Ted vs. Matthew

So this is the post I started back in October about going down to Florida right after Hurricane Matthew.  I’m going to finish it, but I cant remember a ton of details.  I will post about things that I think are interesting but, for now I’m not going to try to do a day-to-day “where I am/where I’m going” kind of post.  I just can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to keep up with that, and I’ll feel like I’m leaving you hanging like I did with my previous post back on October 6th.

So here’s the post from my battle with Hurricane Matthew:

I started my day at about 0400 last Sunday morning up in Connecticut after completing my 34-hour reset.  Some people might find it boring sitting in the small space of a truck’s sleeper berth in the same location for the better part of a day and a half, but I find it relaxing.  I did spend a few hours getting laundry done, but for the most part, I was in the sleeper, writing, reading, sleeping and listening to sports.  The reset went well for me.

Anyway, I got up an hour before the completion of the reset with the intention of getting a shower before heading out.  However, I had a bit of a surprise upon waking.  I woke to my alarm and then once I shut that off, realized there was a buzzer noise coming from the dashboard.  I have been monitoring this amber light that looks like an engine for some time now, but now the amber light with the same engine outline that says “check” in it and the red one that says “stop” were both lit up.  Also a light that looks like an exhaust stack with wind coming out of it was flashing.  I called into the weekend dispatch and the guy that answered was decidedly unhelpful.  He told me the mechanics would be in at 06:00 and I should call back then.  I tried to explain that I was pretty sure I needed to do a “Regen” on the engine but didnt know how to do it.  He seemed impatient and said to call back when the mechanics were there.  Thanks bro.

So I broke out the vehicle manual and the pamphlet about the engine and figured it out myself.  I found that the lights meant I did indeed need to do a parked Regen.  I know what you are all thinking, “What the hell is a regen?!”  To be honest, I know it has to do with the exhaust system and the Diesel Exhaust Fluid system, but that’s about it.  Anyway, it took about 40 minutes for the Regen to complete.  After it completed, all the new lights that had lit up turned off, but that same amber engine light was still lit.  Annoying, but I was able to get moving.  No shower this morning though.  I had to get on the road because my 14 hour clock was running.

I was underway after that ordeal, and made some good miles.  My routing plan was basically to take I-95 all the way into Florida and then take I-4 across to Tampa.  This included going down to New York City and across the George Washington Bridge.  Luckily it was Sunday morning because that would have been a nightmare on a weekday.  My goal was to make it all the way down to my fuel stop in North Carolina.  I wasnt sure I was going to be able to make it that far especially since I might have to deal with Hurricane Matthew.

I got down into Maryland and started getting some steady light rain from the outer edges of Matthew.  I stopped at a rest stop there in Maryland to use a bathroom and check the storm track on my phone.  Matthew had weakened and turned out into the Atlantic.  As I continued south through Baltimore and Washington DC, the rain keep coming down steadily, but as I got into Virginia it slowed and stopped.  I started seeing signs of the hurricane’s impact.  There was a lot of flooding on the side of the highway, and an occasional branch or small tree down.  As I neared the Virginia/North Carolina border, the flooding was worsening and more branches and trees were downed.  By the time I had made it to my fuel stop, I had already seen more than a hundred large trees snapped in half or fully down from the roots.  As I pulled into my fuel stop, I was looking to see if there was going to be parking available, and there was plenty.  One concern down, but then I noticed they did not appear to have power.  There were orange cones blocking all of the fuel islands.  That was going to be a problem for me.

I called into dispatch, and got a decidedly more helpful person this time.  He started looking into getting me a new fuel stop and said that after I did my 10-hour reset, maybe this truck stop might have power again.  I went ahead and took my 10-hour and at 0300 Monday morning I woke to the lights in the parking area, and realized they had power again.  I got my tanks filled back up and got moving again.

About 50 miles down the road suddenly there were orange cones blocking the right lane with no sign to indicate the lane closure.  As I passed, I saw a massive pothole encompassing the whole right lane.  It was more like a sinkhole than a pothole.  The lane opened up again shortly after that hazard and then just down the road, it looked like the left lane was closed.  Again no sign was posted but orange cones forced me to the right lane, and then off an exit!  I was like “Holy Shneikies!  I-95 is CLOSED!?”  I got off the exit and down to the bottom of the ramp after a several rapid progressive downshifts from 10 to 9, 9 to 7, 7 to 5, & 5 to 3. There North Carolina State Police were directing all traffic to the west on US-421.  There were no detour signs and they didn’t have the time or patience to answer questions, so I was on my own.  I found a place to pull over and took a look at the map.  I figured out a tentative plan then called dispatch to get a new route approved.  After a short discussion, the dispatcher said to go west on US-421 and then take US-501/15 south.

So off I went on the back roads of North Carolina.  As the sun got up and I started to be able to see more of the landscape, I saw hundreds upon hundreds of large trees downed, power out all over, traffic lights not functioning, flooding all along the road.  Every body of water the road passed over was overflowing right up to the pavement.  Bridges over streams, rivers, and lakes had water right up to the bottom of the bridge.  Power lines were down and there were a lot of vehicles on the side of the road.  Whether they got flooded out, were abandoned, got stuck in mud, or whatever, I have no idea.

