Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Heading Home for the Holidays

Well, I got that last load delivered up to North Collins, New York, but it wasn't a cake walk.  It was more akin to ice skating than anything else I can come up with.  I actually felt my truck breaking loose from it's traction on the road at least a dozen times while working my way through some blizzard like conditions as I soldiered my way through the final leg of the trip to North Collins.  Some times you will get yourself into such a bad snow storm out here that you are safer to stay on the road and go slowly than you are to try and pull over to the side and stop.  I've seen this scenario played out several times up in the Northeast where a Big Rig will pull off onto the shoulder and stop just because they can't hardly see anymore due to the heavy snow falling.  They will leave their lights on and maybe their flashers going, and just as soon as a car comes creeping along and sees them, the driver of the car assumes he has wandered off the road (which can't be seen for the snow) and he pulls over behind the truck and slams into the back of him.  That is why I point out that in times like that it is usually safer to just keep moving even if it is only a crawl.  It can be very frustrating when you can't even see the lanes on the road, or even the road for that matter.

The last time I was home my wife bought me this silly looking hat with fur trim and those big flaps that come down over your ears.  I tossed it in the truck, thinking I probably would never use it, but she proved herself smarter than me again (this seems to be a pattern in our life together) as I made good use of it in North Collins as I was removing the tarps from my load in a wind chill factor of ten below!  That hat was a life saver, and I owe my wife a big hug of gratitude!

I slept on the property at E & D Specialty Stands, my customer in North Collins, and they unloaded me the following morning.  They had to snow plow their parking lot first, and then there was such a layer of ice on the lot that they had to put snow chains on their fork-lift just so they could get a little traction.  It's all in a days work when you work in this area.  Lake Erie gives that snow a sort of turbo charged effect that they simply call the lake effect.  Here we are getting their material off in the bitter cold weather...

I took my supper alone that night as I sat by the fire (the bunk heater).  And I couldn't have been more satisfied with it all.  I accomplished what I set out to do for the day, earning a good night's repose. Who could complain about such a wonderful meal as smoked oysters and crackers with a nice glass of Tea?  It may not seem like much to some, but it was enjoyed by a simple man whose enjoyment of the simple things in life makes his life full and rich.

I got dispatched from there on a nice load down to Tampa, Florida!  That was refreshing to get down there where I was actually sweating just a couple of days later.  As an Over The Road driver you get to experience such wild swings in the weather that it is sometimes almost an overload for your senses.

I went from Tampa back to Delhi where I picked up this current load that I'm on.  This one has two additional stops and the consignee.  The first stop is in Conway, Arkansas with the next one following in Knoxville, Arkansas, and then the consignee is in Kansas City, Missouri.  After that I will make a mad dash back to Delhi to drop this trailer off at the plant, and then I will Bob-tail home on Christmas Eve, putting me home for the holidays.  I'm going to take a week off and enjoy seeing my little girl Abigail who is home from school.  She is the one who rolled her little car recently.  We lost a good car, but at least we kept our little girl.  For that we are very thankful!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dealing With Fatique

I got back to Delhi yesterday morning at about eight a.m. (0800)  My next load was already loaded, so I began securing it and tarping it.  I will always put myself on the sleeper berth line when I pull into the plant so that I can get myself rolling again as soon as possible.  I had driven all night to get here, and then I began working on this next load.  There is nothing unusual about that for me, and I never need the ten hours of rest that is required by the D.O.T. rules.  If I can get six good hours of sleep I am rearing to go, in fact trying to sleep for ten hours only makes me exhausted.  That scenario works for me, although each individual needs to know his own limits so that he is not driving fatigued. Safety always trumps productivity in this business.  A safety failure can ruin your career.

After I got the load ready I pulled over into the nearby truck stop to sleep.  Just about the time I laid down my phone rang, it was my very emotionally distraught youngest daughter who had just rolled her little Subaru Forester in a one vehicle accident.  She was fine physically, but the car was destroyed.  Needless to say I just couldn't get to sleep at that point.  I was really tired, but my concerns about her welfare would not let me sleep.  I sent my dispatcher a message about what was going on, and told him that I would not be leaving that night, which had been the plan.  He sent back a very kind message in which he expressed his gratitude that she was okay, and he said to "get some sleep, that load will still be there when you wake up."  I always push myself to be productive, and that is very important in this business, but being safe while you are being productive is even more important.

Here's a look at this present load.  It has three stops on it in the Northeast.  First stop is Reisterstown, Maryland, second stop in Riverdale, New Jersey, and the consignee is in North Collins, New York.

I had an interesting conversation with one of our other drivers while at the plant.  He came up to me as I was tarping this load, and he says, "let me guess where you are going - up to the Northeast!" They all know that I do this every week from Louisiana, but for the life of them they don't understand it. They actually think that I have gotten myself on the list of troublesome drivers who get punished with the really bad loads! One of them even asked me last week, "What did you do to get yourself on the #*!*-list? They don't know it but my dispatcher and I talk every week about these Northeast loads and I always make sure that I am back in Louisiana to be available for the next one coming up. My dispatcher loves it because he says it is like pulling teeth to get the other drivers to take these loads. We are not force dispatched, and the reason I like that is totally different from why others like it. For me it creates opportunities that others don't recognize.

Now, let me explain one reason they don't like these loads. Of course there are problems with running in the Northeast, but they can be mitigated if you approach it right. The biggest problem that most of these drivers face is that when they get a Northeast load it will usually consist of close to 1700 miles. Now that sounds pretty good until you realize that most of them can't seem to get themselves back down to Louisiana on their back haul load in time to put all the miles on one pay period. So, they end up with a paycheck for approximately 1700 miles. Their back haul load is close to the same amount, but it goes on next weeks pay, and if they get another Northeast load they don't get it there in time to add it with that back haul load, and now they have gotten three pay periods with only about 1700 miles each - unacceptable by anyone's standards. They end up running for three weeks at 1700 miles per week - I wouldn't like that either.

You take an experienced driver who's got some street smarts, and he will do what I do. I am in communication with my customers up there and I move my appointments forward anytime it is possible. The customers love the special service, and some of them have even requested of my dispatcher to send me up there on these loads. I have to drive hard for eleven hours all night for two nights and then flip my schedule over to daytime for the actual deliveries so I can do this, but it works well and it allows me to get up there and get back each week with enough time to take a 34 hour reset in Delhi before I take off like a rocket on the next run. That nets me somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,400 miles per week, which every driver claims he would love, but very few are willing to make the sacrifices to accomplish. Is that running hard? I enjoy the results. I enjoy taking the break each week. Like I said some of these drivers think I'm crazy, but if they knew the results I was getting they would be jealous.

I was planning on leaving out with this load and running it on re-cap hours, but since I couldn't sleep, I will just put in the necessary 34 hour break to re-set my seventy hour clock.  That gives me a nice break, and I can still make it on time.

