The rig is parked in another gigantic lot, but this one is 90% vacant. All of the spaces are “pull throughs”, i.e., no backing involved. Many Thanks for this much needed relief! This is a “Service Plaza” on Ohio’s Turnpike which is really Interstate 80. I don’t know how the state got the right to put toll booths on a Federally funded Interstate, but they have spared no expense on these installations. Besides the ample and easy parking for cars and trucks alike, there is a well-appointed building with restrooms, a food court some shops and a trucker’s area with showers, laundromat and TV lounge.
Above: The Ohio Turnpike Service Plaza Building
Above: Inside the Service Plaza
It has been two days of over ten hours of driving and there is
another ten to go before my first of two stops in Massachusetts. I will
split this ten with a ten hour break in the middle. It is a bit
complicated, but given the time of the appointment for deliver and the
distance involved, there are ten hours of driving and ten hours of
mandatory off-duty between now and then no matter what. I can drive
straight to the receiver and hope there is a place to hide an 80 foot
truck for 10 hours or stop in the middle, probably at the fuel stop.
That way, I can arrive, on time at the receiver and drive away when
through. It will be a very close thing and I have asked for another hour
or two on the appointment.
Just when I am about to give up and stay in a roadside park when word
comes that there is on-site parking at the receiver. I won’t be turned
away for being early and be forced creep the streets illegally looking
for a place to park. So, now I can drive straight in and stay until my
appointment at 5 AM. That went well overall, but at the very end, Jill
the Navigation voice told me “turn right” where I saw nothing but
darkness. Immediately she added, “Not allowed. Return to the route
behind you.” It is an ineffective and singularly useless thing to say
to a man driving a truck on a narrow country road, with no shoulders to
speak of and nothing but narrow residential driveways and tiny
commercial parking lots on both sides. The usual defense of pressing
Jill’s Re-route button made her say “Communications Failure”. In other
words, “You’re on your own, Sucker!”
No, I must drive ever onward as my time runs down to the tens of
minutes, desperately searching for an area big enough to allow the
turning radius I need. Think of a football field. If I go straight
across on the Fifty yard line, I can turn and come back on the Twenty.
And there I was driving blindly into the night with no idea what I would
encounter. Finally I found a small motel on a corner lot with very few
guests. There was an entrance on both the highway and the cross
street. By using every inch of pavement on the cross street, the
highway and the parking lot, I managed to reverse direction.
Jill came back to consciousness and showed me the distance to the
turn-off. The sign on the road was low and unlit, but visible from this
direction. The gate guard seemed to know the motel I mentioned. In
my experience so far, Shipping, Receiving and Warehouse staff are
polite and helpful people. The gate guard at this place was exactly
that, explaining where I needed to be an when. He even had a number for
pizza delivery straight to the truck. I had previous plans for peanut
At 6:30 the call comes to find a door and be unloaded. They finish
around 8 and bring me the paperwork. Part if this was written while I
was “hiding” over in the parking area after closing up and sealing the
load for the next stop.. I didn’t need to stay, but I have nowhere to
be. I have drive time, but it is limited by the 8 day regulations to 7
hours and 11 minutes. The next stop is 3 hours from here. I don’t know
if I can go hang out there until my appointment at 7 AM tomorrow. I
transmitted the completion message for this stop and assembled the
paperwork for this trip so far.
I looked up a Pilot truck stop (they have an iPhone App) near the
final and drove there, saving a couple of hours tomorrow morning. It
was at I 95 exit 40 in Connecticut. Why Pilot? Because that is where
the company has us fuel up and that is where I get a shower credit for
each 50 gallons. I have six left and they expire after ten days, so it
behooves me to use them. I just found a receipt from Loves (the
competition) and it says I have 4 showers there. Those expire as well
so perhaps I had better double up on showers. But, Loves doesn’t seem
to have any locations nearby.
This trip I spent two nights at rest stops and missed my chance at a
shower. This particular Pilot is an addition to a general travel shop
in what looks like it used to be a hotel. There is a saddle and some
photos of a young barrel-racing cowgirl and her horses on display on the
staircase landing. I can only guess at the story behind this exhibit.
