Thursday, February 23, 2017

Taking That Unexpected Call

One of the many problems associated with living a life on the road is that you are never at home during critical moments.  You have got to learn to deal with this in some way or another.  It can be tough at times.  I am always in here giving instruction and telling about my "life as a road warrior," and as you read this information I also want you to see how much I enjoy this job.  In today's world of internet crybabies, whining, complaining, and finger pointing has taken itself to an incredibly shameless new level.  Part of my motivation in doing this blog is to counter some of the inexplicable foolishness that is posted on chat rooms, forums, and trucking review sites these days.

Any time a new person interested in a career in trucking starts doing their research into this business they will usually be completely demoralized after just a few attempts at understanding what it is they are getting into.  This is primarily due to the high failure rate of new entrants to the career, their total misunderstanding of how one succeeds at this crazy lifestyle, and their proclivity to blame their failure on the trucking companies whom they so quickly liken to modern day slave owners.  Are you aware that the success rate of new entrants into the truck driving career is somewhere around five percent?  I am defining success as continuing on past your first year of employment as a new over the road truck driver.  That is an abysmally low number in my opinion, and much of it stems from unrealistic expectations, misconceptions, and a false understanding of what it takes to get out here and make things happen in your favor.

I'm getting sidetracked a little, but the main point of this post is that while there are issues with this career, most of them are not really what people typically think they are.  I can remember times when I wished I could be home with my family when something troubling was going on, but since tragedies come upon us unplanned and suddenly, there is no way you can plan to be home for an emergency.  That is a very real problem, and it requires an understanding spouse who can think on their own and manage things at home no matter what life throws their way.  The folks who are charged with keeping the home fires burning make just as much a sacrifice, and probably more, than the driver out on the road.

My wife is a woman of beautiful character, and she has put up with many things that most would not. I remember having phone conversations with her recently while one of our pets was dying.  She was troubled and wanting to make it as easy on the poor animal as she could, and it would have made it so much easier on her had I been there to assist in the whole scenario.  There are many more even more serious events that she has faced alone and the way those times weigh on me is severe at times.  There is just not a good way to get around that issue, but it is one of the problems associated with a life on the road.

When I left out of Delhi with this recent load that had one stop in Louisville, Kentucky and then went on to final in North Collins, New York, I wasn't but about two hours on the road when my brother called to tell me that my Mother had died.  This was on a weekend and I could not get my dispatcher on the phone.  I have his cell phone number, but he was not carrying it at the time.  I had to make a quick decision on what to do.  I chose to go ahead and keep advancing my load, and I did this based on the long relationship I've had with this gentleman.  I knew I could deliver in North Collins first thing Tuesday, and I also knew that my dispatcher would pull out all the stops to make sure that I could get home in time for the funeral.  Sure enough, once he and I talked, he expressed his condolences, and thanked me profusely for keeping at my task.  He even told me, "you are probably the only driver I have who would handle this situation like you did, but I do want you to know that it would have been fine with me for you to have just turned around and headed on back. Don't worry about a thing, I will put a pre-plan on you tonight and when you empty out in the morning you can just deadhead on back."

So, here I am in Glenwood, Arkansas today.  I am with my siblings and we will be seeing a lot of my Mother's friends over the next few days, and having her funeral tomorrow.  Tragedies strike unexpectedly, and they can be a real problem for a person engaged in this career.  One of the biggest secrets to success at this business is to have great relationships with the people you work with.  That relationship between driver and dispatcher is foremost among them all.  I knew that I could trust my dispatcher to handle things for me so that I could get home, and he knew that he could trust me to handle an emergency on the road with clarity and professionalism.  He called me several times, as did my wife, to make sure that I was doing okay.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


In Trucking there are very real consequences to our actions.  Those consequences can be good or bad depending on what the driver has done to bring them about.  I am a big proponent of making sure you are taking the right steps for success out here, and never causing yourself to come up short.  For the driver, the trucking business is a really competitive environment, and those who understand that concept will almost always come out on top.  These truths hold true whether we are talking about the way you handle your rig, or whether we are discussing how you manage your time.  Customer service has got to be a priority, just as much as safety and productivity.  I'm going to share with you the things that transpired on this last load and how they led up to me landing this next load that I am on today.

It often happens that when I get to the SAPA plant to pick up my pre-loaded trailer, I am faced with a somewhat different load than I was dispatched.  Somehow in between the time when they let my dispatcher know about the loads so that he can get them booked, and the time when the loads are actually complete, they have usually changed somewhat.  Such was the case on this last load that went up to New Hampshire.  There were three more stops added to it, which just increased the challenge of getting it all done in a timely manner.

