Scenic Views in the Solar System

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This was posted before, over at the old WordPress site.  I have since updated the pictures with the latest images of Pluto and Charon.  Also, comparison to the view of the moon from Earth is included in each picture and a lot of reference lines were deleted.  January 25, 2019

Steve Campbell     December 2015

Introduction

The full moon, especially when it is near the horizon has always been a most impressive sight and there are few that compare…at least on Earth. The truth is that your index finger at arm’s length can cover the moon. You will need to close one eye for this trick, though. If you saw Tom Hanks in Apollo13, you know the drill. The full moon covers less than one half of one degree of arc. By the way, the idea that the moon is somehow magnified by being near the horizon is just an illusion.  If you measured the angle it “subtends”, you will come up with the same number when it is overhead or low in the sky. Call it a Jedi mind trick, if you like. Figure A is a simulation of the Moon, as seen from the Earth. So that we can make a fair comparison, the field of view here is 10 degrees across. I will keep that constant as we move around. The lines are just the plotted orbits of the moon and other planets in the background.

moonfromearthsolo

Figure A: A simulation of the Moon as seen from Earth. The field of view is 10 degrees wide. That scale will be continued in the following images – until it doesn’t work.  I’ll include the moon in those images as a reference.

In the neighborhood

Impressive as our full moon view may be there are other, more breath-taking vistas to be had, with a small matter of transportation to be solved. There is one that has actually been experienced by Apollo astronauts on eight missions – each with a crew of three – that reached the moon. So, that is exactly 24 people, right? Wrong, twenty one. John Young and Eugene Cernan both went to the moon twice and landed once. Jim Lovell went twice and alas, did not land either time. But all these guys saw the Earth from the moon, even if only 12 saw it from the surface. That sight is even more striking. Figure B is a simulation of the Earth as seen from the moon.

earth_from_moon_comp

Figure B: Simulation of the Earth as seen from the moon. Same scale

As awe-inspiring as this view may be, you can still hide this behind a single digit, but you will need to use your thumb. The Earth’s atmosphere is not depicted here. That would make it more interesting, especially during a lunar eclipse. At that time, the Earth would be illuminated only by artificial lights and the occasional burst of lightening. If it were a total lunar eclipse, the rim of Earth’s atmosphere would be aglow with the red hues of every sunset and every sunrise in the world. The lunar landscape would be bathed in a soft red glow. Not bad, eh?

The Outer Limits

Until recently it was assumed that the Earth-moon system was the closest to a double planet, but that ended in 1978 when Pluto’s moon Charon was discovered. Compared to the Earth/Moon system, Pluto and Charon are much closer to the same size and much closer together. So, you would think –and be correct – that Charon would appear much larger from Pluto than the Moon from Earth. Figure C is a simulation (same scale) of Charon as seen from Pluto.

charon_from_pluto

Figure C: Charon as seen from Pluto. Note that this is an actual image of Charon, from the New Horizon’s flyby.

As you can see clearly, Charon is a much more imposing figure than the Earth from our moon. To continue our arm’s-length-finger imagery: I am quoting a New Horizons researcher whose name escapes me when I say “It would take three fat fingers to cover up Charon.”

However, I would point out a few drawbacks to this one. First, the lack of color (as compared to Earth, at least) should subtract a few points. Second, Charon will not be seen as “full” except for twice in a Pluto year, when the plane of the Pluto/Charon orbit is aligned with the Sun/Pluto orbit. A Pluto year is about 248 Earth years. Third, the Sun is very dim out there by Pluto and the whole scene will be very obscure. Fourth, Charon is tidally locked, always turning the same face toward Pluto and Pluto does likewise to Charon. This means that Charon always appears in the same spot in the sky, unless you are in the other hemisphere, then you never see it anyway. And, finally that eclipse scenario we talked about with the Moon and Earth only happens around those times of “full Charon” (every ~124 years) and it has no atmosphere to make it more interesting.  The alert reader (that guy, again) will point out that Pluto must be much larger as seen from Charon than the other way around. Correct. Figure D is just that scenarion.

pluto_from_charon_comp

Figure D: A simulation of Pluto as seen from Charon. Again, the surface features are guesswork and not updated by the recent New Horizon probe’s imagery.  

You see that, in our 10 degree wide view, Pluto has filled it, at least vertically. Clearly, this is the most stunning view, yet. One full hand, at arm’s length might not even cover this up. As I note in the caption, this is not the real image of Pluto, which, as it turns out is much more interesting. However, most of the objections of the view of Charon apply here. It is very dark. Pluto will always be in the same spot in the sky, if it is in the sky, at all. Pluto will only be “full” once in 224 years and the eclipses will be about that rare as well. There will be a “rim of light” during a full eclipse, but it will be pale blue.

Now is where the real estate people would put the “hook” that draws you in to the thing they are really selling. As it turns out, there are much more amazing views available, much closer to home, far more dynamic, interesting and much better illuminated than those “outer limits” properties that you have been seeing!   Let’s talk about the Jupiter neighborhood.

There is this moon called Io (pronounce by purists with a short “I” and by everybody else, with a long “I”). It is the closest of the four main “Galilean” satellites of Jupiter. Io is a small moon of Jupiter that is still 37% larger than Earth’s moon.

