Occasionally, hydrogen comes up in conversations about energy. There are a myriad of misconceptions about that subject and I will explain some:
I was only made aware of this misunderstanding recently, but I see what happened. The term “Hydrogen” is not a contraction for “Hydro-electrical Generation”.
Hydrogen is an element, like carbon, oxygen or nitrogen. Hydrogen burns with pale blue flame that is almost invisible in daylight. You may have seen a blue tint to the flame of your natural gas stove. That is hydrogen from the mostly methane (CH4) that is natural gas (the part that is yellow or red is from carbon). It is widely used as rocket fuel because hydrogen packs the most energy for its weight.
Burnt hydrogen “surrounds us and penetrates us”. It is water. Hydrogen being burnt creates nothing else. No mystery then, why the “environmental” cabal wants to use hydrogen as automotive fuel, either burning it directly or in a fuel cell. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Stars are made mostly of hydrogen and helium.
Why not turn to hydrogen for every sort of use since it is so blessed?
Here’s the deal: That burnt hydrogen (water) is obviously abundant. Hydrogen is also in compound making up plants, animals and life in general. Hydrogen is in every fuel currently in use, even in coal, which is mostly carbon. However, free, pure hydrogen is not generally available. It is all tied up with other molecules and has to be separated from same.
That takes energy. To get it out of water takes just as much energy as was liberated in the burning that made the water in the first place. Practically, it takes much more energy than you can get back because no separation process is 100% efficient.
For example, water can be split by an electric reaction. But, burning that hydrogen to make electricity – even in an efficient fuel cell– will return only a fraction of the electricity used to get the hydrogen.
Now, some might say that since it is electricity, the hydrogen was “cleanly” produced. Those are folks who don’t know:
Hydrogen is industrially produced by “reforming” natural gas (mostly methane (CH4)) that is reacted with water (Steam, actually) and the resulting “synthesis gas”  (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) is reacted with some more water to make hydrogen and carbon dioxide. So, there is a lot of energy input in the process, but you might come out ahead barely, in the energy sense. That’s because a lot of the energy comes from the chemical reactions themselves.
As Colombo would say, “There is…just…one more thing, sir.” Why were you wanting to make pure hydrogen? If you just want some rocket fuel, then you’re done. If you wanted to avoid making carbon dioxide, go back and read the products of natural gas reforming. That’s right, kids, “hydrogen and carbon dioxide.” You would still be using “fossil fuels” and still be emitting carbon dioxide. Capture the CO2? Yes, you can, at great expense and further energy use.
And, when all is said and done:
Let’s say you have some way to produce hydrogen without making CO2 and you are very proud that you are not emitting “greenhouse gas”. Well get ready for a shock. Your burnt hydrogen is water vapor, which is the most abundant “greenhouse gas” in the world. You have not changed much of anything, after all.
Let me say in closing that there is nothing wrong with carbon dioxide, petroleum, natural gas, coal or water vapor, for that matter. Also, the Globe is not Warming.
 Helium, was first discovered as a spectral signature in sunlight. Its name comes from “Helios” (the Sun – Greek).
 A while back in South America there was no helium available at anything like reasonable prices to fill toy balloons. And yet, my brother-in-law would sell balloons with his grandfather in Peru, 50- odd years ago. Bro-in-law assures me these were synthesis gas balloons which floated because both hydrogen and carbon monoxide are lighter than air (CO, just barely). They are also, however, both flammable, hydrogen especially so. Synthesis gas can be used as automobile fuel. On this one, my own father told of a taxi driver in Southeast Asia (circa 1950) who heated chicken droppings and piped the output directly to the engine. I’m thinking this might have been a tuk-tuk (three-wheel motorcycle) as I saw while in that part of the world.
In addition to a Driver Manager, I have a “Counselor” who is supposed
to represent me in matters of family considerations, personal leave and
financial matters. I will admit that I doubted the effectiveness of
this set-up from the start. It may be that I am too cynical on these
matters. But I insist that I have good reason to be cynical by default.
Nevertheless, I called and told my tale to my Counselor and she did
what someone should have done before they jerked my chain around like
they did. She found a place for me to store the truck and bought me an
air ticket home. So, while I cannot forgive the despicable way they
were treating me, I can say (somewhat grudgingly) that they ultimately
did the right thing. Since I am managing to get these loads delivered on
time and safely (and at bargain prices, I might add), I have every
right to expect the right thing.
So let’s move on. The place where I left the truck is the other
Peterbilt shop in Maryland, this one in Baltimore. I made sure to tell
them about my ten-day visit to their sister “Pete Store” in Landover
where I was so long a fixture in their shop that they joked about me
being put “on the payroll”.
I am in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) with an
hour and a half to burn. If it were anywhere but an airport, I would
have a beer. I vaguely remember beer. But the fact that the menus
don’t mention prices and that this is the Eastern Seaboard North of
Virginia tells me that these prices are out of my league. Besides, I’ve
waited over a month and it won’t hurt me to wait until I can have beer
at merely retail prices. On the other hand, I don’t do this often.
These days I almost don’t drink beer at all. Maybe just one. In the
spirit of investigation, you see. (That wasn’t hard to get over, now was
Well, beer at BWI is seven dollars for a draft pint. I can’t call it
reasonable. Indeed I can still call it excessive, but with the
understanding that the airport will set the rents for these places
knowing that they can charge these excessive amounts and so that is what
has to happen for them to meet that rent. So, I pay the seven bucks
for a Samuel Adams draft and tip a Dollar – once.
