Hurricanes are not stronger and more frequent.
In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Ex Sientia, Veritas,
Pilot Travel Center Interstate 84, exit 104, Biggs, Oregon – September 4, 2017
My “hot spot” fails to connect and I can’t read my email. I’ve been in the truck too long, so I meander in looking for that standard driver’s lounge with twelve big easy chairs and tables with barstools near a set of wall plugs in a large, quiet private room. I am seated in the combination storeroom, phone booth, shower waiting room, hallway to the showers. There are four “upright” chairs(no tables) across from a wall-mounted television stuck on lame sports commentary, overridden on occasion with announcements like “Shower guest number 41, your shower is now ready. Please proceed to shower 3.”
. A “Team Member” set up that card table and made some posters while shower guests, vendors (many of them pushing those plastic wheeled carts that make such a Hellish racket on the tile and mortar floor) and the guy with the floor broom marched in and out. After the third time that I had to pull my knees out of the way, I thought maybe McDonalds would have a better place to hang around in the range of the free indoor wifi. I was wrong. While there was a booth near a wall plug, the flies formed a defensive barrier that effectively prevented occupation.
The “New Reality” of the Drivers’ Lounge
My appeal for photos of the “Harvey Effect” has had limited response so far. The First Mate has a few worthy images:
Downstream from the “Controlled Release” Includes Some High-end Housing.
The Garage Area
The SUV has its head above water, but the sedan with the sunroof is down hard.
The former resident of this house was the First Mate’s guest for a few days.
My Cousin sent a photo by her friend, from the recent Solar Eclipse. It is a little-known fact that the multitude of small gaps in a tree’s shadow act like pinhole cameras and cast images of the partial eclipse. This is abundantly clear in the image below.
Eclipse Images Cast by the Small Gaps in a Tree’s Shadow
Dwyer Base (the Rest Area), Interstate 25 exit 92, Wyoming and Distant Trees
I was surprised to find photo evidence some trees around the spot where we saw the eclipse. These were imports – that part of Wyoming is near-treeless. No one thought to go look at their shadows, however.
The landscape gets interesting around the Western end of Wyoming, as seen below:
Wyoming Border with Utah
Geology in Abundant Evidence at Interstate 84, Oregon
Irrigation Turns this Arid Part of Oregon Green
Orchards Stand out in What is Otherwise Ranchland and Irrigated Crops.
They look like birch trees, but I ain’t no expert.
I’ll look up what sort of trees are worth the effort in irrigation and patience to grow, here. I have lost the internet again as I move to the relative luxury of the truck cab again. Sitting here on the bunk and writing has the effect of putting the following thought in my mind:
“I could use a nap just now”.
I like to watch Netflix until I fall asleep. With that not possible, I fall back on a few DVDs I have brought along for that very purpose. Ice Station Zebra ought to do it. This Nuclear Submarine Drama of the late sixties is one of the last “Old School” epic pictures. It has a complete inventory of orchestral music, in classical Overture, Intermission and Epilog segments as well as deep moody themes in all the scenes. Ernest Borgnine put in one of his best performances (in my humble opinion) as a Russian counterspy. Patrick McGoohan was hopelessly typecast in those days as a Secret Agent (see the TV series “Secret Agent” and “the Prisoner”), but does a superb job as “Jones” nonetheless. Rock Hudson does not disappoint as the Captain. Scenes of the sub and arctic ice are overwhelmingly realistic.
So, lie back in the sleeper berth and enjoy, Ice Station Zebra…if only for a few, drowsy minutes before slumber.
What Happens When You Back a Trailer Up Over a Curb
The mud flap is low enough to be caught by the tire, if the curb is high enough. This one was. From then it is just a matter of inches until the weighty trailer yanks off a half-inch thick rubber mat with eight or ten big bolts holding it on.
Climb Mount Hood!
Sitting in a Door at the receiver in Clackamas, Oregon September 5, 2017
The day began routinely enough as I visited the Truck Stop facilities before starting the pre-trip inspection. I noticed on the way back that the moon was red and took a photo.
The Red Moon – the camera fails as a witness.
I should have remembered the last time I have seen a red moon. Once, when Number One Son was still less than five feet tall, I saw such a moon when crop burn-off in Mexico had sent Houston a direct stream of smoke. That time, even the Sun was reddened in the middle of the day. It means that there is a big fire somewhere and it turned out to be a fire where I was supposed to be going. A major wildfire in the Oregon Gorge – which includes the Columbia river and Interstate 84. Just a score of miles passed before there was a big LED sign flashing letters that spell – alternately – the words “All Trucks” and “EXIT”.
Once again, the photo does not do justice to the actual view. It was, to the eye, much closer to the red of that trailer in the foreground. The point remains that I should have known that there was a fire in the area. Not that it would have changed anything. I still had to get there.
The detour signs directed all of us across the river to Washington and a pitiful little highway with one lane each way and no shoulders. Winding up and down the hills and passing through small towns were eating up my two-hour cushion of time, but I might still make it on time.
Detours are notoriously hazardous. All it takes is one mistake to set me up for a colossal faux pas. A yellow diamond shaped sign tells me the clearance of bridges and tunnels and here’s one that says 12’ 6”. That will not do. Decelerating madly, I spot another sign, this time on the other side of the road that says 13’ 3”. While that is indeed better, just better does not suffice. I need 13’ 6” or forget it. We are relieved to find these are two sides of an arched tunnel. Emergency flashers on and we take our half from the middle. By “we” I refer to myself and the truck. Alas, our fates are indeed linked.
Later comes a fork in the road and a decision to be made: A 12’ 10” bridge or a 9’ lane width drawbridge. No contest! The truck is a bit more than 8 feet wide. Nearly six inches of clearance on both sides! Looxury! Looxury!
It turns out to be a toll bridge. There is a pre-pass lane but it quaintly refuses to recognize my pre-pass that is valid (quite literally) everywhere else in the Continental United States and walk over to the cash-only lane. There, I make it a point to show a couple of credit cards and the one dollar in cash in my wallet that is insufficient by the sum of $4. I offer to look through my laundry change to see if I can come up with it. By this time they are anxiously eyeing the gathering traffic and the Spirit of Christmas overcomes them. My dollar and I are excused.
The toll bridge leads back to Interstate 84. The joyous reunion is short-lived as both West-bound lanes are barricaded at the very next exit which leads to a roadway that deceptively resembles an access road. Indeed, the masquerade is shattered only by the sign reading “Dead End”. The part they forgot to add to the text is “…Now That It Is Too Damned Late”! There is no option left but to continue and look for a parking lot with sufficient space to turn around. The lone candidate is a motel where only by backing in off the road will it be possible to turn around…but unfortunately illegal and dangerous.
Your Captain knows that his fate is sealed now. And, indeed we find the End of the Road with a parking area that is 12 feet (paced off on foot) too narrow to turn the Beached Whale around. There is a Ford Explorer there just to add insult to injury. The sign on the nicely appointed building reads “Intertribal Commission for Wildlife Management”. Did I mention the Yakama Indian Reservation?
A very patient Gentleman (we will call him the Game Warden) a bit older than Your Humble Narrator shows up for work a bit early. He is nonplussed to find the Beached Whale and myself.
“Happens all the Time.”, says he.
You see the Irony, don’t you? It happens all the time but nobody ever does anything about it like put a sign back BEFORE the Too Late Point. And now that all traffic is diverted off the Interstate, nobody managed to put a “Detour” sign there, either. A great deal of concern has been misspent, not only here but across this Great Land with telling trucker that their fate is sealed. And so little trouble is spent avoiding same.
Don’t tell us we are in the WRONG place and trapped!
Tell us the RIGHT place to go!
Don’t tell us where NOT to park!
Tell us WHERE to Park!
The Game Warden calls the Sherriff. He has the number on speed dial. Deputy shows up to find an Apologetic and Humbled Captain. As he is telling me that the turn-around is right back there at Illegal Dangerous Turnaround Motel, the clearance lights of another semi show in the distance. Captain Walkabout is now relieved to have company in his misery. And, he reminds the Deputy that when you open a door and a dog runs out, the first thing on your mind should be not to get the dog back – but to close that accursed door! He did depart at that moment to go and close the road.
