Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Me And You, And A Dog Named Boo

"Me and you and a dog named boo,
Travellin' and livin' off the land.
Me and you and a dog named boo,
How I love being a free man."

Those are the lyrics to one of a few hits that the band "Lobo" came up with a good many years ago.

They came to mind this week as I set off to do something for the first time ever.  After spending an entire week of home time with my dear wife, she has decided she wants to ride with me for a little while.  This is something I have looked forward to for a good while.  We are also taking our little Rat Terrier "Trixie" with us.



So, we are going to see how these two girls like life on the road, an experiment that will probably determine how many of us end up riding in this truck in the future.  I have a feeling the dog is going to love it, and the wife is going to say, "That was fun, but I'll see you when you come home next time."  She will probably prove me wrong, she has a way of doing that at times when I least expect it.

My wife is free from some of her responsibilities around here, since she recently quit working.  I am glad to have her along.  It will be fun being together, and it will be fun for her to see what I do out here on the road.  I always had a great time with my girls when they rode with me, and I see no reason for this to be any different.  The problem lies in the fact that living on the road is not always easy.  Oh it is interesting and fun at times, but it isn't always easy.  There will be adjustments that I'll probably make to accommodate her, but she insists that she doesn't want me to cut into the way I perform my job.  She wants me to keep making that top money!

She is a great gal, always willing to sacrifice for my success.  That's one of the many reasons I love her like I do.

Today is Wednesday.  I came home Friday for some doctor appointments this week.  My dispatcher told me to take as much time as I needed.  It looks like we will pull out of here on Friday.  I will probably pick up a load in Delhi, Louisiana on Saturday and get this journey started.  I'll update this in a few days and we will try to keep you posted on how it is going with the three of us on board. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Putting Your Career into Overdrive

I spend a lot of time trying to help people understand how to succeed at Trucking.  Goodness, just a brief little bit of research online into this career will make you realize that a lot of people are not doing very well as truck drivers.  It is a much misunderstood career.  People hear about how you can make some big money at this, then they see a few of those misleading ads on the back of semi-trailers and they go jumping in completely unprepared for what they are about to get into.  From what I can gather there is approximately 5% of the new entrants into this career who go on to be successful at it. That's pretty bad statistics.

Many of the larger trucking companies have instituted their own training programs to help people obtain a CDL and get started in the career simply because they need drivers.  It seems they have a slightly little better chance at keeping a driver whom they've trained from the very beginning, but it is a costly endeavor.

The big problem with truck driving is that it is so demanding.  There are long hours.  There is the separation from your family.  There is the sometimes surprising reality of being all alone out here.  A new truck driver seldom is accustomed to having a job with so little supervision.  New truck drivers learn very quickly the results of their own decisions, and they usually regret their own choices when something goes south for them.  It is a whole lot easier to have a job where you have a foreman who tells you to take that stack of materials over there and re-stack it over in that other building on the south end of the property.  Anybody can handle that.  It is specific, and it is easy.  Having clear cut directions and objectives makes a job easy to do.  But... what if your foreman allowed you to make more money by taking your own initiative and getting more things accomplished by using your own head?

I was once on a construction site when I was in the sign business, and I heard a foreman telling a common laborer on the job some things he wanted him to do.  The young fellow was kind of complaining and wanting to know why didn't the foreman just have some of those other guys do that particular task.  The foreman kind of squared off with the recalcitrant helper and looked him in the eyes as he made this statement, "Young man they hired me from the neck up, I'm supposed to be using my head out here to get something done.  You were hired from the neck down, and I need you to start using the strength of your young body to accomplish the things that I need to get done - Is that clear enough?"

Just the other day I was having a discussion over at Trucking Truth with a person who just doesn't seem to get this whole adventurous lifestyle thing that we call "Trucking."  He seemed to think that trucking is going to be so easy.  You just have your directions from the dispatcher, you follow them and show up so they can unload you, then you rinse and repeat.  He was so worried about what he was going to occupy himself with during all those long hours of just cruising peacefully down the road.  He foolishly assumes that he is going to be bored.  I tried to break it down for him just a little, and one of the things I mentioned was you will be needing to spend some time communicating with your customers so that you can move your appointment times up.  He scoffed at my suggestion stating he was pretty sure the dispatcher will have all his appointments set and he will just follow the directions in the paperwork they give him.

Well, yes you can do that if you like, and you may end up being one of those people who were just hired from "the neck down."  One of the keys to making money in the trucking business is efficiency. That is as true for the larger corporate picture as it is for the individual driver.  I make a practice of moving my appointments - it is a big part of why I am considered one of the top drivers in my fleet. If one wants to turn some big miles consistently, and have dispatch trusting them fully to be able to handle what ever they have to dish out, then they have got to establish a track record of "gittin er done."

Here's an example of what I did on this last load to give you a picture of how this works to your advantage.  I picked this load up late on Friday night in Cressona, Pennsylvania.  It had three stops in Florida.  Here's how they lined up in consecutive order according to the paper work...

✔  Thomas & Betts in Ormond, Beach Florida (appointment at 0800 Monday)

✔  TW Metals in Orlando, Florida  (appointment at 1100 Monday)

✔  Alro Metals in Orlando, Florida (appointment at 0800 Tuesday)

Well, my first impression with my appointments is, "That doesn't look very efficient.  I should be able to get all three of those stops done in a single day if I am ready to go at that first stop and have hours available to me to work a full day."

Here is where the problem lies.  My third and final stop at Alro Metals has a cut off time for the receiving department of twelve o'clock - noon!  Actually the latest appointment they will give you is eleven a.m.  If you have an eleven o'clock appointment and you are running late, they will not take you past twelve o'clock.  Well, I don't like this whole scenario, and I am convinced I can remedy it. But wait... the paper work also states that at Alro Metals you have got to make an appointment 48 hours in advance!  So, the average person who was hired from the neck down says, "Well, I will just take my time on this one, there is no way to get around it."

People, we make money by moving freight.  Sitting and waiting is one of the biggest complaints I see when people are posting on line about their frustrations with this career.  I do everything I can to keep myself moving.  I got everything delivered on this load by Monday afternoon at 1400 - that is two p.m., and then I was able to knock off another 200 miles toward my getting back to Delhi a day earlier than my dispatcher was expecting me.  When I sent in my MT (empty) call my phone started ringing.  It was my dispatcher of course, and the following conversation ensued...

