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.