Was she the daughter of the hoteliers back in the 60’s? This is
obviously a sentimental shrine to the racer and her horses. Perhaps she
is the elderly owner of the travel stop, these days?
The showers have beautiful pedestal sinks from the 1950’s and ugly
rusty metal folding chairs from the 1960’s. The driver’s lounge seems to
be a coin-operated pool table and what is labeled a “Theater Room”. It
really is an old-style private theater that might have screened
projected movies for VIPs at one time, long ago. I couldn’t manage to
make the camera flash to get a good photo of this darkened studio The
parking lot is off behind the fueling bays and you would not know it
was there if not for the signs that point it out and threaten to tow
your rig if you park by the fuel island.
All these spaces are accompanied by ancient fixtures with ductwork,
built on massive concrete bases. These were evidently, life support
system for trucks in the old days when it was idle your engine or freeze
to death in the winter. These would be necessary in such a setting a
half-century ago. Imagine a capacity crowd of 80 such trucks all
gathered in a spot like this and idling You younger folks, who never
knew a world before emission controls on automobiles, cannot imagine
what a dismal cloud of unburned hydrocarbons would “surround and
penetrate you” in such a scenario. The more ancient of us can see why
these things were needed, at the time. As seen in the photo, this one
has a history of “incidental contact” that may date back decades. Most
trucks have Auxiliary power units (APU’s) these days. These are
clean-running small diesel generators that keep power and heat/AC in the
I had three days of decent wages on the Kansas – Massachusetts run.
Each day was about 580 miles. But there was a twenty four hour wait at
the Shipper – common with meat plants, Also, the double destinations at
the Receivers adds another full day of minimal pay. Today I got
unloaded at the first stop and drove about 150 miles. Oh, and I got $25
for the extra drop (Ka-Ching!*).
Tomorrow, I will drive about 60 miles to the last stop and then deadhead 90 miles to the next assignment.
There is a new trip on the horizon for which I only have places and
times, so far. It looks like I will be hauling candy from New Hampshire
to Pennsylvania. This is a short (500 miles) trip spread over three
days. Despite the short mileage, it sounds interesting.
Now, my phone is dead. I expect it is the cable, because I have
replaced same three times now since I have had this iPhone. They cost
about $25 and seem to last just a few months under heavy usage. Without
my phone cannot use the Apps to find a truck stops at which to buy a
new (and overpriced) cable. I do have the address of the next pick-up.
So, there I will set off that way and see what I stumble across. I can
see that I need a back-up for the iPhone. I have become dependent upon
it. Technology has its consequences.
Steve Carroll Campbell was my father. He was born in January of 1930 near New Boston, Texas. When he was about ten years old, he suffered from a degenerative bone disease that so attacked his right lower leg that local doctors were ready to amputate. His father, Louis D. Campbell, took him to Texarkana where there was a Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. The family legend is that his stretcher rode on the back of a flat-bed truck.
The doctors there tried something
desperate. They carved bone out of a live goat and transplanted (grafted,
I suppose) it in the appropriate place in this poor boy’s diseased limb.
A desperate gamble indeed since it was – as far as I know – unprecedented.
But there was nothing to lose – except, of course, the boy’s leg.
on crutches for over a year, this tragic figure of a child, until his leg was
strong enough to take his full weight. The leg, though smaller in
diameter and severely scarred, it was the roughly the same length as his left
and quite capable. Unless you saw him in shorts, you would never know
that anything had ever been amiss.
You may be
old enough to remember when Shriners took one day a year to stand on street
corners and collect donations for their charities like that Texarkana
Hospital. As an adult, as often as he was able, my father would scrape
together a hundred dollars to buy a crisp, new $100 bill. He would find a
Shriner collecting and drop the bill in the little bucket, anonymously.
In those days, a hundred dollars might have been a full week’s pay with
which Dad could ill afford to part.
My father was uprooted
from Bowie County and moved to Houston – with his mother and younger brother – in
his high school years. While his mother
worked long shifts as an LVN in a maternity ward, he worked as a merchant
sailor and later as a letter carrier (on foot – told you that leg was strong!)
to allow me to be a “Junior” because his middle name (it sounds exactly like
“Carol”, a girl’s name) was a source of ridicule for him by
mean-spirited classmates. Blake is my middle name and I do not know where
it came from. It is possible that my Uncle Mark (Dad’s brother-in-law) may
know. I’ll ask.