Dispatcher, "Are you serious?  You are already empty?"

Driver, "Yes sir, I will be back a day early."

Dispatcher, "That is so awesome dude, how did you pull this one off?

Driver, "Well, I just took a chance and first thing Monday morning I called Alro to see if they could move my appointment to ten o'clock on Monday.  After looking at their schedule they said that would work. Then I called TW Metals and told them I was running just a little bit late, and I needed to see if they could receive me at about 1300 (1:00 p.m.)  They said no problem.  With the way my truck was loaded I could get Alro's material off without affecting TW's materials so I just flipflopped my schedule and did Alro second and TW third."

Dispatcher, "Thanks for letting me know, this is really great.  Now I can get you updated in our system and get you planned for you next load a full day ahead of what we had planned."

That is how you put your career into Overdrive.  You take some initiative out here, and you always do what you say.  You try to be that guy who was hired from the neck up.  We actually have customers up in the Northeast who request me to be the driver on their loads.  They have come to know that I will be there at the time agreed upon, and they appreciate that.  My dispatcher knows that he can count on me, in fact he ended that little conversation with this statement, "Dale, I wouldn't have expected anything less from you, but it still is a surprise.  I don't know of another driver in our fleet that would have thought to do what you just pulled off."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Overload

I've said this before in here, but working as an Over The Road Truck Driver is like living two or three lifetimes.  You just get exposed to so many things.  It is like sensory overload at times.  It is just a lot to take in when you are moving across this great country sometimes at an average clip of about three thousand miles per week.

It is not necessarily a bad thing.  Any truck driver can probably regale you with "Tales From The Road" if you dare to get him started.  Some of these guys can really talk and tell a tall tale.  I sometimes will avoid sitting with other truck drivers while in a Truck Stop Cafe. Sometimes I'm feeling "strung out from the road," as Bob Seeger would say, and I may be in a somewhat pensive mood.  During times like that I try to avoid the "counter."  You are going to end up in a conversation when you sit there.  It's not that I don't enjoy a lively conversation every now and then.  Sometimes I would just rather sit and ruminate on my own thoughts, and it's hard to do that when you have guys on either side of you who are lonely, desperate for conversation, and full up to the brim with their own self importance.

I've been thinking today about the many things I get to see and do out here.  I talk sometimes about how you have to make something of this career, and how you need to take it for what it's worth and do your best to make it enjoyable.  So many truck drivers seem to be miserable, and they seriously are missing out on some incredible opportunities to enjoy themselves.  When I get to a truck stop it is almost always my practice to take a walk.  This is not only for the exercise, but also just to get out and discover the things that are all around me, things that 98% of the drivers at any particular truck stop are missing out on.  Usually within just a couple of miles of any given truck stop there is a whole world of adventure going on unnoticed by the average truck driver who is too lazy to get out of his truck and do something for his own physical and mental well being.

Earlier this week I was parked at a customer's property waiting for my legally mandated ten hour break to pass so that I could get back on the road the next morning.  I could hear shouting going on just on the other side of a small wooded area.  It was the shouting of fans cheering at some sort of a sporting event.  I took a short walk over to the area and discovered a rousing "Little League" baseball game going on, and quite enjoyed myself sitting there and watching some young boys and their eager coaches try to best the other guys in the opposite dug-out.  It was sort of an Americana scene with families and friends all gathered together for a "rite of passage" that gets repeated all over this country on any given summer afternoon.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself as an unknown spectator in the crowd.

Today I am sitting in Ormond Beach Florida.  I got here about noon today, and I have a delivery appointment in the morning at Thomas & Betts.  I had time to kill so I started looking around.  Well, this weekend at the Daytona Harley Davidson store just down the road they are having one of these biker "get togethers," and though I didn't arrive here on a bike, I just went ahead and mingled right in with the crowd.  I admired their bikes...



And I enjoyed listening to the bands that were featured there playing live music...



A truck driver gets ample opportunity to do and see way more things than the average member of the human race.  He should take these opportunities and try to enjoy them when he is able.

I ate my lunch today at the Pig Stand Bar-B-Que restaurant.  I've been here before and posted a picture of their tanker truck that has been converted into a super huge Bar-B-Que pit.  Here it is again if you didn't catch it last time around...



Today I had their "Burnt Ends" sandwich with a side of Barbecued beans.  They have this interesting thing they do here with the bun - they burn their logo into the top of your bun.  It's a unique feature that I don't believe I have seen anywhere else.  How about this?  Have you ever seen another restaurant do such a thing?



They also had this crazy looking modified golf cart parked out on the patio dining area.  It reminded me of the time I was in the little town of  Ben Wheeler, Texas where they hold some golf cart drag racing events.  People show up with these super modified golf carts that will burn rubber and race quite rapidly down a miniature drag strip at an incredible pace, but all very quietly!



Last night I slept at the Pilot truck stop in Florence, South Carolina where I spotted this warning sign in the back corner of the parking lot.  Whenever I stay at a place like this, you can bet I think twice about stepping down out of my truck in the middle of the night to go inside the truck stop to use the restroom!



Speaking of signs that I have seen on the road.  Check out this one that is hanging right in front of the entrance to a hardware store in the little town of Eudora, Arkansas.  I'm not sure if "Hippies" are welcome here or not.  The sign looks friendly enough, but not being allowed to use the front doors seems a little discriminatory.  I'll let you be the judge...


I think you are getting the idea of what I mean by sensory overload.  I stop and take pictures when I can, mostly just so I can share these things with those of you who take the time to read in here.  But, as you can see, there is no lack of content to share with you on many a subject.  You get to see and do it all when you are out here constantly on the road.  It's not for everybody, but it is a big job that needs to be done by someone, and I happen to enjoy myself out here while "taking care of business."

I started this load up in Farmington, Connecticut.  I went from there to the SAPA plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania, where I picked up this load of aluminum extrusions...