On a side note, there are some things that I see out here on the road that I can never get a picture of simply because I am driving.  One of those things that I have probably seen maybe four or five times in the past three years or so is the "Oscar Meyer Weinermobile."  I don't know how you land the job of driving around the country in a giant Hot Dog shaped vehicle, but man, when I get too old for this gig, I may have to look into that!  This past week he was in front of me on I-81 in Pennsylvania, and he got off at the same exit that I did.  We were waiting for a traffic light to change to green when I snapped this picture of him from behind.  You can't really get the whole effect of his unique shaped vehicle from the rear, but it gives you an idea of how crazy this thing looks!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tis the Season... for Cold Weather And Christmas Tunes

I started my day early today.  The alarm went off at 3:45.  I looked out my windows into a thick fog and saw that there were four of us waiting on Yarde Metal's property to be unloaded.  They let us all in the gate at four a.m.  They told me to pull up to door number one and they would open it up when they were ready for me to pull in.  At six a.m. the door finally opened!  That is a good example of why I mentioned that I would start this day without logging myself on duty when I get started.  Had I logged myself on duty, I would have lost about three hours off of my fourteen hour clock today.  I was inside their building for another hour by the time we got finished.

As fork-lifts hustled and bustled around me, I listened to the melodic strains of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" as it played through the warehouse's speaker system while getting unloaded at that first stop this morning.  Here I am inside the building at last. I waited all night for this moment to take place, and I finally got moving on out of here around 0700.

Next stop was in Bristol at Reed and Stephanow Machine shop.  They got right to me and I was out of there in a flash.  We removed six bundles at Yarde, and six more at Reed and Stephanow.  Here is Scott White, the only employee at the machine shop who even seems to know anything about how to operate a fork lift, taking off the materials that they have been waiting on.

From there I made my way over to Stanley, my final destination, where Jorgo always takes good care of me.  They get the last 18 bundles off the truck.  Here's Jorgo, "git'n er done."

By 9:30 a.m. I'm finished up and ready to start rolling toward Bridgewater, New Jersey to pick up the return materials bound for the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana.  I arrived in Bridgewater at about thirty minutes past noon, and I was out of there by 1:15.  They only had one bundle, so it didn't take long at all.  I made my way from there on down to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where I am spending the night at one of our Knight terminals here.

All in all it was a very good day, but man this wind over here in Carlisle is like a knife - it is almost painful.  I am tired tonight, and I should sleep very well.  I've earned another night's repose.  We accomplished what we set out to do, and it all went well.

My dispatcher called today and wants me to hurry up and get back,  He says he wants me to run another load right back up to the Northeast, and that he already has a back-haul load lined up from Cressona, Pennsylvania to go with it.  These are gravy runs as far as I'm concerned, but very few of our drivers want to even touch them.  I was talking to one of our drivers the other day, and he asked me where I was headed.  When I told him Connecticut he stated emphatically that he wouldn't do that run.  He then went on to tell me that he doesn't drive at night, and he won't go north of the Mason Dixon line!  Well, I did both of those things to make this load work, and I guess I'll just keep on getting those "gravy" runs while these other guys settle for the left-overs.

I've got to hit the sack... I'm leaving here at about three in the morning, and gonna get just about as far down the road as I legally can tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

First Snow

Well, everything went really well for me today.  I was able to execute my plans without any glitches. I left the Petro in Scranton, Pennsylvania this morning close to 0400 and was in Queensbury, New York just in time for my 0800 delivery appointment.  As soon as I started getting a little further North from Scranton I started seeing some snow.  There was a good layer of snow on the ground at Apex Solar Power, where I delivered three bundles of extrusions.  Here's a shot of them unloading me with a Lull construction lift...

When I left from that first stop I wound my way down on some state highways through New York and Massachusetts and on into Connecticut.  It was a little slow going since most of the time the speed limits were somewhere between 45 and 55, plus there are a lot of small towns on that route with traffic lights that seem peculiarly timed to make you stop at least three times in each little town that you go through!

I made it here to Southington, Connecticut around 1400, and took a nice walk and found me some lunch at a Mongolian Grill restaurant here called "Gobi's."  I am parked on the property here at Yarde Metals.  Their receiving hours start at 0400, but they stop at noon.  There just wasn't a way for me to make it here today in time to get unloaded. so I will have another break here, just as I did in Scranton, that is longer than the required ten hours.  You want to try to keep those breaks to ten hours and then get rolling again, but some times it is just not possible to make everything work perfectly out here. When things go awry just a little like this you just try to make the best of the situation and do something to enjoy yourself out here.  I always enjoy taking walks for exercise, and when I have extra time like this I will generally take myself out for a nice meal.

In the morning I will deliver six bundles here at Yarde, then I will proceed over to Bristol and deliver at Reed and Stephanow.  After that I make my final stop at Stanley, in Farmington.  Then I am done with this load.  I'll turn in my paperwork, which is so easy to do now days with a smart phone app, and I will proceed to go pick up my back haul load.

My dispatcher contacted me last night and told me that we have some return materials to be picked up at Tri-State Aluminum in Bridgewater, New Jersey.  So, I won't be going to the SAPA plant in Cressona after all.  I really like these return loads.  They are usually very light due to the fact that they will generally be just a couple of bundles of material, and they take me directly back to the plant in Delhi, Louisiana.

I'll be back in here tomorrow with some photos of my stops, and some commentary to fill you in on how everything went for me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All Night Long!

I started this work period at 10:30 last night, or as a trucker would say, at 2230.  Everything is done in military time on this job.  That saves confusion on whether your appointments are in the morning or in the evening - almost every rookie makes that mistake during his first three months out here.  I drove all night and made my way over into the parking lot of the Petro truck stop in Scranton, Pennsylvania at approximately 9:30 this morning.  I was really getting sleepy when I got here, so I went right to bed once I had set my brakes.

I want you to notice how I have made my arrival times to each of these first two destinations in this trip plan take place progressively earlier each day as I advance toward my final destination.  There is good solid reasoning behind that.  Yesterday I arrived at Greeneville, Tennessee at about thirty minutes after noon.  Today I arrived at Scranton, Pennsylvania at about 9:30 this morning.  At this point in this trip our next leg of the journey will involve getting unloaded at our first stop.  I will need to be operating during the day time, or normal business hours now, so that I can get unloaded.  I've got to flip-flop my schedule now so that I can be on the day shift.

I've still got about four hours of driving time to get to my customer in Queensbury, New York.  So, instead of leaving at night like I've done on the last two legs of this trip, I will leave around four in the morning which should put me on the customer's property close to 0800, or eight a.m. Furthermore, if you remember, I am trying to also get myself over to Southington, Connecticut after unloading at my first stop.  I can park on the property at Yarde Metals and spend the night there which sets me up perfectly for the four a.m. delivery appointment I have with them.  By progressively advancing my arrival times it allows me to get a really good rest in here tonight before I start the next part of this trip which will involve getting material unloaded at each of my stops.

I drove roughly six hundred miles last night, and I could have put in another 50 miles or so and stayed at a Flying J just north of here, but I am kind of partial to this truck stop when in the area.  Some are nicer than others. This Petro kind of reminds me of White's Petro in Virginia on I-81 at exit 205. White's has been there for years, and the only way I know how to describe it is that it is almost "Mall" like.  It has all kinds of little shops in it, a movie theater, and several different restaurant choices.  Ha, it even has a "dog wash" where if you happen to travel the interstates with your favorite canine companion you can get them a bath while you are there!

Take a look at some of the nice features available to a truck driver at this particular Petro - these are shots of the one here in Scranton...

They've got their signature restaurant, The Iron Skillet...

And there is a Metro Deli...  I'll take a Reuben on Marbled Rye please...

There is an arcade, which of course doesn't really interest me, but check out those massage chairs, now some days those might come in handy, and if you are really hard up with back pain, there is even a chiropractor's office in here that does D.O.T. physicals if you need to take care of that while you are here...

