Tag: Trucking

Purgatory

SteveTrucker2

MarilusLogo

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!

SteveTrucker2

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”).

Richmond

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

SteveTrucker2

August 1, 2016

Richmond, Virginia

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

ViewFromCaptainsBunk2.jpg

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

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

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

ScaleTicket.jpg

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

 

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

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

I need to be rolling soon.

Over the Road,

Steve

Having Left the Highway

SteveTrucker2  Homepage   DreamVacations

In the 16 months I spent “Over the Road” there were more than a few trucks that left that road to be seen along the way.  I managed to photograph only a few.  A few readers have asked how  I got these photos while driving.  Most of them were taken while sitting still in the resulting traffic jam.  A few were taken out the window with eyes on the road.  I’d click off a dozen or so blind shots and pick the good one later.  As you will see, sometimes there was not a “good one”.

(Please note that these photos were safely taken while stopped dead in the resulting traffic jams!)

Wisconsin

This victim had to be in Wisconsin.  I say that because of the red barn.  

Wreck_WisconsinYou see that the axles are separated singles, not tandems.  That is generally to meet bridge weight limits on secondary roads.

WIBARNMONTAGE.png

The Crimson Cowsheds are so common in Wisconsin that I made a montage of same.  You will note the renegade blue barn at lower right.

Wyoming

This one was on I-80, east of Cheyenne.  It was probably not a blow over – unless perhaps from the  afternoon before.  The weather was calm when I passed – as it tends to be in the morning. 

Wreck_WY

On a later trip through Wyoming, I was called from Cheyenne to swap out with another driver at Rowling.  The trip started badly with the trailer being blown around with ever-increasing intensity. The wind was picking up quickly and the weather radio was talking about 45 mph gusts at Rowling.  I noticed all the windmills were locked down, motionless and the programable warning signs had the message “Extreme Blow Over Risk”.  I finally had to put myself and my empty trailer on weather standby when I could not maintain my lane. There was plenty of company at the parking pull-out that exists for just such occasions.  It was there that I noticed that my passenger-side neighbor had a cat in his cab.

CatInATruck

Many drivers have their “mascots” but 99% are dogs.  Over-the-Road life gets surreally solitary.  I could put up with it because I am a loner by nature and writing kept me sane – well…almost.

.CatInABoxMy wife offered me the “middle cat”, Pepper, who likes to get in the car.  But, I could not imagine walking a cat around a truck stop on a leash for “ablutions” – especially this particular cat.

    I had the distinct feeling that this swap was with another sane driver who pulled off in Rowling with a full trailer to avoid the same windstorm.  While I waited for dusk and the calm that usually comes then, the gusts increased to 65 mph.  When finally I could roll – without rolling over – the swap had been cancelled.  I was sent instead to Nebraska for a load that I would pull right back across Wyoming the next day.

    That day the warnings were less extreme (just “Blow Over Risk” – no extremities).  My full load kept me grounded, but even so, there were two rigs on their sides by the road.  Neither had seals or locks on their back doors – a sure sign they were both empty. 

WreckWY_BackUpThis is the second one over by the Utah border.  It had been put back on to its wheels (although still listing precipitously to the right) by a heavy duty wrecker that was just hooking up to tow it away. 

Tennessee

 Blow Over is not the only risk.  In crossing Tennessee (the short way), this scene appeared 

TennesseeConflagrationCrop

The trucks in the foreground had no doubt stopped to help.  Every rig has at least one fire extinguisher.  It looks like a Schneider (orange) box van on fire. 

TenesseeConflagClose

As I passed, the rise in the median intervened and little but smoke and flames were visible.

Oklahoma

Overturned (3) 

This Volvo with its flatbed was the worst accident I managed to photograph.  It had apparently crossed opposing traffic and rolled completely over on its cargo.  The cab was crushed and I could not see how a driver might have survived this. 

Dallas

WreckAtPurgatoryThis was all that was left of one of those Black Company tractors.  I am not ever sure of the make.  They brought it back to Purgatory to use as a visual aid in Safety Class.  All the students were marched out past this and lectured by an instructor as a part of a cautionary tale.

The driver had been “facetiming” with his girlfriend when he blundered into a family in a rented motor home.  Ironically, they had been taking it easy in the slow lane for safety.  Both the tractor and the motor home burned to the ground.  Incredibly, no one was killed or injured.

About the time of the 35th anniversary of said Company, there was a commemorative trailer painted with celebratory murals brought around to this “gathering point” (there are food trucks behind the photographer) and the poor burnt-to-a-crisp tractor was relegated to a back lot where it would not dampen the spirit.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

The St. Louis Arch at the End of the Open Road

SteveTrucker2  Homepage   DreamVacations

StLouisArchThe St Louis Arch is a reminder that the Peace of the Open Road will come to an end in Memphis tomorrow afternoon and the next day that “grim obligation” returns.

 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.

