Tag: Travel

The Orion Nebula

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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.

SchmidtCassigrain14inch
Fourteen inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope — George Observatory, West Dome

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.

SaturnSatellitesCu
Overexposed Saturn with two satellites

More recently,  on a night with better seeing, the Orion Nebula was captured in a series of different exposure times.  I include two below.

Orion10s2
Orion Nebula — 10 second exposure
Orion20s
Orion Nebula — 20 second exposure

There are methods, these days, to stack (combine) multiple images and get far more impressive results.  I am looking in to that.

Stay Tuned.

Steve

Once More to The Vestibule of Hell

stevetrucker2This is yet another post that was languishing over at the WordPress site.

September 27, 2016

“Stay away from Dallas”. 

This sage advice is from me to myself.  I am in Denton, Texas, “sitting in a door” awaiting the unloading of produce from California.  A “preplan” has just come across the satellite link that tells me my next load will be picking up at the Coca Cola Syrup Plant in Dallas.  The destination is Denver for 840 miles – a two day trip that will undoubtedly be stretched into four days, as we discussed in earlier Chapters.  But, I accept the load because I really have no choice.

Now for the Rest of the Story:  A note from someone named Billy  says I should bring my load to the Yard.  So, you see the lesson is clear:  Stay away from Dallas.

I called my Driver Manager to Confirm this – since I have no idea who “Billy” is – and, yes I have to make an appearance in Purgatory (not the ski resort (NTSR)).  One reason is a physical exam , after the third such in the last nine months.  I passed them all, by the way.  The first and third exams  had a one year renewal.  But, since my livelihood is apparently a low priority, I have to go in for a forth.  Today is Friday.  Since it its nearly 4 PM and the light is still red – meaning I cannot yet leave the door – there is no way I can get there during “office hours” – and I suspect the Doctors do not work on Weekends.  So, unless I miss my guess, this will be three or possibly four more days of  ungainful unemployment.

The unloaded message from Target has come.  The light is still red but when it changes I can go to Coca Cola and then to Purgatory (NTSR).  Meanwhile, my clock has run out completely and utterly.  The Coca Cola Plant policy is – as I many times said as a bartender – “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”.  I had told the shipping clerk that if I could not be loaded in two hours, I would come back in the morning.  That particular clerk was not among the Polite and Helpful Shipping Personnel of whom I have written before. He ignored my advice completely.

While the clock was ticking down, – in anticipation of what finally did occur – I had called “Night Safety” and asked for advice.  Their sage counsel was basically this: “Call me when you actually fall off the cliff.”

One thing I have learned in this occupation (maybe I should start a list) is:  When you have an insoluble problem, ask the people in the plant because they have seen this a hundred times before,”  The first choice is the Yard Tractor Guy,  If he is unavailable (being very busy), ask the man who brings you your paperwork.  That helpful and cheerful individual clued me in to some big parking lots to be found about a half mile away.  I chose a Lowes lot, because, on the way in I had stopped there to confirm directions.  There was an old trailer parked there that I could hide behind to avoid any questions from the Local Constabulary.

I was officially “off duty” and I creeping the truck at 10 MPH – flashers going – I manage to stay that way to find the Lowes.  I also find another truck who has taken my hiding place behind the abandoned trailer.  One look by the loading docks finds tow-away warnings with certain words in bold font.  There was, however a string of about 10 conventional parking spots – off the side of the building, but in full view of the street.

Calling Night Safety is no longer useful since they may  well tell me to move.  And I have no confidence in their advice now anyway.  So, I mentally prepare my defense for the sin of parking.

  1. That sign that says no parking anytime (with emphasis) cannot possibly apply to me here because: What are these spaces between the eight lines that I am parked over?  That’s right – “Parking Spaces!”
  2. Yes, I have taken nine of them, but I can point to hundreds of empty spaces out in front of the store.
  3. I have every right to park here, because I am a customer. I need to buy a screwdriver.  I find that the store is closed now, but I don’t mind waiting.
  4. I will be leaving at 4:30 AM. Please tell me if the other spaces fill up before then.