Earlier, I had looked at Google Maps and it was showing the road closures for I-95 cleared up in South Carolina.  I had punched into my truck gps the highway intersections I was intending to route through on my way back to I-95 south of the closures.  As I got to where US-421 met US-401 to head south, my gps was saying to stay left and it showed US-421 ending at the interesection.  As I passed where the road split, I realized both north and south exits were from the right side and the left continued west.  I had known that my gps maps were out of date because the damn thing was always telling me there was construction ahead when I was already in a construction zone and the speed limit it indicated was wrong as much as it was right.  I just had no idea how out of date until I realized this highway I was on heading west was not even remotely new, and the gps thought I was off-roading through a cornfield!  I got turned around at the next interchange and got headed south.  The devastation continued along the side of the road, and a few times there were trees blocking part of the road.  In places there were trees that had been cut into pieces and/or removed from the road.  It took about 5 hours to get around the closures on back roads all the way down to South Carolina.

I got back on I-95 in South Carolina and kept moving.  My clocks were getting too low to make it to the delivery by 0600 on Tuesday morning.  I called dispatch to see if they could arrange for a later unload time since I wasn’t going to make the current appointment.  I continued on for a few more hours until I was down to 1 hour on my 14-hour clock and stopped for the night at a truck stop just short of the Florida border.  I might have made it to one of the truck stops south of Jacksonville but I wasnt sure what traffic was going to be like trying to get through Jacksonville and there was no guarantee that there were going to be parking spaces available.  I have been using an app called Trucker Path I believe I mentioned before.  It was showing that the truck stops within range south of Jacksonville were all full or had “some spots” available.  I played it safe because I still wouldn’t make the appointment time regardless.

They were able to push out my appointment time and I got down into Florida where the damage from the hurricane continued.  It wasnt until I got onto I-4 and got a little bit to the west where it seemed like the landscape had not been significantly affected by the storm.

I made it into the customer in Plant City, FL just east of Tampa around 11:00 and they got me unloaded pretty quickly.  I already had a pre-plan to pick up in Tampa and take that load to north western Georgia, but I was concerned about getting into Tampa, getting loaded, and getting out to a truck stop to shutdown for the night.  Once again my 14-hour clock was challenging me.

On my way west into Tampa, I passed through Mango, FL where my mother was born.  I have had this happen several times out here on the road where I have passed a town that had some significance for one of my parents and I have just gotten very emotional.  My brothers and I lost both of our parents this past year and its been difficult to deal with.  Sometimes I’ll hear a song that didn’t have significance with regard to my parents, but now the lyrics remind me of them, or I’ll hear a song or artist they liked and I will get emotional from that as well.  When that happens, its tough, because I have so much time to think out here.  I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with it.

Anyway, I got to the customer in downtown Tampa, but they had an extremely small yard and I had to wait in a sand lot across the street, and they said they would call me when I was up.  I got annoyed, because as the truck pulled out of the dock that I was supposed to back into, another local truck driver pulled in and backed into the door.  That happened 2 more times before they finally got me in a different door.  They took the full 2 hours they are alotted to load me up, but I was able to get loaded and get out to a rest stop north of Tampa to park for the night.

Into The Storm

So again I apologize for not keeping up with my posts.  I hope to be more consistent going forward.  Two new things to report first of all:

Boots has been found, but is still on the loose.  She has been hiding out in one of the barns and finally came out for some food.  I left a bag of treats (aka Scooby Snacks) with my mother-in-law and she was able to entice Boots to come out with them.  Apparently  though, the poor cat is terrified because she bit my mother-in-law when she tried to pet her.  We’ll corral her eventually, but she is safe.  My mother-in-law is fine too.  She’s a tough, old school, wonderful woman and she’ll keep Boots safe and fed.

I have started writing some fiction and posting it on a separate page on the site.  I’ve posted one chapter of the Nicholas Lake Serial Stories so far.  Its adult reading so if you are a young’un please refrain from reading it.  You can find the link to the page on the right navigation pane (update:I noticed that on my Android phone the navigation pane is at the bottom of the posts, not on the right.  On my tablet it is on the right.  If you are using a mobile device to view the page, check for the nav pane in both places).  Take a few minutes to check it out and let me know what you think.  Please, seriously, I want input, whether you really like it, really hate it, find it “meh”, or could care less.  Even if you’re not interested in reading it, please let me know that.

So I’ll quickly get you up to date on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.  I started out last Saturday morning waiting for another driver to bring a relay load to the yard in Bensalem where I park my truck.  I was expecting the load to be there by Friday so this put me behind.  The load finally rolled in around noon, and I got moving just before 13:00.  I had to run that load down to the eastern shore of Maryland way down the peninsula in the boonies.  My routing took me down US-13 which has a ton of traffic lights so it took me a long time.  It was a drop and hook so it wasnt catastrophic that I got there after they were gone for the day.  I was able to drop that trailer and pick up an empty.  Then I started north again to drop and hook my next load.  Since I started my day early in the morning when I got to Bensalem expecting my load to already be there, my 14-hour clock forced me to stop in Smyrna, DE for the night.  The next day I ran up to North Bergen, NJ just off Tonnelle Ave and dropped my empty and picked up my load heading to Ohio.  That was a good trip.  Long hauls over 500 miles are great.  They take a couple of days minimum and there really is not much stress.  Once you are loaded and on your way, you are mostly on your own schedule.  You drive and listen to music, or think about stories you’re going to write, or whatever.  Next time out I’m going to bring some of the Teaching Company CD courses I’ve had at home for some time.   I used to listen to them on my commute years ago before I moved down by Philly.  Since I’ve been living down in Collingswood, my commute was too short to listen to them in the car, and I just never found myself listening at home.

From Ohio, I went to another warehouse in Ohio and took a load down to Kentucky.  Then from there I went up to Indiana and picked up a load coming back east to Bethlehem, PA.  That was my first experience with lumpers.

