Wednesday, November 25, 2009
With the economy in a slump and jobs scarce as hen's teeth you may be considering a career change. If trucking looks good to you, there are some things you need to know before you jump in.

First off, trucking is not for everyone. You have to be able to handle long hours (up to 11 hours at a time behind the wheel), some heavy lifting (you may be required to help load and unload your trailer, and put in load locks), physical effort (you must be able to climb in and out of a trailer that is about four feet off the ground, and sweep it out occasionally - all 53 ft of it), stress (late loads, crazy/stupid drivers, pressure from dispatchers, bad weather - sometimes all of these at once), and paperwork (logs, trip paperwork, map reading, etc.) You must be good at handling challenges without panicking, a cool head is essential in this business. Good people skills help, too.

Training is expensive and can take weeks to complete, so don't think you will be able to jump right in and start earning right away. You will need to go to school first. Don't go to a CDL Mill! I can't stress this enough - DON'T GO TO A CDL MILL! Check out your local Vo-Tech and community colleges. The course will be cheaper, the training will be better, and you may even be able to get a Pell grant to help pay for it. A community college or Vo-Tech course will cost you around $3,000 and take about 8 weeks to complete - a CDL Mill will cost about $6,000 and take about 3 weeks.

Check out trucking companies before you start. Even though the ads in the paper say they are hiring, many are not right now. In fact many companies are downsizing. In many cases those ads in the paper are from CDL Mills that want your money - not from the the trucking companies themselves. Make sure the companies you are interested in are actually hiring.

After your schooling you will have to go to a company with a training program. Companies such as Swift, Stevens Transport, J.B. Hunt, Werner, Crete, U.S. Express, and a few others have special programs in place to further train student drivers. You will not learn everything you need to know in school - you must get hands-on on-the-job-training, usually 6 months worth. Trucking is NOT unskilled labor - no matter how the powers that be classify it.

Before you choose a company go to The Trucker's Report and check out their Trucking Company DAC Reports and the Good/Bad Trucking Company forum.

Also Desiree's A Day in the Life of a Lady Trucker is a must read. Not to scare you away from trucking, but because you should be aware of the problems that do exist out there. What she chronicles in her story is real, I have heard first hand accounts of the awful things that can happen to student drivers in an uncaring system. I was very lucky in that I got a great trainer (he was such a great trainer I eventually married him, but that's another story), and there are other great trainers out there who really do care about teaching. But, as with all walks of life, there are predators and scum mixed in, too, and you need to be prepared. Odds are good you will get matched up to drive with someone who, at the very least, has poor hygiene or an annoying personality, if not the outright horrors depicted in Desiree's story.

Trucking can be a very lucrative, very rewarding career, but it it also very hard to get started, and there will be many obstacles in your way. Student drivers don't get paid much - less now than ever, and are often jerked around by uncaring companies and taken advantage of by power hungry dispatchers. Be ready to stand up for yourself, be prepared to put up with a lot of crap. Look at your first year like a sort of Boot Camp - it sucks, but things get easier from there, and you will emerge a stronger person for it.

Once you have a couple of years accident free experience under your belt that CDL can be as good as gold. Don't think you will be stuck driving for the same monster uber-comany that you start with. With experience behind the wheel you can eventually move on to a smaller company that is more likely to treat you better, pay better, and get you home more often. You may even decide to become an Owner-Operator and really be your own boss.

I'm not writing this to scare anyone away from becoming a truck driver, but right now the CDL Mills are being especially predatory trying to take advantage of so many people who are out of work. I hope anyone who is considering doing this for a living will do their research, make their choices carefully, and not jump in blindly.

If you would like more step-by-step info on how to get your CDL, check out my article on eHow: How to Become a Long Haul Trucker
Friday, November 20, 2009

Well, we delivered in Houma, and now we are on our way to pick up our next load which will take us to Florida. We're traveling across I-10 south of New Orleans right now, and I'm enjoying the scenery. Now, I'm sure most people think of swamps as murky, stark, depressing places, wasted space, eyesores... but I find them hauntingly beautiful. Perhaps it's because of where I grew up. Southern Baldwin County, Alabama has its fair share of swamps, marshes, estuaries, and bayous. They are "In Between" places - halfway land, halfway water, not fully either; mysterious, teeming with life and color, delicately balanced. Home to egrets and herons, crabs, snails, gators, ospreys, and fish of all kinds, Spanish moss, Cyprus trees, vivid neon green and red algae, wildflowers of all colors, palmetto, and sawgrass.

Perhaps I find them so intriguing not because of the wildlife, but because of the mystery. In between places have a kind of magic to them. Legend says that fairies have power in the in betweens. Stories of spirits and rougarous, will-o-the-whisps, hoodoos, Swamp Thing, and Marie Leveau all capture my imagination.

There's also something about Cajun culture that I love - Zydeco, joie de vivre, good food ... mmm, that Cajun food - jambalya, crawfish pie, file gumbo...

No more boudan for me though. It has rice in it. Dang it, I love boudan.

Which brings me around to my diet. Latest update - I've lost 15 lbs so far. As I expected, my weight loss is slowing down. I expect to lose about 2 lbs a week or so.