September 27, 2016 Pilot truck Stop outside Amarillo, Texas

Back in Purgatory

The “Yard” is a singularly depressing place.  Every driver there is earning nothing. When I arrive, I am handed a list of tasks I must accomplish in order to escape Purgatory (NTSR).  I find that I will be here at least three days between safety lectures and the physical exam.  A few of the safety items are accomplished before the office staff goes home at noon, Saturday.  The remainder must wait until Monday.  With few exceptions, every driver here is trapped without transportation.  You don’t just drive these trucks when you think you want to go somewhere – you must be “dispatched” and you won’t be, until your list is complete and signed off.  There are two “loaner” cars for the untold hundreds of drivers.  The waiting list is three hours long and the car must be returned within one hour. The entirety of Saturday afternoon was consumed with one trip to Walmart.  This was urgent, since the truck’s food supply has dwindled to “Spam Rations”.

Sunday was shaping up to be especially dismal, having literally nothing to advance the cause of getting out of Purgatory (NTSR).  I thought of my son Benjamin now attending college classes about 50 miles from Purgatory.  I would like to visit him, but that would be a trip out of the one-hour-loaner-car range.  A taxi is financially counter-indicated in my current circumstances.  Fortunately, Dallas has an extensive mass-transit rail system that nobody seems to know about. I hatched a plot to make a Great Railway Journey to The University of Texas at Dallas (which is really in Richardson, Texas).  Some research came up with this route:

Take the 597 bus that stops right in front of Purgatory (NTSR).  That takes me to Lawn View train station.  From there I take the Green line downtown and transfer to the Red Line which takes me almost to Plano.  I get off at City Line/Bush station and take the 883 UTD shuttle.  About two hours and fifteen minutes each way.  Since the alternative was to cool my heals in Purgatory, I decided to make the journey.  The price was right, being a five-dollar day pass.  I noticed that it was good until Three AM the next day.  I am quite sure this is because bars close at Two.

bustrainroutebenjamin

Above:  The trip plan to UT Dallas.  The Astute Reader will notice that this is actually a picture of the return route.

img_1885Above: The Green Line station at Lawn View

img_1893Above: Benjamin’s Dormitory Building.  His window is third from the left on the second floor. Like almost every building on Campus, it is very new.

img_1894Above:  The lobby at Benjamins Dorm.

img_1895Above:  Benjamin

So, instead of a depressing and lonely vigil of hopelessness, Sunday had become an interesting trip to spend some time with my beloved son.  There is, after all a reason not to avoid Dallas.  For this much-needed relief I was truly thankful.

Benjamin took me to lunch and then we went shopping at Walmart.  That was yet another bus ride.  The stop outside Walmart was littered with abandoned shopping carts. I, your humble narrator, pointed out (ostensibly to Benjamin, but meant to be overheard by the mass of scholars there assembled) that the arriving student-shoppers could choose a cart from this stash and take it in with them.  I set them an example, but none of the “Future of America” saw fit to join me.  They did select carts at the door, however.  And no doubt they added to the collection at the bus stop on the way out.

img_1896Above:  The bus stop at Walmart

img_1903Above:  City Line / Bush Station, on the way back to Purgatory.  The emergency equipment was  there when I arrived for some poor commuter who somehow fell and was trapped between the bench and the partition that you see under the awning at left.  I didn’t rush over and photograph him, since I am sure he was dying of embarrassment, in addition to the nasty bruises I noticed as they put him in the ambulance.

There is some good that comes of this unwilling visit to Purgatory.  Mechanics replaced the duct taped improvised oil filler cap that I made from a fish oil pill bottle with a real oil cap and replaced the lost oil – five gallons of same. They also repaired the tractor suspension airbag that was leaking.  While I was in safety class and getting my blood pressure checked, they replaced my cracked windshield.  They transferred the EZ pass for tolls and the Prepass indicator for weigh stations to the new windshield.  One particular windshield-mounted item did not make the transition and I won’t miss it one bit.     (Update:  Since I am no longer employed by Stevens Transport I can tell you that the item in question was the “1984 – Big Brother Camera” (84BBC) that watched over me for those months before the windshield was replaced.  I did not mention it before because, in my Paranoia, I imagined that Stevens might read my blog and call me again to Purgatory for a replacement of the 84BBC.)