As far as I
am concerned, Carroll is a perfectly acceptable man’s name and I can quote two
examples you may have heard of : Carroll O’Connor, the actor famous for
portraying Archie Bunker and Carroll Shelby, the automobile designer and racer
famous for the Shelby Cobra and other cars.
also from Texas, by the way. While I think Dad’s precaution was overly
protective, I recognize that he did it because he loved me and wanted the best
settled into a career in the glass sales business. It was he who trained
me to clean glass properly. It takes clean paper towels, two of
them. The first, “the wet one”, is used with a light amount of
cleaner to emulsify the spots and loosen dirt. The second, “the dry one”
mops up the streaks left by the first. Soon, you toss the wet one. Then the dry one becomes the wet one and you
get a new dry one. To clean windows, the proper way is to use two people,
one on each side. That way if you rub vigorously but can’t get the spot
out, you can point it out to your partner since it must be on his side.
“pointing out your partner’s flaws” is much quicker than a single cleaner going
from one side to the other – especially on house windows far from the doors –
as you know if you have tried it. These days, I have a truck windshield
that I struggle to keep clean of all the bugs that dive like Kamikazes and
spatter directly in my forward view. I always remember my Dad when I
clean the windshield and I do the best job I can, in his memory. (This
part written while “over-the-road”)
clean the mirrors, I remember Dad’s team method for windows and if there is a
spot I can’t tackle, I say, “Hey Dad, that one must be on your
side!”. He looks back with a smile and calls me a
“smarty-pants” (or something similar 😉). He looks a lot like me, these days.
of his life, Dad fought a smoking habit established at a young age. That and a lung disease that was associated
with poultry farming deteriorated his health until he was on continuous oxygen in
his early 60’s. He died on June 30th,
1997 (age 67) of respiratory arrest – he wanted to breathe, but could
not. It has been almost 22 years now that he has been gone. I miss
him terribly to this day.
The truck parking situation in the Northeast is now critical. I am
still avoiding much of the whole mess by traveling when most are
sleeping and vice versa. When I leave truck stops or even roadside
parks, the mass of trucks is astounding. They are parked not just in
every space, but also in every space that is not a space. They line the
driveways and side streets and even the off ramps from and onramps to
the Interstate. The rest areas are so overflowing that I sometimes have
to hop the trailer tires over a curb to get out to the road. From
there, it is smooth sailing because…why? That’s right – most all the
other trucks are off the road! By the time I am ready for a break it is
about six or seven in the morning and there are spaces left by the
early risers who have departed. Sometimes I can roll past the still
sleeping trucks lining the on-ramps, avoid the side-liners in the
driveway and find a nice vacant pull-through in the main parking lot at
If parking is crowded at a fuel stop, I can log my fuel stop for the
first 10 minutes then go on “break” while I top off the reefer and add
DEF (explained later). After that, I must pull forward if there is a
truck behind me, but I can still buy some wiper fluid or oil, find the
bathroom, get a cup of coffee, etc. If by that time I don’t have the
required 30 minutes, I will watch the mirrors while the guy behind me
stalls around for the same reason. If he gets through fueling, I have
to move, but mostly, I manage to kill the 30 and drive on. Jill stops
saying “you have one hour and seven minutes of remaining drive time” to
saying “you have four hours and 35 minutes of remaining drive time. The
difference would be only three hours but she holds up your on-duty time
(fueling, inspections, time at shippers or receivers) until you break,
When I settle for the “night” it is about two or three in the
afternoon. Empty truck stop spaces abound. Some rest areas are vacant
except for my truck and two or three others. All those empties and far,
far more will be occupied when I leave again. I have some photos of
Above: Trucks parked on the Interstate ramp that leads to a
rest area. I see these by the hundreds on any given “midnight run”.