I have three stops on this load.  One here in Ormond Beach, two in Orlando, and then I am deadheading back to Delhi, Louisiana.  That is a 2,000 mile trip for this load!  They are keeping me busy, and I am soaking in all the sights along the way.  I hope you enjoyed getting to see a few of the things that I do and see along my way.  I tried to limit myself in what I shared with you, so as not to "Overload" you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

What Is This Thing We Call "Trucking?"

Is it Pain, or is it Pleasure?  Is it Work, or is it just Weariness?  Is it a Living, or something more akin to a Lifestyle?  Or perhaps it is a mix of all the things I've mentioned here, and more besides.

Trucking is not a career for the casual observer, seeking a job, to just jump into without much consideration.  It takes considerable Commitment to make it in this industry.  The statistics show that approximately 95% of the new entrants to this career never make it past the one year mark.  That is an astounding number of failures at Trucking!

Have you ever tried to research Trucking as a career on the internet?  Goodness gracious, you would think this is the absolute worst thing one could ever choose to do for a living!  Many a truck driver talks as if they have thrown their life away in this pursuit.  Not too long ago the New York Times wrote an article about Truck Drivers entitled "Throw Away People."  Then even more recently USA Today published a tediously lengthy two part article about Trucking entitled "Rigged."  Their basic premise, and they came to this after interviewing a bunch of truck drivers, was that today's truck drivers are "Forced into debt. Worked past exhaustion. Left with nothing."

What is wrong with this career, or perhaps more suitably phrased, "'what is wrong with the people who choose this career?"  Has the American Worker become so soft and fragile that we can no longer appreciate hard work and the rewards that come from that exercise?  I recently drove my big rig past the Hoover Dam.  What a colossal piece of engineering that was and a great accomplishment by American workers.  My mind drifted back to those days when there were great men doing great things here.  Men like R.G. LeTourneau, who had both the Brains and the Brawn to get great things done.  My how the mighty have fallen!

Most of us spend our days at a keyboard pecking away our existence at menial tasks that do little in terms of actually producing something useful.  I always enjoyed being involved in manufacturing. There was a certain thrill for me to take raw products and turn them into something useful that people wanted to part with their money for.  I find that now days when I am driving my truck I am delivering those raw products to many of the same suppliers that I would purchase materials from back in the days when I was in the custom sign manufacturing business.  I still remember the day when I pulled my rig into the Eastern Metal Supply warehouse in Houston, TX to make a delivery and the plant manager "John" saw me and recognized me as one of his customers from years ago.  We used to attend the industry's conventions together in various parts of the country, and always enjoyed each others company.  He came over to me, shook my hand, and then took me into his office and we had a nice chat.  Then he gave me a tour of their facility just because he knows I love the manufacturing business.  When I finally got back to my truck the fork lift operator asked me, "Man, who are you? That guy never talks to the truck drivers who come in here, and he certainly doesn't invite them into his office!"

To be a successful Truck Driver, I am convinced one has got to embrace the whole lifestyle of it.  This is not a job that you work at for eight hours a day and then forget about it.  You don't go home each day, in fact if you are an over the road driver you may very well work fourteen to sixteen hours a day and only go home once a month or so.  Sure, that can be tough, I'll not deny it.  But to keep on doing this all the while, and being miserable at it is silly.  If you don't like it, go find a different job.  You may say, "I can't flip burgers and make this kind of money."  Well, money isn't everything, but if you choose to go for the money then why not figure out a way to enjoy yourself out here?

I get very wearied from all the vicious slander that truck drivers post online about their employers and their poor miserable lives.  Hello!  We are not slaves, we do have the power of choice.  That means you can choose another career if you like.  It also means, and this is important in this discussion, we can choose to enjoy ourselves out here while doing this job!

Who in the world do you know who gets to do the things you do and see the sights you see while you are working?  This may be one of the last of the jobs where you are totally unencumbered by other people who are watching and supervising you.  I wouldn't even know what to tell you if you asked me who my boss was.  How many jobs is that true of?  Pretty much I decide how much I am going to get done, and I am therefore rewarded based on my choices and decisions.  If I were to complain about my paycheck, I have no one to point the finger at other than myself.  For me, one of the greatest things about this adventurous career is that it is totally like being self employed, only it comes without all the burden of being responsible for other employees and paying the colossal bills involved.  There is a freedom and liberty to this career that is unparalleled in my estimation.

I take the steps to enjoy myself while I am on the road.  I always take walks in whatever area I am parked.  I familiarize myself with the many areas I go to.  I learn of their fascinating histories.  Some of the towns I go to are quite old and have an interesting past.  I was recently in Waynesboro, Virginia.  Do you know anything about that town?  Look at what I found on my little walk through their town.



I often stay the night in Fort Payne, Alabama.  It happens to be a good stopping  point on my many trips up into the Northeast parts of the country.  I had been there several times before I discovered their history.  It may not be the kind of thing they are excessively proud of, but it is their history none the less.  And I enjoyed getting to know more about the area.  Check out this story on these historical markers there on HWY 35.




I find simple pleasure in this lifestyle that most truck drivers never even notice.  I see the beauty of the landscape as the seasons change, I enjoy the complicated challenge of managing one's time so that you can be productive and profitable at this.  I enjoy the people I meet along the way.  I have made so many friends out here on the road.  Some of them are always glad to see me when I periodically appear into their lives unannounced.  There's a quaint little restaurant in Cressona, Pennsylvania with only a handful of tables in it called Jean's Place.  She genuinely seems to enjoy seeing me when I do show up.  She will sit at my table with me and visit.  She always wants to know where I've been, and where I am going.

I enjoy sometimes meeting up with my truck driving friends, people like Paul Anderson, who I recently met up with in Lexington, Virginia for a brief visit and a meal as our paths momentarily crossed each other's...



I enjoy the simplicity of this lifestyle.  Am I a bit quirky?  Maybe so, but man, I think people ought to enjoy the way they make a living.  After all, that is how we spend much of our time.  Look at what I did with this meal the other day - I was preparing myself a meal, and I realized that I had prepared it just as if I was having my best friends over for dinner.  I tried to place it on the plate so that it had a sense of appeal to it!  Silly? Maybe so, but it was an unconscious effort on my part.  It was some simple fare of summer sausage with cheese and crackers, yet I turned it into a feast for the eyes and the body...