It has a view of Jupiter that is un-paralleled by any other self-respecting Jovian moon (i.e., with a significant surface gravity). I have summoned up another simulation at our same scale of 10 degrees across., in Figure E.

jupiterfromio_10comp

Figure E: Simulation of Jupiter seen from Io. Clearly a change of scale is in order!

This is an order of magnitude greater than what we have looked at previously. We need to back off of this 10 degree wide view. Figure F is a view with 45 degrees as the width of field. To show how much we have “zoomed out” please see the inset at lower left that shows the moon as seen from Earth at the same scale.

jupiterfromio_25comp

Figure F: Jupiter (in a section of sky that is 25 degrees across) as seen from its closest large moon, Io.   Note the comparable view of the Earth’s moon – from Earth.

This is clearly the most spectacular view we have yet imagined. The arm’s-length comparison:  Tom Hanks would have to hold up a pizza pan that is 13* inches across to cover this sight. And here, we will have a view of Jupiter that goes from “full” as you see it here, through a half-phase to a crescent, to “new” and back in less than two days.  Add to that the fact that Jupiter rotates in about nine hours and the clouds are in constant motion and changing. And also, the colors (in comparison to our own moon) are vivid and diverse. When Io is eclipsed, passing behind Jupiter, there will also be lightening and auroras that should surpass anything seen on Earth from orbit.

*Ironic, that!  😉

Conclusion

I think that when it comes to spectacular scenic outlooks in the Solar System, we have found the ideal spot – Io. Remember to move to the side facing Jupiter and the view is always available.  But, before you decide you would like to live there, I should say that I failed to mention that it is a very active place, geologically speaking – far more so than Earth. Io is prone to sudden outbreaks of hot molten Sulfur volcanoes. It also orbits in a radiation belt around Jupiter. And to quote astrobio.net (7): “The radiation in Jupiter’s belts is a million times more intense than in Earth’s belts.”.

So, you see that there is this great view at Io, but there are a few details that complicate things.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

 References

  1. Solar System Simulations:   http://space.jpl.nasa.gov/
  2. Apollo Astronauts:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Apollo_astronauts#Apollo_astronauts_who_walked_on_the_Moon
  3. Charon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon_(moon)
  4. Planetary Statistics:  http://www.windows2universe.org/our_solar_system/planets_table.htm
  5. Moon comparisons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Solar_System_objects_by_size
  6. More on Jovian moons:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moons_of_Jupiter
  7. Jupiter Radiation Belts: http://www.astrobio.net/news-exclusive/hiding-from-jupiters-radiation/

Neptune – The Farthest Giant

 

 

Steve Campbell      March 2016

I managed to destroy this post unintentionally.  I fixed it and threw in a new Triton movie YouTube link. “Sail past Triton  “

Introduction

Neptune was the first planet to be discovered by mathematical means.  After the discovery of Uranus and subsequent observations of the Seventh Planet, it was observed that its orbit was not meeting expectations of Kepler’s Laws.  It was determined that there must be another planet -farther away – that was influencing the orbit.  That planet was later discovered and quickly thereafter found to have a large satellite. (1)

Neptune is the farthest Giant Planet from the Sun and not surprisingly the last to be visited by a spacecraft.  In the old days, when your author was young, they called Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune “Gas Giants”.  Now they reserve that title only for Jupiter and Saturn and call Uranus and Neptune “Ice Giants”.  As you may know the now call Pluto and Eris “Dwarf” Planets (I can’t agree with that).  As of today, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are still “Terrestrial Planets”.  But soon, it seems to me, each planetary body will have its own unique category.

Quoting from my two-part series:

“One thing that might puzzle the average student might be why we had images of all the Outer planets by the 1970s and 80s and nothing but a dot or smudge for Pluto.  That all relates to what was called at the time “The Grand Tour”.  As it happened, there was an alignment of the outer planets in the 70’s and 80’s such that it would be possible to use gravity assisted orbital adjustments (“the slingshot effect”) to make it possible for a space probe to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in one long and carefully managed trajectory.”

Again from Sneaking Up on Pluto:

“The Voyager probes (one of which actually made the complete “Grand Tour”) each had a main antenna that was capable of constant communications with the Earth.  This necessitated what is called a “scan platform” that held the instruments that need precise pointing, that moved independently of the antenna.  That configuration had proven troublesome on one of the Voyager probes at Saturn and data were lost.  That is because data storage was actually on a ½ inch, 8 track magnetic tape with a total capacity of about ½ Megabyte and a top baud rate of 56 kilobits per second (2).  That’s what I said – “Stone Knives and Bear Skins!” – so, real-time transmission was required for image data.”  Voyager was – despite my demeaning reference – quite advanced at the time and some of its imagery is still quite impressive.

 The image below depicts the identical Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 Spacecraft. (4) The dish antenna is 3.7 meters in diameter (12 feet, 2 inches) across.  The arm extending to the right contains the main experiments and the imaging “scan platform”.  The left arm holds the three radioisotope thermoelectric generators that power the probe.  The gold disk on the “body” is the famous CD with messages and images of Earth for anyone “out there”.  This CD was a pet project of Carl Sagan.  Carl has been inserted into the picture at the proper size to give it a sense of scale. 