Lumpers are the guys that unload your truck at a warehouse when the warehouse itself doesn’t unload you.  They are a separate service that you have to pay for.  Now understand, I don’t pay out of my pocket.  I use a card called an EFS card.  I dont remember what that stands for but that is a separate service too.  Its a company that provides financial services kind of like PayPal.  I use the card to approve and pay for fuel and I could get cash with it as a pay advance if I needed it.  To pay for the lumpers I have to follow this process to get an authorization code and use a special EFS check to pay the lumpers.

It was also my first experience with OS&D (overages, shortages, & damages).  I had 3 damaged cases and half a pallet of 22 extra (overage) cases.  To take care of that, I had to take the 25 cases to another carrier to send back to the shipper.  This was an LTL carrier called Old-Dominion.  LTL stands for “less than truckload”.  These kinds of carriers have multiple loads on one truck going to various locations.  They make many stops and often the driver will load and unload the truck.  They tend to use pup trailers.  These are short trailers that they sometimes hookup as doubles (2 trailers connected to one tractor).  Anyway, the dock at Old-Dominion was designed for pup trailers and I had to put my 53′ trailer in one of their docks.  It was a challenge, but I was able to knock that out.  I was impressed with myself.  I’m not going to say I’m getting good at backing, but every once in a while I have my moments.

After dropping off those cases, I had to go pick up a load in northeast PA heading up by Boston.  That was my second experience with lumpers and it wasn’t a bad one this time.  I had 1 case “damaged”.  I can’t be sure, but this may be one of those unspoken customs.  It was a completely intact and undamaged package of 12 rolls of paper towels.  There was a little bit of stretched plastic on the packaging but the paper towels were fine.  Because it was one case the shipper doesnt want to deal with having us send it back, so I just got to keep it.  I have heard of getting “freebies” from time-to-time from some of my trainers in CDL school and other truck drivers I’m privileged to call friends.  Maybe I’m reading into it, but this one mostly fine package, seems like it was a tip, because I have seen packages in the supermarket in worse shape.

From there I had to run down to Rhode Island to pick up my next load delivering Tuesday morning.  The warehouse I had to pick up in was a really tight loading dock area as it was, but these knuckleheads parked empty trailers across from the docks so that your maneuverability was further limited.  I was pulling into the dock area, trying to figure out where I was supposed to back my trailer into.  I had to squeeze between the trailers parked in the way and another driver’s rig that was already in a dock door.  It was tight and I had to stop short and back up to avoid ripping across the front of his beautiful dark red Peterbilt truck.  After I got backed up into the door, I talked to the driver and he was cool about it.  I’m sure if I had messed up his grille he wouldn’t have been so friendly.  While we were both waiting to be loaded we were bullshitting a bit.  He was cool.  It was funny, because the guy loading his trailer would bring in a pallet, back out of the trailer, have a conversation with his buddy for a few minutes, go get another pallet, and then have another conversation, etc.  I thought the driver was gonna kick some ass.  He was getting pissed!  Anyway they finished loading him and he was able to get out of the tight quarters and pull out of the yard.  As he drove off I realized he was an owner-operator for Schneider.  They originally were the company I was going to go with, but after talking with a couple of my instructors at my CDL school, I changed my mind.  Since then, I’ve come to realize you’ll hear good things and bad things at various times about most every company.  If I had realized he was a Schneider driver I would have asked him how he liked driving for them.

After another hour and a half they finished loading me and I got underway heading down I-95 South.  I was low on my 14-hour clock and worse, was getting very low on my 70-hour clock.  Even worse, I wasn’t going to get any hours back until Saturday night at midnight (this was Friday afternoon).  I knew I needed to do a 34-hour reset and really there was no downside at this point because I wasnt going to get any hours back for about 32 hours anyway.  So I got as far as I could and got parked at a Travel Center of America just east of New Haven.  As I was backing into the spot I chose, out of many open spots in this truck stop, I noticed the truck next to me was a dark red Peterbilt like the one I almost hit at the shipper earlier in the day.  Then I noticed he was pulling an orange Schneider trailer.  I was like “what are the chances but that looks like the same truck!”  Then I see the driver walking up and he says with a smile, “you gonna try to hit it again?”  I had to laugh.  Anyway, I got my chance to talk to him about driving for Schneider.  He likes it although he said they are the top of the heap of shit.  All companies lie to you and all companies really only care about making money and don’t care about the drivers.  He’s doing well though.  He runs A LOT (He drove 165,000 miles this year), but he cleared over $100k.  He got to all 48 states in a year and gets all the miles he can handle.  So maybe down the line I might go work for them after all.  I’m happy here though.

So, Ive been parked here in New Haven reading, writing, listening to baseball on XM radio, doing laundry, and getting some extra sleep.  I’ll be rolling out of here tomorrow morning just before 05:00 with a fresh 70-hour clock and heading for my next destination over 1200 miles from here. Where you ask?  Well…Plant City, FL just east of Tampa.

So, I’ll be driving down into the storm.  Hopefully, Matthew will have gone for a swim out in the Atlantic by the time I get down there.  I’ll keep you all posted.

Home Again

Sorry I haven’t posted in about a week.  Been busy with several things I’ll get into later in the post.  I had a bit of a hiccup on the way to Marshfield, or rather the hiccup happened a couple of weeks ago but I just found out about it last week.

I’m home again but I’m already on my way back out.  I had 3 days home from Tuesday night until this morning.  But let me catch you up from St. Louis.