I enjoy the many things I get to see and witness out here, the sunrises and the sunsets, the unexpected surprises that happen at times, like this rainbow that appeared at the truck stop where I was taking my rest.  After I had driven in a hard rain for most of the day, it was a welcome sight for this weary truck driver to take in before I closed my eyes for the days repose...



Oh, there are a lot of things I miss by being a truck driver.  I miss my dear wife at home...



I missed getting to see my daughter Sarah, and here husband Austin win a hamburger cook-off contest...



I miss my daughter Esther, and her husband Andrew, and their goofy Rottweiler "Lucy"who thinks She's a lap dog...



I miss my daughter Abigail, who I caught "horsing around" with this Sinclair Dinosaur while we were at a truck stop together once...



Yes, there are problems with pursuing this career, but goodness, who doesn't have some sort of problems in their lives.  I certainly don't consider myself to be miserable, or a "throw away person."  I'm actually quite proud to be an American Truck Driver.  I find the career suits me.  I think anyone who spends a little time in this blog will realize that I don't see the world through rose colored glasses.  I don't sugar coat this career and try to fool myself into enjoying it.  I genuinely am quite happy out here making things happen for the benefit of my family.  I have enjoyed much success at this, and realize it all the time when I hear from the many folks who are just out here suffering their way through the muck.  It takes a special person to succeed at this.  I have been blessed in this pursuit, and I try to do my best to help others realize the way to success at this.  I spend a lot of time over at Trucking Truth.com helping folks manage the maze of getting started in this career.  Some of them survive, some of them go by the wayside, but it is the ones who thrive at it that make me the most proud.

What is this thing we call "Trucking?"  For me it is pleasure, satisfaction, and financial rewards that my family is benefiting from.  Don't interview me if you want to hear about how terrible this job is!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

And Now You Know... The Rest of The Story

If you are old enough to remember Paul Harvey's radio program, and him putting just the proper pause in that phrase to grab your attention, then you are "old" like me.  I keep thinking of that phrase when it comes to this crazy perishable load of onions that I took on last week.  So, here's the rest of the story...

Part of the plan on this load was to empty out there in Dallas first thing Saturday morning and then go to our terminal in Dallas and have my "A" service done on my truck.  These services are critical if you are trying to make your bonus money, and must be performed by certain mileage limitations.  If you go past that mileage mark, then you just lost your bonus money for that quarter.  I have found that a lot of our drivers don't even make an effort at making their bonus money.  It seems rather an easy thing to do to me, and it means usually an extra $6,000 dollars or more on my pay by the end of the year.  I've actually shown several of the other SAPA drivers how to accomplish this, and since then we have been consistently having more of our SAPA drivers on the "Three Star Driver" list at the end of each quarter than there are of any of the other drivers in our terminal's various fleets.  What's amazing about that is that there is only fifteen of us, and there are probably 350 or more drivers that are dispatched out of our terminal.  That "Three Star Driver" list is considered the "cream of the cream" at Knight, and we have been consistently having our drivers appear on that list.  The list is usually small, maybe up to twenty drivers at the most will be found there.  There are several measurements involved in achieving the bonus.  These measurements include fuel mileage, productivity, safety training, and having your truck serviced in a timely manner.  Here's a look at one of those lists from a while back, just to give you an idea of how few make it onto that list...



Of the sixteen drivers on that list, seven of them are on the SAPA account.  Lately, we have been having as many as eight or nine of our drivers on that list.  If you are wondering why you don't see my name "Dale" on the list, it is because my first name is "Garland."  I actually had one driver tell me that he didn't believe what I was telling him about the steps you need to take to get the bonus money.  He said he had been there for about a year and never gotten any bonus money.  He considered it to be sort of a lottery type thing where the computer just selects certain drivers at random!  Truck drivers!  Some of us will believe anything!

Okay, my intractable prose is getting away with me, and I am veering off course.  The point I started to make was "the plan" to get emptied out on Saturday morning and get my service done at the terminal in Dallas.  I had set an appointment with them so that they could make sure and make time for me, but with all the delays at OM Produce, and then the entire load getting rejected, I didn't get back to the terminal until it was about five minutes to closing time for the shop.  They looked at me and said "Where have you been?  We've been looking for you!  We are sorry, but you missed your appointment - you will have to wait until Monday morning."  Meanwhile the heat is cooking these onions back there in that Conestoga, and I'm afraid they are going to be caramelized by the time I get them up to Michigan where they are now destined.  I can't sit in the parking lot during record heat for the whole weekend.  I need to keep these onions on the move, driving with my rear door open so they get some ventilation and relief from the heat.  We send an email to the terminal in Kansas City and request an "A" service from them for first thing Monday morning.  There is no way we are getting a response because they are closed at this time, but I decide to take off after my ten hour break in Dallas and get myself up to the Kansas City terminal since it is on the way to Michigan from here.  If they can get me in and do that service for me I will still be on schedule for the bonus pay, but anything further than that and I am out of luck.  With this load I have been sliding the Conestoga open while taking my breaks just to give the onions a break from the heat being generated inside that cover, but I've got to tell you this load sure does smell good - I love the smell of onions cooking!

Everything worked like clock-work when I got to Kansas City, thankfully they accommodated me and sent me on my way, helping to set me up for success not only on this load, but also for an extra fifteen hundred bucks or more this quarter.  When I got to Hearty Fresh in Michigan they were glad to see the onions, and unloaded me promptly.  They didn't even balk at the load!  This was the strangest experience I've had yet in trucking.  One customer thinks I have brought them rotten onions, and the next one thinks they are lovely!  I don't get it, but I did tell my driver manager that he can count me out on the next load of onions they come up with.  I'm sticking to the non-perishable things like metals.  Here's a look in my drivers side mirror of the fork lift driver scurrying about taking my load of onions off and putting them right into a refrigerated warehouse full of all kinds of produce...