Sticking to the primal diet has gotten harder, but not for the usual reason. I'm not hungry all the time, even though I'm taking in fewer calories than I used to (between 1000 and 1200 a day as opposed to the 1600 to 1800 that I used to eat) - in fact, some days I have to make myself eat enough to stay above the starvation level. What's making it hard is monotony. It's hard to get primal foods at truckstops, so I find I'm limited to just a few choices - those being hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, and cheese sticks. Even those aren't good choices because the beef jerky has sugar added, and in a lot of cases MSG, and the cheese has lots of preservatives and chemicals. I can broaden my choices with fast food salads, but even that isn't a great choice because they use so many preservatives and who knows what in their meats and dressings.

We have stopped at grocery stores a couple of times, but there aren't that many who allow big rigs in their lots. Even when we can stop, there isn't much room in the little fridge we got for the truck, so I can't buy much at a time. Here's what I've been eating:

Tuna packets - these come in flavors now, so it's not as monotonous.
nuts - pecans, walnuts, almonds, macadamias
fruit - apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, melon
beef jerky - trying to cut down on this one because of the added sugar and MSG.
hard boiled eggs
salads - whenever I can.
stuff cooked on the truck.

Now, my husband and I drive as a team, which means we are always moving. We very rarely sit, and when we do we often don't know how long we'll be sitting still, and it's never on any predictable schedule. This makes it difficult to cook in the truck.

It's hard to prepare food when bumping down the road. I can't often stay awake for the two hours or so it takes for our lunch-box oven to cook most things when we are on a hard run, which is most of the time - I need to be either sleeping, keeping up with paperwork, making phone calls, and planning our trips when I'm not driving. (This is one of the reasons my posts here are so haphazard as well.) Now, at the moment we are waiting to get loaded, and I have a buffalo steak marinading in the fridge. I don't know whether or not I will have time to cook it this afternoon. I try, though. I like to cook, and I like home cooked food.

Here's what I've been cooking when I get the chance:

Chop up 1/2 a zucchini, 1/2 a yellow squash, 1/2 a small onion, a couple of baby portobello mushrooms, some sweet bell peper.
Put in a tin loaf pan (the size that fits so nicely in a lunchbox cooker) along with some beef tips or other meat of your choice. Top with 1/2 a can of diced tomatoes (I like the ones with cilantro and lime), season to taste (pepper and garlic powder for me.) and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Optionally, you can substitute the diced tomatoes with marinara sauce and when it's almost done you can add a layer of mozzarella cheese to the top.

Kabobs - pretty much the same ingredients - zucchini, squash, portobello mushroom, sweet bell pepper, meat of your choice. Load onto bamboo skewers, brush with oil, sprinkle with black pepper, and put them in a Forman-style grill. These are great because I can get them ready before hand, cook them while we're moving,  and hand one to my husband while he's driving so he can eat with minimal distraction and mess, and we don't have to stop rolling.

I tried eggplant pizza (using slices of eggplant instead of grain-based crust) but that didn't work out so well. I couldn't close the Forman grill on the toppings, and I got tired of trying to hold it almost closed to melt the cheese - so my toppings never got hot and the eggplant wasn't done all the way through.

I plan to pick up our mini-crock pot when we are home over Thanksgiving so I can try soups and stews, and I'm going to make up a couple of no-noodle lasagnas and beanless meat chili to freeze in those little loaf pans and bring out with us so all I have to do is pop them in the cooker to heat. I also plan to use some of my time at home to find more recipe ideas and make lists of ingredients I can carry on the truck to make them. What I want to be able to do is buy only a few ingredients at a time, but be able to make several different meals from the same ingredients (that way I can use them all up before they go bad, since most things come in such large packages these days and I usually have plenty left over after only one meal - hence the two recipes above.)

I'll keep you updated, dear reader.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009
We've been having all kinds of problems with our truck lately. The odometer rolled over 200,000 miles, and everything started falling apart. It started with needing new steer tires - seems we ran the rubber right off the old ones.

Then we started having problems with our batteries going dead. We couldn't leave the truck turned off for more than an hour without having to jump start it. Most states have anti-idle laws, so that put us in quite a pickle. We could either leave it running and risk a ticket, or turn it off and have to get a jump start to get moving again.

We took it to a TA in Maryland, but they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Breakdown told us to take it to the Freightliner dealer in Baltimore. On the way there our blower motor quit working - no heat, no AC. They found several other things wrong with it, too, but the biggie was a problem with the alternator. Our company was hot for us to pick up a load and keep moving because they were overbooked for freight in that area - they didn't have enough trucks to pick up all the loads. We ended up being laid over for two days waiting for a new alternator to come in. The company wouldn't let the mechanics there fix all the other problems because they wanted us to get back on the road as soon as possible.

Mike and I used our time to brave the Baltimore public bus system and we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art, right next to Johns Hopkins University. My hubby isn't much of an art guy, but he kind of enjoyed it. They had a special exhibit on the art inspired by Edgar Allen Poe that I really enjoyed.  I think Mike mostly enjoyed learning that big city public transit isn't as scary as he thought it would be - kind of opens up a whole new world of things to do and see when we are laid over in a bigger city. We ate at a cool little place called The Dizz, which was right next door to Charm City Cakes (of Ace of Cakes fame).

Well, when our truck was out of the shop dispatch tried to give us a load going to Oregon, but we said, "No Way, Jose!" No blower motor means no defroster. No way we were going to head into snow with no defroster. So they got us a load back to the yard. A load with 4 pick-ups - Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Surprisingly, it went very smoothly and we were able to get back out of the dreaded North East pretty easily.

