calls all day from those people hounding me to death over when this load is going to be delivered – excellent work sir!”

In spite of the snow storms that were working their way through the state of Virginia, and the highly unusual ice and snow covering up the middle Tennessee area, I made excellent time on this load and am now blessed to be down here in the south enjoying some of these days with the temps hovering in the mid fifties.

I'm going to rest up today so that I can be ready to drive this load at night, and I will probably try to do my laundry today also. I am planning on coming home somewhere close to this next weekend, and I am really looking forward to that. I've been staying out for an extended period of time by my own choosing so that I can capitalize on my income opportunities at the present time. I really am enjoying my work, but I miss my family painfully. It will be so good to be home at my own dinner table, to hold in my arms the woman who means more than life to me, and to lift my voice in praise to The Most High with my Christian brothers and sisters in public worship. Can't wait!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Super Hot Load"

After waiting about twenty hours in Cressona I finally got the message I had been waiting for from the security guard, who told me my load was ready, and I could come on inside the gate to get my trailer. I mentioned the waiting scenarios we go through in the previous post, but let me elaborate just a little on it in this one. From past experiences, I know at Cressona they will, a lot of times, have issues with deadlines and appointment times. I had an appointment time, and according to my careful calculations I could make my end of the bargain and just be close to having maximized my legal working hours for the day when I arrived there. With that information in mind, I approached this appointment knowing that if they mess up on their end, which is highly likely, then my company will charge them what is known in the trucking industry as “detention pay,” and I will therefore get paid detention pay for my wasted time. Well, as soon as I arrived and dropped my trailer where instructed, I logged onto the sleeper berth with just a few moments left on my legal working hours, and I went to sleep. That way I can start getting my rest for the next time I start rolling, but also now I'm getting paid for sleeping if they can't get my load together!

The procedure at this plant is that the guard takes your phone number and calls you when your load is ready. Well, when I woke up on my own volition and realized I hadn't been contacted yet, I quickly ate some breakfast and then made a brisk walk (it's about five below zero) to the guard shack to check on things, and make sure there hadn't been some kind of mis-communication. Sure enough, as expected, my load was not ready yet, and the guard had not heard a word about it yet.

The funny thing about this load is that my dispatcher had originally told me to just go ahead and start dead heading back to Delhi. He was a little irritated because the person who is supposed to be planning back-haul loads for us just wasn't coming up with much for us, and that person wanted me to sit and wait there in New Hampshire until they could come up with something. My dispatcher expressed his attitude concerning this situation to me like this: “I told them no, Dale told us three days ago exactly what time and day he would be empty, and he did just what he said he would do. I need him back down here in Louisiana, and it is your job to get him here. We are not gonna keep waiting on you to get done the work you should have done three days ago.” I guess somehow that got the guy motivated because he quickly found this “super hot load” for us to pick up in Cressona. When they tell us it is a “hot” load that usually means it is something that the customer really needs quickly, and they are probably paying extra to get it done on time. So much for “super hot” stuff!

I wish you could have seen the e-mail exchange between my dispatcher and myself over whether or not I was going to make it on time with this load. I think he just wanted to make the load planner look bad or something because he seemed to be wanting me to say I couldn't make it by the dead line. He had me confirm three different times in a row that I could make it and get both deliveries done by 1500 on Friday (that's 3 pm) I can do this, even though he is not so sure. I'm already in Tennessee this Thursday morning. I made it to Dandridge, Tennessee last night after driving through the snow storms that were dancing their way through the state of Virginia. I saw a lot of trucks that gave up and pulled over on the side of the interstate to wait it out. That is actually more dangerous in most cases than just pushing through. So many times the cars on the highway upon seeing the tail lights of a parked truck will become disoriented and think they have gotten out of their lane. They then move over to line up with the truck and wham, they have run into the back of a parked truck – I've seen this so many times up in the North East where the truck drivers are struggling to find some where to park anyway. The truck driver leaves his lights on so passing motorists will be aware he's there, and yet it causes confusion for the motorists who are already stressed and straining to get through the storm.

I arrived here at about three thirty this morning, and after getting my ten hour break in I will proceed on over to Hendersonville, Tennessee where I will sleep on the customers property tonight after arriving there approximately at 7:30 or 8:00 tonight. Then after they unload their portion of this load on Friday morning I will make a short jaunt over to Mount Juliet to get the remainder of this load emptied out. I will have delivered early and be well on my way back to Delhi before the clock strikes on my 3:00 pm delivery time. Keeping yourself available for the next load is what keeps you at the top of the food chain in this competitive work environment. So many truck drivers don't even have a concept that they are competing for loads with the other drivers at their company, and because of that they are left trying to survive on the crumbs that fall from the table. Are you aware that the trucking industry has a 100% employee turn over rate? The lack of understanding about how to make a successful start, and how to maintain some level of success in this business are the main two reasons for that incredible statistic.