This load really got crazy for me. There must have been at least three different brokers involved in this thing, and they were blowing up my phone! One of them even called me wanting to know if he was going to get paid for the miles to Michigan! I laughed at him and said, "Sir, I am the driver. I don't know why you think I would have any say in whether you are getting paid or not. You gave this load to someone at Knight, and I suggest you contact that person if you are worried about your paycheck. As for me, I am doing everything I can to protect these onions from the heat, and make sure they make it safely to Michigan." His response was, "Those are my onions, and I expect to be paid fully for the miles they travel. Who authorized you to take them to Michigan?" At that point I was throwing up my hands. I gave him the person's name in claims who told me to take them to Hearty Fresh, and told him he needed to contact the claims department at Knight and talk to them. Not five minutes later I got a call from another guy who claimed the onions were his, and he wanted me to take them to some place in Virginia!

Here's another strange twist in the whole scenario. One of the brokers (the one who wanted me to take the onions to Virginia) sent a nasty email to my driver manager complaining about me. He said he had called the receiver in Michigan and they said that I had not contacted them to set an appointment. He also claimed I had lied and told him I'd be there on Monday, when the truth was that I spoke to him on Monday and told him I would deliver on Tuesday, and that I had already set my appointment with the customer. There was actually about five lies he told my dispatcher. So my dispatcher calls me and says he's got to call the guy when there are complaints like that, but he wants me to tell him exactly what has taken place first.

My response was, "Do you mind if I call him and straighten this out, because you know nothing in that email is correct." He says, "Go right ahead Dale, I hate dealing with these snakes."

The Broker is perturbed that I'm the one responding to his email with a phone call, and wants to know how I know what is in his private emails to another person. I tell him it's called "communication," and that's what we do to make sure his product is delivered properly. I remind him of the exact times of our conversations, and the content of each one. I also remind him that I'm on a cell phone, all my calls to his number are logged with dates and times. I calmly and professionally let him know that if he had some legitimate complaints about me he had better have them substantiated, if not then he needs to let my driver manager know he was mistaken.

Five minutes later my dispatcher calls again saying he got a new email from the broker apologizing and saying he got this load confused with another one! What a piece of work these brokers can be!

As a musician, I've written a fair amount of songs over the years.  I'm thinking of working up something about "The Onion Blues" right now.  Who knows, it might be a big hit among the truck driving crowd!

I'm back in Delhi Louisiana today.  It feels good to have a full load of aluminum behind me.  I'm heading out tonight on a 1,500 mile run that has it's first stop at Sigora Solar in Waynesboro, Virginia.  Then I will go to a regular customer, Camfil, in Riverdale, New Jersey.  From there I have a stop in Storrs, Connecticut, one in Bristol, Connecticut, and two in Farmington, Connecticut.  Some degree of normalcy has returned, if you can call the life of an over the road truck driver normal!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Road Goes On Forever, And The Highway Never Ends

I am in the middle of a load that keeps making those words come to mind.

Before I get into that let me show you something.  I was thinking recently about how I am being dispatched.  I've really been getting some nice loads.  This post was going to be one where I tell you about some of the problems I'm facing on a particular load.  It is not meant to be a diatribe on the problems in this career, or to sound like a typical whining, complaining truck driver.  Just a reminder that there can be issues out here that you will have to face.  Stress and problems are going to happen out here, the key to success is how you handle the stress.

I have literally been running basically coast to coast lately.  I've been on the West Coast twice, and back over on the East Coast twice in just the last few weeks.  It's really some unusually consistent long runs for a solo driver.  Here's a look at how I've been dispatched lately...

✔ Delhi, Louisiana direct to Hermiston, Oregon = 2,127 miles

✔ Hermiston, Oregon with six stops back to Delhi, Louisiana = 2,848 miles

✔ Delhi, Louisiana direct to Farmington, Connecticut = 1,406 miles

✔ Farmington, Connecticut with two stops back to Delhi, Louisiana = 1,615 miles

✔ Delhi, Louisiana with two stops to Farmington, Connecticut = 1,442 miles

✔ Farmington, Connecticut with five stops back to Delhi, Louisiana = 2,411 miles

✔ Delhi, Louisiana direct to Alexandria, Louisiana = 133 miles

✔ Alexandria, Louisiana back to Delhi, Louisiana = 133 miles

✔ Delhi, Louisiana direct to Hermiston, Oregon = 2,127 miles

✔ Hermiston, Oregon with nine stops back to Delhi, Louisiana = 2,829 miles

That amounts to basically a little more than 17,000 miles in a six week span!  Those are some great miles when you consider that I went home twice during that time period.

If you'll notice, you will see one of the beautiful things about being on a dedicated account. Every time they send you out somewhere, they have got to get you back as quick as possible so that you can get onto another load for your dedicated customer.  There is very little sitting and waiting for a load when you are a dedicated driver for someone.

Okay along on that same subject, they find us back haul loads so that we can get back to the SAPA plant in Delhi as quickly as possible.  Most of our back haul loads are actually SAPA loads due to the fact that they have about 25 plants all across the country.  We are usually close enough to one of them to get a load out of that plant.  Just the other day, I delivered in Phoenix, Arizona, and although there is a SAPA plant in Phoenix, they couldn't get me a load that was headed toward Delhi. So, they settled for a third party load (a load that comes from a freight broker) that picked up in Santa Teresa, New Mexico and delivered to Dallas, Texas.  It really seemed like a perfect back haul for me because I had requested to go home this weekend.  The load delivered on Saturday morning in Dallas, and my home is right on the way to Delhi from there.  Sounds like it should be so simple, just deliver the load, go home for a few days, and then show back up in Delhi when I am ready to get back to work.  But wait...

This is the load that had those words I titled this post with on my mind.  This load was a first for me...
It is an edible load.  I am a flat-bed driver, I've never hauled food.  While I have seen other flat bed drivers hauling these loads, I have never had the privilege of hauling a load of onions...



What you are looking at is 45,000 pounds of purple onions.  They haul onions on flat beds because they will go bad if they are not ventilated properly.  They put off a gas that will cause them to spoil if they are not ventilated properly.  It is the same gas that causes your eyes to water when cutting onions.  They are normally tarped to protect from the rain, but the tarp is just laid on the top with the sides being open for ventilation.  I had a Conestoga cover, so I just drove it down the road with the back flap open for some ventilation...