The law says you have to stop driving and park the truck after 11 hours
of accumulated driving. At times, there is no good choice for that
location. The parking situation is critical in the Northeast and getting
worse. I avoid it – for the most part – by my “graveyard shift”
driving hours. By the way, notice the cool “spacecraft-like” appearance
of my instrument panel
Above: This phenomenon is not limited to nighttime hours. This is not long after dawn.
Except for the truck in the fuel line (far right), all of those
vehicles are in a “no parking” zone. Nobody kicks them out because they
have little choice. The drivers will all quickly move their trucks
when awakened if they block somebody in. Those blocked in apologize for
awakening them and are quite understanding in a “there but for the
Grace of God go I” sort of way. Ninety-nine percent of truck drivers
are polite, thoughtful and helpful individuals.
Newark is a lot like a truck stop in the middle of the night. There
is no extra room to be found. When there might be some, they start a
construction area there. This applies to warehouse areas and streets in
industrial zones. Where in small towns there are wide open spaces
surrounding industrial zones, Newark has shops and houses that border
them. I went down a narrow residential streets to get to the new home
for the half-million-dollars-worth of beef. I had parked on the street
to walk my papers to the guard to check in. I parked right by a fire
plug – see photo below
Above: I reckon I could talk my way out of this ticket.
They had a vendor parking area that was basically a trailer junk yard
with a little extra space. Paved with gravel and diesel oil in a black
organic ooze that gets tracked into the truck. Driving out in the
morning, Jill, the Virtual Navigation Girl told me to turn where rigs
were parked on both sides, take narrow streets where cars lined the
edges, use closed entrance ramps. Nobody had told her about
construction areas or detours. I wore out my touch-screen finger
pressing the “re-route” button. I was hopping curbs and making
sign-language pleas for cars to back up and let me avoid taking out
road signs on the corners. I went around in circles until I finally
worked up an escape velocity and left the orbit of Newark. (…with
apologies to Douglas Adams)
Not far out of town, I picked up a load of plastic bags to take to
North Carolina. This was at another of those obstacle-course yards
where I had to back blind-side into a space with a fence in front making
The offending fence. Its demise predated my arrival, but I rejoiced in
its horizontality nevertheless. The text at the top of the windshield
lists truck stops and rest areas along the planned route. Don’t worry –
I had to scale this load and found a Loves truck stop. It was easily
accessed by making an illegal right turn. The scale was behind a
powerline tower, necessitating a wait in the fuel line, then a diagonal
approach to where I could wait for that one driver in a hundred who will
leave his truck on the scale while he goes in to get his ticket. The
obstructed approach left me with one trailer wheel off the scale. While
I tried to pull up and back the trailer on to the scale, another
one-in-a-hundred driver started pulling on to the scale behind me,
thinking (being charitable, there;-) that I was through. So, I gave it
up and went back to the Interstate to the next windshield-noted stop.
It is possible to leave problems behind, occasionally.
While driving through Maryland, Jill told me about a new important
message. She won’t let me read these while I drive. She does read them
to me spontaneously, from time to time. I sure would like to find out
how that happens so I could ask that on demand – but I don’t know. At a
State-border weight checkpoint I stopped in the line long enough to
read “Stop where you are! Call me when stopped.” This panic-inspiring
instruction is easier said than done. The scale screen told me to exit
to the Interstate, so I couldn’t stop there. After 10 miles of no rest
stops or obvious truck stops, I exited anyway and looked for big parking
lots. This happened to be a stretch of road with massive construction
along both sides of ten more miles that left me no turns and no parking
lots. The road dead-ends into a checkpoint for the Aberdeen Proving
Ground – a Serious and Secure Army Installation. They would not even
let me on to their website to research them for this post, because I was
using a WiFi connection. The link below is Wikipedia.
It took some explaining about how I was not here to deliver, but was a
lost soul looking to turn around and go the other way without being
fired. They finally stopped traffic to let me make a (LEGAL and Company
Finally, I found a Target and wove my way through the customer lot,
only hopping one curb. I found my required eight parking places (and
the here-to-for-hidden easy back way in) beside the building and called
in to find out that the load was to be delayed a week!