Loves Truck Stop, Interstate 29, exit 44  St. Joseph, Missouri – September 9, 2017

Tomorrow will be the fourth day of driving from Wallula, Washington to Memphis, Tennessee.  These are the most pleasant of times, when the toil of obtaining or liberating a cargo is absent from the list of exasperating tasks that must be fulfilled in a day’s work.  There is only the highway and most of it is in the most agreeable form – the open road. 

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with long stretches of highway that seem to go on eternally and present the observer with vast tableaus of intricate, awe-inspiring landscape.  To amble through this wonderland for days – without the grim obligation of mucking about in yards, wrangling trailers and dealing with guards and clerks – is a pleasure that transcends the mundane toil of what is a demanding and unrewarding occupation.

BensonMountainsOnTheWay To amble through this wonderland…

Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 20, exit 26  Atlanta, Georgia – September 12,  2017

Tropical Storm Irma has become a blob of rain and wind and I am somewhere near its center. There is only a constant drizzle this morning that replaces the steady downpour in which I found Atlanta. 

The truck stop was level one full when I arrived – meaning that all the “designated” parking was taken and not likely to change.  Level two was just beginning, which means that the “outliers” were finding the unofficial spaces where they won’t be in the way of commerce, i.e., not blocking the entrance, exit, fuel islands.  Your Humble Narrator found a really good spot over near – but separated from –  the automobile gas pumps.  I was worried that I would be asked to move, but that was purely paranoia of a person that does not often break rules.  Now that I awake, there are trucks parked beside me that begin to encroach upon the entrance.  No one is blocked, you understand, but every truck now entering is inconvenienced and has to carefully avoid my late-arriving neighbors.  After this “late stage two” comes stage three where emergency measures are in effect and trucks impede traffic, ignore no parking signs and pavement markings and occupy public street-sides to the point of impeding traffic.  I have only seen that once, in Ontario, Oregon where I was “snowed in” for about 30 hours.  You won’t hear about these parking “levels” anywhere else, because I just made up the system.  I think three levels are about appropriate, with the third being open-ended to include complete paralysis of traffic (a la Ontario) at its most extreme.

The delivery in Memphis went particularly well.  The staff at the receiver was polite, efficient and helpful.  The road to Atlanta was mostly unobstructed, but the rain began at Birmingham, Alabama and intensified steadily until it was the aforementioned “steady downpour” at Atlanta with wind gusts of an estimated 30 miles per hour.

The time has come to prepare for departure.  I deliver a second installment here in Atlanta and then on to Fort Mills, South Carolina and the Final.

Receivers Staging Lot, Atlanta, Georgia – September 12,  2017 – 9:22 AM

After five days of enjoyable driving, it is time to pay the piper with some uncompensated misery.  Arriving at 4:30 AM for a 6:00 AM appointment, we find a queue of trucks at the entrance.  I fall in line behind the last of them and wait.  I call the contact number and get voice mail where I leave my name, company, load number and phone.  Eventually, patience runs out and I walk to the gate, only to find another driver who also walked in.  No trace of any gate guards or receiving clerks.  Eventually, one of many autos entering stops to talk to the groups of drivers now numbering four.  Word is: after Six, if nobody shows up, enter the yard and pull up to the next gate. 

So, then we are lined up outside the next gate and I wander around looking for someone in authority, then give up and go back to the truck.  I call the contact number and leave another voice mail.  Finally the line starts to move and when we arrive at the front, I get out – bills in hand, safety vest on and they tell me to wait in the truck.  Ten minutes later the same guy tells me to go park down there and wait in the truck.  An hour later, I call  the contact number and leave another voice mail – and an hour after that, I opt for the operator, who passes my call to Tweedledee, who passes my call to Tweedledum who passes my call to voicemail. A call to the Company is next, just so they can share the pain. Grim thoughts and depression begin to consume the day.

 

Finally, I decide it’s time to do some writing – another uncompensated activity but far more satisfying – and a lumper shows up at the door to tell me to back into door 345.  Odd how that works.

Backing into doors has become less traumatic and this one – despite being a tight fit between a trailer and a full semi – is done with a minimum of trouble.  A message to the Company for the authorization of a lumper fee is completed and a check written.  The trailer is already gyrating with unloading activity.

You see how the mood has shifted from the open road to grubbing around in a Receiver’s yard!

 

Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 70 exit 188 Warrenton, Missouri – September 14, 2017

I passed road cuts in both North Carolina and Tennessee that looked like Black Marine Shale, or something similar.   My presentation “Energy, Oil, Gas and Shale” includes a list of shale plays in the US that lists the Chatanooga Shale in Tennessee and the Cumnock Shale in North Carolina.  Whether these were the formations I glimpsed is unknown, but possible.  After all, I re-discovered the Utica Shale while passing through Midstate New York.

I will look these up when I have a good internet connection.

A preliminary search reveals that both the Chatanooga and  Cumnock formations have been drilled and assessed to be productive sources of Natural Gas.  My impression is that the economics of both are as yet marginal – depending as they do on the price of Natural Gas.  Comments that a rise in the price of Natural Gas would stimulate activity and prosperity were common to the articles I read.  It occurs to me that both these and many others such plays should soon profit from the advancing technological advances in efficiency of NG production.  That would transcend the question of rising prices.