This photo is from his brief and little-known “Fonzarelli” period.  Raise your thumbs, Carl!

voyager_nasawebcarlFigure A: The Voyager Spacecraft        NASA/NASA website

Neptune

About time we got around to the planet, I hear you thinking.  I have a table of planetary statistics (3) that serves as a good introduction for any planet.  You may expect to see this table in future posts.  Please see Figure B, below.

Figure B: Table of Planetary Statistics        NASA

You will notice that Neptune has 17 times the mass of the Earth and about 3.9 times the diameter.  That only works out that way because the mean density of Neptune is 30% that of Earth.  If it were as dense as the Earth, Neptune (of the same diameter) would have 60 times the Earth’s mass.   All four Giant Planets are low-density like that, but Neptune is the densest of them.  Likewise, all Giant Planets are fast spinning and Neptune is slower than most, rotating in 16 hours.  The Navy has adopted a 16 hour rotation of duties and sleep aboard out nuclear subs, so submariners would be right at home on Neptune.  Just a small tangent, I’ll get back on track, now.

Figure C: Neptune as seen by Voyager 2         NASA/JPL

The clouds were somewhat of a surprise after the Voyager’s views of Uranus – which was almost featureless.  The big dark spot (named rather predictably, the “Great Dark Spot”) was another surprise as were the winds (1500 mph) stirring these features around.  These are the fastest winds in the all the Planets (5) and unexpected out in the cold dark zones of the outer Solar System.

Neptune takes 164 years to orbit the Sun.  It’s a long wait for Summer, eh?  Neptune, like all Giant Planets (plus Mercury and Earth) does have a magnetic field and in fact, it is much stronger than the Earth’s.  That would seem to indicate that it has an iron inner core.  But it cannot be very large, or the overall density would be larger.  It is in fact estimated that the core part of Neptune at its center is about Earth-sized.  Most of what is above is water, ammonia and methane (CH4) ice (estimates vary for thickness).  That is considered to be its “mantle”. 

The atmosphere above that is hydrogen, helium and methane.  The white clouds you see vary in composition depending on pressure.  The higher clouds where pressures are about Earth-like (1 bar) are probably methane vapor.  Lower down and at higher pressures are clouds of ammonia, hydrogen sulfate and even water vapor, like the clouds on Earth.

How thick each of these layers might be is still open to interpretation and you can find many differing diagrams, most with no dimensions mentioned.  So, having looked at those, I will guess that the core is 4000 miles in Radius (about the same radius as Earth).

Later photos of Neptune by the Hubble Space Telescope have shown considerable changes in Neptune’s atmosphere, since Voyager.

Triton

Triton. The terrain is similar to what we now know Pluto to be like. The colors are not the same, however. That may be due to a difference in instrumentation between Voyager 2 and the New Horizon probe that looked the ninth Planet.

See this YouTube video for a “Sail past Triton  “

Triton is the largest moon of Neptune and by no coincidence, the first discovered (17 days after the discovery of Neptune, itself).  It is unique in several respects.  It is the only “large” satellite to orbit in a “retrograde” sense.  By large, I mean to say that it is near to the size of our own Moon.  By retrograde, I mean that it orbits in a direction opposite to the rotation of its planet.  That and the high inclination of Triton’s orbit seem to indicate that it was captured.  For reasons we won’t go into, it is easier for a moon to be captured in a retrograde orbit than otherwise.  Jupiter and Saturn have lots of former asteroids as moons, but they tend to be small and far away.  Triton is so close that it is being slowly pulled closer to Neptune and in several billion years will be shattered into a ring like Saturn’s.  You might expect a captured moon to be in an eccentric orbit that varies in distance from its planet, but Triton’s orbit is so close to exactly circular that the difference is not worth mentioning.  It stays at about 220,483 miles from Neptune which, coincidentally is about the same distance from the Earth to our own moon.  It orbits Neptune in 5.8 days and rotates in the same time.  That is to say, it keeps the same side toward Neptune, just as our Moon does to Earth.  Now, some of my readers are sharp enough to notice that our moon takes 28 days to orbit.  Why so different if the distances are near the same?  The difference, of course is that Neptune is 17 times as massive as the Earth, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.  This will be on the test! 😉   Figure D, below is a Voyager 2 image of Triton

Figure D: Triton         NASA/JPL

            All other large satellites orbit the same way and are therefore by definition, prograde.  Triton also looks quite distinctively different from most other planetary satellites, which tend to be rather uniform and crater covered (admittedly with many exceptions).  It has an atmosphere that, while very thin, has detectable clouds.  It shares the much modified and differentiated characteristics that we now know of on Pluto.  That tends to confirm the “capture” hypothesis.

            You may ask, “Just how does a passing object become “captured”? “.    There are several ways.  One would be for Triton to have collided with a smaller moon, as it passed near Neptune.  That might slow it just enough to wind up in an orbit.  As it would have collided with a prograde moon, that would be especially effective since that would almost double the velocity difference between the two and quadruple the energy delivered to the passing Triton.  That should have left a mighty crater on Triton.  While nonesuch was seen by Voyager, such a crater could have since been covered by the glacier-like deposits of Nitrogen ice (the part that looks like cantaloupe peel) that are visible in Figure D.  Likewise, that crater might have been in the darkened part of Triton, that was not visible when the Voyager went zooming by at the greatest velocity ever given to a man-made object (at the time)

A second possibility would be “gas drag” as Triton passed through the upper atmosphere.  That would seem unlikely, unless Neptune had a more extensive atmosphere at the time.  Since it may have been captured billions of years ago, that is entirely possible, but still just speculation.