I picked up the load from Maryland Heights and took that up to Tomah, WI.  That was a quick drop and hook and I got down to Marshfield to pick up my next load.  The customer was just a couple miles from the Marshfield, WI terminal where the company headquarters is located.  After I did that drop and hook I went to the terminal to do laundry, take my 10-hour reset and take care of the hiccup I mentioned earlier.

Let me go back to early last week.  I was in the sleeper berth getting rest and I was still a few hours from completing my 10-hour reset.  I was somewhere along my route on my way to Tomah, WI, but exactly what day it was or where I was I can’t remember.  I get a phone call from someone in the safety department saying they needed to talk to me about an incident.  I was groggy but that got my attention.

She recounted details of an incident I was supposedly involved in but I didnt know what she was talking about at first.  After we discussed it some more I realized, that what I had thought was a little needed delay for me on my 2nd load as a solo driver, was actually a kind of serious incident.

I had turned into the wrong warehouse driveway when I was trying to get my load delivered and complete a drop and hook in time to find a place to park for the night before my 14-hour clock expired.  I was really up against the clock and was cutting it close to get done and stopped for the night, which is just a part of this job at times.  I was bleary-eyed and apparently not nearly as coherent as I thought.  I saw that there was a parking lot to the left that was big enough to turn around in.  So, instead of pulling up to the security gate for this wrong warehouse, I decided to turn around in the parking lot.  What I didn’t notice until I got hung up on one, was the islands of grass surrounded by curbs.  When I got hung up on the curb, it delayed me further and I got even more rushed for time.  I had to back off of the curb, and then swing around so the back of my trailer was facing back onto the warehouse entry roadway.  Then I backed it up out of the parking lot carefully and onto the entranceway, so that I was facing back out of this warehouse driveway.  I got out and with a flashlight, I checked to make sure there was no damage.  There was none other than some minor scrapes to the bottom of the sideskirts that I could see.  Altogether, crisis averted.  I was then able to pull back out and go a little further down the road to the correct warehouse.

What she filled in for me was that there was more damage to the sideskirts than I thought, and worse, I had run over a 6 foot tree on the island!  I was shocked!  I had no idea that had happened and at first I thought maybe she had confused me with some other driver.  Anyway, after we discussed the incident for some time, she said that was all she needed for now.

I was kind of nervous about the whole thing because that seems like the kind of thing you would get cut loose for, especially this early on.  After thinking about it for a bit, I called my fleet manager to see if he knew about the incident and what, if anything, I should be doing.  He coached me up on being aware of my surroundings and assessing the situation and assuring that I wasnt going to hit anything going forward in the future.  He also said that the only thing that will happen is that for the next 3 months I would lose the extra 1 cent per mile (cpm) you get for safe driving.  As long as I didn’t hit anything else in that time, I would get that 1 cpm back.

That reassured me for a few hours until I got another preplan showing a pickup in Marshfield going to Northumberland, PA.  I was not expecting to head back home nearly this early (I had only been out for 8 days at that point).  Also my family doctor had called me twice and left messages saying she needed to speak with me and needed some information.  She never calls me directly herself.  I let my own paranoia and my active and analytical mind work against me.  Sometimes out here you have a lot of time to think, and if you let it, your mind will got to dark and bad places.  I was convinced they were bringing me into Marshfield to search the truck for illegal drugs (since I did not recall significant details of the incident, I thought their natural conclusion would be that I had been high), and sack my butt.  The fact that my doctor had been calling me made me think that they had contacted my doctor about possible drug side effects (not realizing that they can’t legally do that).  Anyway, none of these unfounded speculations came to pass.

What did come to pass is that my fleet manager told me after I picked up the load in Marshfield up the road from our terminal, they were going to have me come to the terminal to do CQT (close quarters training).  It was supposed to take about an hour but it was extremely difficult and ended up taking me 2 and a half hours.  Luckily it was not a timed training event and I passed.  It may end up being a good thing in the long run, because in my Phase I training I didnt get CQT at all.

Since it took longer than expected, I stayed the night in my truck at the terminal after finishing close quarters training.  I was able to get my laundry done and get a good night’s sleep.  Then I was off in the morning headed for PA.  It was an enjoyable and uneventful drive back from the midwest to central PA.  I delivered that load on Monday and then had another load to pick up nearby and take to the dropyard in Bensalem as a relay for another driver.  By Tuesday afternoon I had made it back to the dropyard and was headed home for 3 days of off time.

I took care of some minor personal things and one major one during my time off.  Well the major one didn’t go so well.  I had to get my cat Boots situated in her new home in upstate NY because my brother who has been watching her throughout my training and first month of driving solo, is going on an awesome European trip for 6 weeks starting Tuesday.  I needed to take Boots the 200+ miles to upstate NY and spent a lot of Thursday packing her stuff in the car and trying to corral her.  She was wary because I had taken her to the vet on Wednesday to get her up to date on her shots.  Eventually I got on the road in the afternoon and Boots rode in my lap the whole way up.  With traffic, it took almost 5 hours to get there.  So at 8:15 pm I carried her to the house and about 10 feet from the porch, she freaked out, scratched the heck out of me and jumped out of my arms and over my shoulder.  She ran under my car and then under my mother-in-law’s car and then scooted off into the bushes as a car passed on the country road in front of the house.  We looked for her for some time that night but she didn’t come out.  I stayed the night and we searched more in the morning, but we still haven’t found her.  I’m very sad about it.  She’s such a good cuddly cat and she was declawed on her front paws before I got her.  I’m worried she can’t defend herself and she isn’t used to going outside and avoiding cars.  Hopefully she will hide in one of the barns and come out when she gets hungry enough.