I managed to pull it all off and even got my final delivery in New Hampshire done a full day early. Let me share with you how I did things just so you can get an idea of the thought processes that I go through when planning out these loads.  They put my final stop in New Hampshire down for Thursday morning, but everything went so well that I had it delivered by 0700 Wednesday morning. This load was not even ready to go until 2300, or 11:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Here's how I managed my time so that I could make some good progress on this multi-stop, multi-state run that had me doing eight stops while traveling through 15 states.  Here's a little bonus quiz for the curious minded among you - who can tell me what the 15 states were that I drove through to get this done?  Hint... there's little clues all through out this post.

I left Delhi, Louisiana at around eleven fifteen at night and drove all the way to Rising Fawn, Georgia where I took my ten hour break at the Pilot truck stop there.  I was able to start rolling again at about 5:30 p.m. and arrived at my customer in Waynesboro, VA at around 3:00 a.m. Monday morning.  I pulled into their property and slept until they started showing up for work at 8:00 a.m.  Once they unloaded me, I went back to my sleeper for some more rest, got up around noon, ate a pretty decent plate of fried fish at one of their local restaurants, and was back on the road at 1:00 p.m.  From there I drove myself to Riverdale, New Jersey and was parked on my customer's property by 8:45 p.m.  They showed up the next morning and had me unloaded by 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.  Then it was off to the races for the rest of the day.  I delivered my next five stops, all of which were in Connecticut, and managed to get myself up to New Hampshire where I parked on the customer's property again.  At this point I am one full day ahead - The New Hampshire customer had been scheduled for Thursday morning, but I am already here now on Tuesday night!  I had been in contact with all of these customers by the phone, and had reset all the appointments so that they would be prepared for my arrival times.

The snow laid heavily on the ground in New Hampshire and Vermont, but the weather was nice, and the roads were nice and clear.

I had to deal with the typical traffic issues that one always deals with when trying to get into New York state, but I took the Tappan Zee Bridge rather than having to deal with the G.W., and though it slowed me down a bit, it was not unusually troublesome.

Wednesday morning saw me sending my "Empty Call" into my dispatcher by about 7:30 a.m. and I had a fresh set of available hours to work on for that day, so I started moving my way toward Cressona, Pennsylvania.  I will typically get my back haul loads from there, and if I haven't heard any differently from anyone by the time I am empty up here in this part of the country, I just go ahead and start moving that direction.  After I got to Cressona, I was dispatched to come on back to Delhi empty, as they could not get any loads for me that day, and they wanted me back so that I could help out on the next batch of loads leaving out of the plant in Delhi.

I'm supposed to be talking about "consequences," and one of those is that if you can get things done early in this business you are setting yourself up for something else earlier, which means that you are getting more done than the other guys, which makes you a driver who is not only greatly appreciated by your managers, but also treated differently when it comes to load assignments.

So, once I am back in Delhi resting on my ten hour break, my phone rings, and it is my dispatcher wanting to discuss the next batch of loads with me to see which direction I would like to go. He reads me off several different loads and I chose one of them which was a one stop run down to Miami. Then he says, "There is a possibility of that load not actually going out yet for a few days, could you also choose a different one and I will call you back a little later when I know if that Miami load is going to actually go or not?" My response was, "Sure, I'll take that one that has one stop in Louisville, Kentucky, and then finals in North Collins, New York." He hesitates just a moment and says, "You know what, I have got two guys who have really been complaining that they are not getting enough miles, and I feel like I should really at least offer that load to them first. Can I call you back after I know what is going on with that Miami load? Then I will have had the time to offer this North Collins load to those other two drivers, and I will have a better idea of what we should do with you." My response was, "Sure, you know I will be happy with what ever you come up with. I've already run in excess of 3,000 miles this week, and I can finish any of those loads you've got for this weekend in time to put it on this same pay period - those loads are just icing on the cake this week!"

About an hour later my phone is ringing again. "Well neither one of those drivers wants to go up to the Northeast, and the Miami load is not going to actually be ready yet," says my dispatcher with some degree of incredulity in his voice. He adds, "I don't understand these drivers, they tell me they want miles, but then they refuse to take the longer runs when I offer them, because of where they go to." "It looks like you are going to North Collins, New York after all, and they can stay on Louisiana to Texas runs for the next month as far as I am concerned!"