When finally the turnaround is accomplished (it is not illegal as long as the Deputy is present), I ask specifically how to get to Portland. You see, no one has told me this yet! They only told me where NOT to go. Actually, in this last case, they told me where I SHOULD NOT have GONE. 😉
“Go over the Mountain on Highway 35 to 26.”
The route is Highway 35 to Highway 26 – through the Mt Hood Scenic Byway. I have a few pictures. As usual, the best views were where one dare not take photos – the better to maintain the death grip on the steering wheel.
In Mount Hood National Forrest
All was well until a look in the rear-view revealed smoking brakes. There are tur-outs on downhill grades for just such emergencies and we found one. After setting up reflectors behind the truck and watchfully waiting – fire extinguisher in hand – until the smoke cleared, I still smelled smoke. I take pride in the short period that puzzlement ensued before I remembered that I was in this predicament because of a Forest Fire.
Having arrived at the end of my directions, I had only to find a way behind a locomotive and a high chain link fence to arrive at the true destination. I ask at the Wrong Place how to get there and a Comedian tells me “You Can’t Get There From Here!”.
He don’t know who he’s dealing with! (You see, “It Happens All The Time” here, as well.)
“I know!”, says an enthusiastic Captain Walkabout (that’s me), “I just PROVED it!”.
The comedian is amused and shows me on a map the Truck Rodeo Stunts that I must accomplish to enter his yard , snake around all the obstacles and leave again.
So, I drive around the wrong way, on the wrong street to the wrong address to find the true destination. They have re-scheduled me to “three hours from now”. Fine by me, but I’m going to miss the appointment for their sister installation in Seattle – I inform. They reschedule me to avoid that and unload their portion of the cargo in time to get to Washington before my 14 hours are up. After all the long ordeal and a great deal of effort, we will accomplish the deliveries on the appointed day!
As I’m leaving, the Company calls to tell me that they have rescheduled the Seattle appointment for tomorrow. So much for “a great deal of effort”.
Receiver’s Yard, Kent, Washington September 6, 2017
The warehouseman is trying desperately to have someone make a decision on what to do about an extra pallet of stuff. While it might not sound like much, a half a ton of meat is worth thousands of dollars and is not something you toss off. I have been trapped like a fly in amber here for three hours after the trailer has emptied. They have even let me leave the door and park over in the corner. I have another appointment tomorrow in the morning and Wallula WA remains 243 miles away as my drive clock ism at 6 hours 51 minutes and counting down. If I can get there tonight, I can look forward to at least 2000 miles. Not if I have to sit here much longer.
Rest Area Interstate 15 exit 369, Ogden, Utah September 8, 2017
The delivery was finally accomplished and I arrived at the new shipper just in time to take a ten hour break before starting the journey from Washington to Tennessee. They had warned that the load was forward-heavy and might be illegal. I adjusted the trailer wheels to their forward limit and , when scaled, the drive axles passed muster with a few hundred pounds to spare. (33350 vs 34000 limit). I took up most of those with fuel and when weighed later in Idaho, the scale had me a 33700 on the drives. Still legal, if only just. A fat co-driver would have put me over.
The drive out of Washington found the sky still clouded with smoke and the sun reddened noticeably in the middle of the day.
Smoky Skies and Red Sun While Departing Washington
I have shamelessly “enhanced” this photo to resemble more my actual impression at the time. The “real” picture simply did not convey the feeling.
Now it is late and I must sleep for I will be 600 miles East before tomorrow is done.
Over The Road,
In the Path of Totality
Sierra Grande Rest Area Highway 87 Northeast New Mexico 836 from Houston
Walkabout convention: When you see text like this in italics it means that I am speaking in the moment of the date and place of the subtitle. When the text is like this I am speaking of another time or place or both.
The eclipse Expedition is underway. This is the first overnight stop on the way to The Casper Wyoming area.
On Thursday night I had driven 550 miles from the day before from near Kansas City to Denton, Texas which is just North of Fort Worth. Friday morning, at the Receiver, I pretend to be on break and trying to sleep while checking in, moving the truck, walking back and forth to the office on the opposite corner of the warehouse (~1/2 mile away), paying the lumpers (logistics technicians) and preparing routes for the next load assignment. Not only nearly sleepless, but also payless is this time spent. By the time I can call in empty, I have three and a half hours in which I can drive to a truck stop and finish the ten hours required before I start another load. There some two hours of actual sleep, and I could be on the way to a new shipper for a load.
But, I am bound for six days of leave. All I have to accomplish is to drag this trailer to a truck wash for cleaning. Then drag the clean trailer to a shipper’s yard and drop it. From there “bobtail” to the truck parking where I can collapse, exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally after 56 contiguous days of constant driving.
Meanwhile, the First Mate and Young Son drove from Houston to Dallas to install the latter in the University of Texas at Dallas. First Mate found me without much trouble and I abandoned the truck as planned.
She had driven the first 250 miles from Houston to Dallas and I took the next leg of 580 to New Mexico. From there in the morning to the carefully planned rest area location on Interstate 25 exit 92 in Wyoming.
As the route included Amarillo, there was an obligatory stop at the Cadillac Ranch. I’ll post a photo if I can pry it out of the new phone which currently refuses to give up any jpegs.
The First Mate at the Cadillac Ranch – caught red-handed with a spray paint can.
Dwyer Rest Area in Totality I-25 exit 92, Wyoming. Near the maximum totality August 20,2017
Outside Denver we encountered a traffic jam that I felt was going to defeat all plans. The First Mate chastised me for my pessimism and it was soon proven unnecessary. As we approached the target, we checked with the Eclipse App to see that totality was indeed mere miles away. I knew that if we were in the right place we would find hundreds of fellow Astronomy nerds who also came to the parallel conclusion that this rest area was the optimal choice. The Nerds did not disappoint. There were at least a hundred at this early stage.
I had researched this Expedition thoroughly and determined the Dwyer Rest Area near Casper, Wyoming to be optimal from access and weather conditions. But doubt remained – at least until we had ground truth from the GPS. We checked with the Eclipse App as we approached and sure enough, the totality duration was near the maximum as we entered the area and parking was already filling up. By that evening there was not an “official” space left and the Nerds were resorting to Crowded Truck Stop Tactics to find places for their vehicles. On the actual day of the Eclipse, there must have been thousands of cars, backed up in the parking and lining the driveways back out to the highway. They doubled and tripled up in the driveways until we were without an exit strategy – trapped for the duration. What had been a five-minute wait for the Men’s Room had become a half hour. The free WiFi and Cell phone coverage had become paralyzed with over-demand.
Flying J Truck Stop I-25 exit 7, Cheyenne, Wyoming August 21, 2017
There was a carnival atmosphere that pervaded the zone. It is truly a shame that we had not brought the First Mate’s Arts and Craft merchandise and the tent that she used at Craft shows.
She would have sold out completely. As it was, there were only a man selling “I was there” t-shirts and one chap selling eclipse glasses for $5. I told him that he was selling too cheaply – after I bought a pair.
To address how expectations were met:
This event was all about eyewitness experience. The cell phone photos before during and after Totality were of dismal quality. This requires professional grade photography for any accurate depiction of what the observer actually saw.
An example of the inadequacy of cell phone photography. This was at Totality, but you’d never know since the camera “adjusted” the brightness
I looked up a file photo that pretty much matches the eyewitness impression. I found some under a search for “Totality” but they did not show the Corona like this one.
Totality, showing the “Solar Corona” – the Sun’s atmosphere
I had to change the search criteria to “Solar Corona” because simply “Corona” got me many versions of the example below:
In late partiality, the sharpened shadows were clearly noticed.
The oncoming Moon Shadow was clearly looming in the West, just seconds from Totality.
Once in totality, we were surrounded by sunset-red sky on all sides. A pan-around montage below:
Red sky surrounds the scene at Totality
The “Diamond Ring” effect was clearly visible at the appropriate stage. Again, only a “file photo” will do it justice:
That red streak and dot “phenomenon” at the top of this picture was also seen at Dwyer Base and commented on by Nerd and Novice alike.
The Solar Corona was prominently visible.
A planet appeared in the darkened sky – it was Venus, about 30 degrees from the Sun. I had expected Mercury and Mars closer to the Sun but didn’t see them. A high thin cloud layer may have been responsible for that.