We got to the yard on Saturday morning, and our truck went straight in the shop. We got laundry done, and took care of some other stuff on the yard, then we went to see a movie. I'm afraid I can't recommend "The Men Who Stare at Goats". Save your money. I wish we had. Then we spend some time walking around the mall, ate at Outback (mmmm....good...), slept in a hotel (one more might off the truck, very refreshing).
We got moving again Sunday night (fixed blower motor, annual maintenance, and they installed a spare tire rack) and delivered our load in Dallas - 2 delivery stops.

From there we got a load out to Riverside, CA, and from there we reloaded to Mt. Sterling, IL. When we were alomost to Mt. Sterling the truck started making a funny noise. The noise kept getting worse, and we had to nurse the truck and pray the last 20 miles or so. We got the load delivered, unhooked from the trailer while it was in the dock door, and called breakdown, again.

Turns out the alternator they installed in Baltimore had bad bearings. Once it cooled down it froze up completely and we had to be towed to the Freightliner shop in Quincy, IL, about 30 miles away. I got to ride in the truck while it was being towed because there wasn't room for both of us in the cab of the tow truck, which was kind of cool being towed backwards. The tow truck driver had the truck jacked up a little high, and we almost hit a low bridge, but he stopped just in time and had to lower the truck a little.

This was on a Friday, and they couldn't get a new alternator in till Monday, so we got to spend another weekend in a hotel. Luckily the hotel was just a short walk from a movie theater, and we got to see "2012". That one was worth the money. Sweet, juicy eye candy. The plot was a little lacking, and there where physics errors big enough to drive our rig through, but it was fun.

Sunday we rented a car and drove to Hannibal, MO, about 25 miles south of Quincy. We got to tour the Mark Twain cave, which is the cave used as the model for the cave in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". I'm going to have to go back and re-read that now that I know what the cave looks like. It was very narrow and twisty, and really does have bats.

After the cave we went to the Mark Twain boyhood home and museum, which was pretty cool. And we ate at the most wonderful little restaurant called the Abby Rose. It was filled with beautiful Victorian decor, the food was excellent, and on Sundays they serve it "home style", which means they bring the food out in bowls and you scoop what you want onto your plate. If you are ever in Hannibal, I highly recommend the place. The prices are reasonable, too.

Monday we got back on the road, and right now we are heading for Houma, LA. The clutch is starting to give us problems, but we are scheduled for time off for Thanksgiving, so we don't want to say anything to breakdown about it cause we don't want to be stuck in another hotel room when we should be home enjoying turkey and trimmings. We're just going to keep our fingers crossed and take care of it after Thanksgiving.
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Monday, October 19, 2009
The company gave us a load of plastic bags with "RUSH" stamped all over the bills, told us the reciver needed it ASAP, and that they recieved 24 hrs a day, 7 day s a week. We called the broker and assured them we could have it in Columbia City, Oregon by early Sunday morning, then we pushed hard to get it there. Just as we were crossing onto Oregon, we got a call - don't bother hurrying. They won't be open on sunday . It turns out the plant had some sort of technical problem and had to shut down. So, we ended up sitting at the TA in Troutdale, OR for 24 hours.

On the plus side, I did get in my first session of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The way it works is this: You run all out for 30 seconds, then jog (or in my case walk) for an interval, then run again. Since I'm just starting out, I started with a 3 minute warm up, then 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 90 seconds of walking, then 30 seconds of sprinting again - rinse and repeat. I had planned on 6 intervals (6 high intensity, and 6 low intensity), but I only managed to make 3 1/2 of the sprints, and just walked the rest of it. I'll work my way up to being able to do the full 6, then work on pushing it to 12 intervals, then I'll start shortening the low intensity intervals till it's 30 seconds high and 30 secs low.
I downloaded an app for my iPhone that lets me time my intervals - it plays a sound when it's time to change from high to low and back again, and it'll even play over my music. Works great.

I've lost 11 lbs so far, and have lots more energy than I used to.

Anyway, we delivered our load this morning. We had to drive right inside the building at the receiver, as they didn't have a dock, and two guys unloaded us with a pallet jack and a fork lift. Now we're back in Troutdale at the TA waiting for another load.
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Friday, October 16, 2009
Mike and I got to see our grandson play flag football yesterday. He's only in first grade, but I think he's headed for a Heiseman Trophy. The kid is good. The local Pop Warner team already wants him as soon as he's old enough. His big sister makes me so proud, too. She's decided she wants to be a CSI when she grows up, and she's only 10. I think I'm gonna get her a kids crime scene kit for Christmas.

It was good to have a little time at home, even if it was so busy it barely counted as a break. We got home around 11 am on Thursday, and we parked in the municipal truck lot. Mike walked over to the DMV to renew his haz-mat endorsement, and he came storming back only a few minutes later. They keep changing the rules. He got his license renewd last month, but they told him he had to renew his TSA background check before he could get his haz-mat endorsement renewed. So we finally got his letter back from the TSA, took a day off, and he went to take his test, only to be told that they had to see a copy of his birth certificate - which they never even mentioned last month when he went in.

So, I was in the middle of sorting through all the various and sundry junk we have in the truck, and I had the bed stripped so we could wash the linens, and the truck was a disorganized mess - and Mike, already in a bad mood, had to dig through it all to find his birth certificate. I just stayed out of his way - the wisest course of action when he's pissed off. But he did find it, and he passed his test and got his endorsement renewd. The Surgeon General ought to put a warning on the front door of the DMV - "Caution: Entering this building may cause an unhealthy rise in blood pressure."

