Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Texas Two Step

I saw miles and miles of Texas,
All the stars up in the sky,
I saw miles and miles of Texas,
I'm going to live there till I die.

                                -Asleep At The Wheel

I was given a load to Texas this week due to the fact that I had a Doctor's appointment that needed to be met.  It had three stops on it...

✔ Terrel, TX

✔ Rockwall, TX

✔ Sherman, TX

Everything was going well, but all of these locations had Monday delivery appointments so that I could go home afterwards, make my appointment the next day, and then enjoy a few days off.  The third location in Sherman stops receiving at 1300, and the first two both took their sweet time to unload me.  It turned out that I couldn't make it by one o'clock, but I was only about fifteen minutes late.  I called ahead and warned them and they said to come on ahead and we would see how it went.  When I got there I was not the only person who was running late because there were three trucks ahead of me waiting to be unloaded.  Eventually they came out to my truck and said that I would have to spend the night and get unloaded in the morning!

This is one of those times that I couldn't do that because I absolutely needed to get home.  I talked to their head guy in receiving and he couldn't help me, but he did say that there was no hurry on them getting this material.  He told me to just go home and come back when I got ready!  I talked to my dispatcher, who knew the man that told me that and he said to go ahead, take care of my needs and go back when I was ready.  It's kind of crazy, but I will get paid now for the extra miles, because they are going to re-route me to accommodate my needs due to the fact that the customer agreed to do it this way.

It's kind of like doing the Texas Two Step!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Problem Solving

Being a successful truck driver requires some good problem solving skills.  Sometimes we are under pressure to make things work that might seem impossible.  Being able to keep a good level head and work out solutions, in a sometimes stressful environment with critical timelines, is crucial to success out here on the road.  We have so many variables thrown at us at different times, weather, road construction, unexpected delays, scheduling snafus, break downs, and a host of other things that can just go wrong when constantly being on the move.

This week I went to our terminal in Gulfport, MS to have my "B" service done on my truck.  The "B" service is when they change all your filters, and your oil, grease everything, and just do a really thorough going over of everything so that they can keep your truck in tip top shape.  At Knight we do this every forty thousand miles.  For me that is going to happen about four times in the year.  I was there a day longer than I expected to be.  They did several extra things for me, one of which was putting all new tires on my truck!

This was the critical service that I was instructed to go past my mileage limit so that we could get a critical load delivered.  It seems that everything is "critical" in this business, which is why I am posting about the importance of good problem solving skills.

Before I made it over to the terminal, my dispatcher and I had a conversation about when I would be ready for my next load.  My appointment for my service was set for Monday morning, and he wanted to know if I thought they would have me ready by Tuesday.  He wanted me available for Tuesday due to the fact that each day he has got to make a commitment to SAPA as to how many drivers he will have available.  I told him that I couldn't be sure, because you just never know how long they will take with you, but I felt reasonably sure I could be back to Delhi on Tuesday.  I also wanted to be available for Tuesday, as that is one of the days that the better loads go out on.  After some discussion we both decided to put me down as available for Tuesday, knowing full well that it takes about four and a half hours for me to get there from Gulfport.

Now, at some point Tuesday morning I got a call from my dispatcher letting me know that the terminal manager wanted him to send a brand new driver, who was just starting his first day with us on this dedicated account, to Gulfport with an available truck that was parked at our yard in Delhi.  Then he wanted me to take the new driver back with me to Delhi.  It was just a logistics problem he was trying to solve to get that truck in his yard because he had a bunch of new drivers getting ready to go solo and he didn't have enough trucks available for all of them.  Sometimes you can solve one problem and then cause several more with your solution!  That is what was happening here.  I had a load waiting that required me to get back to Delhi as soon as possible, and this new driver had his first load waiting on him in Delhi.  It turns out that if he takes the nine plus hours to come to Gulfport and then ride back with me he will be late getting his load delivered, and depending on when he can leave, it may jeopardize my ability to get mine done on time also.  Add to this equation the fact that we still aren't even sure when they are going to be finished with my truck.