There were birds that flew to roost as they had the night before.
I failed to notice any strange behavior of the pet animals present, but a few human types had some genuinely frenetic reactions. 😉
The Aftermath of the entire event was most strongly evident in the huge traffic jam that started right after Totality. Most of the Un-Nerds hopped in their cars minutes after and were immediately motionless for two hours or so. We had expected this and planned to wait patiently until traffic was more reasonable. Because we had arrived early, we had an up-front parking space and a grassy patch to call our own. The First Mate took a selfie there that has a stunning lack of age-related facial features. I was about to ask her who was that teenager with her in the picture when I recognized my shirt.
In Partial Eclipse, a Youthful-looking Captain Walkabout and the First Mate. If this effect is due to eclipse light then let’s bottle the stuff!
Passenger Seat – Ford Explorer on the road from Amarillo to Dallas
The First Mate has the helm. In Venezuela, we learned that the First Mate was the logical choice to lead a landing party to negotiate with the Natives, while the Captain lumbered behind with the luggage. So it proved last night when she obtained a bargain price on a Hilton Suite for the night.
There was still traffic congestion on Interstate 25 all the way to Cheyenne where we stopped for luxurious showers at the Flying J Truck Stop at exit 7. After dinner, the South-bound traffic persisted so we sought anchorage at the Southeastern Wyoming Tourist Information Center at exit 4. If you go this way, don’t miss it. There are museum exhibits about the State, brochures, helpful staff and very good complimentary coffee. This was to be the last in-car overnight of the trip – and good riddance!
Even the next day, there were frequent delays for this Eclipse Traffic Phenomenon, as even those who wisely stayed over a day all returned all at once. The road from Cheyenne to Denver had been a nine-hour trip and was now down to four. It is about 100 miles. So a detour Westward was decided by Captain and Crew. This took us to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park and then South to Royal Gorge where we visited the highest suspension bridge in the world. It no longer carries auto traffic but has been preserved as a (pedestrian) tourist attraction. There is a cable car that also crosses the Gorge. Both offer awesome views and photo opportunities.
Royal Gorge Bridge as Seen from the Cable Car
The First Mate Contemplating Royal Gorge from Mid-bridge.
First Mate Indicating the Cable at the Heart of the Bridge’s Construction
The Stunningly Beautiful First Mate Enjoying the Equine Simulator Facility
We had wondered why the approach to the Park featured several deserted tourist shopping centers and blank billboards that should be valuable advertising. It soon became clear. There was a historical short film at the park that explained its history – including the 2013 forest fire that burned down 48 of the 52 buildings of the Park, destroyed the cable car as well as a funicular railroad that took guests to the bottom of the Gorge and damaged the bridge.
That is also the reason for the shinning new cable cars and the spanking-new buildings.
Outside Raton New Mexico, I saw a deer crossing the road far ahead. The First Mate regretted missing a photo, but only for an instant, as we suddenly encountered three (count’em, 3) big buck deer on the road at now-close range. They all had racks of antlers that were eight to twelve points – this estimated in the few seconds of panic deceleration. Dogs in the road know damned well what a car horn means but do deer? In any case, I pounded out a staccato that I later recognized as Morse code for “TSV”. Your Captain memorized Morse some time ago as a part of his life-long affliction with Nerd-Geek-Trivia Syndrome. We can assume that this was a message from my Unconscious – albeit one my conscious mind has yet to fully decode. So far, I reckon the “V” stands for “venison”. The Ford passed within ten feet of bucks #2 and #3, but escaped collision.
Shipper’s Bobtail Parking, Monnet Missouri August 26, 2017
I have returned to the road and the First Mate is in Houston, awaiting the passage of Hurricane Harvey. It was a good and restful trip and a pleasant interlude in the continuing Walkabout
Over The Road,
Marooned in a Freight Yard in Chicago August 10, 2017
I have been away from the keyboard for a while. I am currently awaiting a load and have been for nine hours now.
Yesterday I was deep in the Chicago Permanent Traffic Jam delivering to a warehouse when the call came to clear out to a “safe haven”. The warehouse yard disallows parking and my 14 hour clock had run out waiting for their “Logistic Service” to unload my trailer. So, now I am cast out to seek refuge in a tollway “Oassis” which is the nearest “safe haven”. I can run for fifty minutes of “Off Duty Driving” to get there. It is only ten and a fraction miles from the warehouse – so no sweat, right? I mean, after all I only have to average a bit more than ten miles per hour to make it in time, right?
Did I mention the Permanent Chicago Traffic Jam? Yes, I have “Violated hours of service” yet again at the specific direction of my employer. I don’t know what to think of my Federal driving log record. I don’t want to point fingers at the employer advice like “…some drivers would violate hour to make the load on time”. So, I won’t – not now, at least.
No wonder why all the companies are looking for drivers. The drivers seem to get “used up” and – I expect – “thrown away” at some point. Again, I won’t go into that now. Buy the book.
Real Life Interrupts…my load is ready 2 hours early.
Backed In at a Receiver in Rock Rapids, Iowa
The voyage to this place was exceptionally pleasant, after Chicago, of course. The roads were mostly in good repair and sparsely-traveled. The weather was fine with occasional light rain. I enjoyed some crop duster aerobatics and a beautiful sunset. Upon arrival, I passed the place since it was not where they said it would be and labeled with the wrong name. Since there was only wilderness beyond, I circled around through town again and pulled into the “wrong” place anyway. A phone call to Dispatch confirmed that the wrong place was the place to be.
The majesty of the that particular Sunset was lost to photography. This is a bite out of a horizon-to-horizon spectacle. It fails dismally to convey the beauty eye-witnessed.
Alas, none of the crop-duster’s performance was captured. The camera on my phone is all but unusable and I am lucky to get what you see. At one point he flew across the highway no more than 200 feet in front of the truck, at an altitude less than 100 feet.
“Sliding the Tandems”
I have mentioned before that the load on a big combination vehicle is legally required to certain maximum loading on each axle or pair of axles. Consider that a fifty-three foot trailer is about the size of a studio apartment and can be loaded in all sorts of odd ways. That can leave the majority of weight on one of the two clusters of 8 wheels called “tandems”. Technically, they are dual axle tandems. To review: The term “dual” means that the wheels come in side-by-side pairs. The “tandem” part is the front-to-back pairing of dual wheeled axles. So, if you are keeping track, a “dual axle tandem” amounts to eight wheels.
The limits for each dual tandem set of axles are as follows:
12000 pounds for the steering axle – those two single wheels in the front of the tractor
34000 pounds for the drive tandem – the other eight wheels on the tractor.
34000 pounds for the trailer tandem – the eight wheels on the trailer.
That last tandem is the one that moves to allow balancing of the load. After all the references to this in past posts, I thought it would be appropriate to present the idea graphically:
Above: This is how the shippers and receivers want the trailer configured for loading and unloading. Why? Because heavy forklifts go in and out and need the support of the wheels at the door.
Below: This would be the configuration for a load that is heavily biased toward the front. Sliding the trailer tandem forward takes weight off the drive axles.
The transition is accomplished by releasing the tandems (via an air-switch mounted between or in front of the driver’s of the trailer axles) and pushing the trailer back over the sliding attachment. The driver makes a guess at where exactly the axles should be based on nothing much more than a weight on the paperwork and maybe a glimpse at the cargo before the doors are closed. After loading, the next destination is always a Certified Scale where the axle weights are determined and adjustments are made before proceeding through the multitude of State Department of Transportation “gotcha” scales that you guys ignore, but to which we drivers pay close attention. When open, those scales demand Compliance (exactly as demanding and unforgiving as it sounds) from all passing trucks.
Hiding the “Beached Whale” on a Dead End Street in North Texas – August 14, 2017
After fueling and scaling this new load (bound for Illinois) there was little drive time and little or nothing in the way of rest areas or truck stops in reach. The Pilot where I fueled was overflowing, as was the Loves across the highway. There was a Walmart, but the lack of trucks in their parking lot was a giveaway that they don’t welcome the very drivers that bring them all the stuff they sell.