We dropped the trailer in the Municipal truck lot and bobtailed to the house. We ran around most of the day running errands. Then I cooked dinner - primal style.

I'm loving this new diet I'm on. One week, and I've lost 8lbs, and I don't feel hungry or deprived at all. I had plenty of energy for everything we had to do yesterday, even with many trips up and down the stairs lugging heavy stuff (which actually counts as a primal workout - bonus!).

Dinner was:
Sirloin steak marinated in a lime chipotle marinade of my own invention. (extra virgin olive oil, juice of two limes, crushed fresh garlic, black pepper, chipotle chili seasoning, and a dash of Tabasco for kick.)
Steamed broccoli with homemade Hollandaise sauce (which is completely primal: 4 egg yolks, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a pinch of salt.)
Pico de Gallo on the side.
The only un-primal thing about the meal was the garlic bread my husband insisted on. I admit, I cheated just a little and had a small piece, but after only just a week my taste buds are getting accustomed to my new way of eating, and it just didn't taste as good as it used to. Which is good, cause it means I'm going to be a lot less likely to slip in the future.

The meal was a hit, and I loved the chance to get back into the kitchen and work some magic. It's been so long since I did much cooking - it's been so long since I had the energy to make anything that didn't involve boxed mixes and microwaves. And it was great to get some real food after so long with just truck stop fare.
Oh, and I fixed beef fillets wrapped in bacon, and scrambled eggs with the left over Pico de Gallo for breakfast.

But all good things must end, alas. We got a call from dispatch and had to roll this morning, so we only got one night at home. But we accomplished everything on our to-do list, and I have a pork tenderloin waiting in the cooler for dinner this evening (I'm going to try to cook it in the lunch box stove we have in the truck).
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Monday, October 12, 2009
I've been reading and learning a lot over the past few days. Some of the things I have learned are pretty scary. Did you know that 70% of what is on the supermarket shelves isn't really food? It's chemicals created in labs to resemble food. It's hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, added plant starch, unpronounceable preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors added to make psuedo-food look and taste more like the real thing. I've learned that we are killing ourselves with what we eat.

We've been falling for the industry pushed line that what we get packaged on the shelves is healthy, but all it really is is cheap. How much of the food you buy today would have been recognizeable to your great grandparents?

I've been looking - really looking - at the lables on the food I've been buying and I now understand why I've had so much trouble with my weight over the years. I'm not going to go into detail about why all those chemicals and sugars are bad - the wonderful authors of the blogs listed over to the right have done a much better job than I ever could. I mean, hey, they convinced me.

Something else I've learned about is the Japanese principal of Kaizen - change through baby steps. I want to change the way I eat and live. I want to get healthy, I want to have the energy to do more, I want to be able to be proud of my body - but if I look at everything I need to change all at once it seems overwhelming. So I'm going to apply Kaizen. My first little change is what I've already started doing: cutting out grains and starches and sugar.

I'm going to post updates on my progress here as well as my usual cool stories about life on the road. This job presents unique obstacles to living and eating healthy, and maybe through my trial and error, discoveries and progress I can help other truck drivers who want to get healthy out here on the road, or anybody who wants to get healthy.

So, as I sit here in Mira Loma, CA, four days into a new way of eating, I'm making this resolution - I AM GOING TO GET HEALTHY!!

Here's my before picture:
267 lbs, smoking a pack a day, no energy, eating anything I feel like, depressed, hormones imbalanced (the doctor says its Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but when they say "syndrome" instead of  "disease" that means they don't know what causes it or how to fix it. Maybe it's from the hormones in the meat and dairy I've been eating all my life.) Because of the PCOS (or whatever is causing my hormone imbalance) I've got acne, oily skin, dandruff, and other problems.

Here's my plan: Stay with the carb reduction for now - no grains, no pasta, no refined sugar. Once this has become a fully ingrained (ha) habit - say 30 to 60 days, and I'm not as tempted to grab for sweets and pastries, I'll move to step 2. Step 2 will be the hard one - Quit Smoking. After that I'll work on ways to move from processed, industrialized foods to natural, organic foods. Through the whole process I'll be moving every chance I get, adding exercise Primal Blueprint style.

I'm not going to set a timeline, I'm not going to get depressed and give up if I slip, I'm not going to set myself up for failure. I'm going to take baby steps.

My progress so far:
I haven't had any bread, pasta, pastries, potatoes, corn, or candy for four days now.
I've mostly been eating salads, nuts, veggies, cottage cheese, a little fruit, and beef jerky.
I have gotten out of the truck three days out of the four and walked for at least half an hour.
I have been drinking only water and, once a day, a cup of coffee with half-&-half and no sugar.
I've lost 6 lbs already!! And I know that I'm not going to keep losing at this rate. I'm hoping for about 2lbs a week on average.

The thing is, I think this diet is going to work. There are a lot of meats and cheeses I like to eat. Since I stopped eating sugary foods, fruit tastes decadently sweet to me now so I don't think I'm going to miss the sugar much. I don't feel hungry, and I have more energy now than I've had in a long time. And this is only four days in!! I can't wait to see how I'm doing in a year.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009
When I came back out on the road in September of 2008, I weighed a little under 200lbs. After one year back in the truck I'm up by nearly 70lbs. I've tried watching calories, burned myself out on salads, given up and gorged myself on junk food in bouts of depression, resolved to exercise every day and never find the time to do it, alternately been determined to lose the weight and resigned to my fate as a fat trucker slob.