I was very fortunate to get a parking spot in Dandridge. It was the ideal destination for me for last night as far as the mileage was concerned, but I was taking a risk in that the parking is fairly limited at that truck stop. Here's how I calculated the risk: I fully knew it was risky, but being the ideal location for me to stop and still be able to get everything accomplished according to my plan I decided to go for it. I know that many truck drivers start their day out very early, something like three or four in the morning. And because of that there would likely be a few drivers who had parked there much earlier in the day with the design of leaving early for their trip plan just as I had to plan my trip to arrive there early in the morning. I must admit that I was a little nervous as I took exit 417 off of I-40 because immediately I began to see a multitude of trucks parked along the exit ramp (another dangerous practice that you won't find me doing). Now whenever taking a calculated risk on parking like this I will always have a back-up plan in place. My back-up plan was that there is a pretty large Love's truck stop another 12 -15 miles down the road. I had enough time to make it there if needed, and felt for sure there would be enough drivers there who needed to leave early to assure me a spot there if I had to go for it.

I was blessed indeed when I started perusing the parking situation here in Dandridge because there were actually two spots that had just been recently vacated. I could tell they had both just left because of their fresh tire tracks in the snow. It's all good! I've had a nice rest, and I'm up at my computer posting this message just before I get out there in the 4 degrees weather here to try and scrounge up some breakfast. I'm gonna eat out this morning – I've been so cooped up in this truck for the last five or six days of frigid weather that I'm gonna get out, move around and find me a decent little something to eat! As soon as my ten hours clicks off, I'm back on the highway, chasing that long black ribbon to my next destination.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dreaming About Dwarves, Dryads, And Mr. Tumnus

I'm waking up on this chilly Wednesday morning in Cressona, Pennsylvania at the SAPA plant. The previous night I slept in the parking lot of Whelen engineering in Charlestown, New Hampshire. That night I was waiting to get unloaded, and this one I'm waiting to be loaded. There is a lot of waiting to this job.  I don't mean that as a complaint, and I really should clarify at this point that this job in particular cuts out a lot of the wait time involved in most trucking jobs.  Being a dedicated driver for this particular account means that my loads are almost always pre-loaded and waiting on me to get there.  Unfortunately, that is only true of the loads that come out of the plant in Delhi.  When I referred to waiting in Charlestown, New Hampshire it is because I purposely got myself there after their receiving hours so that I could take my required ten hour break on their property before my next driving shift.  By doing that I do not have to start my clock running and wasting my time that I'm allowed for my next time period at the wheel.  That is a strategy that I often employ in my management of my legal working hours.  And since I had to wait a while on my dispatcher to tell me what I should be doing next, I was not burning up my potential working hours for my next on duty time period.  So, what I'm trying to say is that some of this waiting has a purpose to it.

While there is nothing particularly interesting about the lot I slept in last night, the previous night that I spent in New Hampshire had this curious Narnian like lamp post next to my truck.

I was just sure that at any moment I was going to encounter Mr. Tumnus as he made his way to his comfortable little lair in the snow covered Hew Hampshire forests.

After waking from a night filled with dreams about Narnian creatures, I got unloaded first thing in the morning. I then had to wait for a little while on my next marching orders which sent me here to Cressona to grab a load of extrusions going to a couple of different locations near Nashville, Tennessee.

I saw something I have never seen before while in Charlestown. I was sitting in my truck waiting for a message from my dispatcher when I tilted my head back to take a drink of water and through the sun roof of my truck I spotted the strangest rainbow I've ever seen. Most rainbows are in an arch shape from the earth arching upward to the sky and then back toward the earth. This one appeared to be upside down, or upon climbing out of the truck, so as to view it better, it was more like it was laying on it's side! It looked, for all the world, like a rainbow smile.

The temperature in New Hampshire had warmed up to five below zero by the time I began to turn my truck in a southerly direction. It's a beautiful area, but they can have it as far as I'm concerned. It's just way too cold up there.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Conspicuously From The South

They dropped my Buffalo delivery off of this load, so I ended up with a straight shot to Riverdale, New Jersey before making my final push into Charlestown, New Hampshire, where I am parked tonight in my customers parking lot awaiting the morning's rush of employees, coming in to work, so that I can get this final piece of freight off of my truck. Everything I had on this load, but for this one last bundle, was delivered earlier today at the Camfil facility in Riverdale, New Jersey.

I took advantage of a provision in the FMCSA regulations called the split sleeper berth rule to work a little magic with my clock today so that I could get the most accomplished. I'm not going to bore you with how this rule works because it is so confusing that I'm not sure I could explain it with enough clarity for a non-truck driver to comprehend. The truth is that most truck drivers don't ever attempt to take advantage of it because they don't understand it, and it's also true that a lot of truck drivers don't even know the rule exists. The last time I advantageously utilized this provision I got a call from my dispatcher the very next morning telling me it was brilliant. It really wasn't all that smart, but when you are dispatching a bunch of other drivers who are constantly complaining about the restrictions of the clock not allowing them to get enough done so they can make a dollar, it probably seems brilliant at the time.