Of course there is the convenience store...

Some very nice clean laundry facilities...

And of course the drivers lounge where you can relax and watch some Television if you are so inclined, or you can pass through the door in the background of this photo and you will be inside the movie theater where full length feature films are shown.

There is also a Smith & Soloman truck driving school located in the building on the second floor.  They practice maneuvers out in the parking lot, so be careful where you park  ;-)

It really is a pretty nice place, and it is always clean.  Plus you are in the mountains here, so if you enjoy walking around in the parking lot like I do for some exercise, you can also enjoy the views of the countryside around you...

I'll take a nice lengthy break here and be rearing to go early tomorrow morning.  It is probably going to snow tonight, or at least have some freezing rain.  Here it is December, and I have yet to see my first snow this year.  They've been getting hammered pretty good out in the West, but here in the Northeast, Old Man Winter has drug his feet on making his grand entrance.  We'll just have to see what the next few days brings.

I really should add something in here to this discussion about my planning for this trip.  Part of the reason for going ahead and getting over there to Yarde Metals the night before is that I can actually get my goods delivered there without ever really starting my electronic logs.  On this dedicated account I often times have a really good idea where my next back haul load will come from to take me back down to Louisiana for my next load.  Nine times out of ten when I am up in this area they will send me to Cressona, Pennsylvania to pick up a load out of the SAPA plant there to take me back down south.  By being at Yarde Metals in advance, so that I don't burn up my hours on my clock that morning, I can get the other stops unloaded in Connecticut and probably have enough time to get myself down to Cressona all on the same day.  That makes me available to pick up a load in Cressona on Thursday, instead of limiting the planners to find me a load for Friday.  That only increases my odds have having a nicer load available to me.  There is actually a lot more to being a successful truck driver than just being able to hold that steering wheel and keep it between the ditches!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Running A Load Up In The Northeast

I thought some of you might enjoy going along with me on another load.  I'm going to document this load as I go along.  When I have the energy and time I will jump in here and give you a running commentary on how it's going.  Hopefully that will help someone see what it is really like being out here on the road trying to "git er done!"

I've got a load from Delhi, Louisiana with a total of five stops, or locations to deliver to.  Well, actually it only has four stops, but I get paid for two at the consignee (the final destination for the load), Stanley Access Technologies.  Have you ever heard of Stanley Tools?  Stanley Access Technologies is just another division of the Stanley company - it is involved in security systems and automatic doors.  They are one of the biggest customer on this account.

This load was ready on Saturday, but I chose to take a 34 hour break so that I could re-set my 70 hour clock.  I explained the details of my hours to my dispatcher and he agreed that it was the best option for me to take and still be able to get the load delivered on time.  I know it sounds crazy, and I really don't want to have to explain all the details in this post, but had I left on Saturday, I would be working on what we call re-cap hours and I would have been just short of the necessary hours to make it to my first stop and I would have ended up about fifty miles from the first stop and had to shut down and wait until after midnight of the day that I was supposed to deliver, and then deliver it the following morning.

My first stop is in Queensbury, New York.  This is a new customer that I have never been to.  I called them while on the road this morning and set my appointment with them for Wednesday at 8:00 a.m.  The receiving clerk told me that time would be "awesome."

Here's the plan:

-First leg: 645 miles to Greeneville, Tennesee, where I'll get some rest at the T/A Truck stop there on I-81 @ exit 36.

-Ten hours later (the required rest period) we start the second leg, which will be another 600 miles to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I will sleep at the Petro Truck stop.

-The third leg, approximately 235 miles, will get us to our first stop in Queensbury, New York.  Here we will unload three "bundles" of extrusions and then we will make our way over to Southington, Connecticut to get ourselves parked on the premises at Yarde Metals.

-Fourth leg: We have a four a.m. appointment at Yarde Metals for Thursday morning.  After we unload there we will move over to Bristol, Connecticut and unload six bundles at Reed & Stephanow Machine Shop.  Then we make our way to Farmington, Connecticut to unload the remainder of the load at Stanley Access.

By the way, early this morning I sent an email to my dispatcher informing him that I will be empty by noon on Thursday.  These are done from the truck with our on board computer.  You always want to communicate this way, because it leaves a record, or a paper trail, as it was once called in the days of paper, that can back you up if there are any misunderstandings. That is four days in advance notice based on my current plan.  This is one of the keys to success out here - communicating good accurate information early with your dispatcher, so that he can keep you moving.  If I were to wait around until Thursday morning or maybe Wednesday afternoon to let him know my plans, I may be sitting around waiting on my next load.  It limits their choices of what they can get for you.  Of course I am accustomed to these routes and I pretty much know what I can accomplish out here.  There are many variables, but running at night eliminates many of the possible problems and delays with the crazy traffic in this part of the country.  If some problem develops in the trip I can always update my dispatcher with that information.  Once a driver has developed a foundation of trust with his dispatcher, and they know that he will usually be able to do what he says, it frees the dispatcher up to put better or more critical loads on you.

Truck drivers use a phrase that says, "If you are not turning, you are not earning." Simply put, you don't want to waste your time out here sitting around waiting on being dispatched a load.  You are already away from your family.  You might as well capitalize on the time you have out here to support them, and try and do your best for those folks whom you are making these sacrifices for.  One of the best things you can do for yourself out here is to communicate well with your dispatcher.  Anyone who has looked into truck driving as a career has seen all the cry babies on the internet complaining about how their company left them sitting somewhere without a load, therefore not making any money. Trust me, these trucking companies are in the business of moving freight, they want you moving.  It is a prime example of the misunderstandings that exist out here of how to thrive in this business. Usually the problems that we see drivers whining and complaining about are the fruit of their own mishandling of the important details of this job.  I can say this with authority, because I had considerable success at one of the companies that is slandered all the time on the internet by it's overly critical drivers, Western Express.  I learned so much while I was there, and discovered that all the cry babies out here were basically cutting their own throats by their poor trip planning and execution of their responsibilities.  Trust is a powerful thing in this business, and the only way you can build it is to perform at the highest levels on a consistent basis.

Right now I am sitting in Greeneville, so I have already managed the first leg of this load.  Our next stop is the Petro in Scranton.  Last night I started driving from Delhi at 11:30 p.m.  After driving all night and passing into a new time zone, I arrived at Greeneville about thirty minutes after noon. I'll start driving another all-nighter tonight at around 10:30 p.m. Today went well. I will let you know about tomorrow.  For now, I need to get some good rest!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We Are Going To Drain The Swamp!

I realize no one will understand the political contextual relationship of the title of this post in a few years, but I also realize that no one will be reading this rag or care about it in a few years also.  Our totally fumbling rookie politician President Elect kept hammering that phrase in his successful march to victory over a well established political expert with world-wide name recognition.  It seems unprecedented to me - in a good way.

I'm not sure why that phrase kept coming to mind this week as I was making my way to Savannah, Georgia with a load of extrusions going to Dirtt Environmental Services, a regular customer of ours on this dedicated account, but one of which I don't often get routed to.  Coming back to work after Thanksgiving kind of put me into a time slot that is not typical for me to be arriving in Delhi, so this was the best load they had, and they offered it to me.  Actually, I think the phrase was on my mind because Savannah, although a nice little place with a down-town revitalization process going on designed to attract the "artsy-fartsy" crowd as I call them, is basically in a big swamp!  I think I had international/political thoughts on my brain because I had to drive through "Cuba," and spent the night in "Dublin" on my way down to this very swampy area of Georgia.  That's right, I drove through Cuba, Alabama and slept at a truck stop in Dublin, Georgia on this trip.  Then on top of that the pre-loaded trailer that I picked up in Delhi must have been pulled by a politically zealous trucker before me, because it had this declaration scratched into the dust that clings to the sides of these Conestoga trailers...