Jason (my dispatcher) is not pleased with this whole scheme and tells me that he is sending Wayne (the terminal manager) an email saying that he can't do that because it will mess up too many things.  About an hour later I get a call from Jason letting me know that Wayne insisted that he do it this way and that was an end to the discussion - get it done, that's what we are paying you for!

Here's where it gets tricky...  It turns out the new driver had been on duty while doing some training with one of the other drivers here, and it was going to be about five hours before he would have enough hours to leave from Delhi and start the drive to Gulfport.  That means it will be close to ten hours before I even see him!  Wayne was unmoved by that scenario - he was laser focused on his particular problem and really didn't want to hear how his solution was messing up our situations.

Problem solving time!

I went right into the shop manager to inquire when they could project that my truck would be finished. Two hours max they told me.  I contacted Jason, and told him my scenario and then suggested we grab one of the many drivers who are in the lounge waiting on their trucks in the shop and I take them with me to Delhi.  They can then drive that truck from our yard back to the terminal and all our problems would be solved.  New guy can leave on time with his load, I can get back to Delhi and get started on my load going to Miami, which was already perilously close to being late, and we get the available truck to Gulfport, where it is needed badly.  "Wow," says Jason.  That is such a simple solution.  I want you to go tell Wayne.  I would email him that as a suggestion, but I want him to see that the idea came from you.

When Wayne heard my solution he was dumbfounded.  "That is so simple, I can't believe I didn't think of it.  I was so focused in one direction, that I didn't see the best way to handle this."

We found a driver who was glad to earn a little extra money while waiting on his truck, and we solved this whole problem.  Of course, I later found out from Jason that it was revealed in some further emails that Wayne took all the credit for the idea!  No big deal to me.  Jason, even suggested to me that maybe they should move me into an office job if I was able to come up with such simple solutions.  I told him that I was much more content behind the steering wheel - I don't care to play those inner office games that go on in that office.

Now, here's another problem that stemmed from all of this...

When my truck was completed, I had two more hours remaining to be able to get a 34 hour reset done.  It only seemed prudent to go ahead and wait it out so that I would be running with a full clock. So I did just that, and even got a nice truck wash at the terminal so that not only would I be running wild and free with all kinds of hours available to me, but I would also be shiny and clean at the same time!

Okay, my load to Miami had two additional stops on it up around the Tampa Bay area.  As I was driving that first leg of the journey, I was running calculations in my head as to how this was all going to work out, and I was quickly coming to the conclusion that it was not going to work at all.  That additional two hours that I waited to reset my seventy hour clock was going to bite me in the back-side!  Without boring you with all the minutia of the details I'll just explain it this way... My  first stop does receiving until five P.M.  My second stop quits receiving at eleven A.M.  My hours will allow me to get to the first stop legally, but I will be extremely close to being out of hours when I get there.  Although I would have time available on my fourteen hour clock, I will have used up my eleven hours of driving time already, which means that I cannot drive the sixty miles or so to the second stop legally without taking a ten hour break!  Ohhh, frustration with regulation!!!

I guess I am boring you with the details, but it helps to understand the solution by understanding the problems I'm facing.  I am going to get there early before they are even open, so I will be waiting on them to get there for a few hours anyway.  Here's what I came up with...

I decided to swap my stops and go to the second stop first.  This does a couple of advantageous things for me.  They start early (which is why they quit at eleven in the morning), and I can get myself unloaded there while I am technically on the sleeper berth line.  Then I can still get my ten hours break on the sleeper berth line on my e-logs so that I have hours to drive available to me in time to get me over to what should have been my first stop in time for them to unload me before five P.M.  The reason this will work out is that there is a small truck stop right around the corner from this location that I can roll over to and sleep with out kicking my electronic logs over to the drive line.  This is one of the advantages of driving a dedicated account where you are often times familiar with the locations that you are delivering to.  I got there at about five in the morning, was unloaded by seven, stayed on the sleeper berth line until three in the afternoon, giving me plenty of rest. I was then able to drive the sixty miles to the next stop and get there around four fifteen in the afternoon, forty five minutes before they quit receiving!