Basically it allowed me to not have to take a full ten hour break after driving through the night last night which let me get to Riverdale in time to get unloaded today, and then after taking a two hour break at Riverdale it gave me enough time to run through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont while arriving at Charlestown New Hampshire in time to shut down before my legal working hours were over for the day. Had I taken a full ten hour break last night I would have been late getting to Riverdale before they stopped receiving for the day, and that would have put both their delivery, and this one in New Hampshire, off for another day. This allows me to turn in my paperwork for this job in time for it to go on this weeks pay period which adds a little more than 1,500 miles on to this week's pay, and it also allows me to get a jump ahead onto the next pay period's work load.

Here's a look at Julio Quinonis, the friendly fork lift operator, as he unloads my truck while at Riverdale.

The folks up here pronounce the name of their state as “New Hamshah”. Every time I come here, after just a brief amount of conversation with them, they will always ask me where I'm from. Then after I proudly tell them I'm from the great state of Texas they will usually say something like, “Oh that explains it.” I've always thought it was a reference to my hat that I'm usually wearing, but today I wore a toboggan much like many of them wear, but they still went through the same verbal exchange with me. One of these days I'm going to figuah out what it is that makes it so obvious that I'm not from around these pahts!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Providence, And the Blessing of Having A Job That You Really Enjoy

I drove all through the night beginning at 7:15 pm, and arrived in Delhi this morning, with five minutes to spare on my legal driving hours! Some days it just seems like everything falls in place for me. I am always grateful to God for all the help I seem to experience in this new career.

It really turned out well to go ahead and get myself on down here because with the load assignment I received today it will give me enough time off to take a 34 hour break which re-sets my seventy hour clock so that I won't have to be dealing with those re-cap hours I mentioned in that last post. That frees me up to make some really good progress on this next load which has three stops in the North East parts of the country. My first stop will be to a new customer in Buffalo, New York, followed by a frequent customer we have in Riverdale, New Jersey, and then on from there to a customer, new to me, that is in Charlestown, New Hampshire.

My load won't be ready until tomorrow, and at five o'clock tomorrow evening I will have completed my 34 hour break. I will still have to drive the night shift for two or three nights to make sure I deliver this load on time, but after a nice rest I will be completely prepared and ready for the challenge.

It is about 3:30 in the afternoon as I'm writing this, and I have just finished doing some grocery shopping to restock my supplies. I went ahead and purchased the ingredients to make another pot of black bean soup. It came out really good last time, and it just sounds nice to me for that trek back up there into the snow bound North East corner of the country. I was also out of fresh fruit, so I picked up some apples and tangerines – they make a nice refreshing snack on the road, and compared to most truck drivers who snack on chips and soda, at least I will feel like I'm making some effort at eating a healthy diet while on the road. It is so easy to fall into some unhealthy eating habits while living on the road, but with a little effort you don't have to be the typical overweight truck driver with hyper tension, and poor circulation.

My friend Paul Anderson is also in Delhi today, so we are going to enjoy a meal together tonight. He is the person who initially asked me if I would come over here and give this new job a try. I became acquainted with him through my work at, and I seriously think it was Providential that we met, and he put in a good word for me over here. So far, I am the only person they have hired that didn't really live in their hiring area. They were saying that they were going to expand it into some of the freight lanes where they deliver to, but they have yet to do that. The reason they decided to accept me was because Bright Coop's trailer manufacturing company “Viking” (in Nacogdoches) is a customer of SAPA's, but I have yet to ever even deliver anything to them, and have very seldom even been put on any of the loads going to Texas.

My dispatcher told me this morning that he's been using me as an example when showing other drivers who are complaining about not making enough money, how you succeed at this stuff. He told me he sits them down at his computer and brings up a page that shows my trips and the timely manner in which I get them done. He then said that he really enjoys working with me, and stuck out his hand to shake mine with a big grin on his face and said, “I thank God every day, that Paul Anderson told me I should hire you – it is a pleasure working with you.” I really enjoy working with this guy, and he does incredible favors for me because he appreciates the way I soldier on through what ever problems arise on each load.

He often does what he did this morning when he called me about my load, which is, instead of just telling me what he wants me to do, he will read off to me from the nine or ten loads he has available for the next few days and will simply ask me, "Which one would you like to do?"   Anyone not familiar with this industry does not realize how highly unusual that is.  Most companies operate on what is called “forced dispatch”- which simply means they will tell you what they need you to do, and you just have to accept it. Usually they are trying to accommodate drivers current locations and get them something close to where they are at. Here, since we are dedicated to running loads out of this plant in Delhi, we are almost always originating our loads from this location. Because of that, the drivers who are continually producing good results are often given their choice of the loads available because the dispatcher is confident in their ability to “get er done.” Therefore if you happen to be available for your next load first thing in the morning as I was today, you will be given the best choice of loads.