Here’s Boots being cute, as is her way:20160930_154651

 

“Totes” & Laundry

Yesterday, while I was getting ready to leave the truck stop in the morning on my way back to this customer to deliver the load of masonary totes I was hauling (more on these in a sec), I received a pre-plan cancellation for the load going to Wisconsin.  I assumed because I wasn’t going to get to the shipper until well after the appointment time, they took the load off of me and put another driver on it.  I knew I needed to call into my Fleet Manager to make sure he was aware that I was getting tight on my 70-hour rule.  I figured I could do that while I got unloaded at the consignee.

Anyway, I got back over to the consignee to deliver the load of masonary totes.  I will say, “totes” is a bit deceptive.  You could “tote” them if you were a titan, or with a forklift.  I had 17 of them and they weighed 44,600 lbs in total!  So they had me back up to a cement ramp and they unloaded them with the aforementioned forklift.  This customer was some kind of construction supply company.  I was watching as I got unloaded, and it looked like they were making cement on the spot in a big contraption and loading it right into a cement truck.  It was interesting.

Well, as I was getting unloaded at the construction supply company, I decided to call my FM as I planned to let him know how tight I was getting on hours for my 70-hour rule.  I only had about 8.5 hours left and wasn’t getting any recap hours back at midnight that night.  He told me to just use my remaining hours between the 2 days until I started getting hours back on Friday night (tonight).  I told him that I wanted to just make sure that whatever load the planners had for me next was going to be possible with the hours I had left.  After I hung up, about 20 minutes later, they put that same load back on me but changed the delivery time to Saturday at 09:00.  With the recap hours I’ll get back tonight, that is doable, but I drove only about 5 hours yesterday, and then 2.5 hours today.

I’m finding the 70-hour rule may be the tough one.  The 14-hour rule was kicking my butt earlier in the week, but I think that should be the one that only hinders you on rare occasions when you get a lot of delays.  Once you learn to do things faster (backing, refueling, checking in, parking, drop & hooking, etc.) the 14-hour rule should only get you if you are delayed at a customer for loading/unloading or some ridiculous traffic jam.  If you don’t learn to do all those day-to-day tasks with alacrity, and keep using all 14 hours, that can cause you to start making other mistakes as fatigue starts to set in.  Also, if are running up against the 14-hour rule too much, that means you’ll really be up against the 70-hour rule later in the week.  You have to make sure you are going to deliver your current load on time, but you also need to make sure after you finish that load, you have hours left to get the next load.  But you also have to manage your time over the long run so that you can continue to run without having to take a 34 hour reset.

It seems a lot like pool (billiards) to me, actually.  When you start out learning to shoot pool, you worry about the shot you are currently on.  Then you start to see ahead in the game and try to set up your next shot and then a couple shots ahead, and eventually a whole series of shots.  But if you are going to hustle pool and make money at it without running into trouble, then you need to think GAMES ahead.

So, I kind of skipped ahead of myself.  After I finished delivering those “totes” I got up to Maryland Heights for my next pick up and they wanted me to back into this dock that was pretty difficult.  You had to pull into this dock area around the other side of the building from their shipping office that was very small.  Then you had to swing around so that your trailer was aimed at the docks but you couldn’t maneuver the trailer into the dock they needed me in without pulling all the way back out onto the street and block traffic.  Well, people were just going to have to wait!  Anyway, there was a veteran driver there being helpful and trying to explain to me how to get in there.  He helped hold traffic up so I could maneuver without worrying about cars sneaking behind me as I was backing (yes, morons try to do that because they don’t want to wait).  Eventually the other driver offered to put it in the dock for me.  I told him I appreciated the offer, but I needed the practice and like the challenge.  I did a good job and quickly got it lined up but there was a pretty big lip going into their driveway from the street, and at one point with my tractor cocked to one side, I felt the passenger side drive tires on the tractor catch and then slip before they started moving again.  The drive tires can slip like that sometimes but in this case I should have known what it was.

So after I got loaded I started out of the St. Louis area east on I-270 across the Mississippi river and into Illinois where I stopped at a Flying J truck stop to scale my load to make sure it was legal.  I noticed while I was there that I was down to 1/4 on my fuel gauge and that my fuel and routing plan did not have a fuel stop scheduled.  I called my FM again and let him know.  He told me to watch in the pre-plans when I get them over the Truck PC as they should have an estimate of where I stand on fuel.  If it is not accurate I need to let them know.  I told him I’d look for that and he told me that they’d add a fuel stop in my plan and resend it.  By the time I got back out on the road I had a fuel stop scheduled just up the road.

I fueled up and then I headed north on I-55 and made it to Minonk, IL before I decided to stop with just over 3 hours left on my 70-hour rule.  Here was my view as I got parked:

20160922_185508

I did my post-trip inspection and realized what happened with the drive tires back at the pick up.  The lip had pushed the mudflap under the tires and they caught on it, then slipped, and then ripped it off and probably shot it across the street because I never saw the mudflap laying on the ground at the shipper.  I reported the missing mudflap to Roehl dispatch via an app they have that I installed on my phone.

Then I went into the truck stop, got a shower (which was free because I had fueled up at a Pilot earlier in the day), and went to Woody’s Family Restaurant.  I had a nice bowl of vegatable soup, hit the salad bar, and got a loaded plate of spaghetti.  I don’t eat enough salad out here and need to figure out how to make sure I’m eating enough veggies while on the road.  After that nice meal, I came back out to my truck and got some sleep.