This is not the first trailer that I have picked up in recent weeks that had political statements inscribed in the dust.  Folks are excited about this recent change of the guards of democracy.  Overall the country seems excited to see how this will all pan out, despite how the delusional folks in the media try to portray the country in an uproar.  I travel over ten thousand miles every month, and I have not seen one protester anywhere.  If you turn on the television or the internet you would think the whole country is in an anarchial revival.  It's so much rubbish, and the media still has the brazen audacity to think they can control the way we think and make decisions even after seeing their efforts totally ignored in this recent election.  One wonders how long they will continue in their own deceptive bubble and still be able to sleep at night.  By all accounts they should be totally demoralized at this point, yet they seem to have doubled down in their efforts!  Oh boy, I can't believe I'm saying all this. Oh well, no one follows this thing any way, I may as well stir the pot a little!

Okay, let's get back to what we do best...

Here's a look at the load of extrusions that my friend Jojo Sanchez unloaded with his fork lift at Dirtt. How about that; I have a friendly fork lift operator in Connecticut named Jorgo, and one in Georgia named Jojo.  Sounds like a trend working here.

Some times the shapes of these aluminum extrusions are intriguing to me.  I don't always know how they are used in the manufacturing processes, but some of them are quite intricate.  I think I may put together a set of photos of interesting looking shapes and make a future post of the variety of these shapes that I deliver all across the country.  Here's a look at one of the "bundles" on this load...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Heading Home For Thanksgiving

I'm in Cressona, PA hooked to my next load.  It's a multi-stop load to Texas which will allow me to get home for Thanksgiving.  This load has six separate locations to deliver to.  Three in Houston, TX, two in Austin, and one way down south in Pharr, TX.  The regulations we are working under don't allow me the legal working hours to finish the load in time to get back to Nacogdoches for the holiday, so my dispatcher is allowing me to split it up by delivering the three stops in Houston on Tuesday, then go to Nacogdoches and take a few days off for the holiday, and then deliver the other three stops on Monday.

If you were paying attention in that last post you would have noticed that this load has about 2,800 miles on it.  That is a nice load, but it is very unusual to be allowed to take a few days off in the middle of a load.  These guys that I'm working with, Knight Transportation, are really big on trying to get everybody home for Thanksgiving.  When you have about five thousand drivers out there spread out all over the country, that is no small feat.

Here's what this stuff looks like on my trailer - most of it is aluminum pipe, or round tubing.  There's a few I-beams, some square tubing, and maybe one other shape.

It's a thing of beauty, at least that's the way I see it.  Don't you agree?  There's just something pretty about these nice shiny extruded aluminum products.

We have to tarp all these loads, but when we load up here in the Northeast they insist that we cover the load with some poly sheeting before we put our tarps on it.  Here I am backed up into the tarping station - a contraption that gives you about one inch of clearance on either side of your trailer to back into. It is supposed to keep you from falling off your load while you are up there monkeying around with those tarps.  And it is a good thing too, because trying to lay out your tarps while walking around on that poly sheeting, laid over the top of this nice shiny aluminum, is the closest thing to ice skating that one can do without actually strapping on some skates!  Here it is with the poly sheeting in place.

I'm looking forward to seeing my family, but I am going to miss my youngest daughter Abigail.  I think this will be my first Thanksgiving without her being there.  She is in school in Colorado this year, but we will see her at Christmas, and we'll have a great time together then.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Plan Comes Together

Okay, let me finish telling you how everything went down on this load.  I apologize, I meant to do this yesterday, but at the end of the day I was just exhausted.

Remember I slept at my customer at Bridgewater, NJ so that I could get unloaded first thing in the morning and get started on my day quickly, because I had a lot of ground to cover and five stops to deliver.

Here's how my stops break down...

1st stop - Bridgewater, NJ

2nd stop - Mountain Top PA. This is a SAPA plant

3rd stop - Hamden, CT. This is a customer that I go to often.

4th & 5th stops are actually at the same location in Farmington, CT. This is a really big customer on this account. We send at least three truck loads per week to these guys.

Well, sleeping at Bridgewater was a smart move. At about five thirty in the morning several other flat-bed trucks showed up thinking they were going to be the first in there to get unloaded. As I cracked open my sleeper curtain and peered at them I could see the dejected look on their faces when they realized I had outsmarted them. A slightly evil grin involuntarily spread across my face as I eased the curtains back together. At 7:15 I was unloaded and the race was on!  I sometimes speak of this job as being competitive, and this is a great example of what I'm talking about.  Had I not been competing with those other drivers by getting ahead of them with my approach, everything could have broken down for me on the execution of my plan.

There are several problems with loads like this, but you just have to take the initiative and solve the issues. That's how you make a success out of this career. One of those issues is the time it takes dealing with the tarps at each stop. Here's a look at how I pull the tarp up to the top of the load on one side so that the customer can get their product off the truck without me having to totally remove the tarp. Then I will just pull it back down, throw the bungees in place and roll. If you want to do these types of loads you have to be prepared for this - it requires some agility and work, but it is all part of the gig.

As I was racing through this load and getting near to Hamden, CT, I realized that I was not going to make it to Farmington by three o'clock, which is the cut off time for receiving. Not a problem, I have the fork lift operators cell phone number, and he has waited on me before. I send him a text message letting him know that I will be there around four o'clock, and was it possible for him to unload me then? He sends back that their boss has really been cracking down on the overtime pay, and that I had better check with him first. Hmmm, that doesn't sound promising, but I give the man a call anyways. He doesn't think well of the idea. He tells me they are having a little Thanksgiving party and dinner for the employees starting at 3:30 and it just wouldn't be fair to pull the fork lift operator from the party to have him unload me. Okay, fair enough, I will just pull over there when I can and sleep there so they can unload me first thing in the morning. Only problem is that will put me at Ilion around noon. That works, but it isn't what I told my dispatcher. I send another text to "Jorgo" the fork lift guy and tell him that Jody said no, and that I will just park out back and see him first thing in the morning. I get a text from him in a few minutes that says, "Just roll on over here and we will see what happens."

When I pull in at four o'clock Jorgo is sitting on the fork lift waiting on me at the unloading area. He tells me that he doesn't enjoy all the small talk at the beginning of these company parties, so he slipped out to unload me while they get that part over with, and he will join back up with them when the food starts being served. So, as you see his little act of kindness made my whole plan come together. Remember what I said about these guys, the lowly fork lift operators, and how they can help you or hurt you. Usually your attitude toward them will set the tone for your future encounters with them.

Jorgo's generosity (he was off the clock) set me up to get myself onto the sleeper berth line by 4:30, which allowed me to start driving at 2:30 a.m. That put me in Ilion, New York at 0700, and I was sending my MT call in at 7:15 a.m. BOOM! It all came together!

As soon as that MT call was sent in my Qualcomm started going off with my next dispatch. Check out the miles on this next load going to Texas.

Not bad! What's really great about this load is that I get to split it up and take my Thanksgiving break at home in the middle of the load. How cool is that?