Now, this solution added a little bit of miles (roughly about twenty) to my driving over what I am getting paid to do, but it also satisfies the needs of my customers, which is foremost in my thinking.  I figured twenty miles is no big deal, after all the load was paying over fifteen hundred miles.  I did put into the notes on my departure message from my first stop that I had switched the order of the stops so that it could all be done on time, and the very next morning I noticed that my dispatcher saw the notes on what I had done and he re-routed my load into the order that I did it which gave me those miles as paid after all!

Those are just some examples of the type of dilemmas you face every day as an Over The Road truck driver.

Here's another dilemma that needs a solution at times: Eating healthy while on the road.  I do what I can to take good care of myself, and since I have such a wonderful wife who has labored all these years to keep me on the straight and narrow, I often try to incorporate the things that she would recommend that I do to stay healthy.  Things like eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I have a little favorite diner just down the street from that first place I stopped on this load.  It is in Nokomis, Florida called Chaz 51.  It is owned and operated by a gentleman named Charles Amherst and his wife Andrea.  He was a former executive chef at Ruths Chris.  They serve up a delicious butter nut squash bisque, and a simple, but always tasty, menu of other items.  The bisque has excellent flavor and texture, the two things I consider important in a bisque. I chose a cup of the bisque and a  "French Dip" sandwich on this particular visit.  Still feeling a bit hungry after my meal, and hearing my wife's voice in my head to "make sure and eat your vegetables," I decided to follow up my meal with this nice slice of carrot cake - problem solved!

Okay, one more solution I want to discuss here before I totally bore you to death.  I stopped for another meal in Florida on I-95 at the 273 mile marker.  You can park at the Love's truck stop at this intersection with Hwy 1 and walk to several different good eating establishments.  I chose the Daytona Pig Stand Barbecue restaurant for lunch on this particular day.  And just in case my wife is reading this, I want her to know that I did order two side orders of vegetables with my Saint Louis style rib plate. But, the problem solving I want to talk about now is one that the owner of this restaurant came up with when he was faced with the dilemma of catering to a large crowd when cooking up a barbecue feast.  Having a pit large enough to cook enough meat for a large crowd apparently was an issue for him.  Now I am only assuming, but I think he must have been a former truck driver, because his solution was to purchase a tanker truck and convert the tank into a giant barbecue pit!

Would you like that brisket unleaded, or premium?  Or perhaps you would prefer it to be marinated in our high octane racing fuel?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lock Ho!

Those are the infamous words of "Riderhood," the greedy, gruffly spoken character in Charles Dickens' wonderful novel "Our Mutual Friend."  I couldn't help but recall them while I was in Waterford, New York looking at the Locks there at the Erie Canal.  I give a "hat tip" to Captain Terryble for mentioning to me, in a comment on this blog, to take a look at them while I was in Waterford.  It turned out that my delivery happened to be on the Hudson River Road, right there in view of that section of the river Locks.  It truly is an amazing testament to mankind"s ability to come up with an engineering solution to a daunting problem.  I saw some barges in the waters making their way up river.  By the time I got done with my business there, the weather turned bad and the freezing rain kept me from getting any decent pictures of the locks.  Next time I'm in the area I will try to get some pictures and share them here with you.

Here's a shot of the folks at Gregg Beeche Logistics unloading me in their slushy parking lot at Waterford - the weather was pretty nasty, and quickly turned worse once they got finished.

They left me with only one lonely bundle of stadium seating on my truck that I pulled all the way back over into Kittanning, Pennsylvania.