            Another possibility was detailed in a paper by Craig Agnor (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Douglas Hamilton (university of Maryland) in 2006. (6)  First, I should explain that Pluto and all the other Smaller Planets out past Neptune have been designated as Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).  If Triton had been one of a co-orbiting binary pair of KBOs, it is possible that a pass near Neptune would have captured it, while at the same time, ejecting its companion to a more distant orbit of the Sun.  It all has to do with relative motion of the three bodies. This hypothesis has the virtue of not relying on chance collisions or hypothesized “greater atmospheres”.  This idea was made more believable by the discovery that many KBOs are indeed, binary.  Not the least of these is Pluto, who’s biggest satellite (Charon) is about one half its own size.  It has been estimated that 15% of KBOs may be binary in nature.  That a KBO could have come near to Neptune is not unlikely since Pluto itself comes nearer the Sun than Neptune as it was during the late years, last Century.  Having said that, I must also remark that Pluto is now in a resonance with Neptune that keeps the two safely apart.  I mean to say, that when Pluto comes nearer to the Sun, it is still very far from Neptune and always will be.

But, all in all, I think these guys are very near the mark with their hypothesis.

Conclusion

Neptune is another fascinating member of the Solar System and I learned a lot by researching to write this article.  I hope you find it interesting as well.  You may wonder why I do this.  Well, those of you who know me know that I suddenly have time on my hands.  It is a blessing…and a curse. ;-).  Also, I have always had a fascination with the Solar System that goes back to my days in Elementary School. 

You and I are truly fortunate to live in a time when these mysterious dots of light in the sky that were the Planets are now becoming known as Great Worlds, many that dwarf the Earth in size and complexity and others that are revealing the secrets of Nature that have been heretofore unknowable.

References

  1. Discovery: http://www.universetoday.com/21621/who-discovered-neptune/
  1. Voyager Data Rate: http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/storage-disaster-recovery/nasas-voyager-used-8-track-tape-to-go-into-space/
  1. Table of Planetary Statistics: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/planet_table_british.html
  1. Voyager details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_2#
  1. Winds: http://www.space.com/21157-uranus-neptune-winds-revealed.html
  1. Triton Capture: http://news.softpedia.com/news/How-Neptune-Captured-Triton-23313.shtml

Somewhere in Oklahoma

stevesafetyglassesJanuary 11, 2019      homepage

Many of my readers will be happy to know that I have again found employment in the Seismic Industry – as much out of friendship as of appreciation that I will not be complaining about being unemployed.  I will be somewhere in Oklahoma for a few weeks  A project in Texas is penciled in for later.  The client has rules about posting photos and project information, so I am intentionally vague.  If you are also in Seismic, you can guess who the client is.  The company may have such rules and so they will be referred to as “the Company”.  The photo below is not related to the project or the Company.  (As far as I know, the project does not extend to the sky).  This is an example of  “Sundogs” which is a pair of bright spots of refracted sunlight that illuminate a cloud layer.  This is fairly rare and I have seen it maybe 5 times in as many decades.

sundogs_crop_arrows2

A rainbow, by comparison, is both reflected and refracted and appears in the sky opposite of the sun.

Below (left) in my Personal Protective equipment.  (Yes, I will trim the beard soon) hardhatsteve

My job is driving the fuel truck. Fortunately for me, haz-mat drivers are in demand just now.    I don’t have a lot of spare time, so stay tuned!

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Purgatory

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August 7, 2016

Purgatory

[pur-guh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]

  1. any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.

    I am now “on the Yard” at company headquarters.  I have dropped my trailer and been assigned another truck.  This one is a real mystery.  A Kenworth T680 built in November, 2013.  It looks almost new, drives and shifts smoothly and is “clean as a whistle”.  The odometer reads 35,000 miles.  And that would seem impossible.

This truck has been “on the fleet” for two and a half years and should have at least five or six times that mileage.  The Peterbilt is just about that old and it has 385,000 miles. While I am lucky to have such a low mileage vehicle, I can’t help but wonder what the story is behind this machine.  One thing that is completely out of place in this story is the condition of the forward drive axle.  Its tires are nearly at the legal minimum for tread  depth, while its brother’s tires to the rear are almost new.  I have requested that these tires (the baldies, that is) be replaced.

I pull up the Kenworth “across the bow” of the Peterbilt to transfer the refrigerator first and then all my other possessions.  It can’t stay there long, but I don’t need long.  Next I swap the Peterbilt out of the “good” parking spot and put the Kenworth into same.   I drove the Peterbilt over by the garage where I would turn in the keys in the morning.  Then, I collapsed in the Kenworth because what I just described was a lot of work.  Fortunately, the Kenworth has a working Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) that keeps the cabin habitable through the hot Dallas evening.