I got up and back on the road for a short day at about 06:30.  By 09:00 I was parked again, this time in South Benoit just short of the Wisconsin border.  I chose the wrong truck stop though, since I had to waste the whole day until midnight tonight before I get back about 8:30 hours from my recap.  I was planning on doing laundry here, but this truck stop doesn’t have laundry facilities.  The Flying J across the highway does have laundry, but now it is too late in the day to move over there because I’d blow my 10-hour reset and wouldn’t be able to get on the road until 04:30 instead of right at midnight.  So I’ll do laundry at the terminal in Marshfield when I get there tomorrow (where I’m picking up my next load).

One last thing before I close out tonight.  I wish I got a picture of this  but its just as funny if I just tell y’all.  I got passed this morning on my short drive to where I’m parked now, by a Ford 250 pickup hauling a box trailer that had a number 56 painted on the side.  I assumed he was hauling some kind of race car.  On the back of the trailer, it said:

WARNING: The Surgeon General said nuthin’ about me smokin’ your ass!

 

St. Louis

I shut it down a little bit early yesterday because I took a bathroom break at a truck stop on I-30 in Arkansas and that place was packed already at 18:00.  I found parking at a rest stop just down the road and decided not to risk getting stuck without parking if I went further, even though I had a lot of time left on my 11-hour driving clock.

As it turns out that was a good decision.  As I started out this morning, I passed 2 of the rest stops further down the road that I would have looked to stop at, and they were both closed for renovations.  Also, 2 of the truck stops I had been eyeing were much smaller than I had expected and they were probably full the night before.

As you can see, a big part of planning is trying to figure out where you’re going to shut it down for the night.  Another is managing the clocks, as I indicated previously.  I’m finding out just how hard that is.  I’m going to run out of clock on my 70-hour rule.  I only have 13 hours left on it for the next 2 days, and I still have to make this delivery in the morning (I missed my delivery time tonight…more on this later) and then travel about 20 miles to an area very close to Ferguson (yes, THAT Ferguson) for my next pickup.  Then I need to scoot up to Wisconsin by the following morning.  I might be able to make it, but everything would have to go right.

Sobering moment as I started out this morning.  I got back out onto I-30 and shortly thereafter, there was a rollover on the other side of the highway.  He had landed on the driver’s side in the grass strip between the eastbound and westbound lanes.  The cab was wrecked and I’m pretty sure that it was a fatal accident for the driver.  It was a strong reminder to stay focused and safe.

So, since I shut it down early yesterday, I had about 500 miles to run today.  I had enough time on my clocks to easily get to the delivery but because I was required to take a 10 hour break, it was cutting it close.  Even if I had kept going last night, I would have run out of available hours and would have needed to shut it down before I made it to my destination.

No matter when I shut it down, I just didnt have enough time to get to the consignee and stay legal on the clocks.

As a result when I got to the consignee at 18:22, the customer was closed for the night.  My FM told me I would have to deliver it in the morning.  So now I have a delivery at 07:00 at this place and then a pickup 20 miles away at the shipper for my next load at 09:00.  Tight window.  I’m hoping for the best.

Anyway, I’m holed up at a medium sized Pilot truck stop that had some really tight spots available.  After about 45 minutes, I managed to get in one of them and I’m hunkering down for the night.

Until next time…

Texas!

I made it to Texas!  But not until yesterday.  I stopped just short of the Louisiana/Texas border the night before last, because for some reason there’s a cornucopia of truck stops just before the border on the Louisiana side but a barren wasteland for a while on the Texas side!  After a good long rest of 18 hours I got back on the move headed to my delivery at Home Depot in Hutto, TX.

Why 18 hours you ask?  Well, my delivery window was from 20:00-21:00 and I had to wait to start my day so that I’d have enough time on my 14-hour clock to be able to finish getting unloaded and get to a location to park for the night.  Also, I wanted to build in some extra time in case I was held up for any substantial time at the delivery.

As it turns out, they took me right away when I got there at 19:20 and unloaded the trailer quickly.  We can generally arrive up to an hour before our delivery time if it is an appointment.  Sometimes its a big window, like a whole day.  Sometimes we have specific delivery times as an appointment.  Some places we absolutely can’t go in early.

In the afternoon before I got to the customer for my delivery, I got another pre-plan and it was a relay picking up in our Houston dropyard at 02:00 last night!  I had to make my delivery to Home Depot at 20:00 and then get down to Houston by 02:00!  It’s a good thing I built in that extra time.  I thought I had enough time to get down to Houston and drop my empty trailer, pick up my relay trailer, and get to the truck stop that was my fueling point in the FRP (fuel and routing plan).  I got to the dropyard, but when I checked on one of the apps I use, Trucker Path, I was seeing that all the truck stops in the area were showing as full, so I stayed the night here.

On this app, Trucker Path, it shows locations where you can park overnight and allows you to update the status of a location (“lot is full”, “some spots”, or “lots of spots”).  That way other drivers can see if there’s parking still available, and hopefully they’ll do me a solid and report on the status where they are.  I update the status when I get to a truck stop (or other locations like rest stops, state welcome centers, and Walmarts), and also if I get up in the middle of the night/day to use the bathroom, and when I leave the location.

I will go on-duty in about an hour, knock out my PTI (pre-trip inspection), and get on the road towards my fuel stop, and then on towards my delivery in St. Louis.  I’m due there tomorrow night at 18:00.  Hopefully, I’ll make it there with time to spare.  <crosses fingers and toes>!