Now, I was to drag my trailer to a shop of the refrigeration unit
manufacturer in Carlisle, PA (it has a lingering problem) and drop it,
pick up an empty and go to Lemoyne, Pennsylvania to pick up a load of
“Freight, all kinds” and take it to Temple, Texas. Before I left the
yard in Carlisle, that load was cancelled and I was assigned to go to
Howard, PA, pick up a Coca-Cola load and take it to Minnesota.
This sets my record for number of different destinations in one day.
The day was not over yet, but it ended before another destination could
be flown in.
On the morning of the next day, I was reminded of the classic comedy routine by Abbot and Costello. Who’s on First?
I show up at the shipper. He wants my empty trailer and I want a full one.
I open the doors of the empty trailer and put it in a loading door. There, I drop it (uncouple and drive the tractor away).
I “hook” loaded trailer, i.e., I connect it to my tractor.
I take it for inspection by the shipper. We find out I have no load
locks – extendable aluminum bars that keeps cargo from shifting. At
least one is required to be installed on the load before they seal it
and I get my paperwork. My last two locks were in the previous load that
I dropped yesterday. It is sealed, so I could not get them back.
So, I drop loaded trailer and bobtail (verb – to drive a tractor-trailer truck with no trailer) to truck stop to buy load locks.
I return to shipper and hook the loaded trailer again.
I drag loaded trailer to the truck stop to scale load. It is heavy on the front, like all Coca-Cola loads.
I shift trailer axles to balance load.
The meat lock (a giant hasp and padlock that locks the trailer’s cargo bay – but good!) is installed.
I go through the “Countdown” to depart. Meds, water, coffee, windshield, pre-trip inspection and so on.
The Countdown is interrupted by message from the Company that
Coca-Cola doesn’t like my empty trailer. It needs a wash out. I had
backed the open trailer into a door. They could have looked at it at
their leisure while I went to buy load locks. But they waited until I
had hooked the load and left.
I return to shipper and drop loaded trailer.
I hook empty trailer and take it 45 miles to wash shop.
I return to shipper and drop the empty trailer.
I hook loaded trailer and depart. No Countdown. It is time to put this town far behind me.
On the bright side, I am getting really good at dropping and hooking
trailers. Darn shame that I was paid exactly nothing for those 15
activities and had to shell out my own money for the load locks and
Above: On the way to the wash shop. The leaves are turning.
Friday May 17, 2019: One, Two, Three, Etc. – a Houston arts and craft company offering Peruvian jewelry, ornaments and accessories. Sip ‘N Stroll Art Market 3-10 PM 1250 Lake Plaza Dr. || Tomorrow –ECFM
Interstate 70 Rest Area Mile Marker 130, Licking (Yes, that’s what it’s called) County Ohio – November, 2016
To reduce chronological confusion, when I am writing “in real time” I will put that text in italics.
Normal font means I am describing something that happened a day or more ago.
At times, it seems that I don’t have a moment to spare. After Denver, I took a load of meat from Kansas to Maryland. I spent a lot of time in Maryland a while back while I was “Shipwrecked” at a Peterbilt Shop.
The delivery in Maryland was in three parts. The first was a big box chain distribution center that was no problem. The second was a Kafka Movie experience. I arrived an hour early at Three AM. I was left waiting for a door. That is to be expected for early arrival so I was not alarmed. I got a door about 90 minutes later, backed the open trailer in and turned in my paperwork – all as expected. After that, the driver waits for the green “docking light” to turn red. This indicates that the unloading has begun and the trailer is “latched” to the building to prevent the trailer from moving. All this would be normal.