I also had to "bump a dock" on this load, another thing that a flat bedder seldom does.  It wasn't a problem, it's no different than backing into a tight spot at a truck stop for the night.  Normally our flat bed trailers are loaded from the side with the fork lift driver being at ground level.  But here at National Onion, they drove their fork lifts right up on the flat bed.



The destination for these onions was in Downtown Dallas, Texas.  I figured it would be challenging, as I had already looked at a satellite view of the location on Google Earth.  It was dark when I pulled in there at about five thirty in the morning, but I knew I was there when I saw this scene...



I feel for some of you guys who drive a reefer unit.  I know you guys see places like this all the time, tight spots where you have got to back into a dock, and block off all four lanes of traffic just to get in where you need to be.  It can really be nerve racking for the uninitiated, or the rookie driver, but it is just another day in paradise for those guys who regularly haul refer loads.

I had to wait an hour and a half just to get in a door, and as you can probably guess, there is no where to park while you wait.  So, what do you do?  You park right out there in the street with the other guys who are waiting.  Several of us just sat there in the street waiting for our door.  In this photo I am the only truck sitting there, but I sat there for a good while with other trucks ahead of me.  I made a block and got myself turned around so that I wouldn't be doing a blind side back into the docks. Here I sit waiting my turn...



You can see from this view outside my windshield, that I am sitting right in Downtown Dallas.  I am very near to the Deep Ellum area if you are familiar with that...



When I finally got in there and got unloaded, I went right in to get my bills and get moving.  HaHa!  That's how we do it in a flat-bed - Not with an edible load!  They started opening up bags of onions and smelling them, squeezing them, removing the dry skin, and even tasting them!  Oh my goodness, when I deliver a load of metal, they unload it, sign my bills, and I am gone - I am spoiled rotten.  I waited for about an hour and a half just to get my bills signed, and then they told me they were rejecting the load!  What?  I don't even know what to do now.  It is Saturday and my dispatcher is unavailable.  I call claims and explain it to them, and they act like this is an everyday experience for them.  Okay, so what are we to do?  I am a dedicated driver who needs to get back to Delhi.  Well, after going through what seemed like hundreds of phone calls (the broker was blowing up my phone!) they determined that they had another customer who would take the onions - the only problem is that they are up in Byron Center, Michigan!  After getting my dispatcher involved we agreed to run the load up there, but I have got to get my truck serviced somewhere along the way, so that puts another delay in the mix.

I am seriously hoping this next customer will accept this load, because I don't want to have to go dump all these onions in a landfill somewhere.

Reefer drivers, you have a new found respect from me.  You put up with stuff that would drive me crazy.  I know some of you think I'm crazy for driving a flat bed, but I guess after all, it takes all kinds of folks to make the world go around.  This job is demanding, but I guess each of us has our own limits on the things we are willing to deal with.  I'd throw tarps in 125 degree heat any day over having to deal with a perishable food load.

I hope Michigan will be the end of the road for this load.  I'm starting to feel like this load has been energized with that brand of batteries that advertises "it keeps going, and going, and going..."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hot Stuff!

Occasionally we get a load that is referred to as being "Hot."  When we get a "Hot" load, that simply means that it is especially urgent, it has got to get there ASAP!  The customer needs it badly. Sometimes we have loads that are called "JIT" loads, and that simply means that it is a "Just In Time" load.  On these loads it is critical that they are delivered exactly when requested.  They will usually have an appointment time, and it is critical that you make your appointment.  Often times "JIT" loads come with a fine to the shipping company if they are delivered late.  These "JIT" loads are usually delivered to manufacturing facilities whose assembly lines will be held up if you are late delivering their product.  These are usually going to someplace that doesn't want to spend the capital required to build a large warehouse to store excess stock, so they sort of use the shipping company as a place to keep their goods, but they expect it to be delivered when needed.  Of course there are financial incentives for the shipper also - they get paid higher rates to do these "JIT" loads.  Some of the customers that I serve on this dedicated account are "JIT" loads.

Recently after delivering to Stanley Access Technologies in Farmington, Connecticut I got a back haul load from Cressona, Pennsylvania that delivered down to Alro Metals in Tampa, Florida.  When I got to the SAPA plant in Cressona, they informed me that they had to add a "hot" piece onto my load that would need to be dropped at the Great Dane Trailer manufacturing facility in Statesboro, Georgia on my way down to Florida.

I've been to this facility plenty of times before, and not only do you have to have an appointment set 48 hours in advance, but you are going to be there a while.  They are notoriously and methodically slow about getting you unloaded.  Quite often the material that we bring them is almost 53 foot long, because it is the extruded aluminum pieces that make up the decking, or flooring, of the trailers that they build here.

I didn't need to wait 48 hours, I could be there in less than half that time.  Remember, in this business time is money, and I don't like to waste money.  I called to set my appointment, and told the person on the phone when I could be there and asked for a ten o'clock appointment that morning.  I was going to be pushing it all I could to make it at that time.  Their terse reply was that they had already over booked deliveries for that day and I would have to come the next day.  Well, not to be put off like that, I engaged the clerk with the following conversation...

Me... "I think you might want to check this purchase order number and see if you can go ahead and take me at that time I requested."

Clerk... "I doubt it, but go ahead and humor me."

Me... "It is purchase order xxxxxxx"  (now I hear pecking away at a keyboard)

Clerk... "Hmmm, I think you are correct sir, it seems that we have a spot for you at ten a.m.  Come on in and we will get you unloaded.  There is an extremely urgent message attached to that purchase order."

HaHa, sometimes you can use these "hot" loads as leverage to get yourself in and out of there in a hurry!

Well, here is how it went down as I arrived at the gate:

The guard phoned his "receiving gal" as he called her, and she told him to let me in and have me back up to door number xx.  By the time I got around to that door and started setting up to back up to the door, two forklifts came racing around the corner and were waiting on me to get it untarped and unstrapped.  You can see in this photo one piece of material lying on the ground next to my truck. That is the one that was "Hot."  Before I could even get my straps back on the rest of my load and my tarps pulled back into place, about four of five young men showed up and hoisted it up onto their shoulders and took it inside the building to put it to good use.



