Friday, November 20, 2015

Rules, Regulations, Reality, and Responsibility

Sometimes you just can't make things work out just right in this business.  Not only could I not make it on time for that delivery to the Great Dane manufacturing plant, I couldn't even make it over there legally.  I do not like to do it, but I had to drive illegally to get there.  Here's what happened: I explained in my last post how it was a really tight schedule - remember now that the problem was nothing of my doing, so it does not count as a service failure on my part.  If you remember, recently I posted about the fact that we are not allowed a service failure on this account, and a service failure is grounds for termination.  The problem in this incident was the fact that I was bumping up against the clock, i.e. I did not have enough hours available to get it done when they dispatched the load to me. They knew this not only because they can see right on their computer screen how many hours I have if they choose to look at it, but also because I warned them when I accepted the load that I might not be able to do it.  I mentioned in that post titled "Hard Pressed" that the trip would have to be pulled off with zero problems, and running that long of a time period only increases the odds that "Old Murphy" is gonna figure out how to put one of his laws into play.

I was driving all through the night, and when it began to get close to sunrise there was a thick fog developing along my chosen route.  Sure enough due to the fog there was a bad accident involving several cars and one eighteen wheeler.  It caused about an hour delay in my time.  I began to contemplate what it was that I should do, and the first thing was to contact my customer to let them know what happened, and that I would be late.  Turns out they were actually glad that I called and said their schedule was messed up because of another driver being late, and they would just move my appointment back a few hours if that was okay with me - Perfect!  That makes it so that I'm not charged with being late, but the whole delay from the accident makes it so that I am going to go over my legal driving hours just to be able to get there in the first place.  Ahh! I remember this little known rule in the F.M.C.S.A. Motor Carriers rule book called the "driving exemption" which allows you to add two hours of driving time to your day if there is an unexpected delay because of unexpected weather issues causing you a delay.  I figured that will be perfect, I'll just put it in my logs that I used the exemption because of the severe fog and I will be good to go.  Wrong!  When I looked up the rule I discovered that it does not apply to your seventy hour clock, which is the one I was pushing.  If you are just having trouble with your eleven hours driving clock, but have not worked seventy hours in the last eight days it is okay to use the rule, but not if you are going over the seventy hours, so I'm out of luck on that one.

So, what do you do in a situation like this?  Well, you have to make your own judgement call.  I could have called my dispatcher and said, "Hey, I can't make it without breaking the law so I'm going to stop and take a ten hour break and set up a new appointment for tomorrow."  Understand that it is quite possible the customer may say, "We're sorry driver, but we are over booked already for tomorrow, Fridays are killers for us because the drivers do not want to sit all weekend at a truck stop waiting till they can come in Monday morning to get unloaded.  We have an opening for three o'clock Monday afternoon, will that work for you?"  If I chose that option, there is no way I would get home for Thanksgiving, and I want to be there pretty badly.  So, as I'm driving down the highway I am mulling all this stuff around in my poor feeble cranial cavity.  I decide that my best option is to commit a defiant act of roguery, and defy the law.  I'm heartily ashamed of myself, but that is the course of action that I took.  I drove for 35 minutes with my Zonar (on board computer) warning me that I was a social deviant and that I had better straighten up or face the consequences.  Actually it just showed a red line on my logs during that time period, but that is how it felt to me. I am not comfortable breaking any laws, no matter how trivial they may seem, and I let out a big sigh of relief as soon as I got there and was able to take my clock off of the drive line.

Just an FYI for you on the way this could possibly get a truck driver in trouble.  It is the law that you have to keep the current day, and the past seven day's logs on your truck with you.  So you always have to have eight days logs with you.  That is all they are interested in if an officer so chooses to ask you if he can look at your logs.  Now to put this in perspective, since I started this career I have only been asked twice by an officer to see my logs.  Once I was asked by an officer as I was going through a weigh station, and the other time was way back at the beginning when I had that issue going across the George Washington Bridge.  So, after eight days goes by I will be very relieved of this anxiety I am driving under now.  Thirty five minutes is a very minor violation, but it is still something they can enforce if they wish.  I am proud to have such a good clean record, and I would like to keep it that way.  There are plenty of drivers who think they can't make any money if they are not constantly breaking the rules, but I have proven to myself and my dispatchers that it can be done effectively, and efficiently while still keeping a sense of honor and dignity in what you do.