 At the moment I'm on a new track - I've discovered the idea of living (and eating) primally. The whole idea is to look back at the diet and lifestyle of our caveman ancestors because that was the life and diet our body evolved to handle best. That means a diet low in carbs, high in meat and veggies, and moving whenever possible rather than set and repetitive workout routines. The basic premises are:

  • Eat lots of animals and plants.
  • Move around a lot at a slow pace.
  • Lift heavy things.
  • Run really fast every once in a while.
  • Get lots of sleep.
  • Play.
  • Get some sunlight every day.
  • Avoid trauma.
  • Avoid poisonous things.
  • Use your mind.

 Check out the Primal Blueprint at Mark Sisson's blog -

My biggest problem is the fare available at truckstops. Every truckstop is full of the usual convinience store fare of junk food, candy and sodas. Most truck stops also offer selections of fast food - delectable tempations garounteed to pack on the pounds. They don't carry much in the way of veggies.
My strategy so far:

Sunflower Seeds - most truck stops carry these, and they are full of protein and good fats.
Hard Boiled Eggs - some truck stops carry these. Flying J usually has them.
Subway Salads - I can still have the Subway sandwiches I enjoy, I just have to ditch the bread and order them as a salad instead.
Beef Jerky - something else I can find in almost any truck stop.

Not a whole lot of variety here, but I'm looking for more options so I don't burn out on this diet. Hopefully we'll find time for a sit-down restaurant meal soon so I can order myself a nice big steak.

My biggest problem so far is that without bread in my diet it's hard to find meals I can eat while driving - no sandwiches, no burritos.

It's been two days now since I've cut out the carbs. I even got out of the truck and went for a forty minute walk yesterday - and instead of pushing myself to walk hard and fast and ending up with my legs cramping up five minutes into the walk and giving up, I did it primal style and just walked at a normal pace, not worried about getting my heart rate up or pushing myself. I just enjoyed the great outdoors, watched the dragon flies and butterflies and enjoyed the lush, jungle-like foliage of central Florida. I even walked on the grass on the side of the road instead of on the road itself - to make my feet and legs have to flex and work more naturally. I have to figure out how to work in strength training, though, but I'm going to step into this gently and slowly by changing my diet first, and just trying to move more. I'll update as I go. I'm pretty excited about the whole idea of Primal Living because it's not just a diet, but a lifestyle.

 It's not going to be easy, though. Truck stops are not designed with health and fitness or natural living of any kind in mind.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009
So, we finally did get that lettus off the trailer, but it took us two more days after the truck was fixed. We ended up taking part of it to the Food Bank, but they only needed ten pallets, which left us with 32 pallets. We sat and waited for instructions for the rest of it, and we sat, and sat, and eventually made a few calls of our own. The only place we could find that was interested was the zoo. It took a couple more hours to get permission to actually take it to the zoo, but eventually we got it there. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication between the person we talked to and the person who approved the donation - they were only expecting 32 cases of lettus, not the half-truckload we showed up with.
Apparently, too much lettus gives elephants the runs. They couldn't use it. They took 2 pallets, but we still had a lot of lettus to get rid of.
We sat on the load for another night, and most of another day before the powers-that-be at SRT arrainged for the load to go to a dump - in Kentucky. We made another round of phone calls getting directions and instructions, and we were about to start moving that way when they told us to stop, pass the lettuss off to another driver, and swap for a load heading west.
We finally got out from under the lettus. I feel sorry for the poor guy who got it though. It was raining hard that day, and we'd been told that the road to the dump was very muddy. I hope he didn't get stuck.

The most exciting thing that happened to us this past week: We got to see the Space Shuttle land at Edwards AFB out in California. We didn't plan it that way, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and mike had the radio on and heard on the news that it was going to be landing at Edwards. We were on CA-58, which runs along the northern edge of Edwards. Mike pulled off on the shoulder, and we could see the crowds of people along the fence lined up with cameras and binoculars waiting for it to land.
There was a double BOOM BOOM as the shuttle broke the sound barrier entering the atmosphere. Then it curved around and glided to a landing. It was only a couple of minutes, but it was a very cool couple of minutes. I've always wanted to see the space shuttle in action, and with NASA retireing the shuttle fleet next year I was afraid I would never get to see it. I still want to see a launch, but this was almost as good.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Last Wednesday after delivering a load in Phoenix, we got the load from hell. We were told to go to Kingman, Arizona, about three hours away, to meet another truck from a different company. Our dispatcher gave us a phone number for the broker who was handling the load. A call to the broker, and we learned that the other truck was broken down and the broker had arraigned with a local warehouse in Kingman to crossdock the load from that driver's trailer onto ours. OK, sounds easy enough so far. We called the little warehouse and got directions. The guy we spoke to at the warehouse wasn't sure how the other driver was supposed to get his trailer there if he was broke down, so we called the broker back. This is where things start getting squirly.

The broker calls the other driver to find out where his trailer is and to find out if he's going to have to arraigned for a third truck to move that trailer, or if we would have to go get it. He finds out that the trailer is in Needles, California, about 50 miles west of Kingman. So the broker starts making calls trying to set up a place for the transfer in Needles. Meanwhile, Mike and I are already on our way to Kingman.

