Zelda, Nero and the Van Dyke

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Flying J Truck Stop Interstate 435 and Front Street, Kansas City, Missouri July 11, 2017

This particular load had two stops, the first near Kansas City and the next in Oklahoma.

Routine stuff. It starts with one of those Meat Load Vigils where the driver drops an empty trailer and goes to hide in a truck stop until the meat is “produced” and loaded on trailer.  Only occasionally does it turn out to be the same trailer. The plant is in Emporia Kansas and the trucks stop was a Flying J just a few miles away. Those drivers who arrive “bobtail” (tractor only) are expected to yield the big truck spaces to complete tractor/trailer rigs and unless there is a designated “bobtail area” – they hide in the corners where a big rig can’t park.  This place had all the corners taken but I saw some other bobtails in the restaurant parking, so I joined them.  This was early in the morning – about 3 AM (0300).  This required exiting to the highway, briefly to get to the separated parking lot.

The first order of business is to get some sleep and I awoke to find truck the only one in the lot now full of breakfast goers in conventional automobiles (four-wheelers).  I felt a bit out-of-place.  When walking back and forth from the “J” I had the distinct feeling that the breakfast-bound  parents were pointing me out to their children and whispering, “That’s what will happen to you if you don’t do well in college”.  Rejoining the regular parking would have required a short road trip back to the truck entrance and I did not yet have drive time

Considerable preparation goes into these journeys but a swap message comes in and all the best laid plans are discarded.  Around midnight I pull into a truck stop and find my counterpart.  We exchange paperwork and drop trailers.  Each takes the other load and departs or stays for a break.

My new assignment takes me to a Fed Ex yard.  You may have seen that Fed Ex trucks tow two shorter trailers.  That is reflected in their yard where all the spaces are too short for my ‘53 footer.’  Once I leave them my trailer, the task is to go find a Blue Company empty.  It is a really big yard and there was one (1) appropriate unit.

From there I drop the empty – again in the wee hours of the morning – in a dark empty lot.  My next load is one of the four trailers in the same yard.  None of their paperwork matches my assigned destination so I call in to straighten it out.  They pass on a trailer number that has papers for Sam’s Club.  I am to take it to a large freight company yard.

Arriving at the Freight Yard gives me a twilight-zone feeling.  Out of place. The staff has no idea why I am here and the papers don’t give a clue.  They send me to receiving and those guys are equally mystified.  I return to my truck to call in (late on a Sunday night).  Dispatch tells me it will have to wait until Customer Service reps show up for work at 0800.  The Freight Company has already told me I can’t park here.

In one of those unbelievable coincidences, the truck refuses to start.  This has been a problem before, but repeated attempts finally resulted in success.  Not this time.  After about 50 tries, I realize that if the truck starts, I am out on the street without drive time.  Time to stop trying, is it not?

The “Visit” comes around 0800.  A very polite fellow named Greg tells me that I cannot stay.  I show him the now-determined-as-worthless paperwork to no avail.  And then my Trump Card – the truck won’t start and I have called for road service.  I reckon a mechanic will be here in two hours.  Greg is resigned to the logic of the situation.  I got the impression he was happy to have a reason not to evict the poor old man who has lost his way. 😉

To conclude this saga:  The Company sent the valid paperwork, the Freight Yard people suddenly wanted my cargo and the mechanic showed up to fix the truck.  All’s well that ends well.


Pilot Travel Center #29, Interstate 69, exit 357, Fremont, Indiana July 16, 2017

I have just finished the first two legs of a three-day episode involving deliveries to Pennsylvania and Maryland.  I find that I have accumulated ten and one-half shower credits.  I am saving up for the Solar Eclipse trip.  At that time, my “Co-driver” and I will be staying in campgrounds and rest areas because all the hotels in the Eclipse Zone have been booked for months. Shower credits will be most welcome.

There is a place called Uranus in Missouri.  There is a fudge factory there.  Yes, really.  They make a lot of jokes about the name of the Seventh Planet.

Late at night, exhausted and in desperate need of sleep.  My route is state highways with no rest areas and no truck stops.  Fortunately, it is Three AM on a Saturday morning and Running Fox elementary School is closed.   They have a very nice looping driveway that allows the whole beached whale to enter and leave without any tedious reversing.  The night before, I found a Kohl’s parking lot in similar condition.  I get extremely fatigued in the hours before dawn.  A nap of thirty minutes is the solution.  Many times, only a safe parking place stands between me and Blessed Sleep, but innovation frequently saves the night.

To Saint Louis for beer!  43, 854 pounds of twelve-packs stacked high on pallets and kegs behind that.  This ain’t beef.  I don’t get the damaged boxes for BBQ or to give to the Salvation Army.

Water, water, everywhere, but nary a drop to drink!  😉

The beer was delivered to Mason City, Iowa.

I am growing back the “Van Dyke” That is a style of beard – no reference to the multitalented Dick Van Dyke, nor to manly Lesbians or diagonal wire cutters.  Please see picture below:

CaptainNewVanDykeRegenerated Facial Hair


Exxon Station across from Receiver, Robesonia, Pennsylvania July 17, 2017


One of the pleasant surprises of the new reality of this second phase of Walkabout has been “Line 5” of the driver’s logs.  Until now, there were four lines:  1.Off-Duty, 2.Sleeper Bunk, 3.Driving and 4.On-Duty-Not-Driving.  One can only legitimately drive under line three.  One can move the truck slowly and by short distances (i.e., “creep”) under lines 1 and 4.  Of course, driving while in Sleeper Bunk should be impossible -right?  

The result was to trap drivers in shippers’ and receivers’ properties as their Duty Clock expired.  They might still have many hours of drive time, but because the clock is now past 14 hours from the first On Duty/Drive time entry of the day, the drivers are not street legal.