12946.jpg

Above: 2014 model Kenworth T680 – 12946.  Note the windshield shade with cool-looking beach scene.  It reflects the heat ,  yes.  But more importantly, it marks my truck so I can find it later.  Please see “Tractor Row” below for explanation.

TractorRowDay.jpgAbove:  “Tractor Row” The one with the cool-looking beach scene in the windshield is mine.

CaptainsDesk12946Above:  The Kenworth has a desk that does not look like a piece of plywood.

PurgatoryAbove:  Purgatory’s Backside.  The small building in the foreground has the driver’s lounge where trucker stereotypes are preserved by drivers leaving their empty soda bottles and pizza cartons strewn across the tables and floors while the trash cans in the room remain empty.

In the morning, I have lots to do before I am allowed to leave the Yard.  These activities include safety lectures and dealing with “compliance” (recordkeeping to comply with federal regulations on driving time – it’s complicated).  Then I need my Driver Manager’s approval and that of “Central Clearance” – they check all my registrations and paperwork. I cannot get my truck out the gate without all these items ticked off the list.  And those tires I requested apparently are still being manufactured and will be shipped out by mule train sometime next week.

Fact is, I don’t have a load, yet anyway, so there is nowhere to go.  And, it does not matter anyway because all the people who can provide “approval” for my departure have gone home at noon, today, Saturday.  They will not return until Monday when dozens of other drivers – trapped in Purgatory with me – will compete to get their clearance.  So, another two days (minimum) of no income. This has become a recurring theme in the “high-paying-job-as-a-professional-truck-driver”.

Farewell 12573 – We Hardly Knew Ye!

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August 5, 2016       Garland, Texas     homepage


I am reminded that today is Christmas Day

                    So, Please also have a look at this Christmas Classic

I have been instructed to report to the “Yard” in Dallas and turn in my truck.  It has apparently been sold.    I asked how long it might take  to get a new truck.  The answer was “Depends”.  I should have replied, “No, Fruit of the Loom – briefs” but my comedic reflexes are slow these days.

The last time I was issued a truck, I expected a worst case scenario.  Specifically, since I had driven and was familiar with Kenworths and Freightliners in training, that I would be issued a Peterbilt.  Good instincts, as it turns out.  The clutch gave me trouble from the start, with what is called “clutch chatter”.  Not severe and the only other Peterbilt I had driven (only for a half hour or so) had the same problem. In any case, the clutch was a body-builder tool and I was soon walking with a limp because of all the excess muscle in my left leg.  Not a big problem, until it was a big problem.

The last episode of mechanical adversity cost me ten days of poverty.  The company pays an insulting $25 per day for breakdowns after the first two days.  The company wanted to nickel-and-dime the hotel. I would have to call and get authorization every day.  We tried that on check-in and they refused the company card so  I covered the hotel with my own credit card and expensed it back to avoid looking like a deadbeat every afternoon.   They have at least reimbursed me for that.  They tend to treat drivers as people with no financial means whatsoever.  That is probably appropriate considering the level of remuneration.

One wonders what delays are in store for the next truck.

12573Anon

Above is the Peterbilt in question as we “sit in a door” in Garland, Texas.  The “lumpers” unload for hours while the driver kills time…taking photos, say.  This receiver was mercifully quick and I left no more than three hours after arrival.  From here I go to the “Yard”…Company Headquarters.  There, to put the old mare out to pasture (tractors are female and trailers, male by virtue of their “connecting equipment”).

Twenty Mules

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September 12, 2016, Tyson Plant, Wadron, Arkansas

After the delivery at Clarksville, I headed for the closest truck stop on I-40, to wait for a new load assignment.  This was another of those “pocket” stations where parking for 20 rigs is jammed in behind the fuel island.  Both that parking and the surrounding streets were full, so I looked up rest stops and found one on I 40, not far away, with “Room at the Inn”.In a Homer Simpson moment I realized I had not sent my “Empty at Destination” message.  No load assignment will happen before that.  Once that was done, the message came within seconds – obviously set up in advance.  My load picks up in Waldron, Arkansas.  This place was about an hour and a half away, down US-23, a winding, up-and-down two-lane blacktop with no shoulders.  It would make a great motorcycle trip.  It makes a big-truck trip where paying attention is a survival trait.

Frozen chicken is the new cargo.  It started out looking like a  24 hour ordeal of drop the empty trailer one morning and hook a loaded trailer the next.  I had all day to drop, but why wait?  I got in the gate before 8 AM and found the office with some guidance from a helpful employee.  These guys all wear warm, long-sleeve jumpsuits, steel-toe boots and carry mittens.  They keep the warehouse cold since this is frozen chicken they load.

The guys in shipping told me to back into door #4.  Apparently this would be a live load!  So, I don’t ask questions, I just get to the truck and look for the door.  It is in an inside corner, with a trailer parked sideways on the approach, a really big tank, a dumpster and a trash compactor in front.  About 45 minutes were needed to get this one done.  I got some pictures, but photography is not allowed in the plant, so don’t tell anyone.

chickendoor4a
Figure 1

Above:  In this view, doors one, two and three are to the left, door five to the right – all occupied with dropped trailers.  That dumpster on the right comes in to the story later.

ChickenDoor4BRotate
Figure 2

Plan A:Pulling in from stage right, (figure one) until the tank was looming in the windshield, backing the trailer in while folding the drivers-side of the tractor into the trailer.  That backed the trailer into yellow post at the corner.