I don't get the mentality of some of these folks, but they sure are working hard to pad my paychecks! Let's see, this load is 1,150 miles, and I'll finish it by the payroll cut-off. Add that on top of the 3,132 I just completed... Yep, this week is looking really nice!

Make sure you are delivering on time or early, and keep yourself available when ever possible folks. Go for all you can get. Be a willing player, that is how you end up being counted on as a runner. That is how to be successful at this game, you've got to be a contender for the rewards of the game.

Did you catch what the attitude of the dispatcher was? They always remember the folks who help them out, but they even have a stronger memory for the folks who refuse to help when called upon.

So, as you can see, I am headed right back up to the Northeast corner of this great land with another really nice load, and it is not only a consequence of the things I accomplished in this last week, but it is also a consequence of the things that other drivers have refused to be willing to do.  What is so strange about this whole turn of events is that I would have been quite happy with a shorter run being assigned to me.  After all, I have already put in a very good week's worth of work, and the other drivers who are complaining about how much work they are getting have sentenced themselves to live like dogs who only get the table scraps that are falling to the floor.

This load is fairly light (18,688 pounds) and will help me get some good fuel mileage which helps increase my chances of making some really good bonus money this quarter.  As you can see from this photo the load only takes up a little more than half of this 53 foot long trailer...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Decisions, Decisions!

In Trucking you have got to be able to make decisions on the fly with sometimes little to go by but your accumulated knowledge of how best to make things work on a daily basis out here.  I have a practice of trying to always make some really good headway on my loads at the start of the load. What I mean by that is that if I have a load with say around 1,500 miles on it, I will try to really push it hard at the beginning, because you just never know what kind of delays you might hit later on down the road that could upset your apple cart. One of the advantages of pushing hard at the beginning is that you may even be able to get your customer to receive you a day early, which sets you up early for another load.  As long as your dispatcher and load planners have gotten accustomed to the way you handle things, this can be very beneficial to your ability to get more done, and that is how you get paid in this business.  You measure out your own success at this by your own performance.  When you get paid by the mile, the more you can accomplish, the more you can earn.

You should never take the attitude that looks at the load and sees that it has fifteen hundred miles on it with a delivery date of four days away, and therefore decide that I will do 375 miles a day and still be there on time.  Far better is to try and do about 650 miles for the first two days, and then you only have 200 miles left, putting you there on the third day with time to get unloaded if they will receive you.  Then if your dispatcher knows what to expect from you he can be working on having another load nearby that could even be picked up on that same day.  I am constantly communicating with my dispatcher this type of stuff so that he can keep me moving.

This past week was a case study in the veracity of these very principles.  I had a colonoscopy done on my Birthday, February 1st.  That was the doctor appointment that I was going home for.  On February the 3rd I was picking up this load of aluminum seating bound for Salt Lake City, Utah; seen here after I had tarped it and had it ready to roll.

February 3rd was a Friday, and the load was scheduled to deliver on Tuesday.  It was a firm delivery date, as we have a lot of these loads going up there, and the contractor on the job wants us to stagger the loads so that they come in one truck each day.  I determined to go ahead and push my load at the beginning and even though I would get there by Monday, I would just wait for them to unload me on Tuesday.  Sunday morning my phone rings.  It is my dispatcher wanting to know if it was possible for me to get there on Monday morning.  It just so happened that Sherman, the driver who was supposed to deliver on Monday, had broken down in Amarillo, TX.  The customer needed the materials badly and now they wanted me to get there early since there would be no truck to unload on Monday. Well, as you may have guessed, I can do that because I have already been pushing the load at an advanced rate because that is a principle that I know can be counted on for success.

I drove the first leg of the trip from Delhi, Louisiana to Memphis, TX, where I stayed at the Love's truck stop there.  Then I advanced from there to the Ute Mountain Travel Center near Towaoc, Colorado.  This is Navajo country and they have a very nice casino and resort here next door to the truck stop.  I think Towaoc is Navajo for "Let us count the ways we can part you from your money!"  It was an easy jaunt from there to Salt Lake City, and passing through the Spanish Fork mountain pass was painless this time, as the roads were clear of snow and ice - very unusual this time of year!

Here's a few views from the parking lot of the Ute Mountain Travel Center.  It is a unique area, both rugged and beautiful at the same time.