Along comes line 5 (“Off Duty Driving”), which means I have no drive or duty time, but I can drive to a truck stop, if my trailer is empty and I can make it in 50 minutes.  This relieves a Great Federal Regulation Pain, liberates shippers and receivers of a burdensome inventory of idle trucks and is a most welcome innovation.

But, the “olly-olly oxen free*” Line Five Get out of Jail Free Card does not allow me to travel to a truck stop except when empty.  Today I have a second cargo remaining in the trailer that I will deliver at 3 AM tomorrow in Maryland.  The truck stop must remain a distant dream.  I could only creep across the street to this refuge and take one of the last two parking spots.

* https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-phrase-olly-olly-oxen-free


To get to Pennsylvania involved a 570 tightly-scheduled trip from Fremont, Illinois.  The Navigation computer I have tentatively named “Zelda” after Zelda Gilroy, the Wannabe girlfriend of Dobie Gillis.   If you don’t know who I am talking about, don’t worry, I’ll educate you.

Zelda Gilroy relentlessly pursued Dobie Gillis in The Many loves of Dobie Gillis, a 1950’s/60’s situation comedy on black and white TV.  She was portrayed by the clever and energetic comedienne Sheila James Kuehl.  While Dobie mooned over the prom queens and attempted to ignore her, Zelda was around every corner and relentlessly dedicated to making Dobie a better man and her own.

Moody teenager Dobie Gillis was played by Duane Hickman.  His best friend was a beatnik named Maynard G. Krebs played by Bob Denver (later to portray Gilligan, of Island fame).



Zelda had a “power” over Dobie.  When she made the crinkly-nose expression (depicted above), Dobie reflexively responded with the same and exclaimed “Zelda!” in protest.  There were appropriate sound effects.  She is looking up because Sheila stood only four-foot-ten and looked up to everyone else in the cast.


My computerized Zelda steadfastly refused to consider the Ohio turnpike and wanted me to travel on State highways, that pass through small towns where speed limits drop as low as 20 miles per hour.  I tried to convince her that this would have me late to the show and might pull me up short, if I could not get there in 11 hours.

Clearly, someone has told Zelda that toll roads are bad.  Try as I might I could not click her icons to convince her otherwise.  So, the first half of the trip was spent ignoring Zelda’s insistence to leave the Turnpike at every last exit until the road turned to plain-old non-toll Interstate 80, where I then paid attention to Zelda’s advice.

The trip was uneventful and mostly pleasant (despite Zelda’s harangue) until near the end.  Then ten hours of constant driving had promoted Exhaustion to the Commanding Officer.

First was a construction zone where the signs said – in no uncertain terms:

“Trucks over 21,000 lbs gross vehicle weight STOP ahead!”

My vehicle currently weighed 74,560 pounds, so  I pulled in behind the long queue of stopped vehicles and waited while calling Dispatch for advice.  The only recourse was for me to call 511 (local traffic info).  Him (i.e., “Dispatch”) calling would be useless since he would get advice about Iowa and Nebraska.  The “zelda” at 511 had no notices of trucks falling through bridges, despite the fact that a few rigs had passed the queue of trucks.  Some of those might have been empty.  But even empty these rigs weigh over 30,000 pounds.

Finally I creep around the waiting trucks to the front of the queue, expecting horns and CB curses – neither of which happened.  The CB had been eerily quiet because (it turns out) all the rigs in the queue were not waiting – they were parked.  A sign at the front tells me to use a lower gear for the downhill side of the route in front.  The speed limit signs were 20 mph – a throwback to the days before engine brakes when every truck had to creep down hills or set their brakes on fire and plunge down to a fiery death.  These were roundly ignored and ridiculed by all concerned.

Right at the final approach, was a 15 mile stretch of winding, hilly, two-lane, shoulder-less road through upper-class rural bedroom communities with narrow bridges, abrupt 90 degree turns and a tailgater – detectable only by the headlight “aura” chasing the trailer.   Just the thing for a third-stage fatigued 62-year-old man to deal with.

PennNarrowRoadThe stretch of narrow, winding, shoulder-less road.  This straightaway was the only part where photography would not be dangerous.

But, I got there, on time and intact.  I delivered the partial load and crept across to get here.  All with the goal to tell thee!

Maryland Welcome Center, I95 exit 37 – July 18, 2017

The second leg of the East Coast trip is now complete.  There are no Pilot or Flying J truck stops where I have shower credits so, I have chosen a rest area where at least there is a bit of greenery in which to stroll about,   That in not unimportant because from where I sit typing, I can reach the refrigerator for food and water or fall backward into the bunk and sleep.  There is no reason to leave the comfort of the office – except for…you know.  I could easily become Nero- Wolf-like without somewhere to go.

Nero Wolfe was a fictional detective who never left his house and relied upon “legman” Archie to do the “outside” thing.



Rest areas have the added advantage of water fountains where I can fill my canteens (AKA, empty V8 bottles).  Back in the days of Purgatory (previous employer) I calculated that, given the price of bottled water and the time to fill the bottles, this activity saved me more per hour than I earned driving.  Truck stops – and some California rest areas) do not have water fountains because they sell bottled water.

Pilot, Interstate 71 exit 204, Akron, Ohio July 19, 2017

The Ship is now “staged” for a pickup near Akron today and delivery to Illinois – just South of Chicago.  Noon had been the appointment, but now it is delayed until 1700.  I have had a good rest and will launch at 15:30 to fuel and get the 25 miles to the shipper.  From there it is a straight six-hour drive.

That is why I have some time to wrap up, edit and illustrate this post – which I will do with no further discussion.

Over The Road,


2 thoughts on “Zelda, Nero and the Van Dyke

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