You may remember that this all came about because they wanted me to
go back to Illinois. In a weird twist of fate, I had a layover in
Chicago before the final flight to Houston. In Chicago O’Hare Airport
(ORD), the investigative urge comes upon me again and I find that the
price of beer went is now in double digits – for the same Samuel Adams
draft. I am an old man of limited means and so I appreciate very much
that the bartender selling this expensive brew contributed his tip to
the price of my beer.
So, now I am home at that same kitchen table where you saw my “before
and after” photos. I have been to the gym this morning to swim 15 laps
and already I have some muscle tone in my upper body that has been so
sadly lacking in the last few months. I also weighed myself to find out
that I am still 70 pounds lighter than the end of last year. That is a
really good thing, since my health was beginning to notice the extra
I have “taken care of business” – most importantly to get my youngest
son to college at UT Dallas. It is a great campus for a University
that is gaining a good reputation for Computer Science. Among their
corporate sponsors is Texas Instruments, a company that invented a
little thing called the “integrated circuit”.
I dutifully spoke the required phrases that all Fathers must recite.
“Why when I was in college, we had roommates and a bathroom down the
hall with a gang shower. Not these single bedrooms and private baths. ”
“ We had to lug around big piles of hardcover books, not your fancy-pants ipads.’
“We walked to classes in the snow, uphill – both ways”.
The elder son is now a Chef and I have counseled him to become a restauranteur extraordinaire and create a gastronomic empire on the model of Pappas family – now famously successful in Houston and all of Texas.
I figure that while I am dreaming, I should dream BIG.
I also was able to make room in the overstuffed garage for the second
of four automobiles that will live here with the two resident humans
for the near future. It is perhaps ominous that cats now outnumber
human occupants in my remote and fondly remembered home.
And my lovely wife is also busy with her many interests – not least
of which is her travel agency where she creates “Dream Vacations”,
arranging cruises and tours worldwide. I am happy that in my absence,
my loved ones are industrious and well-occupied.
Me? I am also well-occupied, back in my truck in North Carolina and
bound for Orlando. This is not what I imagined I would be doing at my
age, but it has been challenging and interesting. I will continue to
ply the highways and tell my tales. I of course appreciate your
interest, Dear Readers.
P.S., I know you like when I include photos. I don’t have any that
relate directly to the text. But, the photos below are from the time in
Maryland when I visited the Air and Space Museum. And, I did mention
The 25 hour lay-over completed, I drove to the final delivery, checked in for a door and backed in to be unloaded. This was a well-laid-out docking area that had widely spaced doors and a long run-out in front of mine. That did not stop a fellow trucker from parking across my long run-out to make it another high-angle parking situation. So, again the ordeal of maneuvering the trailer backwards into a gap. This time the gap was a bit bigger, though. And, I seem to be getting better at this.
I thought of how to explain this and came up with the following analogy:
Line up two dominoes with a gap between them that will fit a third domino with a small gap on either side. See the diagram above.
Once you have the “Start” laid out, put one hand in your pocket, then push on the center of the end of the third domino where you see the red diamond shape. No fair pushing on the corners! Now push that third domino until you have the “End” configuration. If the moving domino touches the others, you lose. It would, of course be much easier if your moving domino were lined up – parallel and straight in front of the gap. That is what I mean by “long run-out”. Imagine doing this exercise with three hundred-thousand dollar vehicles (more with cargo), looking back at the trailer through the driver’s window and in mirrors. This from70 feet away.
I have to do that about once every two or three days.
Anyway, I got to the receiver, sent that status to the company and
backed in to be unloaded. They unload the trailer by driving a heavy
forklift into it and picking up a multi-ton stack of cargo and exiting.
They do this hundreds of times a day and have gotten very fast at it.
The result is an earthquake-like shaking in the cab for an hour or two.
But, in the meantime the long-awaited message will come that will tell
me to pick up a load and take it to Texas and home.
Only, the message says go pick up a load and take it to Illinois –
delivering on the second day of my pre-planned and approved home time
(only Illinois ain’t my home). I put in for this break over a month ago
and while I was in Purgatory (not the ski resort) they asked again and I
requested the same and they approved it again. Must be a mistake,
“Well,” they say,. “It will be easy to get you a load out of Illinois to Texas”.
If you read my previous post, you know that I have just come from Chicago.
That’s in Illinois.
I went there from Maryland because they said it would be easy to
route me home from there. Then they said, they had nothing from there
and I could get a load home from Maryland. So, I went to Maryland.
Somebody is being less than honest with me.
The load assignment has an acceptance auto-reply where I answer “yes”
to the assignment and have an option to comment. I answered “NO” and
commented the story I just told you. Some severe editing was needed to
get that into the two line comment field. Then I went looking for a
place to park. But, this too shall pass and what else could go wrong?
Parking for big trucks is a critical problem in this part of the
country, as my previous post mentioned. There was a truck stop, nearby
and it was one of those where you pay to park, but “any port in a
storm”, as they say. There was not one space left open. I left. The
first two hours in this place are free (and darned well worth every
penny, as it turns out) so, I didn’t have to pay to be turned away. I
drove toward the nearest stop I could find on the “apps” which is fifty
miles away. There is no real hope that they will have space, but what
else can I do?
Along the route (North on Interstate 95), there is a rest stop with
truck parking, fuel and a big food court called Maryland House. I’ve
been there before. It is hidden from the road and requires a left exit
where the left lane is forbidden to trucks. Truckers often take their 30
minute breaks at places like this, so there was a chance I could find a
recently-vacated space. I did and I am there now.
It is four AM and there is still no word on my load home. I will
probably be denied my home break. But, it will be denied by a human
being on the phone – not by anonymous satellite message. There are
certain levels of decency that I expect out of life and this is one of
Then, I’ll go back to Illinois. But I will remember this shabby treatment for a good long while.
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.
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.