The new road behind the store makes a dead end where they hope to finish it someday. Parking the “Beached Whale” there inconveniences no one and I hope to get away with it for ten hours. The wake-up alarm tells me that nine and a half hours have now passed. So, no expulsion from refuge, but it is time to wrap up this segment of the saga
I really seem to have little time for writing. I hope this is a temporary adjustment to the new phase of Walkabout and that I will be able to continue the Blog. This outlet is vital to my sanity. I have stories that illustrate that statement wherein sanity is lost – or at least not visible on the surface. I am not proud of those and you will have to buy the book to read that narrative. 😉
Pilot Interstate 44 exit 72, Springfield Missouri August 15, 2017
Further along on the trip that leads me away from the Eclipse Expedition. Dispatch has promised to get me to the Dallas rendezvous on time, though. This should start with a relay tomorrow that exchanges my Illinois-bound load for one that will wind up in Kansas.
It turned out that there were “no truck parking” signs on that dead-end road in north Texas. They were over 500 yards from where I parked (May it please the court!) and completely unjustified, given the remote emptiness of the location. Again, I was inconveniencing no one. But I remember a car that crept by in the Walmart lot and stopped near my location. I suspect it was some busybody collecting my DOT number to make a complaint.
As we have discussed before, there is a parking problem in the Trucking Industry that is spreading from the East Coast and getting worse. The volume of freight in the US has increased with the trend away from “brick and mortar” shopping and toward internet shopping. All that stuff y’all are ordering online has to be delivered, you know – and that means more trucks on the road. Yes, truck stops provide parking, but that is overwhelmed at busy hours and spills out onto the streets. Many communities have taken offence and are antagonistic to the gentle giants that bring all the “stuff”. A few have been welcoming.
Bold Prediction from Captain Walkabout
We just skirted this subject, so I will walk back and “dive in the lake” – so to speak.
The economy is beginning to expand with what will be a Renaissance of Prosperity in the next ten years. You may wonder what I am talking about and I will write more about it soon. Suffice it to say that the new abundance of petroleum production in the United States (the one that that made my career in Seismic Exploration obsolete) will soon – and quietly – make us the new “Power That Be” in the Energy Sector.
I can’t be the only one who sees this coming, but I don’t see anyone else writing much about it.
Over The Road,
Road Ranger Truck Stop, Rochelle, Illinois July 29, 2017
I apologize that I have been extremely busy with the “task-at-hand” of interstate logistics operations and have not written in a while. In what few spare moments I have had, there have also been thoughts and effort put into preparation for my first break in two months, planned for August 19 through the 25th. I regret that I will not be in Houston at that time to visit with those of my readers who abide there. Instead, yet more traveling lies in wait. Fortunately, the First Mate will be joining me. It took a lot of convincing to get her to agree to a long road trip, with few comforts. So, for those of you who see here often – just make like it’s a Big Deal that you would love to have the opportunity to attend, OK? 😉
Captain Walkabout’s First Mate
I have been fascinated by Astronomy from an early age. In the early Sixties, the library at Louisa May Alcott Elementary School was my first source of literature about stars and planets. In 1980 I graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Astronomy. In between, I read most everything I could find on the subject.
While Stars had their own fascination, I desired nothing more than to study the Solar System Planets. I had wanted to be Carl Sagan – but they already had one. By the time there was an opening in the position, that energetic upstart (and admittedly, talented) Neil DeGrass Tyson beat me to the job.
As I have discussed elsewhere, my career was to be in Geophysics. I remind you that it is still the study of Planets. We just happen to be standing on the planet I studied for all those years. I was fortunate to attend the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference for many years on behalf PGS of my seismic exploration company employer. I will admit, it took some considerable lobbying on my part to get them to sponsor me. Even then, I took vacation time and paid my own room and board.
This narrative reminds me that I wrote an article for the PGS newsletter about comets. I will post that here, soon.
One of the first things a student learns about is eclipses, when the shadow of the moon falls upon the Earth and covers the Sun completely. This happens roughly every 18 months – somewhere on Earth.
“So, what’s the big deal?”, You may ask.
The opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse is a rare only because the shadow falls on a very small fraction of the Earth’s surface and you have to be there to see it happen. Most people live their entire lives without witnessing such an event. I know, because I am one. There was a total eclipse across the Norther parts of the US in 1979 that I missed because I had injured my back at work and I did not have any vacation time to spare. Seeing TV coverage (while muscle-relaxed in a recliner) on TV just ain’t the same. All the people in the live broadcast were gasping and shouting in delight. What inspired those reactions simply did not make it through the screen. Apparently, you have to be there – in person.
There is an opportunity in the US to view such an eclipse August 21, 2017. As the Earth rotates under the moons shadow it make a “path of totality. The link below is to a short video of this celestial situation:
The path can be shown on a map. You will see such a graphic below.
Path of Totality for the August 21 Solar Eclipse.
Inside the shaded path, the Sun winds up completely covered. The black dot over by Nashville is where the totality happens at local noon. The center of the path – marked with a blue line – is where the time of totality is at a maximum of about two and a half minutes. Away from the blue line but still in the shaded zone, the totality is briefer. For viewers anywhere outside this path, there is only a partial eclipse – a bit of full sunlight will still be about.
I can’t tell you much about totality, because I have never seen it. But I have been near partial eclipses. The dim light is perceptible but not like an overcast day, in fact the shadows are sharper and more distinct. There is an eerie quality to the light that I cannot quite describe – not just in the sky, but reflected by everything around you. Any viewing of the Sun itself must be through protective glasses. Regular sunglasses are inadequate. Special “eclipse glasses” are available for purchase and advertised everywhere. Here is the key to their use:
Never look directly at the sun without the Eclipse Glasses on. Look away from the Sun, put the glasses on then look at the partial eclipse. This condition is described as FILTERS ON.
For totality, I have only what I have read. There should be an effect of bands of dark and light caused by interference fringes as the Sun becomes a sliver at the edge of the Moon. Just at the beginning of totality, there is an effect called “Baily’s Beads” around the edges of the moon where remnants of the now dwindled light from the Sun is shining down through valleys on the edge of the moon. This will become a “Diamond Ring” with a single bright spot. It is after this event that the eclipse can be viewed with the naked eye. Not BEFORE and not AFTER totality. The same applies to cameras!
They tell me that at totality, planets will become visible in what had been the daytime sky. Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter should be there to see, if you know where to look. The Sun’s atmosphere, the “Corona” is obvious and extensive. The local wildlife (as well as the local people) will have strange reactions to the sudden darkness. The darkness is local. Will I see a reddened horizon by the light from beyond totality? I simply don’t know.
Descriptions and pictures here:
So – BEFORE totality:
Partial eclipse views
TOTALITY – FILTERS OFF
Views and photos of Sun’s Corona behind the full moon
Planets in the daytime sky
Animal / Human Reactions. Temperature. Wind.
First sign of Diamond Ring returning
I said it is not like an overcast day. That is, of course unless it IS an overcast day. The weather is the main problem associated with eclipse viewing. Weather is what makes this a moving target. Statistically, the fewest cloudy days are to be found in Nebraska and Wyoming portion of the path and that is where we should aim. I had it in mind to start straight North from Dallas to Kansas City. But, now I think it might be better to head for that stretch of Interstate 27 in Wyoming that I have had my eye on.
The route to Wyoming and Totality – to be followed by Your Captain and the First Mate
It might be a crowd scene. People will be coming from all over the world to see this, but there is also a relatively large area where it will be visible and I would think that the crowds would be in the more urban areas. I don’t really know what to expect in that regard.
I will write about it, of course.
Ex Scientia, Veritas
Flying J Truck Stop Interstate 435 and Front Street, Kansas City, Missouri July 11, 2017
This particular load had two stops, the first near Kansas City and the next in Oklahoma.
Routine stuff. It starts with one of those Meat Load Vigils where the driver drops an empty trailer and goes to hide in a truck stop until the meat is “produced” and loaded on trailer. Only occasionally does it turn out to be the same trailer. The plant is in Emporia Kansas and the trucks stop was a Flying J just a few miles away. Those drivers who arrive “bobtail” (tractor only) are expected to yield the big truck spaces to complete tractor/trailer rigs and unless there is a designated “bobtail area” – they hide in the corners where a big rig can’t park. This place had all the corners taken but I saw some other bobtails in the restaurant parking, so I joined them. This was early in the morning – about 3 AM (0300). This required exiting to the highway, briefly to get to the separated parking lot.