Well, I need to start getting myself ready to go meet my friend Paul for supper. I will do my best to keep you informed as to how this load is going for me at some point in the next few days.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Perfect Timing

I'm in Dandridge, Tennessee today. I slept here last night, and have decided to take a short break here today. Everything went very well for me in Connecticut, I made both my deliveries there, in the third winter storm in just as many weeks as I have been there in a row. When I was done and had sent in my message that I was empty my dispatcher called and said for me to start heading back to Delhi. I expected to be getting a back haul load out of Cressona, but he said they couldn't get one until Wednesday night at 10:30, and he thought that was unacceptable. Well, who am I to argue with him? I wouldn't have minded the wait, but he said they had three days notice to find him something for Tuesday night, and he felt they had dropped the ball. I like the way he works, he tries really hard to keep me busy, and he needs me in Louisiana to keep up the flow of the freight out of the plant that we are dedicated to serving, so I am rolling all the way back down there empty, or “dead-heading” in trucker talk. He was a little disappointed that I needed to stop at the terminal in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to get my truck serviced, but when I tried to apologize that the timing of it had snuck up on me unawares because I've been so busy, he only said he liked it because it shows that I have been getting a lot accomplished.

When I got to my second stop in Connecticut at the major customer (Stanley Access Technologies) that I go to all the time there, “Jorgo,” The Italian fork-lift operator with a strong New York “Bronx” accent, says to me, with his cigarette bobbing up and down in his lips, looking as if it would fall out any moment, “Hey buddy, we gonna have to call your boss and tell him to stop sending you up here.” I was a little surprised by this greeting since he is usually a little more cordial (if cordial can even be used for describing the interactions with these folks in the far North East). I asked, “What's the deal, is there a problem with what I'm doing?” “Oh yeah,” he says, “Every time you show up we have a major snow storm hit on the exact same day – it's like perfect timing. We're afraid if you keep showing up the whole state is going to be buried in snow – this never happens with any of the other guys – only you.”

While on the subject of timing, let me explain to you why I am taking this break here in Dandridge. Hopefully without boring you with all the confusing details of the Hours of Service rules that truck drivers have to abide by I'll just say I have already driven close to seventy hours this week, and we are not allowed to drive more than seventy hours in an eight day period. I have four hours and 51 minutes that I can drive today. At that point I have used up my seventy hours during my seventh day of working, yet I am supposed to be in Delhi, Louisiana tomorrow morning. So, how does one do that? Well, you have to be smarter than the average bear to be able to have the kind of perfect timing that Jorgo seems to think I have. At this point of the game I am running on what the regulators call re-cap hours. Which means that instead of me being allowed to drive 11 hours in a 14 hour period as I normally could, now I can only drive as many hours each day as I drove on the day that I was working eight days ago. Tomorrow my eighth day will come back to me at midnight tonight, and since I drove approximately ten hours on that day, then I will receive those hours back. So, at midnight tonight I will be given another ten hours that I can work with. Therefore, if I start my day of driving late into the day, say around 7:15 tonight, then just as I'm about to finish up my seventy hours of driving at midnight, I will magically receive back another ten hours of legal driving hours. So, I can drive all through the night and get to Delhi on time while still obeying these crazy rules. Now, if you think that would make a truck driver more tired and unsafe than just getting up this morning and driving during my regular waking hours, well you are much brighter than the intelligent elitists inside the Beltway over in D.C. - but, of course, we already knew that.

I have a friend who says you could have gotten a room full of drunk monkeys to come up with a set of guidelines that made more sense than the ones we are working under. But, I will be driving all night tonight so I can keep it legal. I don't mind the night driving so much, but being forced to do it for safety's sake when I would have much rather gotten up this morning and made my way to Delhi during the daylight makes a lot more sense. This will more than likely put me to driving on the night shift for much of this next week, but usually at some point I can flip the schedule around depending on the demands of the delivery times I'm having to deal with. I have done very well at dealing with the restrictions of the clock, and my dispatcher loves my approach to managing my time. He deals with so many drivers who refuse to do certain things like driving at night, or whatever the case may be. But he knows he can count on me to try and be keeping myself available to get the things accomplished that we need to do.

That is the reason that I get these really great jobs. I would much rather go to Connecticut and back – it's five days worth of driving with usually one or two stops at the most. We get paid for how many miles we drive, if you can maximize your driving time you will be making the most of your available earnings. While others are ending up with loads going to Texas from Louisiana with four or five stops on the load (lots of work with not very good pay) I am continually ending up with long runs. Good timing, and good management of your available working hours, makes a big difference in how this job works out for you. Also good communication is important with your dispatcher. If he knows ahead of time when you will be ready for another load then he can be working on finding you the best possible load at that time.