I’m thinking I’ll add a glossary of terms since the trucking industry seems to have as many abbreviations as the military!  Let me know if you guys/girls would like to see me cover any specific topics or have questions or suggestions about what to include on the site.  Thanks for reading!

On The Road Again

So…I had a nice week off. Visited some friends and family.  Took care of some things.  Gathered up a bunch of stuff to take to my truck.  Forgot to do laundry.  Cuddled with my cat, Boots…A LOT.  Whether I wanted to or not.  I mean, a whole lot!  She missed me, maybe more than I missed her.  Wish I could take her with me, but even if I thought she would like it, I can’t take a pet with me in my truck until I’ve been there for 6 months.  I don’t think she would like it either.  So instead, I’ll be sending her to a farm in upstate New York.  No, that’s not a euphemism for having her euthanized!  She’s going to live with my brother’s mother-in-law.  She will give Boots a good home and hopefully I’ll get to visit her.  She’s such a good cat, and I’ll miss her somethin’ awful.

On Thursday afternoon, I got a pre-plan for my load assignment coming out of the house, and its a good one.  I’m headed for TEXAS!  Hutto, TX to be exact, which is just north of Austin.  I picked up the load in New Jersey yesterday (Friday) morning and made it as far as southwestern Virginia by the time I had to stop last night.

Today I did about 530 miles and made it as far as northeastern Alabama.  They have me heading south (obviously) and then across I-20 thru ‘bama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and then to Texas.  I have until Monday at 20:00 to deliver the load, so I hope to do 600+ miles tomorrow and get across the Louisiana/Texas border.

Just a word about times.  I’ve been using 24-hour military time, because that’s what the company uses, and it comes naturally to me after my service in the Army.  If its not what you are used to and can’t sort it out, let me know.  I’ll explain how to Google it.😜

Anyway, I’m excited to be going to Texas and through all these southern states.  I’m hoping to get some good southern BBQ somewhere along the way.  I’ve already seen some great sights in my short career as a trucker and several on this particular trip.  I wish I could have taken pics of some of these things but I’m working on a solution to that problem.  I’m going to get a pair of prescription sunglasses from Pivothead:

http://www.pivothead.com/original/

That’s all for now, but I’m still working on the interactive map and I’ll be posting pics of the inside of my truck when I get it a little more swanky!

Prequel Episode I: Trucking Is A New Hope

I’m sure some of you (maybe all of you?) are wondering why I decided to start driving over-the-road in 18-wheel tractor-trailers.  It’s a harder question to answer than I thought it would be.  I mean I just went through the decision-making process to change careers from a computer networking office job in a cubicle environment to the completely different lifestyle of an over-the-road trucker.  You’d think I could just tell you what I was thinking, and to some extent, I can.  The problem is that I’m not the same person that choose this rarely trodden path 18 some odd months ago.  Thus, I’m not sure entirely what I was thinking.

After being let go from two networking positions within a 6 month period, I realized I just didn’t have it in me to put on a suit and go interviewing for another cubicle-bound tech job again.  At least not just then.  I had become the computer guy that didn’t believe in computers.  I didn’t like computers like I had when I was a kid, or even when I had begun my programming career 18 years before (there’s a theme going on with all these 18s and it’s completely unintentional!).  I wanted to do something else.  I didn’t know what that something else was though.

I did a lot of thinking for a long time about what else I enjoyed and what else I was qualified to do.  I considered getting a nursing degree because I seemed naturally good at being a care giver, which was especially obvious to me during the last couple of years helping my parents in their elder years.  However, I quickly realized that the sadness I would feel when I lost patients would consume me and always wanting to do more to help people but never being able to do enough would just destroy me.  I was never good at compartmentalizing my feelings.  Besides, I’m not good with needles, or with blood.

I thought about trying to apply to Homeland Security and get back into intelligence analysis, since I was good at that back in the Army, but it had been so long since I had relevant experience and somehow knew I wouldn’t enjoy it the way I had in the military.

I considered going back to programming.  I also wished I’d followed my father into landscape architecture, and thought about technical school for electrician training.  I wished I hadn’t left the Army.  And then I hit upon the idea of driving for a living.

I love driving.  I can’t explain the feeling I get when I get out on the open road heading somewhere far away.  My stresses and concerns all seem to melt away.  There’s just the road, the radio, my thoughts, and no worries!

At first I was considering driving for Uber but when I dug into it I found it  didn’t seem as lucrative as the advertisements would have you believe.  Really, it doesn’t even seem viable as a primary career.

So then I thought about taxis and limousines, and quickly dismissed that.  Then I started looking into courier services.  Believe it or not, there’s not a big market for jobs like Jason Statham’s Transporter.

So, I came to the idea of driving really big trucks with really long trailers.  I never had considered it.  It was not a childhood dream of mine to drive a big rig.  I never even was curious to check out one up close.

Tractor-trailers were the slow moving things that annoyed me when I was driving somewhere in my car.  They were those guys riding on people’s bumpers trying to intimidate them into moving out of the way.  They were those morons who jack-knifed on the highway causing massive traffic jams and worse, probably killing a car full of innocent people.

I didn’t like trucks or truck drivers.  So how did I decide to become one?  I don’t know.  That’s the hard part about answering this.  I can’t remember how that wasnt something that got dismissed outright like driving a taxi or limousine.  Maybe it was because there was more money to be made driving a tractor-trailer.  That may have made it viable enough to consider for long enough to decide to look into it more.