Speaking of "Hot Stuff," let me tell you about what I picked up next.  After delivering the rest of that load to Alro Metals in Tampa, I was dispatched to Port Manatee to pick up some aluminum logs that were going to the SAPA plant in Gainesville, Georgia.  If you are not familiar with these "logs," as we call them, here is a look at what a load of "logs" looks like for me...


In the plants where they make the extrusions that I haul around the country, these "logs" are heated up until they are glowing "cherry red" and then forced with powerful hydraulic presses through a "die." If you have ever seen one of these little toys that kids use that forces "Play-dough" through a machine and it comes out a certain shape depending on the "die" you are forcing it through, that is the simplified version of the principle of manufacturing aluminum extrusions.  Here are some of the shapes that I just delivered this week to a job site in Hermiston, Oregon.  These are for the stadium seating at a new Rodeo arena being built there.  This was my second trip up here.


You can see in the background of the following photo how the stadium is taking shape up there in Hermiston, Oregon.  This is a look at my truck being unloaded by the construction crew.  I am actually parked inside the rodeo arena in this shot.


I've got so much "Hot Stuff" on my mind as I'm posting this.  Like the terrible heat I drove through on my way to Oregon.  As I was coming through West Texas.  I stopped at a rest area near Chilicothe, TX to stretch my legs a bit and it felt like opening the door of a blasting furnace when I stepped out of my nicely air conditioned truck.  It was 102 degrees outside.  Not only was I greeted by the heat as I exited my truck, but I was also greeted with this ominous warning as I entered the building to use the restroom...


I also enjoyed some "Hot Stuff" to eat while in Florida,  I tried a Caribbean restaurant where I ate some Jerk Chicken, as the Jamaican's call it.  Very spicy, and very good.  Forgive me for the quality of this photo - it is out of focus, but I wanted you to see how carefully they plated this meal with the shaping of the rice and the pretty color of the cabbage.  It was all done up very nicely...



I even had a Jamaican soda to go with the meal...


When I returned to Delhi, my dispatcher said, "Dale, we don't have any good loads today.  Would you be willing to run a little short load just for something to do today, and then we will see what develops for tomorrow?  I hate to put you on one of these loads I've got today, when there is bound to be something better show up for tomorrow."  Okay, I was game, and it gives me a chance to do my dispatcher a favor.  He always treats me so special, that I really owe it to him to work with him whenever he requests it.  What he had me do was to take an empty "scrap" trailer from the plant to a facility that puts their "scrap" aluminum into the "scrap" trailer that we leave on their property.  They call us when it is full, and we bring them an empty, and haul the loaded trailer back to the plant.  I have never done this duty since I first started here, and I guess it was time to take the plunge.  It felt kind of odd, because all I have ever hauled are flat-bed trailers.  Here is a picture of the "scrap" trailer that I took down to Alexandria, Louisiana, and a shot of the loaded one that I brought back...




These trailers are typically a little on the "junky" side - after all, they are just used for hauling "scrap" metal.

As a truck driver, we get to see some "Cool Stuff" also.  I see really cool stuff all the time, and I try to share as much of it with you as I can.  Time is limited though, so you really only get to hear a small portion of what my life on the road is like.  Being an over the road truck driver is literally like living three or four lifetimes.  It is incredible what all you are exposed to.  Truck drivers are full of stories to tell, but it is only because they have been so many places and seen so many things.  While I was parked at a truck stop down in Florida I saw this rig... Pretty cool, don't you think?



Although I didn't make it clear yet, after doing that little short haul of scrap metal for my dispatcher this past week, he came up with that second load going to Oregon for me.  That is a lesson for you about truck driving and how you need to interact with your dispatcher.  Don't be thinking you are too good to do a short load now and then.  Don't start refusing loads that you think are beneath you.  That type of behavior only puts you a little lower down on his list of priorities.  Your dispatcher wants you to be moving as much as possible, but sometimes things don't all come together just right.  If you can show that you can do a great job at the little things, then you will begin to be trusted with the bigger things.  And that my friend is how you begin to make your dispatcher think of you as "Hot Stuff!"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Making The Most of Your Time

The truck driving career has it's own unique set of issues that go along with the territory.  Just go to any truck driving forum or chat room and you will find that "misery loves company."  Man, the whiners and complainers in this business divide and multiply like an invasion of truck driving amoebas!  One of the best things one can do is learn to work within the parameters of  this career and figure out how to make it work for you.  Most people buck and fight the system trying to make it work the way they think it should, and thus we have so many miserable people out here.

One of the most common complaints we hear concern the unfortunate wait times involved, and how those wait times affect our productivity in a negative way.  Once a person learns to manage their time in such a way that works with those wait times they will find themselves being much more productive and happy with their job and their pay checks.  Part of that is knowing and understanding the log book rules.  I use the split sleeper berth rule fairly often in a way that helps me to keep moving and be  productive.  I find that most drivers are clueless about that rule, and many of the ones who know about it can't grasp the concept of how it will help you.

Look, I understand how living in a truck is not the most wonderful type of life, but if you choose to drive a truck for a living, then you should be willing to figure out how to enjoy yourself out here a little.  This career is much more of a lifestyle choice than it is just a choice of the type of job you are going to do.  Over the road truck drivers live in their truck, and living in what amounts to a walk-in closet is not exactly romantic or appealing to most folks!

GET OUT OF YOUR TRUCK!  Yes, folks you have got to get out of that truck a little.  Get yourself some exercise, enjoy some of the local scenery, or even some of the local food.  Take a walk, explore a little of the history of the different areas you are in.  We have a commonly used acronym in trucking...  G.O.A.L.  That stands for Get Out And Look.  We use it for a reminder to got out and look behind your truck when backing into a spot so that you don't hit anything.  There is hardly anything visible to a driver when backing his truck, and therefore many of our accidents happen when backing.

I propose we use that acronym for a new purpose, and that is to help you enjoy your life on the road.  Don't be a miserable truck driver who always complains about every little problem that comes with the territory.  Do something positive about your choice of career and make something enjoyable happen for yourself!  Get out and look around a little!  Capitalize on the benefits of the traveling lifestyle that you are inextricably involved in - as some folks would say, "Get A Life!"