I really enjoy this work, and I'm glad to know that folks like “Jorgo” appreciate my “perfect timing.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Great Expectations

It was 1:30 this morning when I arrived at the TA truck stop in Green Castle, Pennsylvania to shut down for the night. Yesterday I worked until 3:30 in the morning before taking my well deserved night's repose at the Pilot in Rising Fawn, Georgia. If I can mange to get myself through this crazy snow storm going on up here in the North East and over to the TA near Southington, Connecticut today my plan is to arrive at Yarde Metals in Southington on Tuesday morning around 5:30 am and get the four bundles that belong to them off of my truck and then move on over to Stanley Access Technologies in Farmington to get the rest of this load delivered.

I picked this load up late Saturday afternoon with them expecting it to be delivered on Monday – not gonna happen! I do all I can, and they recognize that, with much gratitude I should add. But they really know they have to get this load ready on Friday if they want it there on Monday, especially when the snow is close to three feet deep on the ground and still falling. They still let you know what they are expecting, and the best way to handle it is to do your best and keep communicating with them your progress along the way. When I sent in my message this morning telling them of my plan to deliver first thing Tuesday, they said that sounds great, it looks like you will still be one day ahead of the driver that left for the same destination several hours ahead of you. They know that I am pushing it with all I can while focusing on being efficient, but not at the expense of safety.

There is a balance that must be exercised with each trip you make in this business, and to err on the side of being safe should always trump the enticement of taking greater risks for a greater reward. When those two things are in balance, not only can you make a good solid living at this, but you will continue to be entrusted with the better loads that keep your wheels turning and your balance sheet in the black. There are new variables with each trip, and a vigilant response in making the calculations needed for success is critical to keeping the balance in your favor. One bad accident can ruin a career, or worse, even take someone's life.

Here is what this load looks like. In this photo I am parked at Rising Fawn, Georgia – isn't that a nice name for a town? Can you see how dirty my truck looks down on the lower parts along the side? That is the salt from the roads that I picked up last week when I was in Connecticut and Massachusetts. That stuff gets everywhere – it is in my clothes, and my truck, and even some of my winter gloves are now really stiff from soaking up the moisture with that salt in it when I was wearing them to do things like fold my tarps. The other day I reached up to kind of wipe my lips with one of my hands and it tasted very salty.

I will be back in here in a few days to let you know how things went for me. I'm planning on picking up a back haul load out of Cressona, Pennsylvania again just like I did last week.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hurry Up And Wait!

That title for this post is a game that is played by just about all truck drivers. There are many frustrations that can manifest themselves in this job and that is probably the one that kills many a new truck driver's career the quickest. Oh, it's not the fact that they have to hurry up and wait (although many of them would differ with my opinion on this) it is the fact that they came into this business unawares, and unprepared, to deal with the issues like this that hinder their chance at making a decent income.

I woke this morning in Pearl Mississippi with the first morning light of the sunrise trying to weasel it's way around my curtains, and into my cab, in a crowded Flying J truck stop parking lot. I am on my way back to Delhi, Louisiana from Massachusetts, but I was dispatched a stop in Cressona, Pennsylvania to pick up a load of aluminum for the Utility Trailer manufacturing plant in Atkins, Virginia – this was my back haul load to help pay my expenses on the way back to Delhi. If you remember my dispatcher was very pleased with my strategy of taking a 34 hour break there at Cressona because of the unknown wait time I would be enduring at that plant. Well, it was a wise decision, but my thirty four hour rest would end at 5 am, and I fully expected to have my load ready and hooked to my truck by then so that I could roll.

You know what they say about those “best laid plans”... It just so happened that they had a brand new security guard on duty that night who just didn't have a clue yet as to how things worked over there. At midnight, five hours before my thirty four hour break would have been completed, I went to see him about getting permission to go in and get my load secured and tarped. I was told by dispatch that the people at the plant said my load would be ready at 11 pm. I waited till midnight because my experience at this plant is that they are almost always a little later than they tell you. He tells me that my load is not ready, and I should just keep checking back in with him every hour, and hopefully they will send him an e-mail indicating when it is ready. Finally after several futile attempts, I gave up, went back to sleep and set my alarm for seven so that I could check with the next guard after the shift change. I was very suspicious that I was getting bad information, but there was nothing I could do. You can't get in the gate without the guard's permission, and I was clearly getting nowhere with this poor fellow who's looks of consternation, which were designed to elicit sympathy from me for his poor plight of unpreparedness by his trainers, were not helping me gain access to my loaded trailer at all.

Fast forward to seven am... I get up, make one final trudge through the bitterly cold weather up here to see the new security guard who is apologizing profusely to me as she informs me that my load had been ready all night! Now the plant is bottle necked with truck drivers who are trying to get their trailers ready to go just like I am. They have strict safety procedures you must obey here, and one of those is that you must back your trailer in between these safety platforms that are designed to catch you if you fall off your trailer while putting your tarps on the load. Well... there are only three of those safety bays, and about ten angry (I wasn't angry) truck drivers jockeying around to try and get in position to get their trailers backed in ahead of the next guy. Bottom line is... I was finally ready to go at 10:30 am.