Two hours later the broker calls us and tells us all this, and tells us that we will have to go to Needles for the transfer. So, we now have to call the new warehouse for directions, then we have to call dispatch to make sure they know about the change so we can get paid for the extra miles. Annoying, but so far not too bad.

Then we get to Needles and find the little, tiny, warehouse on a narrow back street where we've got to back in across a busy road to get into their dock. Then we have to wait for the other driver to back his truck in next to ours. Then, we find out that we will be carrying lettus. The dock we are at is not temperature controlled, it is open to the outside, and it's 112 degrees outside. Lettus is just about the most delicate type of produce one can carry, it's very temperature sensitive. It took them a little over an hour to transfer the lettus onto our truck, that whole time the lettus temperature is going up, and up, and up...

Try taking a head of lettus out of your refrigerator and putting it in your oven, set at 112 degrees, for one hour and see how that lettus looks. Now, stick it back in your fridge, and pull it out two days later. Not pretty. But dispatch told us to run the load anyway, so we did. Two days later we delivered in Nashville. Or, we tried to deliver. They didn't want it.

What's that? The other guy's truck? Yeah, he was still in Needles. It turns out his problem was that his Jake brake was stuck on, and he had to get his truck to Kingman to get it fixed, but he was never in Kingman... that was all just a big miscommunication.

OK, so we finally get our load assignment as we're leaving the place in Needles, and it's got our delivery time listed as 7:01 am. We've figured out that when they put an "01" on the time, that means there's no appointment set and they'll update it later. Now, we were looking at arriving in Nashville around 2 in the morning, so we called the receiver to see how early we could deliver. We were told that they don't start receiving until noon on Fridays, so we sent that info to dispatch. The next morning, Thursday, we got our updated load assignment with a delivery time of 7:00am, and I called dispatch to make sure that was right. We were told that they would receive our load at 7, so we pushed it on through, stopped for about 4 hours just outside Nashville to sleep, and got there at 6:30am Friday morning - only to be told that they wouldn't start receiving till noon. So we sat and waited.

They put us in a dock at noon-thirty, and we sat in the dock until 4:30 pm. Then the receiver came out and told us that they were rejecting the lettus. It took them 4 hours to decide they didn't want it. But wait! It gets better.

We called dispatch. They made out a report on the load and told us to call the broker to see what he wanted us to do with the load. We played phone tag for the next three hours. Eventually we were told to stay there at the receiver and wait for the USDA inspector to come and look at the lettus. The inspector wasn't expected until 1PM the next day. And no, we couldn't drop the trailer and bob-tail to a hotel. We had to stay with the load just to make sure the reefer didn't stop and ruin the load. Ha. (To be fair - SRT wasn't liable for the load because it was the broker's goof up, and they were afraid that a reefer unit breakdown would allow the broker to shift the liability. So, no hotel for us. Yet.)

So, we waited over night. The closest place to eat was about 1/2 a mile away, so I walked and got us dinner. If you ever have a chance to get Philly Cheese Steaks at Fat Mo's in Smyrna, TN go for it, I highly recommend them.

*deep breath*

OK, so we sat on that load until the inspector got there. I finished an entire three novel series with all that free time ( I love my Kindle app on my iPhone. And if you like sword and sorcery stuff, I recommend the Assassin's Apprentice series by Robin Hobb - good stuff.)

They rejected it - again.

We played phone tag - again.

Finally, around 6pm they told us we could take the load and go to a truck stop while they tried to figure out what to do with 32,000 lbs of slightly wilted lettus.

Then the truck broke down.


So, we were at the truck stop just long enough to get showers and eat dinner, and we had to get a tow to the Freightliner service center in Nashville. We got to the Freightliner at midnight Saturday night, followed by a trailer full of unwanted lettus.

Our truck needs a new thermostat, and there's a problem with the regen system. Now, the regen system is a new thing to make the trucks meet the new emissions standards. It's basically an exhaust particulate filter, and every once in a while it had to be heated to something like a bazillion degrees to burn off the particles. Ours wasn't getting up to the right temperature because of the thermostat. Hopefully, they can just replace the thermostat then run a regen cycle and it will all be OK, and we can get back on the road, but I don't have high hopes for it.

This is our third night in a hotel. It's Tuesday, and our truck still isn't fixed. They only just got the right part in this afternoon, and at 4pm, when we left the service center, they still hadn't pulled the truck into the service bay yet.

The lettus is still in the trailer.

To be continued....
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sorry about the long break from posting. I was kind of burnt out on trying to keep up with a blog, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, selling photos and writing articles for eHow, and still getting enough sleep so I can drive this truck. So, I took a break from the web for a while, but I'm back now.

It has been a pretty eventful summer. Not long after my last post, Mike's mother passed away. We took a week off in Evansville, IN for her funeral. About two weeks later we got a load to Chicago and were able to take a weekend off, so Mike got to visit with an uncle of his that he hadn't seen in 40 years. He also got to visit with another cousin in Arkansas. We just got back on the road from spending a few days in Alabama with my family. We've done a lot of catching up and re-connecting this year.