Then, I think I mentioned the idea to a few family members and my brother Dan mentioned that, Whimpy, one of the guys we were friends with from the fanatical NJ Devils crew that tailgated with Richie, Little E, and a host of other characters had started truck driving a few years before.  Dan suggested that I talk to him, so I did, and thus took the first step down the road less travelled.

To Be Continued…

 

Finally Home

I didn’t make it home last night. I got done with the drop and hook in the Harrisburg, PA area and headed back towards I-81 with 12 minutes on my 14-hour clock! I got to I-81 with 1 minute left on the clock and the truck stop I was shooting for was still 5 minutes away. As I got on the highway, there was immediately a sign for a weigh station/rest stop, so I pulled in there, and miraculously there was a legal parking spot available.  I literally got stopped for the night and off-duty with probably about 5 seconds left on my clock! I have got to stop cutting it that close!

It was midnight by the time I was ready for bed, but I only had 50 pages or so left in the book I have been reading and I really wanted to finish it.  I shut the light out at about 2:00.  I got up this morning at 10:17 EST, got ready for the day, did a pre-trip, and got moving towards home at about 11:45.  I made it back to Bensalem, where I’ll be parking my truck, at about 13:45.  My brother Ken who was lurking at the Parx casino a few miles away, followed my truck into the drop yard.  I packed up my stuff and loaded up the car for my time off.  We pulled out of the lot at about 2:45 EST.  I was really hoping to be home by that time the day before!  Anyway, I have off until I go back out on 9/16 at 07:00.  I’ll use this time to get my truck set up how I want it, take care of some pressing matters, and just unwind and see some friends & family.

During my time off this week, I plan on posting some “prequel” posts about why I decided to do this, CDL school, and my training prior to starting the blog.

Talk to you soon peoples!☺

Almost Home!

I got my load coming east picked up in Gary and I drove as far as I could last night before I ran out of hours on my 14-hour clock.  I got as far as exit 71 on I-80 in Ohio, just a little east of Toledo.  That wasn’t as far as I wanted but it was the best I could do.  I only took one 5 minute bathroom break (and 7 or so minutes on a vehicle check before heading back out on the road) and was driving the rest of the time once I left Gary at 17:15 CST.  I got parked for the night at about 22:15 and completed my post-trip inspection by about 22:35.

That meant I couldn’t start this morning until 8:35 CST.  Before I went to bed for the night, I went into the Love’s truck stop I was parked at and bought some supplies I needed for the truck (dust pan, large push broom, good laminated motor carrier’s atlas, a hammer to thump the tires, duct tape, and some velcro strops to se ure a few things to my dashboard when I get them).  I had a nice roast beef and curly fry donner at Arby’s and went back out to my truck.  I set 2 alarms on my phone for 7:30 and 7:45 CST and went to bed.  When I woke up and look at my watched it said 9:08 am, so I jumped up wondering what happened to ny alarm, got dressed, changed my status from ‘sleeper berth’ to ‘off-duty’ and went inside to go to the bathroom.  Then I rushed back out and put myself ‘on-duty’ for a pre-trip and then immediately realized I had bumbed a button on my watch and it was on eastern time!  I just blew my 10-hour reset!

I instantly called in for my fleet manager, but forgot it is the Saturday and I got weekend dispatch.  The guy I was talking to couldn’t fix my log and he said the one guy that could was on a call, so he put me on hold for a bit.  Then he came back on the line and told me that guy was still on another call and I should call back in about 15 minutes.  I waited anxiously and then called after about 10 minutes.  He was still on another call.  So I waited again for about 10 minutes and then thought, I should call the safety department since I’m supposed to call them instead of my FM (fleet manager) for log fixes, anyway.  I ended up getting the guy that I had been trying to reach previously.

He listened to my explanation about the mess up and chided me about making this kind of mistake since the log is a legal document and falsifying it is a illegal (I wasn’t falsifying it because I hadnt actually started working, but if I had I would have been).  “You have to master the Truck PC” he told me.  I apologized and told him I wouldnt make that mistake again.  He changed the ‘On-duty – Pre-Trip’ status to ‘Off-Duty – nwb’.  I assume the neb stands for “Newbie”!  LOL!

This shows just how easy it is told mess up out here.  There’s a lot more to this life than holding a steering wheel and singing along to the radio.  I have since turned my watch around to the inside of my wrist so I won’t accidentally bump any buttons.  I also noticed that if you are ready to start for the day and your 10-hour reset is complete, the Truck PC will prompt you to do a pre-trip as soon as you hit the ‘On-Duty’ status (before you finish entering it officially).  Now that I know that I think I can avoid this pitfall again.  Of course the big red message saying ‘Do not drive – you are out of hours’ should have been a vague clue that I was about to blow my reset.

Anyway, after he got that straightened out, I was then able to get myself on duty and do a pre-trip.  I got out on the road by about 10:00 CST.  I’m at a rest stop in Ohio getting linch and getting in my 30-minute mandatory break.  Hopefully, I’ll have minimal stops from here on out.

A note about these truck stops in Ohio, they are really nice (on I-80 anyway)!  All of them have free shower rooms for the truckers, a nice marketplace shop (like a Wawa or 7-11 or Circle K), a coffee shop, and a food court with 3 or 4 fast food places and one slightly better restaurant.  This one has a Panera, so I just finished having a pick 2 of seasonal greens salad and an Italian sandwich.  I got an apple for dessert too.😊

I’m set to head back out on the road and Git ‘Er Dun!