There was also a problem with the air-suspension seats, which tend to leak down while the engine is off and leave the driver looking eye-level at the steering wheel.  They did not get to that problem of the leaking seats but I can live with those.  When the engine is running the seats rise to comfortable height.  It would have taken longer and I needed to get on the road to actually earn a living.

On Monday, after all my assigned tasks were complete, I received a load assignment to take bottled soft drinks to Denver.

Over The Road,

Steve

A Most Excellent Day in Denver

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November 6, 2016      (Transferred from the WordPress site)

Pilot Truck Stop # 316, I-70 exit 276A, Denver, Colorado

All my plotting for a “day tour” in Chicago had been blasted to tiny bits by events as they materialized from the continuum.  Happenstance had its way with my plans which now lay in ruins.  Well, to paraphrase a nameless stereotypical Mexican Bandit in the Movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “Plans? We don’ need no estinking plans!”.

This current location has a train station less than a mile away.  Yesterday, I found out the hard way that it might as well be on the moon if walking there is contemplated.  A stroll yesterday revealed that there is a big ugly gash in the Earth and an excessively large grain elevator that separates the station from the truck stop and the rest of the world.  I could see busses and trains in the distance, but the route to  get there was not forthcoming.  I figured out that it might be possible to walk down the elevated freeway to get there.  I am not so inclined.

aerialphotoanoteAbove:  This view from Google Maps (obviously an older photo) shows the area where the new station was built in red.  The Gash is pointed out by the blue arrow, the Elevator by the Yellow and the location of the truck stop is off stage to the left.

There is a bus stop diagonally across the street from the truck stop.  It is the number 44 bus that takes me around the gash and the elevator to the shiny new station.  The bus stop ain’t much to look at (below).

busstopaintmuchtolookatAbove: The bus stop in question.

StationElevatorMountainsDay.jpgAbove: The station’s newness is obvious.  The grain elevator is seen.  The Rocky Mountains loom in the distance.

The train took me to Union Station in Downtown Denver.  From there we find free shuttles down Broadway that end at the Capitol.

coloradostatecapitalAbove:  The Capitol Building of the State of Colorado.  It is currently under construction.  The cost and delays are a subject of local dispute.

capitoldomeAbove: The Capitol Dome from within.

 

Rest Area at I70 exit 224, Kansas.

A new load assignment came in to interrupt the story.  Deadhead to Dodge City Kansas for a load of beef to bring to Omnivores in Maryland.

Denver also has a nice big city park where the Zoo and Museum of Nature and Science are found.  Both are worthy of a visit, if I had the time  – even at the steep prices of admission.  As it was, I wandered around and got some good photos.  Remember, this is about the journey, not the destination.  The park is reached by a bus near the Capitol to Colorado Avenue.

WolfStatues.jpgAbove: Wolf statues in front of the Museum.  These are obviously not “hands-off” art since there is a sign warning that the brass wolves may be really hot. 😉

mastadonstatueAbove:  A Mastadon statue based on some remains found at a construction site.  Truly a  Magnificent Work, in my humble opinion.  The scale is not obvious and I had no one to put in the picture for reference.  I estimate the tip of the animal’s trunk to be 18 feet off the ground.

lakeandskylineAbove: A view of the park’s lake and the Denver skyline with the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

About this time I got nervous about leaving the truck, so I went back to check on it.  A bus takes me North to that same rail station and I go back to the truck stop on that same #44 route.  As I arrived, there was a moment when I did not see the truck.  It was hiding behind a new arrival.  See it there behind the Square-nose Peterbilt?

trucklurkingbehingkenworthAbove:  My truck is there, hiding behind the Peterbilt, just to scare me. By coincidence there is a Freightliner in the foreground and a Volvo past my Kenworth.  Those four represent maybe 90% of the trucks on the road in the US. 

I ventured out in the afternoon to see the airport.  I could have  cut the $9 day pass to $4.50 without the airport, but that particular Denver facility has a storied history of cost overruns  and a baggage system that would make a Rube Goldberg machine look like the picture of efficiency.  It was so horrifically bad that the airport sat idle for 16 months after its completion and scholarly studies and analyses by consulting firms were done analyzing this massive failure.  The airport and baggage system costs ballooned from$700 Million to something like FIVE BILLION DOLLARS.