Fortunately the plant that I'm delivering to in Atkins keeps receiving freight up until midnight, but you must have an appointment. So as soon as I can get rolling I calculate how long it will take me to get there and then I call to see if I can get an appointment for later that night. The helpful gentleman on the phone tells me that they are booked up for the night, and I will have to wait until the following morning to deliver. That will just have to be okay, even though I was hoping to get unloaded that night. Before we ended the phone call he asks me if my paper work shows me which purchase order of theirs was used for this load. As I'm flipping through about six pages of papers that they gave me, I come across his purchase order number and repeat it back to him, which elicits a quickening in his voice wherein he explains that this is some product that they need right away. “Can you be here by seven tonight?”, he inquires, but I have to tell him that it will be more like eight if I really push it. He then says okay, I'm putting you down for seven o'clock, if you have any trouble when you arrive with getting unloaded call me at this cell number and I will make sure they unload you tonight. I replied again, “Sir, I can't be there at seven,” but he simply said he had to put me in at seven because that was the only spot the computer would allow him to schedule me due to the other bookings already in place. I somehow managed to roll in their gate at seven thirty and was directed by a fork lift operator where to park, and by 10:30 with all my tarps and straps folded up and put away I pulled my empty trailer down the road about thirty miles to a truck stop to stop for a well deserved nights repose.

The next day I drove about six hundred miles to my present location (Pearl Mississippi) where I am once again playing the waiting game. My load at Delhi is not ready yet, so if I get started from here and drive over there it will start my fourteen hour clock which cannot be stopped once I log on duty. But, if I wait patiently here until I know they have got me ready to go, it will conserve my available working hours so that I can start moving that load as far as possible today, or tonight, whichever it turns out to be. Want to take a guess where my destination is? Well, I'm supposed to arrive there on Monday, which is going to be a real challenge in itself, and which is the reason I'm playing this waiting game so that I can hopefully and legally outsmart these crazy regulatory guidelines that are tied to us like a ball and chain.

I'm heading right back up to Connecticut! I'll do my best, but I told my dispatcher that there is only so much I can do and still be legal and safe about it. He knows that they are pressing this one almost to the point of being impossible to accomplish, but according to him it is also the unfortunate (my word, not his) reason they have asked me to do it. He gave it a very positive spin as to why I was honored with this load, but I tried to cool him down as best I could, because there really is only so much that you can do. I appreciate their confidence, and I have willingly done everything I could to gain it, but miracles are not commonplace everyday happenings in this business, and when they are you are usually operating in an unsafe manner. I made it clear and firm that I would do my best, just as I always do, but I was not going to break the law or my neck just to get this done in an unrealistic time frame.

If they can get their end done so that I'm not waiting too long it just might all work out, but in the mean time I'm playing the waiting game, and as far as I can I will play it to win, but I'm not going to cheat. This waiting here this morning did give me a chance to get a nice hot shower, and the showers here at Pearl have got enough water pressure to almost make it painful – but it is the kind of pain that makes you want to say “stop it some more!” It was very refreshing, and I smell really good while I'm sitting here on hold.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Blizzards Don't Last Forever

Everything worked out well, and it was definitely the right decision to go ahead and quit for the day in Connecticut before heading North East into Massachusetts. When I woke up the snow had stopped falling, and I decided that if I waited until about six or seven o'clock to leave I would have good light, and more than likely the interstates would be in much better shape due to the time the snow plows had during the night to work on them. Indeed my trip to Lawrence was fairly uneventful. There were the remaining cars and trucks from the previous evenings accidents buried in snow embankments here and there, but everything went well for me.

One of the reasons I went ahead and stopped yesterday is because I had unloaded 47,000 pounds off of my trailer, and now only had around 1,000 pounds left for my final destination. As strange as it may seem, when these big trucks are loaded heavy they are easier to operate in the snow and ice. When you are traveling with a light load you will tend to lose your traction and slip and slide more on the ice. Several times yesterday as I was making my way to Massachusetts my drive axle spun on the ice, usually this happened on the on-ramps to the highway where we were at a slight incline and I was trying to get up a little speed to get into the flow of the highway traffic.

After making my delivery yesterday, it was around 11:00 and I was wanting to take a break and get something to eat. Well, remember how I told you that there is limited parking for trucks in the North East? I have a little pocket sized booklet that lists parking areas all across the country for trucks – there are also some smart phone apps with this type information, and I use all of this stuff to assist me in my daily challenges out here on the road. So I did some quick research and found one of what these North Easterners call “service areas” about thirty miles away. These service areas are similar to what most of us know as “rest areas” only they are much nicer facilities that almost always include a convenience store, a gas station, and usually several restaurants inside the building. They really are nice, but a terrible expense of tax payer monies in my Southern conservative political opinion.