We've also had a few exciting moments out here on the road. We got buzzed by a B-1 Stealth Bomber out in West Texas. It was flying sow low I could just about see the grin on the pilots face. I drove through a dust storm in New Mexico, nearly got blown off the road. We had a driver for another company try to claim we hit his truck up in New Jersey, it was obvious that the damage on his bright orange truck was from him jack-knifing into his own trailer. He was just looking for someone else to blame it on. We had to call out the police to get that all sorted out.

We've seen a lot of accidents, including a car that ran off the road and rolled right in front of us (the driver was unhurt), and been stuck in a lot of backups. Construction is pretty thick out here this year, it seems like there are orange barrels everywhere you look. We've also seen a lot more hitch-hikers and people stranded begging for gas money, and a lot of cars loaded with belongings where people are moving in search of work.

Right now we are on our frist load after taking four days off, and it has been a pain so far. We got to the shipper half an hour late, so we had to wait almost 8 hours to get loaded because they bumped us to the end of the line. Once we were loaded we went and weighed and were over gross (we can only weigh a total of 80,000lbs, but we were at 80,160) so we had to go back to the shipper to have some freight taken off. We ended up sitting for another 5 hours waiting for that, so now the load is going to be late getting up to Rhode Island. The northwest isn't fun under the best of curcumstances.

Well, I've got to get some sleep so we can push this load through. I'llo try to keep this blog updated a little more regularly.

Monday, March 30, 2009
We were on our way to York, Pensylvania on March 18th with a load when it all started. We got a message from our dispatcher that we needed to stop in Breezewood, PA and swap loads with another driver who was moving too "Sloooooowwww" (our dispatcher's exact wording).  That load had to be out in Reno, NV by 6 am on the 20th and there was no way we could get it there on time. We pushed it straight through, though, and ran ourselves right out of hours. We got the load there only a couple of hours late. Our dispatcher knew that I was out of hours, and Mike only had 4 hours left out of his 70 for the week, but we would both be picking up hours after midnight. She pre-planned us on a load with a lot of time on it so we could get a break, and we were looking forward to the break. But alas, it was not to be.

There was a driver shut down out in Fernley, NV with a load that had to be in Atlanta, GA, and there was no way he could make it, but we figured out, after some furious calculating, there was just enough time left on the load that we could ease it across the country and still get some hours back. Would have worked out perfectly, but the trailer we were pulling had different ideas. We grabbed the load and moved it 150 miles east before we were completely out of hours and had to shut down until after midnight. 

The next day we pushed it a little further, and we made it to Big Spring, NE before we ran out of hours again and had to shut down for the night. We stopped a little longer than we actually had to and got a good night's sleep, setting out again around 6am that next morning. We made it about 5 hours, almost to Lincoln, NE before the problems really started. A car passed us, the lady inside honking and waving franticaly at Mike. She was mouthing the word, "Fire!" and pointing to the rear of our trailer. Checking the rearview mirror, we could see smoke pouring from the trailer tires on the right side. Mike eased it off onto the shoulder, and I dived into the storage compartment under the bed to find the fire extinguisher. 

The extinguisher was in the side box, like it was supposed to be, but it was burried beneath coils of jumper cables and extention cords. I was frantically pulling at what seemed like an endless tangle of cords when Mike brushed me aside and took over. I got out of the way and grabbed the phone and climbed out of the truck to go look at our furiously smoking tires. There were no flames visible, just lots of smoke as I waited on hold for our breakdown department to answer their phone. Mike handed me the fire extinguisher as he walked past me to set out our warning triangles, then he passed me again going the other way, muttering under his breath. He came back by me a third time with the broken triangle and a roll of duct tape. The triangles looked brand new, but they wouldn't stay clipped together the way they were supposed to. While he fiddled with them, breakdown finally answered the phone. Almost as soon as I started talking to them I realized that the axle hub was actually on fire - the flames were inside the hub, and we couldn't see them until the plastic hub melted enough to develop a hole in it. So the first thing breakdown heard was me telling Mike "Hey, this thing is on fire, should I spray it?" and Mike is yelling "Stick it in the hole and spray!" 

I nearly dropped the phone as I pulled the pin on the fire extinguisher and got it aimed at the fire. One good burst of dry chemichal fire retardent was all it took to put out the flames, which was a good thing because one good burst was all that was left in the extinguisher. Oil was pouring out of the ruptured hub, and the inside rear trailer tire was worn almost completely bald, even though it had looked almost new we we'd done our pre-trip inspection that morning. Mike diagnosed the problem right away - one of our axle bearings had seized up.

Dispatch got a hold of a mechanic who did roadside service, and he promised that he would be there as soon as he got changed out of his church clothes. We owe this guy a huge thannk you because he stayed up until almost 5 am the next morning trying to get us rolling again after giving up most of his Sunday. (So Tom Elliott, if you are reading this - THANK YOU, SIR!) And for everyone else, if you are broke down in a big rig in the Lincoln, NE area, give this guy some buisness, he's good at what he does. (Tom's Truck Service)

The reason it took 18 hours to get rolling again is bcause that trailer had an oddly sized axle and Mr. Elliott couldn't get ahold of the oddly sized spindle nut that was needed to put it all beck to gether again. He called every parts supply house in the area looking for one. He eventually had to drive all the way to Omaha to get one. But he got us back together and rolling.

So we spent 18 hours sitting on the shoulder of I-80. Luckily we still had a few packages of the freeze dried hicking food that we'd bought at Cabela's a few months back, so we didn't go hungry. Mike split his Zero bar with me, and I boiled some water and made re-hydrated Huevos Rancheros and mashed potatoes for our dinner.