The first order of business is to get some sleep and I awoke to find truck the only one in the lot now full of breakfast goers in conventional automobiles (four-wheelers). I felt a bit out-of-place. When walking back and forth from the “J” I had the distinct feeling that the breakfast-bound parents were pointing me out to their children and whispering, “That’s what will happen to you if you don’t do well in college”. Rejoining the regular parking would have required a short road trip back to the truck entrance and I did not yet have drive time
Considerable preparation goes into these journeys but a swap message comes in and all the best laid plans are discarded. Around midnight I pull into a truck stop and find my counterpart. We exchange paperwork and drop trailers. Each takes the other load and departs or stays for a break.
My new assignment takes me to a Fed Ex yard. You may have seen that Fed Ex trucks tow two shorter trailers. That is reflected in their yard where all the spaces are too short for my ‘53 footer.’ Once I leave them my trailer, the task is to go find a Blue Company empty. It is a really big yard and there was one (1) appropriate unit.
From there I drop the empty – again in the wee hours of the morning – in a dark empty lot. My next load is one of the four trailers in the same yard. None of their paperwork matches my assigned destination so I call in to straighten it out. They pass on a trailer number that has papers for Sam’s Club. I am to take it to a large freight company yard.
Arriving at the Freight Yard gives me a twilight-zone feeling. Out of place. The staff has no idea why I am here and the papers don’t give a clue. They send me to receiving and those guys are equally mystified. I return to my truck to call in (late on a Sunday night). Dispatch tells me it will have to wait until Customer Service reps show up for work at 0800. The Freight Company has already told me I can’t park here.
In one of those unbelievable coincidences, the truck refuses to start. This has been a problem before, but repeated attempts finally resulted in success. Not this time. After about 50 tries, I realize that if the truck starts, I am out on the street without drive time. Time to stop trying, is it not?
The “Visit” comes around 0800. A very polite fellow named Greg tells me that I cannot stay. I show him the now-determined-as-worthless paperwork to no avail. And then my Trump Card – the truck won’t start and I have called for road service. I reckon a mechanic will be here in two hours. Greg is resigned to the logic of the situation. I got the impression he was happy to have a reason not to evict the poor old man who has lost his way. 😉
To conclude this saga: The Company sent the valid paperwork, the Freight Yard people suddenly wanted my cargo and the mechanic showed up to fix the truck. All’s well that ends well.
Pilot Travel Center #29, Interstate 69, exit 357, Fremont, Indiana July 16, 2017
I have just finished the first two legs of a three-day episode involving deliveries to Pennsylvania and Maryland. I find that I have accumulated ten and one-half shower credits. I am saving up for the Solar Eclipse trip. At that time, my “Co-driver” and I will be staying in campgrounds and rest areas because all the hotels in the Eclipse Zone have been booked for months. Shower credits will be most welcome.
There is a place called Uranus in Missouri. There is a fudge factory there. Yes, really. They make a lot of jokes about the name of the Seventh Planet.
Late at night, exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. My route is state highways with no rest areas and no truck stops. Fortunately, it is Three AM on a Saturday morning and Running Fox elementary School is closed. They have a very nice looping driveway that allows the whole beached whale to enter and leave without any tedious reversing. The night before, I found a Kohl’s parking lot in similar condition. I get extremely fatigued in the hours before dawn. A nap of thirty minutes is the solution. Many times, only a safe parking place stands between me and Blessed Sleep, but innovation frequently saves the night.
To Saint Louis for beer! 43, 854 pounds of twelve-packs stacked high on pallets and kegs behind that. This ain’t beef. I don’t get the damaged boxes for BBQ or to give to the Salvation Army.
Water, water, everywhere, but nary a drop to drink! 😉
The beer was delivered to Mason City, Iowa.
I am growing back the “Van Dyke” That is a style of beard – no reference to the multitalented Dick Van Dyke, nor to manly Lesbians or diagonal wire cutters. Please see picture below:
Regenerated Facial Hair
Exxon Station across from Receiver, Robesonia, Pennsylvania July 17, 2017
One of the pleasant surprises of the new reality of this second phase of Walkabout has been “Line 5” of the driver’s logs. Until now, there were four lines: 1.Off-Duty, 2.Sleeper Bunk, 3.Driving and 4.On-Duty-Not-Driving. One can only legitimately drive under line three. One can move the truck slowly and by short distances (i.e., “creep”) under lines 1 and 4. Of course, driving while in Sleeper Bunk should be impossible -right?
The result was to trap drivers in shippers’ and receivers’ properties as their Duty Clock expired. They might still have many hours of drive time, but because the clock is now past 14 hours from the first On Duty/Drive time entry of the day, the drivers are not street legal.
Along comes line 5 (“Off Duty Driving”), which means I have no drive or duty time, but I can drive to a truck stop, if my trailer is empty and I can make it in 50 minutes. This relieves a Great Federal Regulation Pain, liberates shippers and receivers of a burdensome inventory of idle trucks and is a most welcome innovation.
But, the “olly-olly oxen free*” Line Five Get out of Jail Free Card does not allow me to travel to a truck stop except when empty. Today I have a second cargo remaining in the trailer that I will deliver at 3 AM tomorrow in Maryland. The truck stop must remain a distant dream. I could only creep across the street to this refuge and take one of the last two parking spots.
To get to Pennsylvania involved a 570 tightly-scheduled trip from Fremont, Illinois. The Navigation computer I have tentatively named “Zelda” after Zelda Gilroy, the Wannabe girlfriend of Dobie Gillis. If you don’t know who I am talking about, don’t worry, I’ll educate you.
Zelda Gilroy relentlessly pursued Dobie Gillis in The Many loves of Dobie Gillis, a 1950’s/60’s situation comedy on black and white TV. She was portrayed by the clever and energetic comedienne Sheila James Kuehl. While Dobie mooned over the prom queens and attempted to ignore her, Zelda was around every corner and relentlessly dedicated to making Dobie a better man and her own.
Moody teenager Dobie Gillis was played by Duane Hickman. His best friend was a beatnik named Maynard G. Krebs played by Bob Denver (later to portray Gilligan, of Island fame).
Zelda had a “power” over Dobie. When she made the crinkly-nose expression (depicted above), Dobie reflexively responded with the same and exclaimed “Zelda!” in protest. There were appropriate sound effects. She is looking up because Sheila stood only four-foot-ten and looked up to everyone else in the cast.
My computerized Zelda steadfastly refused to consider the Ohio turnpike and wanted me to travel on State highways, that pass through small towns where speed limits drop as low as 20 miles per hour. I tried to convince her that this would have me late to the show and might pull me up short, if I could not get there in 11 hours.
Clearly, someone has told Zelda that toll roads are bad. Try as I might I could not click her icons to convince her otherwise. So, the first half of the trip was spent ignoring Zelda’s insistence to leave the Turnpike at every last exit until the road turned to plain-old non-toll Interstate 80, where I then paid attention to Zelda’s advice.
The trip was uneventful and mostly pleasant (despite Zelda’s harangue) until near the end. Then ten hours of constant driving had promoted Exhaustion to the Commanding Officer.
First was a construction zone where the signs said – in no uncertain terms:
“Trucks over 21,000 lbs gross vehicle weight STOP ahead!”
My vehicle currently weighed 74,560 pounds, so I pulled in behind the long queue of stopped vehicles and waited while calling Dispatch for advice. The only recourse was for me to call 511 (local traffic info). Him (i.e., “Dispatch”) calling would be useless since he would get advice about Iowa and Nebraska. The “zelda” at 511 had no notices of trucks falling through bridges, despite the fact that a few rigs had passed the queue of trucks. Some of those might have been empty. But even empty these rigs weigh over 30,000 pounds.
Finally I creep around the waiting trucks to the front of the queue, expecting horns and CB curses – neither of which happened. The CB had been eerily quiet because (it turns out) all the rigs in the queue were not waiting – they were parked. A sign at the front tells me to use a lower gear for the downhill side of the route in front. The speed limit signs were 20 mph – a throwback to the days before engine brakes when every truck had to creep down hills or set their brakes on fire and plunge down to a fiery death. These were roundly ignored and ridiculed by all concerned.