That run I was on had me going through some beautiful parts of the country.  I was in the Catskill Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, the Susquehanna Valley, and even some time in the Smoky Mountains.  I came across the highest point on I-80 east of the Mississippi river in Pennsylvania, and just covered a lot of nice territory up here in the North East.  I'm taking a 34 hour break today in Dandridge,, TN.

While I was on the last leg of that trip my dispatcher called me with this conversation:

Dispatcher:  Dale, the head boss over the SAPA account (from Phoenix) called me and wants you to rescue a load that Sherman (a fellow driver on this account) can't get to because he has broken down. I told him that you can't do it because we have scheduled you to go to the terminal in Carlisle, PA to have your truck serviced after you complete your load. If we don't have that scheduled maintenance done on time you will lose your bonus money this quarter, and I told him that we just can't do that to you.  He was very insistent with me that we have to do this.  I refused, and reminded him that Corporate insists that we get these regularly scheduled maintenance visits done and yours is due.

Me:  Okay, well you are correct, I will go over my mileage limit on my "B" service if I do that.

Dispatcher:  I know it, and they were not very happy with me when I refused to do it.  The whole reason I'm calling you is that I have a sneaky feeling that he is going to call you direct and tell you that you have got to do this load.  I just wanted to give you a heads up so that you know the background of what is going on.  If they call, you will need to be adamant with them that you cannot do this, or else it will jeopardize your bonus money.

Me:  I'd be glad to do it if you can get us a waiver for the scheduled maintenance.

Dispatcher:  Oh, I know you would, but you know that I have tried that before and they will not give us a pass on this.  If there was any other driver in that area it probably wouldn't matter.  We could just get one of them to do it, since most of them never qualify for their bonus money anyway.  I just can't see us doing this to you - that's like us yanking 1,800 dollars out of your wallet just because you were willing to help us out with a little problem we've got going on.

Me;  Okay, well thanks for the heads up.  I'll be firm and let them know that it just can't be done.

As you can imagine, that was a little unnerving knowing that I was going to have to refuse to do something for the one guy who decides whether I get a raise or not whenever that issue comes up.  I was thinking about the most diplomatic ways to refuse to do something, but when you flatly refuse to help someone with a pressing problem, it is not usually easy to come off as diplomatic!

About thirty minutes later my phone starts ringing!

When I looked at the phone it was my dispatcher, Jason.  This time he tells me that the "Big Boss" called him back and was forwarding him an e-mail from the head of corporate maintenance indicating that they were going to waive my mileage limitation on my scheduled maintenance and allow me to exceed my mileage on this service without penalizing me.  He then forwarded it to me along with the new marching orders to go and pick up the load in Cressona, PA.  The load goes to IMC Aluminum in Unicoi, TN - which is how I ended up over here in the "Smokies."

This is me parked inside the building here at Unicoi...

I've mentioned in here before about the wide variety of shapes of these extrusions that I haul.  Take a look at this one.  It reminds me of a dinosaur's foot print for some reason!  I've hauled these before, and they are used in manufacturing some sort of a control arm in the automotive industry.

After taking care of my original load, and then rescuing this one for Sherman, I have run almost 3,500 miles this week, and burned up all my available hours.  Thus I am here taking a break in the "Smokies."  My next thing I've got to do is dead-head back to Delhi so that I can drop this "Conestoga" trailer off there, and then I will "bobtail" over to Gulfport, Mississippi to have my "B" service done on my truck.  After that is complete I will "bobtail" back to Delhi for my next load.  Hopefully if all goes well I will be back in Delhi by Tuesday, (they usually have some good loads on Tuesdays) and rinse and repeat!