Houston Base (the kitchen table) – October 5, 2017

Once again, I am “at liberty”.  That’s a thirties era expression for unemployed.  Let’s call this a Leave of Absence.

I am, however, reunited with my long-suffering family. My health is recovering from the constant stress of non-stop driving and I get to go swimming every day again.

The job market seems to have improved.  I say “seems” because I am applying to jobs that match my experience very well.  None of them yet have even called me back for an interview and, as usual there is no address for a follow-up.  I’ll try to track down some humans to speak to at these places, but they prefer to hide behind job web sites.  At least one job disappeared and then re-appeared, so I applied to it again.  I had expected to get a message to the effect that I had applied already, but it went straight through to “submitted”.  Perhaps this is their strategy to weed out the less desperate.

One application came with a word problem math test.  They trick the questions up.  For example, with changes in units like days, hours, weeks and “two-week periods” all in the same problem.  And one question about income from customers said “they get 7 customers every month, starting with 10 in the first month.”  This is a set-up to assume that they mean seven MORE customers every month.  But that is not what that sentence says.  So, I suspect that the total number of customers in a year is 87, not the 495 that accumulation would suggest.  The question is ambiguous and requires an assumption.  Bastards. Software managers – but I repeat myself.

 It was a timed test as well, not allowing for the contemplation that revealed the deception.  I expect I did better than most would, but it has been years…alright decades…since I have dealt with such “trip-you-up” exam vultures as these.  If they do offer me a job, I will double my very meager and desperate salary request, just to compensate me for having to work with such Smart-Asses.   

Back to the Walkabout now

There were some dastardly receiving yards in the last weeks that tried my nerves.  One, in particular assigned me a parking spot (number 253) where I was bound to insert my empty trailer before I could hook the loaded one to actually go out and earn money.  The montage below shows the passenger side (L) and drivers side (R) when finally I managed to make the empty fit into the space – well over one hour later.

TIghtFItMontageMontage of Empty Slot Number 253

I was fortunate to capture a yard worker on the passenger side for to give some idea at the scale.  You will notice that the man’s head would not fit between the trailers.  Yes, I left more space on the driver’s side and drivers will know why.  I have to squeeze my XL body into that gap to crank down the landing gear and pull the fifth-wheel latch to disconnect the trailer.  My head HAS to fit between those two trailers.  It was – just barely – possible.  The Yard tractor has a hydraulic lift that can do without these activities.  And before I get through complaining – there were trailers across the way that made a “straight-line backup” impossible.  I TURNED the trailer into this space – backward while looking in a mirror, people!  I will remind you of what I have said many times.  This activity I do FOR FREE, just so I can get back on the road and actually earn money!  I won’t tell you who this yard owner is because they might sue me for revealing how they abuse the people who carry their stuff.

P.S.  Don’t worry TVS – I’ll keep it “civil” for your article.  🙂

Over-the-Road,

Steve

Houston Soaking, Oregon Burning

SteveTrucker2  Homepage   DreamVacations

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:

Harvey_BigHouseDownstream from the “Controlled Release” Includes Some High-end Housing.

Harvey_Garage (2).jpgThe Garage Area

The SUV has its head above water, but the sedan with the sunroof is down hard.

 MarielenasHouse (2)

  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.

EclipseTree

Eclipse Images Cast by the Small Gaps in a Tree’s Shadow

20170821_113941 

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:

UT_GeologyWyoming Border with Utah

OR_GeologyGeology in Abundant Evidence at Interstate 84, Oregon

OR_Irrigation.jpg

 

Irrigation Turns this Arid Part of Oregon Green

 OR_Orchards

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.

 

UT_MUDFLAPWhat 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.

OregonRedMoon.jpgThe 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.

OregonMtHoodRoadRiverIn 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.

Over

OregonRRedSunEnhanced.jpgSmoky 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,

Steve

 

In the Path of Totality

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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.

  • First Mate:      An officer on a ship second in rank only to the captain and responsible for the safety and security of the ship.

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.

LULUCadyRanch.jpg

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.

EclipseInadequatePhotoTotality.jpgAn 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.

 SolarCorona

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:

Corona.jpg

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:

EclipseRedSkyMontageFull.jpg

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:

EclipseDIamondRing

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.

EclipseSelfieYoungSteve.jpgIn 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.

 

RoyalGorgeBridgeFromCC.jpgRoyal  Gorge Bridge as Seen from the Cable Car

RoyalGorgeLuluBridge1.jpgThe First Mate Contemplating Royal Gorge from Mid-bridge.

RoyalGorgeLuluBridgeCablw.jpgFirst Mate Indicating the Cable at the Heart of the Bridge’s Construction

royalGorgeLuluCaarosel1.jpg

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,

Steve

 

Overdue Update

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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.

 SunsetRockRapids2

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:

TrailerMontageAbove: 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,

Steve