Right at the final approach, was a 15 mile stretch of winding, hilly, two-lane, shoulder-less road through upper-class rural bedroom communities with narrow bridges, abrupt 90 degree turns and a tailgater – detectable only by the headlight “aura” chasing the trailer. Just the thing for a third-stage fatigued 62-year-old man to deal with.
The stretch of narrow, winding, shoulder-less road. This straightaway was the only part where photography would not be dangerous.
But, I got there, on time and intact. I delivered the partial load and crept across to get here. All with the goal to tell thee!
Maryland Welcome Center, I95 exit 37 – July 18, 2017
The second leg of the East Coast trip is now complete. There are no Pilot or Flying J truck stops where I have shower credits so, I have chosen a rest area where at least there is a bit of greenery in which to stroll about, That in not unimportant because from where I sit typing, I can reach the refrigerator for food and water or fall backward into the bunk and sleep. There is no reason to leave the comfort of the office – except for…you know. I could easily become Nero- Wolf-like without somewhere to go.
Nero Wolfe was a fictional detective who never left his house and relied upon “legman” Archie to do the “outside” thing.
Rest areas have the added advantage of water fountains where I can fill my canteens (AKA, empty V8 bottles). Back in the days of Purgatory (previous employer) I calculated that, given the price of bottled water and the time to fill the bottles, this activity saved me more per hour than I earned driving. Truck stops – and some California rest areas) do not have water fountains because they sell bottled water.
Pilot, Interstate 71 exit 204, Akron, Ohio July 19, 2017
The Ship is now “staged” for a pickup near Akron today and delivery to Illinois – just South of Chicago. Noon had been the appointment, but now it is delayed until 1700. I have had a good rest and will launch at 15:30 to fuel and get the 25 miles to the shipper. From there it is a straight six-hour drive.
That is why I have some time to wrap up, edit and illustrate this post – which I will do with no further discussion.
Over The Road,
Flying J Truck Stop I35 exit 127, Emporia, KS July 9, 2017
The trips are shorter now and I have to look hard for the thought-provoking aspects. I would rather make journeys of three or four days, but now I am lucky to get two days from a load. It does pay much better, however. Some sacrifices have to be made for financial concerns. Life does that to you.
That is not to say that that this new stage of Walkabout does not have interesting aspects. A recent destination was Quincy, Illinois where Geology and Mining give rise to industrial real estate opportunities. Quincy is home to a calcium carbonate operation that has already created 600 acres of naturally climate controlled area and is busy making more:
“Huber each year mines about 600,000 tons of calcium carbonate, which is a filler used in floor tile, drywall compound, paint, plastic and other products. This creates about eight acres of new underground caverns a year.”
Beneath Quincy, Illinois
At first glance, this is just another truck in another loading dock. Those lights above are not on an awning, however. Let me walk over to the truck and look back this way.
A view of the local surroundings.
Those great pillars are to keep the cavity from collapsing and allow mining to continue. The side-effect is all this empty space that stays at temperatures of 48 to 60 degrees F (9-16C). This is optimal for cold storage facilities and the construction amounts to a bit more mining with attention to detail. The climate above in Quincy may range from 0 to 95 F (-18 to 35C) during the year.
I did not get a glance at the offices, but had to remain “outside” by my truck while unloading took place. Another photo on the way out gives an idea of the extent of this facility. I have included an eighteen-wheeler for scale. Fortunately, they are all not rare around the place. The inset at lower right shows what they do to keep us from wandering around lost in the less traveled parts of the mine. The blocks are, of course, more calcium carbonate “ore” stacked in an “airbrick” pattern. Construction Architecture in this venue must be a lot of fun, since you can pretty much carve out custom rooms and make up your own parts.
The exit view. The driver’s side elliptical mirror intrudes in the photo. You might as well get used to that. 😉
Like most everything, there is a Youtube video of this. Unless I am mistaken, the destination of this trucker was the same as mine*. At least, that truck pulling out near the end was labeled with my customers name.
*No lame pun intended
Near Amarillo, Texas along Interstate 40 there is a stretch of prairie-turned-farmland that has few natural distinguishing features. There are some man-made sights that stand out, however. One has been discussed already in Route 66 and the Cadillac Ranch
Left: The closest photo was inconveniently near another object of visual interest, so I resorted to the tricks of lazy newsmen – I looked up a file photo – Right.
It is called “The Leaning Tower of Groom Texas” and it has attracted attention for many decades. Stories about why the tower is leaning range from shoddy construction to a passing tornado to an earthquake.
The true cause is a bit of genius marketing by Ralph Britten. He bought the tower (for a scrap price) and moved it here. The ten degree tilt is intentional. It looks like more, does it not? There are no guy wires, the structure is balanced (they say) on the two buried legs and the other two are actually off the ground. I would be willing to bet a small amount that there is a third leg hidden in that white “downpipe”, or that the pipe itself is load-bearing. But I have not found any documentation to that effect. The only date I have found for Britten’s assembly of the structure is “somewhere around 1980”.
And why would Ralph want a tilted tower? Because the breathless motorists who pulled off of Interstate 40 to see this pending disaster found themselves in the parking lot of Britten’s Truck Stop and Restaurant. It inspired a lot of Citizens Band Radio traffic among truckers as well. This was quite successful as a marketing tool for about five years or so and survived the fire that destroyed the Truck Stop.
There are some who wryly observe that it’s a shame there was no water in the tower to fight the fire. In fact, the tower’s tank has just the right amount of water to put the center of gravity directly over the two (or possibly three) grounded legs. So, any use of the water for firefighting might have endangered the tower.
The tower now stands alone in an empty field, but still attracts attention to this day.
Waiting for a door in Olathe, Kansas receiver’s parking July 10, 2017 0500
I am here hours early and fortunately allowed to park and wait. Another trucker who arrived at about 0200 was not so lucky as parking permission starts at 0400. He was cast out on the street until he returned near 0500. No two receivers have the same policies about such things and procedures vary and change without notice. Putting up signs to explain things is rare and the few that exist are sometimes vague, misleading or obsolete. So, my current strategy is to pull in to the guard shack and await instructions. The worst they can do is make me turn around and leave. I can do that. If they wanted something else, they would put up a sign – now, wouldn’t they? 😉
There is yet another Amarillo-area Public Art Project that echoes the Cadillac Ranch. It is composed of five Volkswagen “beetles” and, just like it’s older sibling to the East, the units are heavily “tagged” with graffiti (“graffiti” is the plural of “graffito”, by the way). I caught a glimpse of this from I-40 (exit 86, as it turns out) about 14 months ago, back in my training days, but I have yet to see it again despite many passes on I-40. I was a passenger at the time (that is to say, the Instructor was at the wheel) so I had plenty of idle attention to turn to roadside wonders, back then This also seems to be on an abandoned property, so approach it at your own risk.
Photo Credit: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/6767
Over The Road,
Flying J #672 – Interstate 49 exit 167 Peculiar, Missouri June 30, 2017, 0230
I was just “checking the tires” and I noticed a few drops of rain. I am hoping that a good soaking would come from the ominous flashing in the Northern sky, since the ship has accumulated some road dust. So far, the rain has picked up a bit, but the deluge is not yet arrived. A log entry is nevertheless appropriate, even if just to address it with the place name of “Peculiar” where “The ‘odds’ are with you”.
From the town’s website:
“A community that is peculiar in name only. A name which has overshadowed our rich history. Yet, this peculiar name has somehow set apart persons associated with it, creating a chemistry, within them, which makes them very important to each other. July 29, 1868, Robert Cass County surveyor, surveyed the town of Peculiar into lots, blocks and streets. This certified plat was filed as ‘The Town Of Peculiar’. Early settlers came to western Missouri by riverboat, rail and overland. Many were migrating for the second and third time from communities in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The ‘Town Of Peculiar’ also received families from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.”
There is a peculiar thing about this name which is reflected in the dual aspects of the word itself. You see, “peculiar” is its own antonym in that it means both “strange or odd” as well as something like “typical of” or “belonging to”. Perhaps “unique” would be the most appropriate synonym.
“his accent was a peculiar mixture of Cockney and Irish”
“the air hung with an antiseptic aroma peculiar to hospitals”
synonyms: characteristic of · typical of · representative of · indicative of ·
I looked up the National Radar image for the area and added a little black cross at a position approximating Peculiar. It appears that, no matter which way the weather moves, more rain is in the near future.
