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...