But, after an hour, the light was still green. Not normal. I went back to the receiving office and to ask politely if there was some problem or misunderstanding. I was told to “just wait for the call”. On the way back to the truck I notice that eight of ten truck drivers near me are also still looking at green lights in their rear-views. I waited until it was obvious that I would miss my next appointed drop at Seven AM and called to re-schedule. I told the receiving office at stop #3 (a quarter mile away) that I would need at least another hour. She asked where I was. When I told her stop#2’s name and address, she gave me two and one half hours. That made me think she knew something I didn’t. 😉
Drivers generally don’t bother each other in loading docks because they are all busy with paperwork or sending reports or trying to get some sleep. But, I happened to catch a neighbor (also sitting at a green light for over an hour) and he told me that this is normal for Drop #2. At last the light went red and unloading began. They were through in time for me to barely make the new appointment at Drop #3. So, with paperwork in hand and a song in my heart I started the engine and made ready to leave. The light was still red. Again, my trailer was clamped to the building. I could not leave unless I dragged the building with me. A polite reminder call to the receiving office and I was assured I would be released momentarily. I called again fifteen minutes later and said, “I don’t mean to be a pest or anything, but…”
I was at last released to arrive double-late at Drop #3. By this time, my door had been given away and I had to wait another three hours for a door – not unusual for late arrivals.
During the early hours at Drop#2, I received a new load assignment. I reviewed the information and made a trip plan. This opportunity expired during the delay at the door. Another assignment went exactly the same way while delayed at Stop#3.
Above: I don’t have any pictures that relate to this post, so this is a photo of Jill’s recent directions at highway exits. As you see, Jill has gone all Schrodinger’s Cat on me – actually telling me to stay and go at the same time. This went away after a recent software upgrade.
Interstate 94 Rest Area at mile 161 near Ann Arbor, Michigan – 3 AM 11/13/16
I am on a tight schedule two loads in front of the narrative. I will find some time soon (another 34) to catch up. Meanwhile, I have these snippets of time to advance the story.
All told, I spent over ten hours in Maryland planning trips that were later cancelled, interacting with receiving personnel, filing reports, doing paperwork, moving the truck around, waiting for a door or waiting in the door. I might find that sort of activity more interesting and challenging if I were actually paid to do it.
From Maryland, I was sent out to the end of a Peninsula where truck stops are apparently not socially acceptable. There is a chicken plant down there where I was assigned a load. No fuel or parking so it requires preparation and lead time and back without running out of fuel or drive time. It is a lot like Free Diving where one holds their breath to descend to great depths and then return to the surface. This chicken plant is an ugly, unorganized place where they tell you to “drop the empty anywhere” and your full trailer is somewhere on that same lot. I walked around on foot through the muck on the parking lot that also includes thousands of feathers and other organic material from the hundreds of seagulls hanging out around the yard.
Exiting the yard when my load was ready was a choreography. I had to hook the trailer and drag it around to the scale, past all the randomly placed empties and loaded trailers. The scale exits back to the yard, so we do it again to get out the gate. I rehearsed the sequence on foot, making sweeping motions where I would swing wide to avoid collision. I’m sure the yard personnel thought I was some sort of latter day Mr. Monk and avoided me as a result.
Detroit Receiving Yard – 7 AM 11/13/16
Checking in at the guard shack here in Detroit left me with instructions to wait for someone to come find me. I parked where he told me and looked in vain for a receiving office. When my appointment time came I called that number we have for contact and sure enough, there was another door, outside the yard fence where I should have gone. The guard is just a guard and has nothing to do with Receiving. Now that someone in operations knows I am here, I should get a door soon.
Back to the chicken load from Virginia Shore to Iowa.
My work cycle was now reversed from what works. I was getting up in the late afternoon and driving until early morning. Arriving at truck stops and rest areas exactly when they can be expected to be overflowing into the streets and out onto the Interstate shoulders. The trick of passing up the rear-enders to find new vacancies works about half the time. If it fails, then there is the exit ramp. If that is full, the next stop may be only 30 to 50 miles away.
Now Westward bound, I was chasing the sunset instead of fleeing the dawn, as I would prefer. Jupiter appears above the sun and dominates the sky after dusk. When I turn around and head back East, I will see (low to high) Mercury, Saturn, Venus and Mars above the predawn Sun. Venus should be obvious, Mercury may be lost in the Sun. Saturn is faint, being on the far side of the Sun. Mars can always be recognized by its reddish color.
Delivering my Giant Containers of Chicken (one per pallet, 20 pallets – 39,000 pounds) was a pleasure. The Receiving staff was pleasant and informative. The lady of “mature” years who signed me in took me to a window to show me where to park and described what to expect from the loaders. She directed me to the “facilities” and offered me coffee. The doors had a half mile of run-out in front of them making the easiest docking in the world. After I left, I found no room at the inn at the local truck stop, but there was a Walmart down the street with other trucks parked. I joined them and spent about $90 re-stocking the ships’ galley before spending a restful 10 hour break in the same eight parking spaces.
