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.