National Weather Service Radar – Springfield, Missouri. The “+” marks Peculiar.
It is also “peculiar” to think that I did all this research and composition at Three AM, from the sleeper cab of a truck parked on the outskirts of a small town in Missouri. My more “mature” readers will join me in the awe of modern technology. Any young ones will ask themselves, “What’s the old man mumbling about now?” 😉
In a few hours I will fuel the truck and start off for nearby Kansas to pick up a load bound for Texas. The rain is starting in earnest now and should provide a sleep-inducing background for a brief sleep.
Pilot #498US 69 and Redbud Lane, Atoka, Oklahoma June 30, 2017
I was just here, a few days ago. The road has brought me back where I sought only fuel, but found a prime parking spot – with a quarter-mile of run-out in front of it – at ten o’clock at night in a truck stop across the highway from a Walmart. Such a bounty is not lightly passed by and I did not. A target of opportunity, it had been.
It was that day that I had encountered another bleak and ominous tableau what grim fate lies in wait for careless driver.
So severe is the damage that I cannot confidently recognize even the make of the vehicle. It may be a Volvo. More to the point – I don’t see how the driver might have survived.
That particular stretch of highway is relatively benign. But, where I wandered (literally – I took a few wrong turns) today was more typical of Oklahoma highways. To provide an example:
A turn was indicated by the as-yet nameless Navigation personality – from a narrow section of US highway to a narrower section of state road. A shear drop into a ditch loomed in my rearview, those 70 feet away. My approach had to be one where I crossed into the opposing lane completely – even taking up that lack-of-a-shoulder, as well This is accomplished by making as much of that theoretical turn as possible and stopping just short of crushing the two cars waiting at the stop sign. The hope is that they will look around, assess the situation and decide to turn right in front of me as I sit waiting. Furthermore, we rely on the drivers of the vehicles behind those to have the common sense to yield their half of the road until the Beached Whale passes through he ill-advised turn like the proverbial camel through the eye of the needle. It did work, but it could easily have turned very ugly. I have decided never to leave the scant comfort of a US highway again – in Oklahoma
The state highways are ill-repaired, shoulder-less meandering, narrow deathtraps. The US highways (which you might think would be better, given federal funding) are not universally shoulder-less or meandering, but are still generally ill-repaired.
I don’t mean to say that Oklahoma has an excess of bad roads, you understand…
Well…Yes, I do mean to say that. Exactly that, in fact.
Thus far, the Blue Company’s promise of abundant mileage (2500 guaranteed minimum per seven-day week) has proven to be non-fiction. A quick check of miles per day shows these results: 493, 468, 666, 218, 360, 439. Six days’ total is 2644. Even the Orange Company had only vague promises of 2200-2800 miles per week. If all goes well tomorrow, I will exceed the maximum of that range.
The days of poverty at “The Company” are hopefully well behind me. I harbor no ill-will for the Purgatory-based Black Truck outfit. They trained me and have met their promises, generally speaking. They did not however, promise much.
The photo below is from my previous visit here. Chance put an Orange Company truck next to my Sioux City Blue.
That which was set out to be accomplished (right) meets the way reality shaped itself despite the “best laid plans” (left).
Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 40 exit 75, Amarillo, Texas July 3, 2017
I have a collection of ancient devices called Compact Discs for the majority of my “eclectic” assembly of music. The device that maintains what little music I have stored as digital files is attached to the truck’s radio with a USB cable. Those selections are still set to play in alphabetical order and the first in line when the truck starts in the morning is “All Systems Go” from the Soundtrack of the movie Apollo 13. It is a stirring orchestral piece by the late composer James Horner, whose work you know from a dozen movie scores. To mention a few…Titanic, The Wrath of Khan, A Beautiful Mind.
I have not altered the sequence of the music list, since it is appropriately inspirational for the beginning of a journey – including as it does a movement that accompanies the scene of the launching of the great Saturn V rocket. As if the launching of a lunar rocket was not sufficiently impressive, Apollo XIII’s start includes the failure of one of the five engines that propelled the second stage (the “Glitch”) If you listen to the score you can hear the movements pertaining to the launch, the Glitch and the sudden weightlessness when the rockets shut down – all without any reference to the movie. The redundant design of the system allowed the other engines to make up the difference in velocity and saved the mission – at least until its later problems.
However, the true and dramatic lesson of an Apollo launch is to be found in the launch of Apollo Twelve. That launch took place in a thunderstorm and the huge trail of rocket exhaust (as it turns out) created a perfect channel for a lightning bolt that struck the vehicle. I remember an interview in which the late Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad described the situation something like this:
“There I was in a Billion-Dollar*-Going-to-the-Moon Rocket with the “Abort Handle” in my hand when lightning struck the vehicle and the power went out.”
The “abort handle” was the switch that would ignite a set of solid rockets that would yank the command module (with the three astronauts) away from the potential bomb that the Saturn V could turn into and then it would drop on parachutes into the Atlantic Ocean from whence it would hopefully be recovered.
Anyway, when I think of Conrad’s predicament (and HUGE responsibility) in those moments…all of my own problems shrink to insignificance by comparison.
*A Billion Dollars was a lot of money back in 1969
Parked roadside near a shipper with twenty tons of sour cream – Garland Texas July 5, 2017
There is a book about Pete Conrad called “Rocket Man”. I need to find that in my stocking around the end of December. Pete was known for his shear determination and innovative ambition for spaceflight. For him to stand out in that respect when compared to other Astronauts was great praise, indeed.
He advocated for his final Gemini mission to be turned into a trans-lunar flight that would have been sent looping around the moon. That could easily have been done with the booster rendezvous vehicles called Agena rockets that were in use at the time. As it was, Gemini XII set the altitude record in Space until Apollo VIII – the first Lunar experience of Jim Lovell, who would later command Apollo XIII.
Over the Road,
Days Inn, North Sioux City, South Dakota June 23, 2017
This new phase of the Walkabout is as yet unnamed and undefined.
Your Captain has turned off the “No Thinking” sign and we will be traveling at an altitude of up to 8000 feet at a speed of 65 miles per hour. What lies ahead is unknown. Welcome aboard.
Today find us in North Sioux City, South Dakota. If that sounds familiar you are thinking of Sioux City Iowa, which is only a few miles away. Not far from there is South Sioux City, Nebraska, where the new ship awaits.
The second day of orientation and training is about to start. Despite my earlier expectations, the new truck is blue and will be hauling refrigerated trailers, much as before. Less than two weeks ago, my family came to Purgatory (not the ski resort) as I evacuated from the Kenworth – not 12946, but her erstwhile twin sister ship 13048.
While I have much to criticize about “The Company” (the ones with the black trucks), They did train me to drive these behemoths. I can’t find much fault with that accomplishment and I truly did find the experience rewarding and challenging. But more mundane considerations dictate that I need to move on to something more profitable.
Not to be too blunt about it, but, “Man does not live by adventure alone”. The prospects for earning sufficient living at The Company depends upon accepting a partnership arrangement where I would assume a large portion of the Risk. They insisted that this was a reasonable path to “success”. I remain unconvinced. And, so I bid adieu to Purgatory.
It was my intention to take up with “bulk operations” (tankers) carrying hazardous material. The trucks are orange. This was not actually a preferred change, but promised to be at least more rewarding financially. It did not work out and I’ll be still driving refrigerated goods around. But now it’s in blue trucks and it pays better – almost as much as I could expect from “Bulk”.
The Orange Operation requires me to lose some facial hair. There is emergency equipment that needs a good seal on the face to exclude poisonous gas. The style of beard I keep is called a “Van Dyke”. For a while, I was reluctant to use this term, which has certain connotations. Upon reflection, however, I realized that the latter term refers to a manly individual who appreciates women. So…no complaints.
In any case, while the moustache could remain, the chin hair was doomed. I was hoping for a “Clark Gable” look or possibly a “David Niven-ish” one The actual result was much more “Joseph Stalinesque”.