Above:  Plan B was to pull over  in front of the trailers, (stage left in figure 2) (PRIME inc., etcetera) and back around the parked trailer (whose taillights you see) into the door.  To quote Chico Marx, “Dat’s a-no good, too”.  Plan C: Drive out and to the left and find a place to swap ends with the entire rig.  Where? – Back in beside the last visible trailer (there is a sign there that says, “Don’t even think of parking here. ” Who’s parking?)  Then pull past taillight trailer and the trailers (no tractors) in doors one, two and three, swing wide and put the tractor in the space between the compactor and the dumpster, seen in the previous photo.  Then reverse into door #4. That worked.

September 14, 2016 7 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Williams, AZ

While waiting (and not long) for the load to be put on board, I worked on the trip plan.  If I can get  a couple of hundred miles behind me it will take the distance off of the final run to delivery, in three days’ time.  The problem is not drive time, but all the waiting at first receiver, then shipper has again worn down the 14 hours and I must get on the road asap/

My trip plan is only roughed out when the loading is finished and so I submit Oklahoma City as the target for the day and promise the Driver Manager (DM) that I’ll finish the plan later. It is a matter of driving as far as practical and finding a place to stop for ten hours (A “Ten”). I soon see that OKC is out of reach and I have looked up the exit numbers of the truck stops and rest areas. A rest area near Henryetta wins the stop and, now committed, I see as I pull in a sign that says “No Facilities”.  OK, it does beat the Ad Hoc  Truck Stop (#1) since I knew it was there before arriving.  At Three PM, mine is the only truck parked.  By the time I roll at Two AM, there are a few dozen, but it is a big area, since there is no room taken up by restrooms, water fountains or vending machines.

We have established that the best plan is to start in the “wee, small hours”  between midnight and four AM.  By the time my day is done, the parking at truck stops and rest areas are mostly vacant.  This works well, but sometimes clashes with afternoon delivery appointments.

Below is a photo of a sandstone formation at a rest area somewhere in New Mexico. I know at least a few of my readers have a Geology background.  So, would one or the other please enlighten me as to how these rocks were weathered like this?

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Above: Cubbyholes in the sandstone.

The second leg is to Albuquerque where I am directed to fuel up, but that is out of reach and Santa Rosa, New Mexico fits the bill for a Ten   A few hours out I begin noticing the outside rear tire on the trailer looks a little flat.  That is the furthest from the driver and it is supported by the other tire, so it’s hard to say.  But, I pull into the tire check lane and the Loves’ tire tech checks the pressure with a set of eighteen hoses that attach to all the tires at once.  Meanwhile, I put in just more than 50 gallons (qualifying for a shower credit) because the annoying red light and a dashboard message that won’t let me see my digital speedometer tell me that fuel is low.

Sure enough, that tire is at 29 pounds (should be 100).  Without the other tire in the dual, it would be flat as a pancake.  I wind up “in the shop”. The trailer is, anyway. The tractor is outside the shop  and far from the work zone where the tech is finding the leak, so it’s just one more parking place to me.  The usual truck stop routine is in force – eat, shower and sleep.  By the time the first two are done, the tech shows me the nail my tire picked up and I sign off and move the truck to normal parking (still with lots of vacancies) and sleep.

I did fuel up in Albuquerque .before dawn and there was a beautiful overlook of the city on the way out of the depot.  I tried to grab a couple of picture at the stop light, but both came out blurred.  I will look for another photography solution.  (Anybody with Go-Pro camera experience?  Please let me hear from you).  I was short-clocked by the 8 day rules to only 9 hours and change today (14th) and only made Williams, AZ instead of Kingman, which was the target.  I can still make the final on time, but it will be a three hour trip that morning instead of a half hour hop.  It pays to stay flexible and put the fat in the schedule at the end of the trip.

I passed the “divide” of Arizona at 7337 feet of altitude and wind picked up during the day.  Williams is West of Flagstaff and on the turn-off to the Grand Canyon.  This is a good example of the fallacy of the “see America” aspect of this job.  With the Grand Canyon mere miles away, I saw the truck stop.  The sky was tinted red with dust at sunset and the temperature was 48° F in the morning (September 15, 1 AM, local).

September 15, 2016  5 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Tulare, California

At the border, there is an inspection station.  They are more concerned with what I am carrying, not its weight.  I hand over the Bill of Lading (BOL) and tell the guy, it’s frozen chicken.  He says, “I know you guys carry either that that or frozen beef.  I tell him (briefly) about the frozen fish.  I don’t bring up bananas, since it might occur to him to look for fruit flies.  There is an old joke that goes, “Time flies like an arrow.  Fruit flies like a banana.”.  He wishes me a safe trip and I am back on the highway.

California is a ten percent pay cut, since the speed limit is everywhere 55 Mile per hour.  Not to worry, though because I can make up for it by driving more hours.  The cars can all go 70 still and they probably curse us in our trucks when there is no passing lane.  Hey, they  voted for the dufusses who made the speed limit!

My next fuel stop is programmed for Boron, CA.