Remember what I told you about the detention pay I got on this load? Take a look at the total X-pay on this load. Sometimes this stuff really adds up!

I'm down in Cressona, PA tonight where I will spend the night and pick up my load in the morning, Then it's back to the races!

I hope this stuff helps some of you see the tactics and strategies for success out here.

It's funny, this week we've had a couple of drivers in our forum over at who were throwing in the towel and complaining vehemently about this industry and they way they "feel" they have been treated. One of the complaints was the crazy hours one has to keep, flipping your sleep schedules from night to day and starting your day at 2 or 3 in the morning. Did you notice how I drove all night the first two drive shifts on this load, then I flipped it back over to day time so that I could make those five stops happen? Then I had to start at 2:30 in the morning to get to my final destination first thing Friday morning like I had communicated with my dispatcher. That is how you make a success out of this crazy job. You are responsible for putting the pieces of the puzzle together - nobody is going to hold your hand. That is responsibility, and that creates success. I like being responsible for my actions and then enjoying the fruit of my labors. If you can take your own initiative to tackle the issues out here, then you can make it a pleasure and a joy to be an American Truck Driver.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

My First Stop is in the Bag

I traveled another 650 miles last night and parked my truck on my customer's property here in Riverdale, New Jersey.  I arrived here at 5:45 this morning.  The easiest way to get unloaded quickly at this particular place is to get here early in the morning, which is why I planned it out like this. They do not have a good place here for unloading flat-bed trucks.  They have five docks here for dry van loads, and the only place for you to get a flat-bed in here is to block off the other trucks access to those docks by parking across them so they can come out with a fork lift and unload you.  If you get here late in the day it is almost impossible to get in there because of all the other trucks coming and going, and if they see that you are sitting there waiting, then they just back out of the entrance and go in the exit and back up to their dock, which effectively keeps you blocked out.  Basically you need to be here when there are no dry van trucks here, and if you get here early in the morning you can block them out.  I've danced this dance here enough times to know how it all plays out.

Here's the problem with all that.  I got here early and I got unloaded, but because of the fact that I had to drive 650 miles to accomplish that, I am now required to take a ten hour break to get some rest.  Well, that puts me too late into the day to get to my next stop before they stop receiving for the day!  So I will have to take a ten hour break here, then drive over to my next stop in Bridgewater, New Jersey, which is only 40 miles from here.  I'll sleep in their parking lot tonight and get unloaded there first thing in the morning.  Seems kind of silly to drive forty miles and then take another ten hour break, but that's the way this one falls.

I pushed really hard to get to this first stop today, because after studying this whole load, I am quite sure that I can get the next five stops all unloaded tomorrow.  Had I taken my time at the beginning and got here tomorrow as my dispatch appointments were set up, I would not be able to accomplish my goal of getting myself emptied out first thing Friday morning.  Remember the whole point of this was to set myself up for another load early on Friday.  That is how you prove your worth in this business, in fact I got a call from my dispatcher yesterday saying, "I see what you are doing with this load, I really like the way you think!"

Okay, so what do you do when you are taking two ten hour breaks back to back?  Well, I like to walk for exercise, and Riverdale is a great place to do just that.  There is a city park right next door to my customer here which I can walk through and get into a nice little neighborhood that boasts sights like this...

You can also seek out a small diner where the locals go to eat and find yourself a bargain on a nice hot lunch plate such as this open faced roast beef sandwich served with mashed potatoes and real soup that they actually make on the premises.  This is a little place called Karen's Country Kitchen.  I eat here every time I make a delivery to this customer.  They are friendly and the food is always good and reasonably priced.

Karen's Country Kitchen is a small luncheonette counter with a feel of days gone by about it.  It is fun to discover these little tucked away places all across the country.  It is part of the simple pleasures of doing this job.  You can make this job enjoyable by embracing the whole lifestyle it offers, or you can sit in your truck and be miserable.  I have chosen to enjoy myself, all while proving that I can do this with the best of them.

Some new drivers really struggle with staying up all night driving, and the last thing I want for a driver to do is to be unsafely driving while trying to doze off.  Here's a tip on how you can assist yourself in that task of staying awake.  I like to snack on something if I am getting sleepy.  I'm not sure why it helps, but if my mouth can be active it seems to help me stay awake.  I think a lot of truck drivers do this, and is probably why so many of us are grossly overweight.  So, don't go for the chips and a soft drink, try getting yourself some fresh fruit instead.  I will set some fruit over on the passenger seat well within my reach so that I can snack on it at times to help me stay awake.  Fruit has natural sugars, and if you choose something crunchy, like an apple (or some celery or carrot sticks) it also helps.  This was my bowl of assistance last night...

Here's the tip about the tarp that I mentioned earlier.  If you remember I said that I had overlapped my second tarp section over the back one considerably more than usual.  Here's why I did that.  There were twelve bundles of freight on the very back of this load that all went to the first stop.  By overlapping that tarp like I did I was able to just completely remove that third section and roll it up to be stored.  That left my middle tarp section still covering what was left of my freight.  What that accomplished was a time saver for me.  Normally I might have to rearrange the tarps so that they would keep my freight that is left on the trailer protected from the elements.  This way I just pulled the back tarp off and bungeed the middle section back down and I'm ready to roll without a lot of extra work.  Here's a look at Julio, the fork lift operator unloading his material, and I think you can see what I mean about the middle tarp being in the proper position to cover the freight that was left after he removed his portion.

I know all these fork lift operators by name, and they are usually glad to see me.  It pays to be friendly and professional in this business.  If you establish yourself as an impatient loud mouthed jerk with the people you are delivering too you will suffer in this job.  Keep this in mind, that lowliest of employees, the fork lift operator, can often be your key to success.  He is far more important to you than the CEO of the whole company.  After all, you are a truck driver, and he has the power to make your day go really well, or really bad.  Treat him like he is worth something and he will pay you back ten fold.

Remember, this load has 1,882 miles on it.  I've done roughly 1300 so far, and gotten one stop unloaded.  I have got another 582 miles to go with six more stops total.  All the rest of it is up here in the Northeast, where it can be slow plodding at times.  It helps a lot that I am familiar with these customers and I know my way around up here.  Usually for most truck drivers the biggest problem in this area of the country is finding parking.  I am very fortunate in that so many of my customers allow me to park on their property, so I don't struggle with the parking issue so much.

I'll be back in here tomorrow evening with an update on how it's going.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Back on Track And Ready to Roll

Okay, we will continue on with this topic even though it turned out differently than I had hoped. But that's one thing about this job, you can expect each day to throw you a curve. The challenges in this career are one of the things that make it enjoyable for one person, while demoralizing for another. It takes some special folks to make this career work, and I hope you all may get to see a little bit of what it takes to get ahead in this career while getting to see how I make this load work out the way I want it to.

They finally got the load ready late on Monday. I hooked to the pre-loaded trailer and was ready to pull out of Delhi, LA at 7:30 p.m. Monday night. This is Tuesday morning as I'm posting this and I am sitting in the T/A truck stop at Greenville, TN (exit 36 on I-81). I drove all through the night last night, logging 658 miles with a brief stop in McCalla, AL at the Love's truck stop for fuel and my thirty minute break. I arrived here in Greenville (a different time zone now) at 8:00 a.m.