As I made my way over there to take a break, my dispatcher called and said he wanted me to head on down to Cressona, Pennsylvania and they would be working on trying to arrange a back haul load out of the SAPA plant there. He was a little aggravated that they had told him the earliest they could get me a load would be four o'clock the next day. He thought I would be disappointed with having to wait all day on a load, and while that is one of the things that hurts a drivers pay, what he didn't realize is that by the time I would get to Cressona I would only have about an hour and a half of legal working hours left to me for the next day. So, I suggested that I go ahead and take a 34 hour break at Cressona, and then my seventy hour clock would be reset so I can keep up a competitive pace on the next week's work load.

This guy cracks me up sometimes at how amazed he acts over my intelligence. He went on and on about how great an idea that was, and how it would allow them time to find me a better load out of Cressona.  Well, I just commented that it wasn't that smart, any dummy could figure out when they are out of hours and can't work any more. To which he laughed out loud and declared “Oh no they can't!"  These dispatchers are really big time babysitters for a bunch of whiny griping truck drivers, who cause them a lot of extra stress by doing things like accepting a load, and then not being able to complete it because they can't understand the rules and regulations under which we have to comply. It is a job that I would not care to do, but my dispatchers have always seemed to appreciate my approach to the job.

When I awoke in Southington, Connecticut it was 8 degrees and it only got colder as I made my way to Lawrence, Massachusetts. The snow got deeper the further north I went, but the interstates were in good shape. The only difficult road was the final road I turned onto to get to my destination. The very deep snow had been plowed away, but there was still a thick later of ice on the road which had not been salted. Here's what it looked like:

I also took a few shots of the snow at the service area where I stopped for a break. I had to walk between a short wall of snow and my truck when I parked and got out.

It is Wednesday morning here in Cressona as I'm posting this, and I'm about to step outside and see how the weather is. This is a great little town for walking and exploring. So, I shall just enjoy my little break here and get myself all recharged and ready to “go forth and conquer” what ever I'm faced with for the next week.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Village Truck Driver

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

-From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's “The Village Blacksmith”

I seriously wanted to start this post with a bastardized version of this great work of poetry...

Under the spreading diesel canopy,
The village truck driver stands...

But I thought better than to lower myself to such a foolish act of rewriting one of the great poets words.

I couldn't help but think of Longfellow's words as my day came to it's close. “Something attempted, something done” was just the way I was feeling. Each day I have to make a plan as to how I am going to accomplish the things I need to, then I usually need to have a back-up plan or two in case the first one fails. There is a great deal of planning and calculating that goes into any successful over the road truck driver's day. We face incredible odds on some days, and today was just one of those type of days.

I'm not sure how I managed to hit both of the major blizzards of 2015 here in the North East, but I did it with remarkable accuracy. Just last week I was here in Connecticut when the forecasters were scaring everyone with their prognostications of an epic storm of historical proportions. And then just one week later I'm here again in a storm that was, as far as I'm concerned, much worse than the last one. I'm not one to “toot my own horn” very much, but I will let you in on a little secret as to why I am here again. My dispatcher keeps giving me this nice piece of work because, as he put it to me last week, “Dale, you are one of a small handful of drivers who always manages to get this run done on time no matter what happens.” Now, those are encouraging words from your dispatcher – for one thing you realize that he's paying attention to what you are doing, and the other thing is that you know he trusts you.

This has been a mantra of mine as I try to instruct new drivers at  You don't even need your dispatcher to really know you or like you, but you do need him to recognize that you are someone he can trust to “get er done.” That makes all the difference in the world in how your paychecks turn out. This whole job is completely performance based, and you are usually only as good as your last load. If you slip and stumble on something, you will more than likely start getting passed up on the good stuff until you've proven yourself time and time again. This customer in Farmington, Connecticut buys a lot of product from SAPA, so we are coming here at least twice a week with a full truck load, and there are other carriers handling usually another couple of truck loads out of our plant in Delhi, Louisiana. That is a lot of stuff that goes up here every week. To be honest with you, I love getting put on this job, it is a money run as far as I'm concerned. It's so familiar to me I can drive it all the way without even consulting the atlas. They can give it to me all they want – I enjoy it thoroughly.

Well, do you remember where I parked last night – Port Jervis, New York? Here's what it looked like out my windshield when my alarm went off at 3:00 in the morning.

The snow came in just like they said it would, and I got myself up and started my early trek into Connecticut. From Port Jervis, it is roughly 100 miles to Farmington Connecticut. I started driving at 4:00 am, and arrived at Stanley Access Technologies approximately at 8:30 am. That's right – four and one half hours to get 100 miles! The snow was really bad – I don't think I ever got above thirty or thirty five miles per hour at the most. When it is snowing this heavy they simply cannot keep the roads plowed because it just re-covers everything they've accomplished immediately so that their efforts are null and void. When it is like this you can't even see where the lanes are on the interstate, and it is hard to tell where the edge of the road is also. In fact, you can not even tell that there is pavement underneath you other than the fact that you know the interstate is paved because you've been through here before on nice sunny days.