All this, with pictures after the next leg of the Kansas to Maryland Beef Transit.  I have to sleep now.  Life is keeping me busy, and unexpectedly happy.

Flying J Truck Stop, I-70 near Effingham, Illinois  

That same bus gets me back to the train station and I am whisked off in the out -of-town direction.  Before long, the cityscape disappears and the countryside ensues.

AirportNeighborhoodBlank.jpgAbove:  On the train to DIA.  East of Denver, the landscape is not what comes to mind when “Colorado” is uttered.

AirportTelephonePoleMystery.jpgAbove:  This construction of telephone poles on stilts greets new arrivals at the airport.  There is mirror image of this on the other side.  Their artistic significance was not immediately obvious.

airportarchitecture1Above: The Westin Hotel, left makes a bold architectural statement.

AirportArchitecture2.jpgAbove: Across from the Hotel the airport terminal is another statement that clashes dramatically with the Westin.

Note the aluminum “grassland” in the foreground.

WindSculptureReveal.jpgAbove: The Aluminum Alfalfa Field (I made that name  up) is a wind-driven mobile sculpture.  Its charm was mostly lost on this windless day.  While I can imagine that interesting waves and ripples would be generated,  I am an old techno-nerd.  I suspect that the people – especially young folks – now are so jaded by Computer Generated Images that they are not impressed by such things.

TelephonePoleSculptureReveal.jpgAbove:  The telephone poles viewed from the upper level, outside the hotel

I had plans to see other lines on the transit system, but it was getting late in the day and I would need to roll to Kansas at 5:00 AM.  I will no doubt be back this way and there is a line to Golden that might be interesting.

The weather was perfect for an entertaining and interesting day.  Even though I am marooned again for a day and a half, instead of boredom and depression I find contentment and purpose in a different sort of journey.

I said at the beginning of this Walkabout that did not know what I would learn.

Here is the first conclusive lesson.  It requires some explanation:

I have traveled a great deal in my life and I have always found it compelling and satisfying.  Looking back – I had not always sought out occupations that involved travel, but they seemed to have found me nonetheless.  When I found myself trapped in an office job in a windowless gang-office in Houston, I found a way to transfer to a part of the same company that works in the field (jungle, desert, mountains) in South America. There was no “transfer policy” in said company, as they did not expect people to want to move to the field.  It seems that “normal people” wanted to come in from the field and work in an office.  If you have not discovered this independently by reading my posts, let me just admit right now that I am not “normal”.

There were many reasons for my intention to go and work abroad, none of which had anything to do with travelling.  The most important result of that decision is my wife, who I met in Caracas, Venezuela (she is from Peru) and the family we have raised.  Beyond that, I found that travelling back and forth to the field was the most pleasant and interesting time, despite the sadness of leaving the family and the joy of returning.

Having said that, this latest change in my life has made clear what I knew only vaguely before.  That is: I am most content and my soul most at ease when traveling. With the exception of my family, the destination is just the excuse for the journey.

Steve

Update:  I-70 Tollway Travel Plaza @ Mile marker 112 in Pensylvainia.

My journey  from Denver to Maryland has thus far passed through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  I noticed Trump signs early on and kept a rough count.  There were about twenty seven (27), some in every state.  The largest was a billboard about 20 feet across.  The smallest was a custom made sign in West Virginia that said “Trump Digs Coal”.

As you may know, West Virginia coal miners have been begarded into poverty by a cruel and hateful Obama who is running coal companies out of business for no good reason*.  Hillary promises to do the same.

There were no Hillary signs to be seen – anywhere..

*Don’t argue with me, I know what I am talking about. 🙂

Thirty Four Hours in Ripon

stevetrucker2 Transferred from WordPressmariluslogoclickhere

September 16, 2016,  2 PM Loves Truck Stop in Ripon, CA

I was on my way to Walmart in Ceres, CA in the last post.  Jill had the address for Walmart, so I wasted no time getting there.  Only I somehow missed the whole Walmart.  Turns out it was on the corner, facing the cross street, so I turned (as directed) and drove off into oblivion.  I always get a sinking feeling when that happens because I could go for many miles before I find a place to turn around.  But, I found a big, empty parking lot in just half a mile.  I pressed Jill’s “re-route” button and she sends me back the way I came.  My speed is too low because I am scanning for that blue sign, when a Walmart truck passes me.  Now I can follow him home.