They added several more stops onto the load to make it a more efficient run for their pocket book - such is the life of a dedicated driver. The total miles on this load are 1,882. Because of the multiple stops, they've got it emptying out on Saturday. These multiple stop loads can really slow you down sometimes, especially when all the stops are in the Northeast. I've already told them that I'm going to empty out first thing Friday. We'll see how that works out, but what I want to stress to those of you who are wondering at this, is that I do this almost every week. I am always trying to push my appointments forward. It is a tried and true strategy for me that has put me considerably ahead of the other drivers in my fleet in terms of my annual income. This load is a good example of why you want to move things along quicker than the average driver would think to do. This load is actually pretty tough to get done by Saturday, but I don't want to empty out on a Saturday and have to be dealing with weekend dispatch, which in my case on this dedicated account is NOBODY. That means I will have to sit for the weekend. That is why I already communicated to them that I will be empty on Friday morning. They have got to get me back to Delhi, LA anyways because that is my dedicated customer down there. If they get me something close to a direct run back that is another 1400 miles added onto this week. You guys are good at math - that is almost thirty three hundred miles this week. Those miles are not because I have a good dispatcher, but because I took the initiative to move things along so that they work out to my advantage - that's how the veteran drivers handle this stuff. That is how you make some serious money at this job.

My first stop is in Riverdale New Jersey, and they set me an appointment for Thursday morning. I already contacted the customer and told them we need to deliver it first thing Wednesday morning and that our truck would be sitting there waiting on them when they show up for work that morning. I'll drive all night tonight also and unless some unforeseen catastrophe strikes in the night, I'll be there waiting on them in the morning just like I told them.

These multi-stop flat-bed loads can be quite tricky. I will have to expose the various product at the different locations so that they can unload it, but I sure don't want to have to un-tarp it completely and re-do it each time. The Conestoga trailers simplify this greatly, but this one was loaded on a regular flat-bed. I always climb all over the load before tarping it and memorize where everyone's product is situated so that I can get unloaded at each stop efficiently. Here's a shot of what this load looks like...

You can't see it in that first photo, but there is a gap in this load back at the back where the tarp dips down into the irregular shape of the stacked product on the trailer. After we get the first stop off in Riverdale, I'm going to show you a little trick that I did on this tarping job to save me some work. I have a three section tarp system, and I overlapped the middle section quite a bit extra on top of that back tarp - that's a clue. It will be easier to explain when I get you a shot of them unloading me at that first stop early tomorrow. Here's a look at that dip in the load I'm talking about...

Okay, it's high time for me to get some shut eye. After all I've got to do another 650 some odd miles tomorrow night also. I'll get back to you on some of the fun I'm having with this load on Wednesday. Thanks for following along with me on this run.

"We've got a long ways to go, and a short time to get there.  We're gonna do what they say can't be done."   -Jerry Reed, from Smokey And The Bandit

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Hit a Snag!

Well, I guess the joke is on me on this one. When I rolled from the truck stop over to the SAPA plant I was told by the crew that loads the trailers that my load was not going to go out tonight! It seems the production crew had some problem with part of the load, and there was not going to be enough material on the load to make it worth the while to ship it out. Here I am wanting to do a running commentary on this load for you guys because it had some really interesting features to it that make for some really great moments to teach the importance of trip planning, and it gets fouled up right at the start! Two of the things that I was going to point out are...

1) The fact that I left my home time early enough so that I could get my ten hour break in before I needed to grab the load and go.

2) It is a great load to show you how I sometimes flip my days and nights so that I can make a tight schedule work out just right.

Now the fact that I left my home (which is four and a half hours away) early and my load isn't going to be ready means I'll have to sit here all day tomorrow at the truck stop (sigh...) and take the load on Monday whenever they are able to get it ready to go. My dispatcher apologized profusely, but it isn't his fault. No one communicated the issues with him so he had no way of knowing what was happening. He did put two hundred dollars layover pay on me though, so I guess I can live with that. Whenever the load is ready I will go ahead and document it for you guys even if it doesn't need to be run like I would have originally done it. I'm sure it will help some of you see how things come together, or fall apart for us out here when we are doing this job.

The Critical Component of Good Timing

Timing is very critical in this job.  Often times I need to tell my dispatcher, or a customer exactly (at least within an hour) what time I will be somewhere that is maybe fifteen hundred miles away, and I may need to tell them four days before I am going to be there.  The customer needs to know because they are often times needing their goods to be introduced into their production lines, and my dispatcher needs to know so that he can plan on my next load.  All of this plays a part in the successful truck driver's ability to remain a top tier driver in his fleet, which means he becomes someone who can be depended on, and therefore leaned on, more heavily.  Of course all this adds to his bottom line, and that is why we strive to do our best at this.  I try to teach people how much this job is seriously akin to being self employed, because the results of how much one gets out of it are directly related to how much one puts into it.  It is a career in which there is a wide range of annual pay that is received by the men and women who have taken on this crazy lifestyle.  The discrepancy in pay in this career is not due to the fact that some trucking companies are cheapskates, wile others are willing to pay better, but rather that the pay in this whole career is completely performance based. The best performing drivers earn the most money - it is as simple as that.  I fully realize that there is some variance in mileage pay amounts, but for the most part it is your performance that really counts.

If my dispatcher knows exactly when I am going to be empty then he can plan on finding me something that will keep me on the move, instead of me sitting and waiting for my next load.  There is no money made by an idle truck, neither for the company, or the driver.  Efficiency is boosted by this critical component of good timing and being able to communicate it with those who need to know when you are going to arrive, when you will be empty, and when you will be available to roll again. This whole element of timing helps the driver with his "cash flow" also.  There is a cut-off point in a professional driver's week that he must have his paperwork turned in so that the company can process those trips for payment on the day that they do the weekly payroll.  The more you can accomplish by that cut-off point, the more money there will be on your weekly paycheck.

I'm embarking on a good trip to illustrate all this that is being loaded today on a trailer at the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana.  I'd like to finish this multi-stop load which finals in Ilion, New York on Tuesday morning before ten o'clock in the morning at the time zone of Phoenix, AZ - my company's headquarters.  As you may already know, I've been home for a few days to have my stitches from some recent surgery removed, so I've already been thinking about this whole trip.  In fact, as I'm posting this I am sitting at the Jubilee Truck Stop in Delhi, where I arrived at 7:30 this morning.  I left my house at three o'clock in the morning with the whole reason being that I was thinking ahead about this trip, and one of the things that will make it possible to pull it off is that when I leave tonight I need to have my full clock available to me so that I have enough time to make it half way to Riverdale, New Jersey, my first stop on this load.  The only way I could accomplish that was to leave the house early enough so that I could get to Delhi in time to take a full ten hour break before I depart with my loaded trailer.  I already know from experience that they will not have me loaded until about five o'clock in the afternoon.  My ten hour break will be finished at 5:30 this afternoon, and I can get on the road with a full eleven hours of driving time available to me.

Well, hopefully you can already see how much planning has got to go into this to make it all come off like clock work.  I'll have stops in Riverdale, New Jersey, Hamden, Connecticut, Farmington, Connecticut, and my final stop in Ilion, New York.  I'm leaving tonight, (Saturday) and I need to arrive and get unloaded in Ilion on Tuesday morning before ten a.m. in Phoenix, AZ's time zone.  I'm going to keep you posted all along the way, but for now I've got to lay down and get some rest.  I'll update you tomorrow on how everything is coming along.  I hope you will enjoy this little exercise, as it will illustrate how important trip planning is and how vital a truck drivers performance is linked to his overall pay.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

You Are Crazy Man! I'm Talking Certifiable!