Well it seems like I have been mentioning all the rules we have to deal with and understand in this career lately, which I'm certain doesn't interest any of you, but it is a fascinating challenge to keep up with them.  Several times I have mentioned rules in our "green book" to my dispatcher and he will say "is that a rule?"  He was the safety director for many years at the Knight terminal in Olive Branch Mississippi, and he gets all excited when he realizes that I know the rule book much better than he does.  Here is the book I am referring to, and in fact one of the rules in this book is that we have to have a copy of it in our truck!

Take a look at this photo, I'm sorry it is so small, and it is probably silly for me to try and show you, but I just wanted you to see the last page number in the book.  Yep, that is a lot of pages of fine print that we are supposed to keep up with.  I have heard some drivers say that there is no way the officers are aware of all those rules, but I personally want to make sure that I know it better than they do.  It is one of the many challenges about this career that I try to overcome and be the best that I can be at it.

Well,my dispatcher already has a plan for getting me home for Thanksgiving.  He contacted me today to let me know he was sending me to Corpus Christi, TX with a load that leaves out Sunday night, and if all goes well I will be home by Tuesday night or Wednesday at the latest.  Woo-Hoo!

I'm on my way back to Delhi to get that load to Corpus, but I'm parked right now in Lincoln, Alabama.  I've decided that I am going to stay here for a 34 hour break so that I will have a fresh set of seventy hours before me for the next few days.  That way I don't keep running into this problem of not having enough time to get where I need to be.  The last thing I want to have happen is I get that load down there to Corpus, and then I can't get myself back to Nacogdoches for the holiday with my family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hard Pressed

I'm going to Statesboro, Georgia with a 40,000 pound load of 53 foot long pieces of extruded aluminum.  This load goes to the Great Dane trailer manufacturing facility there.  These pieces of aluminum are incorporated into the decks of their 53 foot long trailers manufactured there.  I get a lot of these type loads out of the plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania, which is where I picked this one up.

Here's a look at what it looked like after I had thrown all the straps on it to keep it secure as it traveled down the road.

All these loads must be protected from the weather, so I have got to get my tarps thrown on this one.  After I finished that laborious task it looked like this.

I am just barely going to have enough legal working hours to get this one delivered on time.  I'm going to bed right now (it's early afternoon here) so that I can leave at about midnight after my required ten hour break.  I have an eleven o'clock in the morning appointment.  I'll let you know how that all works out - I'm not so sure it's going to all come together - it's too tight - the slightest delay could really mess things up.  That's trucking for you!  The last time I delivered to this plant they started unloading me about three hours after my appointed time, and I had gotten there four hours early!  They will probably be waiting on me tomorrow and I will get there late.

I'm in Greencastle, Pennsylvania parked at an overcrowded T/A truck stop.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Great Flip-Flop

Okay, I thought you might be interested in how I manage my time out here on the road so that I can do this job successfully.  It's probably a little bit of a boring subject, but since nobody reads this thing, I can simply amuse myself with what I choose to write about, and no one is bothered by it.  To be successful at this you must be able to "flip-flop" your nights and days back and forth throughout your work week to make everything come out right, and be as productive as you can.

Let me see if I can set this up so that it makes sense to a person who isn't accustomed to the rules and regulations that a truck driver has to work under.  We can drive for eleven hours a day, but we have to accomplish that eleven hours in a fourteen hour window.  Then we have to take a ten hour break before we can drive again.  That is just a small portion of the many rules we have to consider when out here trying to make a living, and serving our customers in a way that meets their needs.