Boron is a chemical element with symbol B and atomic number 5. Produced entirely by cosmic ray spallation and supernovaeand not by stellar nucleosynthesis, it is a low-abundance element in the Solar system and in the Earth’s crust.[12] Boron is concentrated on Earth by the water-solubility of its more common naturally occurring compounds, the borate minerals. These are mined industrially as evaporites, such as borax and kernite.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boron

That definition mentions in passing that Boron is made by exploding stars.  It is a little appreciated fact (except by Astronomy Degree holders – Guilty, Your Honor) that all elements except Hydrogen (and -according to some –  a small quantity of Helium , with a trace of Lithium) are manufactured by Nuclear Fusion.  So, a great deal of what makes up your body was once inside a Star, somewhat like the Sun.  Boron requires Stars that explode and fortunately for us, our Sun is too small for that.  So, Boron comes from other Stars or bombardment of cosmic rays – which is even weirder when you know where cosmic rays come from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray

But I digress (like way!).  The town’s name comes from the local Borax Industry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax

You may remember the Brand Name “Twenty Mule Team Borax” which is mentioned in the above link.  However, unless you are Cretaceous, like myself, you won’t remember the 1950’s television series “Death Valley Days” that was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Products and hosted by a very young actor in Western costume.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  More digression – but this time locally influenced.

I had called this truck stop from Arkansas two days ago, to ask if they could order replacements for my windshield wiper blades.  I had no luck finding the right parts in truck stops over many states.  The guy assured me they were in stock and I found them there.  As planned, I continued for three more hours to get here to Tulare.  This sets me up for a three hour drive to the Final in the morning.  I had some time left and could have driven to a rest stop 24 miles further on, but the prospect of a shower was too much to pass up.  Upon arriving, I realized that the last Loves shower credit – the one I earned in Santa Rosa – I had used up in Williams.  I still had “clock” and could have continued to the rest area.  But, it could be closed or over-crowded and that would force me back here anyway.  That scenario would have cost me an hour of drive time tomorrow (due to the eight-day problem) so I  stayed.  I know I promised to lay off the “drive clock” subject, but it keeps cropping up in the day-to-day events.

September 16, 2016, 7:20 AM PDT, Winco Distribution Center, Modesto, California

So far, I like this place.  They give you a map and directions and send you to pull-through (i.e., easy) parking to await your appointment.  Then off to a door and walk your papers into the office.  I have called the local Walmart Supercenter (about 5 miles away) and received permission to park while shopping.  After that, I will go to a nearby Pilot (16 miles – where I have 5 shower credits) and take a 34 hour break which will reset my 70 hour 8 day situation.  That should stop this running short on drive time.  I’m hoping this will set me up for a long trip, but there are no guarantees.

11:11 AM PDT

I have now completed all my paperwork for this trip, save the Lumper receipt which they will bring me when I am released.  I’ve also cleaned up my email inbox, replied to some messages and written this bit of prose for y’all.  The door light has been green for over an hour and still I have no clearance after three hours and 11 minutes from my appointment (for which I was timely).  Can you guess if “detention pay” is in force with this receiver?

Trip Complete. On to Wal-Mart

Over The Road,

Steve

Under Sail Once More – Westward Bound

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August 4, 2016 – Canton,  Texas  (Transplanted from WordPress page)

Despite the massive incompetence that passes for management in the Walmart distribution center in Johnstown in upstate New York, the gate guards and  receiving staff were most polite and helpful. It just goes to show you that places are often remembered for their least admirable details.  Another New York example of that phenomenon  is their Arrogant Senator, the lower case chuck schumer.

When finally it came, it had been a “live” unloading, which means that I hung around while they unloaded the trailer I had brought.  First, they assign you a door and hand you a pager.  You are then expected to back the trailer into the door and wait for the cargo to be unloaded.  There is a mechanical arm that grabs the bumper of your trailer, in addition to wheel chocks and the trailer brakes that prevent you from moving while the forklifts run in and out the trailer carrying pallets of meat.  These precautions were not apparently enough to assuage the misgivings of Safety, so we are required to disconnect the tractor from the trailer and a receiving foremen locks out the trailer air hose connector as well.  The subject of airbrakes could make an entire post and I’ll put that on the list.


Besides all that, there is a red light flashing by the door, visible in your driver-side mirror that prohibits you from moving anything.   When the light turns green, we ain’t done yet! You have to wait until the pager explodes with flashing blue neon lights and go to the receiving window to get the paperwork.  All this may take four or five hours.  Some shippers and receivers have no concern whatsoever for the fact that drivers are paid by the mile and sitting in a door is a zero mileage trip.

By contrast, the next load I delivered was to Golden State Foods in Garner, NC.  There, I was admitted within 10 minutes of arrival.  I had only to back the trailer into a cargo door (no  need even to open the trailer doors), disconnect from (drop) that trailer and hook up to the trailer in the next door…and leave.  The whole thing took less than an hour.  See, New York?