That is what the young black man who was the fork lift operator unloading my truck in Austin, TX this week said to me.  We were just about done when he took a good look at me and said, "Hey, I see you've got some stitches in your face.  What happened to you?"  After I explained to him that I had some minor surgery to remove some skin cancer he then queried me further and asked, "Is it okay for you to be out here working like this with those stitches in your face?"  When I told him that I got right back to work three days after the surgery he then blurted out, "You are crazy man!  I'm talking certifiable!  Id' still be home taking it easy if I had gone through that.  What is wrong with you?"

I explained to him that I ran a load up North, and then this load was to Texas so that I could get to the doctor to remove the stitches, but none of that made any sense to him.  He was convinced I was a lunatic, and had no business out here working like I was.  I didn't really think of myself as doing anything heroic.  I was just doing my job, taking care of my business.  We are too soft these days.

I was just up in De Smet, South Dakota.  That is the town where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived for a good while.  We always enjoyed reading her books to our children when they were little.  Those pioneers would have never considered taking it easy just because they had a few stitches in their face. I remember the tales of plenty of hard work and adventure that Laura wrote about in those books. They were fictional, but based on her experiences growing up in a different time that would have tried most of us to our limits.

While I was in De Smet I ate a meal at the "Oxbow Restaurant.  It is a Laura Ingalls themed place.  Of course the name goes along with some of the tales in "Farmer Boy," and the menu even had pictures and some menu items that went along with the books.

Here's some shots off of the menu.  They aren't very good photos due to the lighting and the clear plastic sleeve that covered the menu.  But you can get the idea of what it was like.

I've been here before, and I think I've mentioned it here in some old blog posts, but I didn't even bother to look back and see what I said last time.  One other interesting thing here is the salad bar.  It is designed to look like it is being served out of the back of a covered wagon.

I am at home today, and I got my stitches removed.  I am back to my usual handsome self now!

I'll be getting back on the road after tomorrow, so I won't be here for the weekend, but it was still good to see my wife for a brief visit.  She's a wonderful woman, and I miss her greatly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Pain and Pleasure of Being Home for a Few Days

I'm in Albert Lea, Minnesota tonight, sleeping at the Love's truck stop at exit 11 on I-35.  It's a Wednesday, and I am looking back amazed that last Wednesday I was anesthetized into oblivion while a surgeon was removing some more tissue from my fore head and face.  I am continuing to have issues with basal cell carcinoma - a skin cancer condition that keeps plaguing me.  I actually enjoyed being home for a week to take care of this problem.  It is most unusual for me to be home for seven or eight days straight, and I made every effort to make the most of it.  I love to cook, and while I was there I cooked up a bunch of tamales.  I cooked the pork roast I had selected for the meat filling on Friday, and then my daughter Sarah pitched in on Saturday and helped me with the whole assembly process of the masa and the corn husks, and the steaming of the tamales in the pot.  Here is a look at what this great pot of tamales looked like as we were getting started on the actual cooking part of the process.

I had a great time with Sarah while working on that project, and I had a great time with my wife while at home.  I enjoyed seeing some of my friends at church, a special treat for me since I am gone so much of the time.

Here is a shot of my new look. I didn't even need a mask for Halloween this year, I was pretty scary looking with my very own fresh set of stitches on my forehead and along side my nose.  I've been frightening my customers this week without even thinking about it.  I am happy to be working again, and I completely forget that I'm kind of frightening looking until I realize that folks are looking at me kind of askance, and then I remember - oh yeah - I've got stitches that are kind of prominently showing on my face!

Oh well, I was just as glad to get back to work as I was to be at home.  I do enjoy what I do, but it is a problem being separated from the folks you love so much.  It is a part of what makes this career so challenging, and yet the adventure of it all makes it rewarding at the same time.  The conflict that goes on inside the soul of the American Truck driver is seldom understood.  He loves his job, and he loves his family.  His profession needs him, and his family needs him.  There is no getting around that conflict, we live with it as our constant companion.

I started back to work on Monday.  I was heading to the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana from my home in Nacogdoches, Texas when my dispatcher called me about a load that he was distressed about. I had planned on getting there Monday, and then taking a break so that I could grab a load on Tuesday with a full clock ahead of me to work with.  He asked me if I could go ahead and rescue a load that was sitting at the plant ready to go and get it up here to Minnesota as fast as possible.  It was supposed to leave on Saturday, but apparently one of our new drivers completely dropped the ball, and now it is up to me to save the day.

I took the assignment and have made some really good time on the load so far.  I had four other drops on this load on the way up here.  I had customers to deliver to in Lead Hill, Arkansas - Lenexa, Kansas - Yankton, South Dakota, and Lennox, South Dakota.  In the morning I will deliver to a Valmont location in Farmington, Minnesota, and then will go back down to De Smet, South Dakota to deliver the last of what is loaded on this trailer to the consignee.  After that I will pick up a back haul load from the SAPA plant in Yankton, South Dakota that will get me back down south.  From there I think the plan is to get me another load going to Texas, so I can go and get these stitches removed.  I'm tempted to whip out my pocket knife and remove them myself, but I guess I'll restrain myself.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Coast To Coast

Every truck drivers dream is getting those coast to coast runs.  Usually they are handled by team drivers, but occasionally I'll get one.  This past week I ran a coast to coast run, but it wasn't what you might think it was.  I ran from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of the Atlantic ocean.  As you may recall, I was enjoying myself down in Port Fourchon, LA and I got dispatched from there up to Delhi, LA to grab a load that had several stops in Florida. My final stop was in Del Ray Beach, Florida on the Atlantic coast, another beautiful area to go to.

Florida is such an interesting place to drive through.  You see so many different things.  I drove through some very pretty citrus groves.  I went past an orange juice plant where there were ten or twenty trucks, pulling open wagon-like trailers cumulatively loaded down with hundreds of thousands of pounds of oranges, lined up on one end of the building.  Then on the other end of the building were four or five shiny food grade tankers pulling out with thousands of gallons of juice on board. Somewhere in the middle of that building was a giant fruit squishing operation going on, squeezing all that precious juice out of those oranges.  I also drove through Everglades, and saw some wild alligators slowly meandering along the ditches right next to the highway I was on.  One of the truck stops I was at had signs out warning us that alligators were in the area!

Here I am in Lakeland Florida, delivering some extrusions to GT Grandstands in their tight quarters behind the warehouse...

My first delivery was in Pensacola Florida, and then I followed that up with stops in Tampa, Lakeland, Miami, Doral, and the final stop, or the "consignee," as we call it, was in Del Ray Beach.

From there I was dispatched to the Port of Vicksburg to pick up a load of aluminum "sows" to deliver back to the SAPA plant in Delhi, LA.  Here is what that load looked like...

That is 46,500 pounds of aluminum.  These aluminum sows that we pick up at the ports come from all different parts of the world.  Sometimes they will be from Dubai, or New Zealand.  These were manufactured in Russia!  I don't know why, but I just enjoy taking note of where some of this stuff comes from.  In this day and time the Russians are getting into our e-mails and we are apparently buying our aluminum from them!  Take a look at this label on these materials...