I picked this load up on Saturday night in Delhi, Louisiana.  It is supposed to deliver in Farmington, Connecticut on Tuesday morning, and then it has an additional stop in Bristol, Connecticut immediately following the first stop.  I was not able to start driving until around 2100 hours (that is 9:00 P.M.) due to the fact that I was waiting for my ten hour break to come to it's close.  Since I just finished my ten hour break, I can now drive for a full driving shift of eleven hours.  So I drove through the night, and with fifteen minutes for a pre-trip inspection of my truck, and about fifteen minutes for a fuel stop in Meridian, Mississippi and a thirty minute break thrown in there at Fort Payne, Alabama I ended up my driving shift at around 9:00 a.m. and parked for some much needed rest at Dandridge, Tennessee.  (that thirty minute break thing is another regulation - we have to take a thirty minute break at some point in the first eight hours, but if you take it during the first four hours you will have to take an additional break before you can finish the eleven hours of driving)

Okay, so you can see that I worked all Saturday night and it is now around nine a.m. when I am starting my next ten hour break.  So, I can start driving again at 7:00 p.m., or 1900 hours as we truck drivers look at it - all our appointments with shippers and receivers are in military time for some reason unknown to me.  I assume it is to keep us marginally intelligent truck drivers from getting confused over all that a.m. and p.m. stuff.  So I started out this next driving shift with my fifteen minute pre-trip inspection of my truck (another one of those regulations) and then spent the night by driving through the remaining part of Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and on into Pennsylvania.  I stopped in Fort Chiswell, Virginia for a fifteen minute fuel stop, and took my thirty minute break at a Wilco Hess truck stop in Toms Brook Virginia.  I managed to get myself to Scranton, Pennsylvania where I stopped at the Petro Truck Stop at around 6:45 this morning to start my next ten hour break.

Now, at this point I am approximately four hours from my final destination, maybe even a little less.  So what I will do is start my way over there tonight so that I end up arriving there at about 2100 hours or 9:00 p,m. tonight.  I will then start up another ten hour break while I spend the night in their parking lot - actually I will park my truck in the unloading area which is a covered portion extending off the back of their warehouse.  This eliminates the possibility of any other truck driver getting in there ahead of me and delaying me at this location - remember I have another stop to make after this one, and the slightest delay is going to make me late for the second stop.  This account that I am on is so strict on delivery times that you have got to do things like this to stay on top of the game.  My company gets charged some big fines for drivers being late, and we the drivers have already agreed in our employment contract that a service failure (being late is a service failure) is grounds for termination.  We are not allowed to be late.

If all this sounds extremely strict to you, well it is, but you have to realize that this is what we call a dedicated account, and because of that the company gets paid more for servicing this customers needs, and we the drivers are getting some of the top pay there is for what we do.  We are expected to conduct ourselves like professionals, or find something else to do.  Incidentally this customer has often times called my dispatcher and requested me as the driver they want delivering to them.  He once told me that I had really made a name for myself here and that it is unheard of for this customer to actually request a certain driver - they are known for constantly complaining about everything and being in general just an overly demanding customer.  Also, just so you know, if there are extenuating circumstances such as a bad accident on the highway or severe weather we can get our schedules re-set with a simple phone call.  But if you just stayed up too late at the truck stop watching John Wayne movies and couldn't get your tail back on the road, well you are in some big trouble on this account.