I mentioned recently about my history in the sign business, and how interesting signs still catch my attention.  Here's one that I see in Bristol, TN every time I come through here.  I managed to get a shot of it this time while I was stopped at the intersection.  I thought my good friend and Luthier, Steve Kinnaird might appreciate it!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Catching A Break

I have been really busy, so much so that I have not been able to post anything in here for a little bit. Typically this would be the slow time of the year for flat-bedding, but so far it has not let up for me. I took something like ten days off for Christmas, and while that is unusual to be able to do that in this business, I have that option in this position due to the fact that the plant we are dedicated drivers for shuts down for maintenance during that week.  If we want or need to work, Knight will find us third party loads, but for me it gives me a chance to take some time with my family, and that is a huge benefit to driving on this particular account.

Here's a look at what I picked up in Pennsylvania for my back haul load.

After my foggy trip up into the Northeast quarter of the country the weather got bad down in Tennessee where they were salting the roads as I was driving.  The salt on the roads makes such a huge mess of everything.  It gets all over your truck and your tarps, and then when you go to folding up your tarps it gets in your clothing and your gloves.  This time of year I can't even wipe my mouth with my hand without getting the taste of salt in my mouth.

I had a pleasant surprise at the SAPA plant in Cressona.  They had installed a new tarping machine! Now we no longer have to back into those ridiculously tight tarping bays and try to walk (more like ice skating) on top of the poly sheeting required to be underneath our tarps when pulling a load from this plant.  There are various types of tarping machines around, but this one lifts the tarps up in the air and you drive your truck underneath it until you get it lined up how you want and then the machine lowers your tarp down on top of your load.  Here's a shot of it after I've pulled underneath.  Notice the two tarps up above me suspended waiting to descend down on top of my load.  This tarping machine also lays out the poly sheeting for us.  This is great... the machine does all the work, and I still get paid an extra 45 dollars for tarping!  You can't beat a deal like that.

My next load out of Delhi was some stadium seating going to the State Fair Grounds in Salt Lake City, Utah.  We have a lot of customers that build stadium seating.  If you find yourself sitting on some aluminum benches at a stadium, it is possible that I delivered them.  We had five truck loads going to this particular location, and I got assigned one of them.

I stopped and took one of my ten hour breaks in Memphis, TX.  This is an old town in Texas that has just about withered away, but it still has some rather majestic looking buildings in it that testify to it's once prominent role in the history of the Lone Star State.  Here's a look at a couple of the older buildings on the town square.  Notice the old red brick streets that are still in place.

Having been involved in the sign business for thirty years prior to my foray into truck driving, unique signs still catch my eye at times. This one is uniquely fitted to this town in that it is an old design and it also shows some signs of deterioration.  Characteristics that are all too familiar with this whole town.

I stayed at a Love's Truck Stop in Memphis that had a Sonic attached to it.  When I went inside to purchase a Hamburger I noticed this strangely out of place piece of artwork right there inside the Sonic.  I'm guessing he had some significance to the town, but for the life of me I do not know what it was!

The weather on my way up to Salt Lake City wasn't too bad, but once I got onto U.S. Hwy 6 in Utah, going up through the mountains there got pretty treacherous.  There was a lot of snow and ice, and it was snowing very heavily in the mountain pass.  As I struggled along and made my way through there slowly, I saw quite a few people who didn't make it through.  I felt the Gentle Giant whom I was commandeering through that mess slip and slide probably more than a couple of dozen times.  My load was not real heavy, (only about 17,000 pounds) and that made it even more tricky.

It's a funny thing how SAPA insists that we tarp every load.  I understand why, but it is strange when you go to all the trouble of making sure this stuff stays dry and free from the road salts, and then the customer you are delivering to just unloads it off into a mud hole of salty melted ice water!  This stadium seating was delivered to the job site, and you can see here what they did with it as we delivered it...

You can see the stadium structure taking place in the back ground of this photo of the stack of materials that are waiting here in the mud to go into the project.

If you've never been to Salt Lake City, it is uniquely situated and surrounded entirely by a mountain range,  It really is a beautiful place; in fact the whole state of Utah has an incredible rugged beauty about it.  This is the view from the parking lot of the Fair Grounds where I slept the night before in anticipation of being the first truck unloaded as the sun came up.