I do this all the time, as I am sure many of you have noticed from the things I post in here.  Just this week I had to make a delivery to Ryerson Metals in Greenville, South Carolina.  I've been here many times before, and I know it is going to take a while to get unloaded, despite the fact that they require you to make an appointment.  I have never gotten away from that place in any semblance of a scenario that seems efficient, and certainly they have never started unloading me anywhere close to the time of my precious appointment!

The best way to handle a customer like that is to plan on taking your ten hour break while there, getting some sleep and maybe do a little exploring while you wait.  So, I took a walk for some fresh air and the benefits of the exercise.  I looked up a few restaurants on line that were in walking distance and tried a new one that I hadn't been to before.  I ate a meal at Memo's, a small southern diner that was inexpensive with a real friendly wait staff.  For $8.46 I got a grilled Pork Chop with Green Beans, Mustard Greens, and Cooked Cabbage.  It came with a piece of corn bread and a glass of sweet tea.  That's true southern cuisine and hospitality, and it was a real bargain.  I slept for a good while and then enjoyed another nice walk in a different direction and ended up taking my evening meal at the Runway Cafe, a little diner at the local airport.  It was good also, and it was in a pleasant little location overlooking the runway of the airport and a small little park where children were playing happily and watching the planes come and go from the runway.

I saw this nice little Cessna sitting parked on the pavement right next to the playground and just outside the windows of the diner...



It reminded me of my friend Sam Jansen who is a missionary down in the jungles of Bolivia among the Ayore Indians and other indigenous tribes in the area.  I still remember the time that my late friend, Steve Spradley, and I met Sam at an airport in Longview, TX to present to him the little Cessna plane that Steve had purchased for his work down there.  I was so glad to get to do the various lettering on the plane for him, and it was just a pleasant memory all around.  Sam is a great bush pilot and still uses that little plane to this day.

I also saw this old public transportation vehicle parked in the grass on airport road.  I'm not sure what it's purpose is anymore, as it seemed as if it had been parked here on purpose a long time ago, but it was an interesting looking vehicle, so I took a shot of it just to share with you...



On this back haul load I was scheduled to stop in at the terminal in Gulfport, Mississippi to get my truck serviced, so there is another delay on my time of working and making money.  I almost always make a visit to my favorite little restaurant here called The Rusty Pelican...



This is a local restaurant owned and operated by a diminutive little Vietnamese woman who really seems to enjoy what she does.  It is mostly a seafood restaurant with a nice selection of sandwiches too, but what really gets me motivated to come here is the three items on the menu that are traditional Vietnamese foods.  This little lady makes the most delicious bowl of Pho that I have ever eaten...



If you are ever here, you really should try it!  This thing is large enough to feed two or three people, and I consistently embarrass myself each time I am here by eating the whole thing!  I always get two egg rolls with it and dip them in her homemade fish sauce.  I tell you those egg rolls are really good too, some of the best I have ever tasted.  The people here have gotten to know me now, and often times I will hear my waitress go back to the Kitchen and tell the proprietress, "The truck driver that likes Pho is here!"  She will often bring my bowl of Pho to my table with such a proud look on here face, and present it to me herself.  Each time I finish the whole thing, she will come to my table and look into my bowl and grin as she says, "You did good, very very good, you eat it all, that brings you good luck!"

Get out of your truck and enjoy yourself a little out here,  That is part of the recipe for success at this career.  Don't imprison yourself in that little mobile domicile of yours, it's not good for you.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The World's Largest Truck Stop

Okay, if you've never been to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, you've never been to the world's largest truck stop.  It's worth seeing just to say you've been there.  It is actually quite impressive to me, and worth spending some time at if you are ever in the area.  That load that I picked up in Spanish Fork, Utah took me East on I-80 right over to the Chicago area, which allowed me to spend the night at the Iowa 80 truck stop just before making my final deliveries over there.  The building itself is so large that they have quite a number of trucks on display inside the place.  Here are some shots of three of the trucks that were inside when I was there this time.  I've been here before, but each time I'm here they have changed around the displays inside.





They also have a trucking Museum next door which is operated by the same family who own the truck stop.  Sadly I didn't get to go through it on this trip because when I got there I was so tired that I needed to sleep.  When I woke up later and wanted to go to the museum so I could get some photos to share with you, it was closed!  While the truck stop is open 24 hours a day, the museum keeps more regular business hours.  I had driven through the night and on into the morning, so I laid down in my sleeper to catch some rest, but when I woke up that evening anxious to take a look around in the museum, the doors were locked.  The museum has a very impressive collection of antique trucks in it, and I'm disappointed that I can't share some of them with you.  They did have a few of the trucks that are normally inside the museum parked in the truck stop though, so here's a few pieces out of their collection...






A truck driver can get just about anything he might need here at this place.  They have a shoe store, clothing store, all kinds of gifts and trucking related trinkets, four or five restaurants in the building, and all sorts of services for truckers.  You can get a bad tooth pulled, or maybe a cavity filled, and if your back is really bothering you then you could get it worked on or adjusted by the Chiropractor!  You can get your hair cut, and if you are a lady trucker, you can even get your nails done!  There is just about something for everyone here...



I also saw some show quality trucks out in the parking lot that were actual working rigs, and maybe one that was being hauled to a show on a trailer...






Hope you enjoyed seeing some of what I witnessed while I was there at this colossal monstrosity of a truck stop recently.  I certainly was glad to get to share it with you.

Tonight I am sleeping in Hamden, Connecticut outside the gate of my first stop on the three stop load I am pulling this Holiday weekend.  It's been a busy couple of weeks for me since I started back to work after my time off for Mother's Day weekend.  Today, as I was coming up through Virginia on I-81 there was a lot of traffic, and at one point it was just creeping along so I decided to take about an hour break and see if they couldn't get an accident cleared ahead that was causing the delays.  After taking my break I got back on the road and eased my rig into the still slow moving traffic, only to discover that the accident was about twenty minutes ahead of me.  When I got there the cars were gone from the scene, but they were still trying to remove the body of a large black bear from the roadway!  He decided to cross the highway on this busy Holiday, and paid the ultimate price for his poor timing.  That is the fifth black bear I have seen killed on the interstates in the last four years.