From there to Ottomwa, Iowa to take on a load of pork. I dragged it to Michigan and I thought I was in the twilight zone when I pulled into the chosen area where I expected an 8 PM crowd and found only one other truck in the midst of about 30 pull-through diagonal spaces. A third truck arrived and I asked the driver about this phenomenon. She said it is like this every weekend.
Normally I fill up my water bottles at rest areas. I found the water fountains stained with mineral deposits and the water was not worth collecting. When stainless steel fountains are stained, be very afraid. Flint, Michigan is just down the road from here. You would think they might use water softeners and filters at rest stops and other very public places. Evidently not.
I called from Detroit Receiving again after an hour parked. I’m next, they tell me.
Vermillion Service Plaza exit 139, Interstate 80, Ohio – 1 PM 11/13/16
The Detroit drop is complete and I have moved to a place 20 miles from the Ohio drop. I’ll leave at 3:30 AM tomorrow to complete that one and drive 120 miles to another appointment at noon.
This brings us to the point where the two narratives merge into the present.
Some of you readers are aware that I have been working as a Telescope Operator at the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park. There are three domed instruments that are open to the public for viewing on Saturday nights – weather permitting. I get to operate the smallest to these — a 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain instrument. For non-Astronomy Nerds, the 14 inch number refers to the diameter of the mirror that is inside the big, black tube.
BTW: Brazos Bend State Park, where the George Observatory is locate, has been closed for flooding until early July. SO, this activity of mine is “on hold”.
We might have forty or more visitors on an average night, but even so there are occasional intervals when I can make some photographs. There was one night when the atmospheric conditions made the “seeing” miserable, but I still managed to catch some images of Saturn. Most detail of the planet and rings was lost, but a couple of satellites were captured in one long time-exposure where the planet and rings were overexposed. You might need to zoom to see the moons.
More recently, on a night with better seeing, the Orion Nebula was captured in a series of different exposure times. I include two below.
There are methods, these days, to stack (combine) multiple images and get far more impressive results. I am looking in to that.
Like many people, I have an interest in the idea that the Earth has been the victim of a multitude of asteroid impacts, over the Eons, and might become targeted again. Unlike many people, I have looked up the orbital parameters and mass for some near-Earth asteroids and applied Kepler’s Laws to estimate what effort might be necessary to change the path of a potential Earth-impacting planetoid.
What I found was that it would be extremely expensive, but within the realm of possibility. Well, damn the expense! If it can be done, we would do it or suffer the consequences. I used the Cassini Saturn-orbiting probe as my example of “current technology”, which tells other Space Nerds how long ago that activity occurred.
The scenario was that we should launch a mass the size of Cassini with that probe’s velocity to collide with the asteroid – not to blast it into pieces, because that would not be nearly enough. Rather it would be to change the orbit – to delay (or advance, works either way) the arrival by one Earth radius. The idea being that when the threatening asteroid got to its intercepting point, the Earth would not yet (or no longer) be there.
Figure 2: Cassini: Now, I don’t mean to ram billion-dollar space probes into asteroids. I just used this as an example of what mass has been launched before – at what velocity.
The truth is that I don’t remember* how many “Cassini masses” would be required, but I seem to remember that it was at least 20, so we will go with that. After all (and as I pointed out at the time) Boeing would be happy to launch 20 measly rockets, just to have the “Boeing Saves the World” press coverage. That choice of Boeing* is another indicator of the age of this calculation. Today, I reckon SpaceX would be the contractor of choice. Tell me Elon Musk wouldn’t be happy to get that media coverage!
There are a lot of details that make this far more complicated than I might have led you to believe. For example, Cassini only got out to Saturn by making “slingshot” passes of Venus (twice), the Earth and Jupiter. It is actually the velocity that is the critical element and a very great deal of that was gained by those encounters. I have assumed that we learn of impending doom long before the pending event, since Cassini was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004.