I picked up a back haul load from a SAPA plant just south of Salt Lake City out of Spanish Fork, Utah with five stops on it in the Dallas Fort Worth area of Texas.  I spent one of my ten hour breaks in Milan, New Mexico at the Love's truck stop there and enjoyed a delicious meat loaf plate lunch at this little diner across the street from the truck stop.

Of the five stops I had to make happen all in one day, only the Earle M. Jorgenson company had me waiting excessively.  Here's a shot of what we truck drivers do best - "Hurry up and wait!"

My really incredible dispatcher put an extra 75 dollars on my paycheck for waiting at this customer for a few hours!  I couldn't believe it when I got the message about extra pay on the load.  I still managed to get it all done on that day because I started so early, but that is just the way they do me on this job.  I cannot express how generous they are with extra pay on this account.  Often times he pays me double for the tarp pay, if there are multiple stops.  I always appreciate their efforts at making the job worthwhile, and they are constantly surprising me with a little extra here and there.  I think they just do what ever they can get away with according to the terms of their contract.

I am "catching a break" right now and taking a 34 hour reset so that I can take off with my next load tomorrow.  It pulls out of Delhi, Louisiana and has four stops in:

✔  Waynesboro, Virginia

✔  Riverdale, New Jersey

✔  Kittanning, Pennsylvania

✔  Waterford, New York

Busy, busy!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Onward Through The Fog!

I am parked in Riverdale, New Jersey tonight.  After ten days off for the Christmas Holidays I got back on the road three days ago, New Year's Eve.  I left my hometown of Nacogdoches, TX and went to the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana under a heavy fog.  I am still in that heavy fog and drizzle tonight, and it promises to still be hovering all over me for tomorrow too.  I will make three stops in Connecticut tomorrow and after I am empty I will be heading over to Cressona, Pennsylvania for a back haul load that delivers to Memphis, TN and Paragould, Arkansas.  I shouldn't complain, but frankly I am sick of this dense fog every moment of every day.

I had a really great time at home with my family.  My three daughters were there, and while Sarah's husband, "Austin" was there, we also had the special treat of a couple of other young men tagging along with our other two daughters.  As the only man in this household for all these years, I must confess it was nice to have some other "guys" around during the holidays.

We all had a great time together, and I cooked up a couple of special meals for everybody.  We had a really nice Shrimp Boil one evening with everybody but Esther, who was in Houston picking up her fiancee, "Andrew," at the airport .  We did it up Cajun style by pouring the pot of shrimp out in the middle of the table for folks to just reach in there and grab what they wanted.  I threw a few potatoes in the pot also along with some Venison sausage.  We served this all up with a nice Caesar Salad, and some French bread with Garlic and butter.  "Laisser les bons temps rouler"...

Then on another evening My wife and I had an intimate dinner with Abigail and "Bennet," her young beaux.  We cooked up some Rib Eye steaks, and I had Abigail and Bennet help me make a sauce to pour over some grilled shrimp, by using the drippings from the steaks that I had seared in a cast iron skillet, along with some butter, shallots, celery, and garlic.  There was a great time had by all, but especially by me.  I always enjoy cooking for the folks I love, and the fact that we were all together over the holidays made it extra special for me.

Taking ten days off for the holidays just about ruined me.  Let me tell you, it was really hard leaving home!  I really enjoy my job, but it is always a struggle for me to get back on the road after spending such a nice time with the people I love.  I am doubly blessed in my marriage, and maybe our absence from each other makes our hearts grow fonder, but I have got to admit that it gets harder to leave her whenever I spend more than a few days at home.

When I was on my way home I stopped at the Love's Truck Stop in Greenwood, LA to get some fuel and I pulled up behind this truck.  I actually remember one time getting passed by this truck in New York, and was frustrated that I couldn't get a photo of the back doors, but here they were again with me at this truck stop in Louisiana.  Take a look at what it says on the doors...