Now, if you've been able to keep up with the math that is woven throughout this wandering post you will realize that at this point I am able to "Flip-Flop" my schedule back to daytime hours once I am unloaded here.  You see they will start unloading me about six thirty in the morning and since I will be parking at the site around nine p.m. that means that ten hours later it will be seven a.m., and I can head on over to my next stop and "git er done."  I hope you enjoyed this little journey through some truck driver math, it's really just third grade stuff, but at times it seems quite magical to my happy little dispatcher who is so pleased that I can do this stuff.  Just last week he said again to me that he wished he could put a class together so that I could teach some of the other drivers how I do this stuff.  The other benefit to getting myself back onto the daylight hours at this point in this journey is that when I am unloaded at my second and final stop, I will then need to go to pick up my next load, my back haul load that helps pay the bills for me to return to the plant in Delhi, Louisiana.  Most of the shippers and receivers are loading and unloading in the daylight hours, so if when I am ready for a load I need to be on the daytime schedule so that I can get in and out of those places efficiently.

Here's a shot of my truck with this current load on it.  Underneath those tarps is 43,000 pounds of aluminum extrusions.  I am parked high atop a mountain ridge near Scranton, Pennsylvania at the Petro Truck Stop there.  This is where I-81 running north through Pennsylvania intersects with I-84 which will take me east over into upstate New York on my way over into Connecticut.

This is exactly where I wanted to get to today so that everything would work out right with my timing of my schedule as I just laid it out for you.  The other benefit to running this particular load at night like this is that you avoid all the terrible traffic that is so prevalent during the daytime hours up here in the Northeastern parts of the country.  My friend Paul Anderson does not like this run at all - he prefers not to drive at night, and to do this one right you just about have to.  Not too long ago he did it as a favor to our dispatcher because I was unavailable (at home) and the dispatcher told me that Paul told him next time you ask me to do that run, slap me real hard so that I will remember how much I do not want to do it again.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sleepless in Seattle, or Dandridge

Just finished driving all night - it is now about 9:30 a.m.  I'm exhausted, but for some reason I can't get to sleep.  So, here I am, maybe a little exercise in writing will help, I hope I'm coherent.  I had planned on getting myself to the Pilot in Dandridge, TN, and that is where I am.  I will run through the night tonight also, probably will drive close to eleven hours tonight and get myself positioned close to the Pennsylvania/New York line on I-84.  If I can get this load delivered by Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. I will have turned in 3,529 miles on my paperwork this week.  That is a strong showing.

I ate dinner with my Friend Paul Anderson last night in Delhi before I got on the road.  He asked me where I stood on my mileage for this quarters report.  He was surprised that I was about twenty five hundred miles ahead of him.  We have this little competition thing going.  If you remember he was the one that I was tied with on the fuel mileage during this year's first quarter.  I have exceeded thirty thousand miles each quarter since I came here to work on this account.

I was in Indianapolis just two days ago and the wind over there was atrocious!  I had a Conestoga trailer and those things are built like a giant kite.  I was getting pushed all over the road.  If you ever see an eighteen wheeler on a windy day weaving back and forth in and out of his lane, it is best to just give him some room and stay away from him - the wind can really cause us some issues, especially if our trailer is empty.

Here's a look at my truck inside a building up in Indiana while delivering that last load.  This is one of the nice things about this dedicated account I am serving here at Knight Transportation.  So many of the locations I go to keep us out of the elements, a rare and worthy benefit for a flat-bed driver who is always responsible for the securing of his freight and the protection of it from the weather.

Well, I'm sure this post sounds like some random rambling, so I will give it a try again and lay my head down on my pillow to try and get some much needed sleep.  I'll be back in here in a day or two to update you on what's going on with me and my strange unique life on the road.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mississippi Delta Blues

I woke up this morning in Rochester, Indiana after spending the night at the Paradise truck stop there. I managed to get all three of my stops done yesterday on the load I had.  My final stop in North Liberty, IN was scheduled for this morning, but I was able to get it done a day ahead of schedule.  I had a plan in mind to get that done like I did so that I could get back to Delhi in time to have myself available for that "gravy" run up to Farmington, Connecticut.  Sure enough my dispatcher called today and asked me if I wanted a load to Magnolia, Arkansas or Farmington.  I laughed because he knows which one I would want. Then he jokingly told me that he just wanted me to know that I have options.