It might surprise you to know that one of the most dangerous things about driving in this kind of weather is the ice build up on your windshield wipers. Most people would think it is the slippery roads, but for a truck driver it is those windshield wipers. In a heavy snow the influence of the wind against your windshield causes ice to build up on those wipers and then they won't wipe your glass clean, which then starts producing ice build up on your windshield. Then your visibility goes to zero very quickly. I had to stop and break the ice off of my wipers probably about eight or nine times during that 100 miles. Having your defroster on helps with this some, but I've got to tell you, I had it so hot in my truck that I was feeling like a roasted pig, well maybe I felt more like a roasted prime rib! Don't want to sound like I'm a pig... I was definitely sweating in here though.

Since I was driving I couldn't take any pictures, but here's a look at the driveway I had to back down into at Stanley Access – and that is pretty much how the interstate looked as I came over to this town.

Check out the snow that had built up on the under sides of my flat-bed trailer...

And even though my tarps were clean because of the wind, take a look at the back of the load where the vortex of wind at the tail held the snow onto the back of things.

Once I got unloaded I decided to call it a day and parked at the TA truck stop at Southington, which is where I parked last time I was here – remember it is the one that charges you a fee to park. It would not have been prudent of me to try and risk any more travel today. The Lord helped me thus far - I will not push myself onto Providence, but just be thankful for the accomplishments of the day so far. There are well over 150 trucks in here tonight, and they only have 145 spaces. People are parking wherever they can. In fact I am blocked in right now by some folks who just had nowhere to park. It happens all the time up here – it is just something that you accept and deal with it as you can. I was hoping to leave out early in the morning for Massachusetts, but we will just have to see how it goes.  If I have to wake truck drivers up at 3 or 4 in the morning to move out of my way, they usually understand it, and can't wait to take my spot when I pull out. Here's a look around from inside my truck after I got parked here.

Well, I'm going to get some rest now. I'll do my best to keep you apprised of my goings in and out among the peoples up here in this blustery part of the country. Good night, my friends, good night.   

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Happy Birthday To... Me!

Once again my work day started at 3:30 am, and ended at 4:30 this afternoon. I managed to do 644 miles today despite some snow and traffic issues. Tonight I am in Port Jervis, New York, a quaint little town just over the border from Pennsylvania on I-84.

Do you remember me telling you about how difficult it is to find truck parking in the North East? Well, I should have stopped back at Scranton, Pennsylvania where I could have guaranteed myself a parking spot at the Petro truck stop. But I was greedy and wanted to get another 70 miles closer to my destination if possible. We are expecting another major snow storm in here tonight, and I was convinced I would be better off the further I got away from those mountains around Scranton. So I took a big gamble, knowing that parking was very limited once I got past Scranton, and came over here to Port Jervis, kind of like the bear who “went over the mountain to see what he could see”. While it would have been more prudent to just stop at Scranton, I did get blessed with a parking spot at a Valero Truck stop here in Port Jervis. I'm going to say that this was nothing short of miraculous because they only have four parking spots at this truck stop and when I pulled in here there were three trucks parked in the parking area and about eight trucks trying to get fuel at the fuel islands. I just rolled right into the parking lot, set myself up, and backed her in the one remaining spot available! Look at that, I couldn't have planned it any better than this – hopefully I can continue on to my destination tomorrow if the snow is not too bad.

Port Jervis is a very old settlement, established around 1690 by Indians. Here's the sign that welcomes you to the little town. This sign is out on the road in front of a Swim Wear manufacturing facility which had a banner out on the front of the building, just barely visible above the piled up snow, advertising an inventory reduction sale going on right now. I didn't take a picture of that, but it really struck me as comical!

I usually try to take a walk when I finish my day if possible – this job requires a tremendous amount of concentration, but it also entails a great deal of sitting which I think is unhealthy. So as I was walking around the town I came upon this little diner:

Now, I'm kind of dieting, and I have usually been just having a “slim-fast” drink for my evening meal. I guess with it being my birthday, and the lure of discovering an interesting little diner tucked away here in this intriguing little town, I succumbed to the temptation to treat myself. My meal started out with this unexpected piece of homemade bread that was brought to me with more than ample amounts of fresh butter to spread on it. Also check out that cream soda I'm drinking – it is a Boylan's brand, locally famous for their sodas made with real “cane sugar” instead of fructose syrup. The Boylan bottling company was established in New York city in 1891, and they are still famous here in these parts.

Then my entree consisted of this economical “flat-iron” steak smothered with grilled bell peppers, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese; accompanied by a baked potato and some green beans – Delicious!

I hope the weather will not be as bad as the false prophets are declaring, but I'll just have to wait and see. I'm going to hit the sleeper early and catch up on some rest, but I will try and let you know tomorrow how everything takes shape for the completion of this very nice run I'm on. I will unload everything except for one bundle at Stanley Access in Farmington, Connecticut, and then proceed to Lawrence Massachusetts with that final piece of freight.