Due South

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Meat Plant Bobtail Parking Area, Sioux Falls South Dakota

bobtailareawindshieldAbove: From the meat plant bobtail parking area in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

 At the Kenworth Shop in Clintonville, Pennsylvania  they sent me a “repower” assignment.  That is where I would go and meet another truck and swap trailers.  The other driver had burned through his 14 hour clock and could not make the six hour trip before the deadline.  I had a fresh 11 hours of drive time with 14 on duty.  The location was Interstate 80, exit 77 – just down the road from Kenworth at exit 35.  I had been deprived of my sleeper all day, but caught about an hour in the recliner.  I could sleep a few hours before I run down I80 a few miles and then drive the six hours to the receiver. It would be a stretch, but I could push through and take a good rest at the end.

About an hour into my sleep came the news that the other truck was actually at Interstate 81, exit 77 – way across Pennsylvania 219 miles away.  So, instead of a six and a half hour drive, it would be more like ten.  I blew the safety whistle and refused the assignment.  So, I bunked down in the sleeper parked in the near empty lot and got hot Kenworth coffee the next day.

A new assignment awaited – soft drinks to Minneapolis from another PA plant not far away.  This one represented an opportunity for justice to be done.  The last time I delivered to this Minneapolis plant where they want drivers to unload, an unscrupulous lumper (unloading contractor) told me he had been hired by the Company to unload.  I naively believed him  since I could not contact anyone at the Company – all the managers were in a meeting.  Turns out he was a con man and I was the “Mark”.

Now, I will never let a lumper near my truck at this stop.  I made it clear to the Company that if they did send anyone, he would be refused payment by me, The Driver.  I don’t care if it would be another guy, legitimate or not.  As far as I am concerned they will all be cut off and they can thank their lying, cheating brother lumper for it.  I am supposed to be paid for this but, truth is I don’t care how much or little it might pay.  I have been wronged and they won’t push me around again.  I would do it for free just to deny wages to lumpers who work this particular warehouse.  Now, don’t tell the Company that, OK? 😉

From Minneapolis, I relocated to a truck stop to the East where I have spent idle time before.  That is when the rain and wind began.  The rain was welcome, since the truck was dirty and they don’t compensate for truckwash expenses.  As I told a fellow driver once, I didn’t get into this business because I am wealthy and generous.  I did pray for rain, I said.  When he pointed out that rain does not have soap, I let him know that I also prayed for soap.

The new assignment was the load on which I am now waiting.  I talked it over with my manager, who has access to more detailed weather info.  We agreed that I would be better off hitting the road last night since my route was to the South and West, where the snow was not yet threatening.  As soon as I reached the Interstate, the rain turned to snow and the wind picked up.  But the snow and wind both abated as I got South of St. Paul.  My hours had run down, but I calculated that I could get to the rest area near Blue Earth, Minnesota where I had enjoyed the ample parking and night sky before.

But before I had even turned West, both the snow and wind returned with a vengeance.  I remind the reader that I was towing an empty trailer.  For an analog, go out on a windy day with a great big golf umbrella.  It was scary enough that I started looking for any opportunity to park long before Blue Earth.  There were none, so there I went.

This morning I had opportunity to see snow drifts along the highway.  There were isolated spots of ice on the road.  Some were lengthy pavements of rough ice that I later was told is due to bad salting and drifting, accumulating snow.  I figured they would have a word for this.  They don’t.  So, I take this opportunity to name it…”Jackhammer Ice”, for the effect on the truck.  I’ll try to get some pictures of it, but Jackhammer Ice tends to induce a two-handed death grip on the steering wheel.  So, it might be a while.

I made the fuel stop  which is three miles from the shipper and got the trailer washed out.  The meat plant insists on a wash even though this one was clean.  I have advised my brother-in-law (a pressure washing “magnate”) to go into the trailer washing business.  Policies like this make the demand artificially constant.  I did not fuel, because they have entry weight restrictions – or so I was told.  Turns out, they don’t.

Checking my load assignment, I find that, while the appointment is 1:30 in the afternoon (an hour ago) the absolute deadline for the load is 23:30  (11:30 tonight)!  So, I will go to sleep now.

 Rest Area Interstate 29 mile marker 139, Iowa

Try as I might, I could get no more than an hour’s sleep.  The call came at about 17:30  (5:30 PM).  They tell me the trailer number of my load and then I drive the tractor  around looking for it. I found it in an inside corner of perpendicular rows of parked trailers, behind a field of slush and ice.  Backing in, the drive wheels slipped enough to stop me.  All the weight of the tractor is on the steering axle and drive wheels are near tractionless even without ice.

The two drive axles have a gearing set-up that allows differential movement  of the wheels on turns.

Your car has something similar, but simpler.  The disadvantage is that on ice one dual can slip and leave you motionless.  But, I can lock all the wheels to make things work.  Thankfully, it is a switch on the dashboard and I do not have to get out and lock wheel hubs individually as in bygone days.