I was on the job site at 0700, and unloaded by around 1000.  I walked over to a local restaurant to grab a bite of lunch while I waited on my dispatcher to hook me up, and then I made my way down to the SAPA plant just south of Salt Lake City, in Spanish Fork to pick up this load of extrusions that had four stops in the Dallas, Fort Worth area.

This was loaded on a Conestoga, so I didn't have to throw my tarps on this one!  It delivered to the following locations...

✔ Grand Prairie, TX

✔ Irving, TX

✔ Dallas, TX

✔  Richardson, TX

All of these locations are in close proximity, but you have got to allow for city traffic, and the usual delays in just getting unloaded.  This load had the added challenge of the final customer's policy of only receiving aluminum loads on Mondays and Thursdays, so if I could not make it by Thursday, I would have to camp out all weekend in Dallas and wait for Monday to roll around!  I had to push hard to get down to the area on Wednesday, in time to make my first delivery, and then take my necessary ten hour break so that I could get the other three done on Thursday.  It all went like clock-work until I had to make another decision about how to handle a problem on the road.  My first delivery on Thursday morning had an unusually tight maneuver that I had to make with my truck.  I had to get myself in a very tight jack-knife position to get backed into where they wanted me to be for unloading.  It wasn't all that difficult to do, but it put a strain on my "pig-tail" cord that goes from my tractor to my trailer and it actually put enough strain on the outlet on the back wall of my tractor that it broke it off.  Now I have no tail lights on my trailer, and not only is it illegal to drive a commercial vehicle like that, but it is crazy unsafe in big city traffic where you need to communicate your intentions to the other motorists!

I spent a few minutes trying to see if I could rig it up temporarily, but it was not going to be possible. Then I had to make the call of whether I wanted to contact the break down folks at Knight so they could get someone out to fix it, or whether I just wanted to take the risk and finish up my deliveries.  It wasn't an easy call.  Waiting on a service truck to get there would make me legal, but would also make it so I couldn't make it to my final customer in time.  For me, waiting until Monday was unacceptable.  I was expected back in Delhi for a weekend load - that is how I always handle my time, and I know that my dispatcher is counting on that - in fact he has already committed to SAPA a certain number of drivers, and I am one of those on that list.  At this time I had no idea what my load would be, but I do know that he knows me well enough to have counted on my showing up there,

So... I had to go the rest of the way without trailer lights - that was an uneasy feeling, not so much for the illegality of it but more so for the safety factor.  Had it been night time, there is no way I would have risked it, but even in the day time you need those lights to communicate with the other drivers.  I was in heavy city traffic.  If I had to slam on my brakes because of the antics of some crazy motorist ahead of me I could cause some one behind me who is distracted with their cell phone or maybe their baby in the back seat, to crash right into the back of my trailer!  I purposely drove extra slowly and cautiously, paying extra attention to what was going on behind me.  That was the space around my truck that I was most concerned with, but I also paid special attention to my following distance from the vehicles ahead of me.  Any time someone was following closely behind me I slowed down gradually to encourage them to get on around me.  I also had no turn signals, so I had to take great care with lane changes and turns so that people didn't get in my blind spot not knowing my intentions.

I messaged my dispatcher to let him know what was going on, and asked him to email our terminal in Dallas to expect me to show up that afternoon so they could fix it for me.  My whole plan was to get over around Kilgore, TX and stay at a truck stop there, putting in a 34 hour reset, because I had already burned up my seventy hour clock with no hours returning yet.  My wife and daughter were going to be passing through there on a little trip to Arkansas, and we could spend some time together enjoying a meal together.  But I had to make the decision to go to the terminal, and get that repaired while I put in my break there.

Do you see how many decisions I had to make on this load to make things work out right?  I even had to make the sacrifice of missing a chance to cross paths with my dear wife on the road - that would have been such a treat for me!  Well, this is the kind of stuff you have to face out here on a regular basis.  It all went well for me, although I would have really enjoyed seeing my wife and daughter.  I am at the Knight terminal in Dallas (actually Hutchins, TX) and I am forced to take my 34 hour break here.  My dispatcher messaged me last night to let me know that he has me down for a load that leaves this weekend from Delhi and has five stops on it.

I'll be delivering materials to the following towns on this next load...

✔ Waynesboro, VA

✔ Riverdale, New Jersey

✔ Deep River, Connecticut

✔ Farmington, Connecticut

✔ Charlestown, New Hampshire

Nice!  All those decisions led to a good end result... That is how you play this game.  Consistent performance gets consistent results!