I came in the wrong driveway and, even using all the pavement, I still had to hop the curb with the trailer tires.  This might not have been the first time,  because there were yellow posts just back from the curb.  The critical problem is so far away that I can’t tell if a collision is near.  Also, I am seeing it in the fish-eye mirror that makes it look even further away.  Pivoting the big rectangular mirror out lets me see enough to ease the wheels up on the curb just inches from the posts and get through.  My mouth gets very dry when I am doing things like this.

While I am shopping, the parking lot began to fill.  A few items were forgotten, but best to exit before I get trapped by cars parking around the truck.  Sometimes it seems that people think the drivers can call up Scotty and have their trucks beamed out to the highway  Believe me, I have wished that many times myself.

The next stop is 18 miles away in Ripon.  There is a Flying J (FJ) Truck stop and a Loves at the exit and following Jill’s directions puts me in a lot where I can see both signs.  Of course, these signs are on sixty foot poles and can be seen from miles away.  It is not until I have committed an hour and a half to the 34 that will reset me that I notice I am in the Loves lot, not FJ.  I could “creep” the truck over without losing that break time, if I keep the speed low.  But  after the last software update,  Jill has been saying things like “Warning! If you  keep driving it may invalidate your break, which is not finished” when I move the truck while on break.

No worries, I can walk across the street to use the shower, and I did.  The truck is in the backlot and the FJ storefront is almost the same distance away as the Loves.  I should explain that flying J was bought out by Pilot – or the other way around. In any case, my Pilot shower credits are good there, as well.    A short walk before a nap reveals that there is a supermarket just ten minutes away, past a corner of an orchard –  almond trees, it turns out.  In the morning I might make a nice stroll to buy those items I forgot at Walmart.  This is not an activity for the afternoon, since the temperature is 101° F now that we have descended into the Central Valley of California.  It was 48° in the morning in  Arizona, but that was high up in a mountain pass.

I made the shower run and after a nap, I did my laundry, also at the FJ. There was time to sweep out the cab – a never ending task since the first time I step back in from the oily, greasy and litter strewn truck lot I negate any previous cleaning.  Morning was a good time for a walk (58°F) and I made it to the Supermarket for “remainder” shopping.  I found the bakery French loaf that Walmart did not have, milk and cookies and took pictures of the almond orchard.

almondorchardandinsetAbove:  Almond trees ain’t much to look at.  These are a frequent road-side sight along this stretch of CA 99. The almonds are seeds of a fruit that you see here (inset) dried and split open.  The light brown kernel is what you see if you ever buy almonds “in the shell”.

 

Later, I swept out the trailer, since I may get a produce load and they are nitpicky about cleanliness.  Some even insist on a washout, so my work might have been unnecessary.  However, while normally trailers come and go, this particular trailer (15820T) has been with me for nearly two weeks now. It was there for the Great Massachusetts Beef Journey, the Frozen Catfish Sojourn, the Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas and the Twenty Mules Frozen Chicken dash to California.  It was there at the Ad Hoc Truck Stop and the Tire Shop at Santa Rosa. It seems like part of the family now, so I reckon it should be clean.

To be available at Two AM tomorrow when my 34 is over, I need to sleep now.  I have partaken of the previously mentioned milk and cookies as I was writing this part and they are as effective a sleep aid as any I have purchased over-the-counter at a pharmacy.

Good Night.

I was just awakening from an afternoon nap when a pre-plan came over the satellite link.  I will be taking on a produce load in Salinas and delivering it to Denton, Texas.  The pick up date is the 19th, so I sent my acceptance with a comment that I will be fully rested and ready with 11 hours of drive time and 70 hours of eight day duty at 2 AM on the 18th.  It may be that I can get an early start on this load, but I have no idea if that will be possible.  Of course, it is Saturday evening and I reckon there won’t be anyone available to ask.

This is as good a place as any to end this post and pick up with the new load later.

Over The Road,

Steve

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?

sandstoneweathering2

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