Coupling the tractor to a trailer is an interesting process that I will explain in detail later.  I got the load to the scales at the gate and got the paperwork straight.  The number they check is just gross vehicle weight.  I still have to balance the tractor drive tandem axle with the trailer tandem so that neither is more than 34000 pounds each.  That requires a certified multi-axle scale at the truck stop. So, I find the Loves and weigh the truck then fuel up and park in a conveniently empty spot across from the pumps. The axles were set for a typical meat load but I found the weight trailer-heavy – 35180,  Over half a ton heavy and therefore illegal.  The drive axles are 30540 pounds and the steering axles are 12040 for a grand total of 77760 pound.  This requires moving the trailer axles forward about eighteen inches.  Not by hand you doofus!  I set the trailer brakes, release the axles and use the tractor to pull the trailer forward, then lock the axles again.  I must re-weigh the truck and this truck stop is not well-setup.  The scale is right at the entrance so I must drive out onto the highway and go look for a place to turn around and come back in.  The convenient spot is no longer available so it is down to the icy, slushy end of the lot and walk back in the 26° weather.  Now the axle weights are steers 11200, drive 33960 and 33560 for the trailer.  Grand total is 78720.  Goodness, where did that extra 960 pounds come from?  Fuel weighs about seven pounds per gallon.  And don’t worry – the driver (your humble narrator) was in the truck, leaning precariously out the driver’s door to reach the intercom.  So that forty-pound margin on the drives will not be exceeded.

The shipping clerk had told me to rest the temperature from 20 to 22 degrees.  I did so, but expected an out-of-spec message when I reported it.  I got my message but it wasn’t that.  My trailer was recorded as being somewhere else, so I can’t possibly have transmitted that number correctly – says  the message.  Nope – it is here and attached to my tractor.  In Planetary Science and Military Intelligence, that is what they call “ground truth”.

I will have “clock” soon and I must drive.

Rest Area Interstate 35 mile marker 59, Oklahoma

The interim was a reasonably pleasant drive.  I skimmed the Western edge of Iowa, down I-29 crossed through Kansas on I-335 and drove on South into the low glaring sun of the Autumn sky.

minnesotasnowdrifts1Above: Snow Drifts in Minnesota, before Sioux Falls.  The ice seen just to the left of the white line is the beginning of “Jackhammer Ice”.  Snow will drift in and be frozen on top of it in irregular fashion.


Above: The Captain enjoying the day.  The camera is stuck to the dash with Velcro.  That hairy, glarey thing at the bottom is my arm reaching for the shutter.


Above: They built for the ages back in the thirties.  This handsome building is, I think, in Missouri where I missed an exit and drove through this town to get to Kansas.

Yes, all was right with the world and I checked on my destination – a Loves near Oklahoma City.  Well, I find they have 20 parking spaces.  Double plus ungood!  It is one of those “urban” boutique fuel stops at which I will find with “No Room At The Inn”.  This throws a big wrench in my plans.  The fuel stop is 560 miles from the start – a full day’s drive.  I have approached 600 miles in a day from time to time.  Each of those episodes left me with around half an hour of drive time out of my eleven. Those were carefully planned.  This one is another “Ad Hoc” situation.

After fueling at the cute little urban truck stop where the 20 spaces were indeed full and three more rigs were double-parked, I tried the Station across the freeway (via the underpass – Doh!) and found that one overflowing, as well.  I looked up the nearest rest stop on my “App” that was some 61 miles to the South.  I was surrounded by Oklahoma City so there was no alternative but to go there.

I passed at least three truck stops, but did not go look.  Here is the logic:  Suppose I exit the Interstate to look at the Pilot. I burn drive time on the ramps and at stoplights. If Pilot is full (and it almost has to be) I won’t make the Rest Area.  But, the Rest Area would have space, if only on the entrance or exit ramps – and maybe where some short-termer had just left.  So, onward into the Darkness.

With every milepost, I recalculate the time remaining to drive and compared it to the Navigation Computer (“Jill”) clock.  The difference kept coming back as 12 minutes.  I knew I was getting tired when I had trouble finding  the difference between the 95 mile post and the 59 mile marker where the Rest Area was.  Pushing ever onward, the distance dwindled and the time buffer remained 12 minutes.  The truck is governed at 62 and it slows to 58 or less at the top of hills.  So, instead of carefully braking when the truck goes downhill, I give it free reign to coast up to 67 or 68.  Jill dings a bell at me each time to let me know that my transgression was being recorded and sent to Purgatory (not the ski resort).  Well, it was Purgatory who sent me to the compact little urban fuel stop with no parking, so there!

Down to 5 miles.  I started to yell at myself “DON’T MISS THE EXIT”.  I didn’t.  Decelerating in, I see the second diagonal space looks empty.  Sometimes, travel trailers get in those spaces and pull up to the front, just to tease me.  But this one was indeed empty.  I eased into it and adjusted the truck to the middle, set the brakes and then shivered for a while.  Twelve minutes remained and the day’s mileage was 631.2 miles.

Over The Road,


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