Then he proceeded to tell me that he gave out the loads a little differently today.  He said he started at the bottom of his list of drivers instead of the top.  (He is referring to the top as the best performers) He said that he gave the lower tiered drivers their choice of the available loads until he had worked himself back up to the top and he was left with these last two loads.  He did this to make sure that he was being fair with everyone as far as being able to get enough miles assigned to them so that they can make some decent money.  Either way I still end up with the Connecticut run - he said he wasn't surprised because he only has one other driver besides me who likes to do that run.  For me it is the best run we have on this account, but most drivers don't even want to get near the Northeast part of the country.  It's no walk in the park going up there, especially in the winter, but it is not that bad if you plan your trip so that you can get in and out of there during the best times to avoid the worst traffic.

I'm sleeping tonight at the "Shady Nook" truck stop in Clarksdale, Mississippi on the historically significant "Highway 61."  If you are not familiar with the significant relationship between this part of Mississippi and "Blues" music, I can't take the time to explain it to you tonight.  I've got to get myself in the sleeper berth so that I can get started early tomorrow.  I need to get to Delhi and then have enough time to log ten hours in the sleeper so that I can start running this load tomorrow night with a full set of available driving hours. I'll have to drive through the night for two nights in a row to make it come out on time, which is probably another reason some of the other drivers don't like this run.  This job has no set hours - we do what is needed to get the freight delivered on time.  The folks who understand that end up rising to the top of the food chain.  It takes some sacrifice to be the best at this job, but for me it is well worth the effort.  You won't catch me "singing the blues" about this job!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Back On The Job

Not much to say tonight, just wanting to let you know that I'm back at work now.  It's Wednesday night and I am sleeping in Louisville, Kentucky at one of my customer's locations.  I left home late Tuesday afternoon after taking my dear wife to lunch.  I stayed home for four days, and it was just as pleasant as ever.  It is always difficult to leave home and get back to work, I go through the same emotions each time, and I always think it will get easier with time, but there is no substitute for spending time with the people you love.  I am already looking forward to my next visit and I've only been gone for two days now!  Oh well, I will have a nice break at Thanksgiving, and then I will enjoy a couple of weeks at Christmas with them.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Going Home For A Visit

This morning I'm waking up in Austin, TX in the parking lot of Intelligent Logistics.  After driving all night on Wednesday night to Corpus Christi I got unloaded at Horton Automatics, but then had to park my truck and take a ten hour break so I could legally drive again.  Then around six in the afternoon I took off for Austin to deliver the final portion of this load.  I made an eight o'clock in the morning appointment with Intelligent Logistics, and although it is now about 6:30 a,m. I am already getting it ready to go by removing all the bungees from my tarp and moving my truck around so that I can block any other trucks from getting in the unloading area ahead of me.  There is a certain aggressive posture that one has to take at some of these receivers if you want to keep yourself ahead of the game - it goes contrary to my personality, but I have learned how to survive out here, and it is the shrewd who know how the game is played, that are best able to keep the wheels turning.  The advantages of serving this dedicated account helps you to know how you have to conduct yourself at the various locations you go to.

I've mentioned in here several times a location in Riverdale, New Jersey that I often deliver to.  They once instructed me to always get in there early and park my truck in such a way that I am blocking off all four of their loading docks.  I have done that ever since they told me that, but it never fails that there is always at least one or two "dry van" trucks that show up and want me to move before the folks in the warehouse have even showed up for work.  It angers them when I refuse to move, but the harsh reality is that if I allow them to get in place I will have to wait for them to get unloaded first, which may take several hours out of my already overly scheduled day.  This is the kind of stuff that sets me apart from some of the less successful drivers in our fleet.  Not the fact that I'm heartless, but just the simple fact that I understand how it all works, and I plan my days accordingly so that I can get more done.  I make sacrifices all the time like sleeping in parking lots where I don't have the conveniences of the truck stop just a short walk from my truck.  You have to do things like this to survive out here, and the truth is that the guys who get frustrated and angry with me understand this also.  They are usually more frustrated with themselves than they are with me because they realize they didn't make the necessary sacrifices that they should have and got outsmarted by a more savvy driver.  They understand that if I were to let them in there then I would end up waiting, but they are just hoping I haven't developed those "street smarts" yet.