It also took a long time to engineer the craft and develop the mission but, we imagine that development of a simple impactor would be vigorously expedited, given the circumstances. It might be better to just send a big bag of sand. And one might entertain the idea of releasing the sand from the bag just before impact to spread it out some. See, you don’t want to make a lot of fragments, since those will undoubtedly have a variety of orbits, some of which might still intersect the Earth.
One complicating problem about all this was pointed out by Carl Sagan. If I change the orbit of the asteroid and don’t do the job in “one fell swoop”, the effect is to move the location of impact, not into space, but to another location on Earth. Sagan compared this to “walking” a very large Nuclear bomb across whatever countries are between the initial impact zone and the “edge of the planet”. Carl had in mind some kind of rocket placed on the asteroid that would gradually move the impact zone. I checked that idea and it requires a lot of “rocketry” and so lots of logistics and assembly and fueling. My simple-minded “throwing rocks” (or sandbags) scenario was a lot less complicated but still not in the “one fell swoop” category.
Now, I told you all that so I could tell you this:
I am currently attending the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. This is the 50th such conference and it is no coincidence that the moon landing was also 50 years ago. The Conference “proper” has yet to start. I have just finished the second of two sessions of what is called the Microsymposium 60 – a “preliminary” event, like the no-name band that opens for Pink Floyd*.
*Shall I just put an asterisk on these “tells” for how old I am?
Microsymposium 60 (Spellcheck fails miserably when they make up words like that, so I copy-and-paste these things) was all about how there is now a “Moon Rush” of private contractors and government effort to return to the moon. That sort of news is usually hyperbole*, but this time it might be different. Government will probably not come through anytime soon, but there is a moon lander by a private company that – if all goes well – will land on April 11…this year! I just learned that in Microsymposium 60.
Figure 4: Space IL Beresheet probe. This was a Lunar X-Prize entry, but the X-prize expired un-won. They went on anyway.
Other private companies have been making moon landers, too. They are ready to go and showing their wares (along with Instrument Makers) to eager planetary scientists today and throughout the Conference. In case you think these are lightweights, among the presenters were Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. Some of the lesser known companies have made equipment and whole probes before. A company called Masten has made over 600 flights, (many with landings) to date.
Microsymposium 60 will be the subject of yet another post (or magazine article). This post is to reveal where I am about to go listen to technical presentations for three hours this afternoon. Notice (below) that this is for “the media”. Yup, I am “credentialed” Working Press (it says so, right here on my plastic badge) for the entire Convention.
Workshop for the Media on Planetary Defense
at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
Everything you’ve always wanted to know about near-Earth objects and planetary defense: a workshop for journalists and science writers. (that’s me! – Steve)
Sunday, March 17, 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. EDT, GMT -5)
The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center
The workshop is free but places are limited, so registration is required.
In this three-hour workshop, experts will report on the methods and status of finding, tracking, and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs) and planning for planetary defense. Plenty of time will be provided for questions and discussion.
Journalists and science writers will have an opportunity to learn about such developments as:
Progress in ground-based optical and radar observations of near-Earth asteroids and comets.
Advances in modeling and understanding atmospheric, land, and water impacts of NEOs.
Current understanding of NEO characteristics.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test, the first mission that will demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique (the kinetic impactor).
Functions of the Minor Planet Center, the International Asteroid Warning System, and the Space Missions Planning Advisory Group.
The first test of the global asteroid-impact warning system and plans for a second test.
Interagency and international cooperation on planning for planetary defense.
The status of planning for a dedicated, space-based asteroid detection telescope.
Experts on hand will include:
NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson
NASA NEO Observations Program Manager Kelly Fast
NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office Program Executive Rob Landis
NASA NEO Observations Program Scientist Michael Kelley
University of Arizona Associate Professor, Small Bodies, Situational Awareness, Vishnu Reddy
Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCAM) Principal Investigator Amy Mainzer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Saturday March 15, 2019 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM One, Two, Three, Etc. is an arts and craft company in Houston that offers Peruvian jewelry, ornaments and accessories.
At the The Heights Epicurean Farmers Market 1245 Heights Blvd 77008