Clark, David, Joseph and Your Humble Narrator
I had been convinced by the First Mate to trim my face like this before and the result was two traumatized offspring who wondered who I was and what I had done with their somewhat better-looking father. When I saw a picture of myself in that condition, I had immediately grown it back then, This latest facial hair amputation had the advantage of being done on the face of a person who had lost nearly a quarter of his body mass.
However, the same individual had also accumulated another decade of age. The results were still not an improvement and now that the Orange Operation is not an option, I hasten to grow back the previous situation. That effort is inhibited by the unfortunate fact that my beard is mostly gray in that region of face. Just now I look like it has been snowing on my chin. A rather dirty snow, at that. There are also what look like gaps in the upper part of “Stalin’s Broom” which are actually creeping grey hair. I will persist nonetheless and an equalizing “trim” is not far away..
Pilot, I-64 exit 108, Nashville, Tennessee June 26, 2017
I am writing because I cannot sleep. The fact that it is 4 in the afternoon and warm in the bunk (despite what I thought was a functioning APU) has lots to do with thae. Night driving will be a bit more frequent now, but I have hope that I will adapt. Some views of the Missouri River were quite inspiring this morning. No photos available.
The first load was delivered on time and the drive was actually rather pleasant. There was an extensive detour in St. Louis that had me on surface streets in the area around the stadium. The :turnaround” is impressive, as I had a new load scheduled before the first was dropped. I hope to establish a reputation for being the guy who will take most any assignment – a situation I find challenging. Some of my fellow “orienteers” were reluctant to take loads to some parts of the country. While I find some places annoying, they are a great source of writing material. Most likely because of the incredible situations that seem to crop up so often.
The “Blue Company” has some areas where they have no freight. California, Arizona, Nevada, New York and New England for examples. However, one of our speakers mentioned the idea of a bonus for New York City. They may be looking at prospects there. He came closer to reasonable than the fellows at Purgatory, at least. NYC requires some additional rewards, to say the least.
I am working on new ideas for photographs that might be impressive – more on that later.
Rest Area – Interstate 70, Mile Marker 195, Missouri
The start of the trip was not promising. A lot has changed. The truck is a Freightliner, not a Kenworth. Note below the sporty chrome mirrors and smooth blue color.
The New Truck
The New Truck has well over a half million miles and is the oldest I have driven. But it seems to be in better shape than either of the Kenworths or the Peterbilt from last year. The clutch and the shifting are both as smooth as silk. Visibility is great and it is shorter, handles better and is more maneuverable in yards.
The trailer is different, in several troublesome ways. Procedures and expectation are not as before.
It was a nice drive and I had the intention to drive through St. Louis, but traffic began to gather at 400. I almost gave up at a nice truck stop thinking this was rush hour building, but decided to press on when I realized it was Sunday. Traffic again. Guacamole, this is Sunday afternoon when everybody comes home from the weekend in the country. I stopped in a Rest Area which turned out to have the narrowest parking I’ve yet seen.
Time to hit the sack and get up at 0200 to drive the deserted streets.
Texas Welcome Center, Interstate 30, exit 223, Texarkana, Texas, June 27, 2017
Somewhere in the Sleeper Berth yesterday I caught a cold. The parking here is the most akward I have seen, with forward and rear parallel spaces where there should be diagonals. I picked an old bus to park behind because I figured they would be leaving soon. Then a flatbed showed up when its neighbor left and parked next to it.. Now they are working on the vehicles they carry and I haven’t been able to figure out what their goal is. By the way, there were at least six dogs in that bus. Five were short-haired Labrador-looking, but white in color. The Sixth was a Husky.
The Bus and the Flatbed.
. I may wind up backing out of this space tonight at 1900, on my way to the delivery.
Update – the bus moved and I am first in line. I will put my cold to bed now.
Over The Road,
Flying J Truck Stop, I-30, exit 7, Texarkana Arkansas June 10, 2017
From nearby the previous delivery in Carlisle, I dropped my empty and pick up a trailer headed for Atlanta. I was ahead of the load by almost a full day and a call came through to swap with a driver headed home. He took my load to deliver less than 20 miles away and I drove his load another 400 miles to Kentucky. Just across the Tennessee/Kentucky boarder I got a call from Road Rescue that informed me of a “bad tire” on that trailer. If you are wondering how Dallas knows about my tires while I am in Kentucky, well I join you in that confusion.
They know about my tire (as it turns out) because they earlier authorized its replacement – with a larger tire, oops. Sure enough, it is plain as day – once it is pointed out. Tires of different sidewall heights cannot roll together in a tandem – at least not for long. A tire shop nearby will fix it in the morning and I included a Walmart visit in the bargain.
About twenty-two years ago, I wrote a piece called “How I Stopped Smoking…”. and I promised to post that for a chain smoker at the tire shop in Franklin, Kentucky. If you, too are a chain smoker, it is called “How I Stopped Smoking…and Other Improbable Tales” and you should see it in “Recent Posts”.
When I first started this Walkabout, it was because I had lost my job as an Exploration Geophysicist. I was looking for oil with seismic methods. Seismic had been required to find the natural traps where oil and gas seeped out of impermeable shale into sandstone or limestone reservoirs around natural fractures at faults and flexures. Sandstone is permeable. That is, it allows oil and gas to flow to the well. Shale does not. Hydraulic fracturing of shale has now made all that seismic exploration unnecessary and my Profession has withered to a ghost of its former prominence.
I survived three lay-offs and was caught in the forth. My particular field was deep-water marine seismic and it was among the hardest hit when oil prices declined. I looked for work in other parts of the Industry, but they all have very specific competence requirements that are out of my realm of experience. A younger man might convince the employers that he was clever enough to learn on the job. But I am sixty-two years old and they don’t believe that I can adapt. Or, maybe they think I will demand too much money or I will retire too soon. In any case, they can ignore their requirements for the young guy and hold to them in my case. That way, they need not reveal that my “column of years” is the true reason. And of course, they dare not do that.
Trucking was not the only job I was offered. But it was the only one that offered sufficient dignity and challenge. Early on, to explain my decision, I quoted the story about the Prisoner, the King and the Horse. It goes like this:
A group of prisoners are due to be executed, but one enterprising individual among them tells the King that he can teach the Monarch’s horse to sing hymns. The King is intrigued by this offer -enough to give the prisoner a year to accomplish this miracle, with clemency as a reward or swift execution for failure. The other prisoners ridicule him for singing to the horse and he says:
“I have a year. A lot can happen in a year. I could die. The King could die. The horse could die. And maybe, just maybe, the horse will learn to sing.”
I have been away from home – on average – about six weeks out of every seven. The year has found me in forty-four the forty-eight contiguous states and Ontario in Canada. Driving for ten hours a day for weeks at a time. “Marooned” in remote farmland or big cities. From sea level to 8000 foot mountain passes. Through 110° deserts of Arizona or snow-bound in the Oregon midwinter at 10 below. Struggling to maneuver the behemoth vehicle into claustrophobic nooks in a yard – backwards and looking in a mirror or awe-struck at the beauty and peace of the open road. Driving the long straight Interstate or a frozen, narrow dirt road (after missing a turn) or picking my way with a huge behemoth vehicle through small town streets. Alongside in a well-appointed, idyllic roadside park or stacked like firewood with 250 other rigs in a massively over-crowded truck stop or hiding the “beached whale” in a long-abandoned parking lot.
And I love it. God help me, I do love it so!
It has truly been an Adventure. Imagine if I had taken the big Box Hardware slave-wage temporary job! I would have had a year of low-paid soul-killing misery. This way, I am still low-paid, but with a challenging new existence, a satisfied soul and a peaceful feeling of a year well-spent. Yes, it has been difficult – almost overwhelming at times. Yes, I have missed my wife and children severely. But, I can give them back a husband and father that is better, wiser and stronger than the one I took away.
I am leaving the aforementioned “Company” because they can’t pay me what I need to survive in the long term. I will go on to a new, better paid position. Among the new challenges are Tankers, Multiple Trailers, and Hazardous Materials. The “Company” had black trucks. The new ones will be Orange. Feel free to make jokes and analogies with popular TV show names.
I resist saying that the Walkabout is over. But it has taken a different turn and the Undiscovered Country (the future) lies beyond.
. To continue with the previous analogy…the horse has learned to sing. And now the prisoner must find another impossible task to accomplish. 😉
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Over The Road,