Fortunately, the next load was only 37 miles away.  Unfortunately, the appointment to pick up was the next morning at 1 PM.  However, they give themselves until 11 PM to actually come across with the load. twenty eight hours away in time.  You can bet that it will happen within a half hour of that last deadline.  Here at Clayton, NC,  they will waste your time, but they will also give you a place to park and wait, on site (unlike Walmart, NY).   I took that load of meat to Texas in two full days of travel totaling over 1100 miles.   Now I sit in a truck stop at Canton, Texas for about 18 hours, in order to arrive in Garland, Texas at the proper time tomorrow.  I could have stopped further out, but then I risk being late for some accident or traffic jam.  The Federal regulations and the company’s speed limits have made this job a game of “Hurry Up and Wait”.

The First Mate was in Dallas with youngest son for University “camp” and she drove out to see me.  We took some photos. 

Definition:  First Mate – an officer on a ship , second in rank only to the  Captain  and responsible for the security of both Captain and Vessel.

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Above: The Captain at the Helm

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 The First Mate

Katy Christmas Market-Dec 1

One, Two, Three, Etc. is an arts and craft company in Houston that offers Peruvian  jewelry, ornaments and accessories.  Coming soon to the  Ninth Annual Katy Old-Fashioned Christmas Festival 10 AM – 5 PM Saturday . Scroll down for a map.

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See the facebook page  for One, Two, Three, Etc.   ______________________ Proprietor Maria is also a Dream Vacations travel agent.


Find One, Two, Three, Etc. at Booth 90 on Avenue C, between Second and Third Streets

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Richmond

I am moving posts from the old WordPress site to Goingwalkabout.blog.  Please excuse the apparent anachronisms.

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August 1, 2016

Richmond, Virginia

Several of you have suggested that I need to post more photos and I agree.  Now that I am a solo driver, it is difficult for me to take photos while driving. I must keep my eyes on the road and I can snap un-aimed photos out the window – about one in ten are worth looking at.  So, mostly I will concentrate on photos while parked.  And where better to start than what is outside right now.

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Above:  The view from the “Captain’s Cabin”.

This is the vista that greets me this morning.  I am at a Pilot Truck Stop to the South of Richmond Virginia.  My truck is backed into a row of trucks that looks out on to the fuel isles.  From left to right, top to bottom:  The white truck over there would normally be hustled off by the  manager for blocking the Scales.  The reason he has not been is just barely visible as a Safety Ribbon indicating that the scales are currently out of order.  As I mentioned before, these scales are used by the majority of drivers to check their legality.  You might think that shippers would assure this, but you would be mistaken.  The driver is alone responsible for legal road weight.

The scale measures weights by the axle (or tandem).  The “ticket” received has four numbers that tell the driver all he needs to know. I’ll post a photo of same. The black rectangle at lower left covers my company’s name.  We won’t talk about them, yet.

ScaleTicket.jpg

The first weight is the front wheels that steer the truck.  Those are allowed to carry 12,000 pounds.  The next number is the weight of the drive axles – that is the cluster of eight wheels directly behind the driver that move the truck.  They, together, are allowed 34,000 pounds of weight.  As you see, I came in exactly on the limit and I’ll be buying a lottery ticket today.  The next number is the weight on the trailer wheels and that is also limited to 34,000 pounds.  What I did after this was to slide the trailer wheels forward to balance the load, overshooting by a hundred or two. After that, I put some more fuel in the tractor, so the two should be as close to balanced as makes no difference.  The last number is the combination total and that may be as much as 80,000 pounds.  For reference, a passenger car may weight about 2000 or 3000 pounds.  This is the Major Leagues, people!

 

Back to the view above.  The fuel stations each have two diesel pumps because the trucks all have a  fuel tank on each side.  They are filled simultaneously.  It is necessary for me to also pull up about 20 feet after fueling the tractor and fuel the trailer tank that feeds the refrigeration unit.  Obviously, that must be independent of the tractor, since these trailers may spend much time alone, waiting for transport.  When the place is busy, the trucks line up behind one another and ettiquete demands that when you are through fueling, you pull up and leave room for the next guy before you go in for your receipt and coffee, etc.  This has the effect of creating parking across from the fuel bays that has a long, easy backing situation for drivers who do not excel at backing (i.e., your humble narrator).

In the cab, you see (left) the curtain which, with its  mate on the right, closes for Captain’s privacy.  Then the Driver’s chair (very comfortable) and the steering wheel.  Next the instrument panel (I know what almost all of those do).  Above that is the satellite communication and navigation unit.  This is the source of the computer voice “Jill” who tells me where to go.  Below the panel is the transmission shifter (Nine forward gears and two reverse).  Right of that is the Captain’s Office.  It only looks like a piece of plywood with a laptop on it.  I am seated there now, writing this.  Both seats have armrests as you see on the Office chair.  The plastic bag in the foreground, right is the ship’s bakery, with a loaf of whole wheat bread.

I need to be rolling soon.

Over the Road,

Steve

Energy Corridor Farmers’ Market

For Saturday November 24:       

One, Two, Three, Etc. is an arts and craft company in Houston that offers Peruvian  jewelry, ornaments and accessories at local Craft Shows and Farmers’ Markets.

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Proprietor Maria is also a Dream Vacations travel agent.    Saturday, November 24 will find the company’s booth  at the Energy Corridor Farmers’ Market   (E.C.F.M.) at 14710 Grisby Rd.,  Houston, TX 77079 near Highway 6 and the Katy (I-10) Freeway.  Please see the map below.     Drop by and have a look, after Nine AM.

 

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