As a flat-bed truck driver I do a lot of things besides just driving the truck.  As you can see from that load of "sows" I also have to secure the loads on my trailer in a way that is safe and compliant with all the many regulations we are required to work under.  As you can see from this photo there is hard work involved, and it has the result of wear and tear on certain things like my clothing and my gloves.

I think it is time for me to replace this pair!  Well, that is something I can do when I go home this next week.  That's right, I'm heading home for some much needed rest, and just enjoying a few days with the folks that I love.  I've also got some more surgery scheduled.  It seems that my skin is going to help me be a constant revenue source for a few doctors in the field of dermatology.

I doubt any of you remember this place, but I stayed at the Oasis truck stop on this trip.  It is an interesting truck stop just inside the Alabama border before you cross over into Florida.  Here is a link to a post that includes some photos showing why this place is so interesting.

I am continuing to enjoy success at this career.  I made the short list of three star drivers again this last quarter.  It really is a big deal to be in this elite group, and it also increases your pay, as it gives one a considerable amount of bonus pay when they reach the goals required to be on this list.

Today is Saturday, and I'm sitting here in Delhi, waiting for my next load that will get me to Texas so I can go home.  It doesn't load until tomorrow (Sunday) and then it will deliver Monday morning in Sherman, TX.  After that I will "dead head" (running an empty truck) home to be with my family.  I'm going to go ahead and stay home for about a week to make sure I'm ready to get back to work after the minor surgery I'll be going through, and I want to get a chance to go to church with my wife and see some of my dearest friends while home.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Down On The Coast

Living on Sponge Cake,
Watching the sun bake,
All these tourists covered in oil.

On my front porch swing
Strumming my six string,
Smell those Shrimp, they're beginning to boil.

-Jimmy Buffet

I was sitting earlier today on a boat dock with my bare feet hanging in the water just chilling and resting.  I'm sitting down in Port Fourchon, Louisiana.  I was just up in Chicago and picked up a back haul load of 22 large bags of graphite powder.  Most of us have only seen graphite powder in a little tube that you can buy to lubricate a lock with. This load of Graphite powder went down to MI SWACO at Port Fourchon.  I don't know if you remember it or not, but I posted once before about a trip down here to Port Fourchon.  This is a small little place that supports something like 8,000 jobs. This swampy marsh supports the off shore oil field business, and almost anyone in the oil business has a yard of some sort here.  If you'll click on this link you can see what I posted about Port Fourchon in a prior post.  Here is what 45,320 pounds of graphite powder looks like.

This is a nice place, with a lot of great fishing areas.  I spoke with my dispatcher about what we were going to do next, and I was allowed to just stay here for a day or two and take a break if I wanted to. I really do get some great privileges granted me on this job.  Most trucking situations want you to keep moving so they can put you onto the next load, whatever that may be.  Here is how my discussion with my dispatcher went.  "Look Dale, I want to keep you happy, and I know you mentioned to me that you would like to get one of those nice Northeast loads when you got back.  If you come back now then we will just have to wait until Saturday for one of those loads, or put you on something for Friday, but that will mean you don't get back in time for that load to Connecticut."  He allowed me to decide on my own how I wanted to handle the situation.  Having my choice of loads, and the respect of my dispatcher, who knows he can always depend on me to always "git er done." has afforded me a lot of benefits that few truck drivers ever realize.  So, here I am resting up and enjoying myself like I'm Jimmy Buffet, and this is the view from where my truck is parked.

My dispatcher called today to go over the available loads with me and it turns out that the Connecticut load is going to have two stops in North Carolina (where all that serious flooding is going on) before it continues on up North.  Also our terminal manager made a request for that load to be given to one of our drivers who is training a new driver because that new driver needs to drive in some mountains for his training.   So, I decided I would take a load that goes down to Miami.  So my next load will go down to South Florida with several stops in Florida along the way.

This area is really interesting.  It is the land of levees, marshes, unique vernaculars, and the rich smells of the sea.  While taking a walk yesterday I saw a gar, a jelly fish, several "flying fish," some loons and herons, and even a juvenile sea otter playing along the edge of a marshy area. The main road coming into this area is an elevated toll road.  It is elevated for a good many miles.  This isn't the greatest picture, but here is a look at the road from where my truck is parked.

Here is a look at what most of this whole area looks like.  It feels like a "Marsh Wiggle" should be appearing at any moment when you are out walking around down here.  The roads are just about eighteen inches above the water, and that measurement increases and decreases with the tide.  There is so much water everywhere, and for the most part any strip of land that is above the water level is being used for commercial purposes.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Taking It Easy

"Well, I'm running down the road
trying to loosen my load.
Got a world of trouble on my mind..."

-Jackson Browne

I'm taking a little break today.  I really work all the time.  This career is very demanding, and requires a lot of long hours.  Those are not complaints, because I actually very much enjoy what I do, but they are the reality of being successful at this career.  I always speak of it as a career, and not just a job. The truth is that it is more of a lifestyle than anything else.

I felt so sad today after speaking to my wife on the phone this morning.  I feel her difficulties tremendously at times.  It is hard being separated all the time, but she bears it well.  Some days I can feel her weariness though, and that troubles me.  I wish I could be there just to ease her concerns with the small details of life that slowly and cumulatively wear you down.  She is a fine woman, and a strong one too.  I am doubly blessed to have her in my life.  She makes me a complete person, a man with a purpose, and I love her for bringing a richness into my life.  We did enjoy a weekend retreat together last week at The Mansion At Red Hill, a bed and breakfast located right here in Delhi, Louisiana.  She joined me here to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.  We had a really nice relaxing visit together.

We have such crazy regulations that we have to work under as truck drivers, and one of them is the Hours of Service rules (HOS).  I have already used up the seventy hours I'm allowed to work in eight days, so I can't really work legally today anyway since this is only my seventh day.  Oh, I had a few hours left, but nothing worth trying to use up.  So, I'm taking a 34 hour break, which will reset my clock back to the beginning.  It's okay, I'll catch up on some undone things like laundry, and maybe do a little grocery shopping, but to be honest with you I'm not overly tired, and I feel like getting to work and being productive.

My next load will take me up to Bolingbrook, IL.  It is a JIT load (Just in Time).  We were recently told that if we are late on this load that our dispatcher and the head of the shipping department at SAPA are both going to be fired!  They don't just give this load to anyone because of that.  It didn't used to be this serious, but we had a few drivers who were consistently late, and the customer threw a fit about it.  They are a big customer, and just like the customer I handle in Connecticut, they are such a profitable connection for SAPA that they are able to make all kinds of demands and SAPA just agrees to whatever they want.

I got some high praise from my dispatcher this week.  He made an analogy between me and "Rocky Balboa" as he was complimenting me and letting me know how much he appreciates all my efforts.  I had sent him a text message apologizing about a small mistake I had made on a "loaded call" macro that I had sent in to the company with my on board computer system.  I was asking him if he could go in and fix my mistake for me.  His response was not anything like what I was expecting.  Here is some screen shots of his part of the conversation...

I was in Connecticut this week and the fall foliage is just starting to show up now.  This is always my favorite part of the year, and has been for much of my life.  The weather is always so pleasant, and the new infusion of color into everything outdoors is a real treat for the eyes.  Here's some of what I saw this week while in Farmington, Connecticut.

I don't spend a lot of time on this blog lately, but I will post something in here every now and then when I get the urge.  I hope you enjoy what you find, and I'll keep at it as I'm able.