I'm headed home for the weekend after I get unloaded here - I'm very excited about that prospect!  It is a strange way to earn a living, but somebody has got to move all this stuff across the country, and the American Truck Driver pays a great price so that his fellow citizens conveniently have their favorite brand of toilet paper right there on the shelf every time they want it.  I actually enjoy what I do, and I hope it comes through occasionally in this blog, but man I miss my family, my friends at church, and especially the beautiful and charming woman God gave me to walk through this pilgrimage with.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Entertaining Angels Unawares

I'm back in Delhi today.  This is the location of the SAPA plant that I am a dedicated driver for.  Most of my loads originate from this plant, with the exception of the back haul loads they find me to help pay for my return trips to this base of our operations.  After delivering all six of my stops on that last load I carried up to Connecticut I took a back haul load out of the Cressona, Pennsylvania SAPA plat that had three stops in Tennessee.  Then they deadheaded me back to Delhi.  On that six stopper up to Connecticut I was very fortunate to get it all done, and my dispatcher even sent me an email that said this:  "Awesome job man!  I don't know how you do it, there's not another driver here who I could count on to get that done like you did.  And on top of that you did it all without calling me and griping and complaining that we are putting way too much on you - I owe you a favor big time!"  Okay, I'm not trying to brag on myself, but I get these little messages all the time.  This guy thinks I'm exceptional, but he doesn't realize how much help I receive.  I am convinced that "the everlasting arms are underneath me" as I criss-cross the country in this big rig.

Can I relate a story about this very trip that blessed me?  I may seem silly to you, but here it goes:  I was moving right along on that last load and was thinking I was conscious that it was going extraordinarily well for all things considered when travelling in these Northeast parts of the country - the traffic up here is incredible and the towns were definitely not designed for maneuvering a tractor trailer with a fifty three foot trailer on it.  When the fork lift operator unloaded that last piece at my final stop I handed him my paperwork so he could sign off on it.  I've been here several times, and it is always the same fork lift operator, a friendly fellow named Jose.  I recognized him, but he wasn't acting as friendly as he usually does.  When he signed my paperwork he signed it as "Gabriel."  He noticed me looking at his signature with a curious look, and he smiled and said "is something wrong?"  I looked at him and said "I thought your name was Jose."  He laughingly replied "Jose is my twin brother.  He works the day shift, I am the fork lift operator on the second shift."  You see I had already been thinking about angelic help when everything was going so well on this load, and then my last stop gets signed off by "Gabriel!"  Usually I am at this location early in the day, and I had no idea that Jose had a twin brother who worked here later in the day.

I'm picking up a load here tonight that goes to Corpus Christi, TX.  I will have to drive all through the night tonight with it, because this customer always insists on us being there at seven in the morning the following morning after the trailer is loaded.  They never get it ready until the end of the day at the plant, so the driver has to make sure he has enough available hours to run this load through the night.  This load is designed to get me to Texas so that when I'm done with it I can go home for a brief visit.  My home visits are brief, but that is by my own choice.  I don't want to sound as if I am mercenary, but I am trying to be as financially successful at this job as I can be.  Truck driving is a completely performance based job.  The movers and shakers are the ones that make the best money.  A big, and unusual, advantage of this particular job is that I get about four days off at Thanksgiving, and I can take quite a bit of time off at Christmas time if I want to because the SAPA plant is actually closed for maintenance and upkeep to the equipment during that time.  There are very few trucking jobs that will allow you to take a couple of weeks off like that, so I keep my visits at home brief, but look forward to that stay with my family at the end of the year.

Well, I need to lay down and rest now so that I can be well rested for tonight's "all nighter."