Trying to sleep with a busy highway only inches away wasn't easy, though. Turn your TV on to a Nascar race and try sleeping with your head next to the speakers and you will have an idea of what it's like. Only we also had the worry that someone might stray out of their lane and hit us. The truck rocked with every vehicle that flew past, and there were thousands of them. That is a very busy stretch of highway. Parking on the shoulder is never a safe thing to do, but we had no choice, the trailer was fully loaded and heavy and couldn't be moved without risking much more damage to it.

Once we got moving again that load was no longer an easy run, but a hard push to get it there on time because all of our extra time had been used up on the side of the highway. We got it to Atlanta barely half an hour before our delivery time.

We had a few hours to relax before we had to pick up our next load at one o'clock that afternoon. But the load we were picking up was a flat out burn to Ft. Worth with no extra time on it. It was due at 6 am the next morning. We made that one no problem, and headed down to Waco, TX to pick up our next load. 

There was a delay getting loaded on that one because the product for the load wasn't ready yet, and even though we arrived at 10 am, we didn't leave Waco till almost 9pm. That load was bound for Orlando, FL, and even though we had plenty of time on it - we could have actually stopped and got a nights sleep sitting still for a change, our dispatcher asked us to hurry because she had a load coming out in Atlanta that was going to be hot and had to have a team on it. So we hustled to get the load to the Orlando drop yard. 

Our routing had us taking a back road to cut some distance off between I-35 and I-20, but the weather was turning pretty rough so we decided to stick to the interstate and went up through Dallas instead. And it's a good thing we did. Mike drove the first leg, and when I got up he told me about the two tornados we'd barely avoided by changing our route. The radio announced a tornado in one of the little Texas towns that we would have gone right through if we had followed the route we were supposed to take, then later, on the Louisiana/Texas state line, Mike stopped at a truck stop just as the store staff was coimg out of the cooler where they had taken shelter. We had just missed a tornado that crossed the road just west of that truck stop accompanied by grapefruit sized hail, and if we had taken the shortcut we would have been right there when it happened. 

We swapped and I drove for a while, fighting wind and heavy rain the whole way over to Jackson, MS. At Jackson, we fueled, and Mike took the wheel back and we went down US-49 to US-98 - right through the town of McGee, MS in the aftermath of the tornado there.  There were power lines down. Not just down, but twisted and tangled, the poles splintered and smashed like they had been stomped by a giant three year old in the midst of a temper tantrum. A warehouse next to the road was half torn away, gaping open like a studio set missing it's fourth wall. In the foggy morning daylight we could see the track the tornado had followed through the trees. There were tree limbs, stripped of branches and bark, impaled in the grass of the median like javelins. We heard later that a 100 year old church had been destroyed, but there had been only 2 injuries and no deaths in the little town.

We got the load there on Thursday evening around 11pm,  where we dropped it off for the local driver to deliver. And here's where the night from hell starts. Most of the empty trailers on the drop yard had out-of-service tags on them for one reason or another. The only useable trailer had one of the marker lights burnt out, and another one missing altogether. You could see where the trailer had been scraped against something, knocking the light off and leaving bare wires exposed. 

We didn't have any other choice but to take that trailer so we called breakdown to see about getting it fixed. Now, we had been told by our dispatcher that we had to be in Atlanta by Friday morning, but she didn't know exactly what time the load would be ready. We were supposed to just grab an empty trailer and deadhead on up to Atlanta. We wanted to hurry and get there, hoping we could get a couple of hours of downtime before we had to pick up our hot load, but things didn't work out that way at all. 

This was the night that the freak blizzard was going full force across Colorado, Wyoming, Western Kansas, and Nothern Texas. The whole center of the country was shut down, and the night dispathers and breakdown had thier hands full. We couldn't get through to breakdown on the phone, so we sent them a message on the qualcomm and took off to Wildwood, FL at the other end of the Florida Turnpike. The Pilot there was our fuel stop, and there was a TA with a shop where we could get the light fixed. It was also as far as we could go without getting it fixed - there's a DOT scale just north of there on I-75 and we couldn't risk pushing on and getting stopped at the scale and put out of service. The problem - we still couldn't get through to breakdown, and they still hadn't gotten back with us, and we can't get any work done on the truck or trailer without approval from breakdown. 

Then it got worse. As we were pulling off the fuel island after fueling up, we hit a bump and every light on the trailer went out. The bare wires from the broken light must have touched each other, and shorted out the whole trailer. One broken light we might have been able to get away with - but the whole trailer? No way!

About this time we got a message from night dispatch that there was a driver sitting in Lake City, FL whose load was due in Atlanta at 5 in the morning and could we please repower it or it was going to be late because that driver wasn't moving. All we could do was tell dispatch we would try and let them know about our lighting problem, again. We moved across the street to the TA and settled in waiting for breakdown to tell us something. I stayed on hold for over half an hour and no-one answered. I can only imagine the chaos that the breakdown depatment must have been trying to handle with trucks probably freezing up in the 19 degree temperatures in Colorado, trucks sliding into ditches, and whatever other dramas the blizzard and severe thunderstorms and high winds in the southeast must have been stirring up. Whatever was going on, all I knew for sure was that breakdown wasn't answering the phone and we were out of luck.

Mike went to talk to the guys at the TA shop to see what it would cost for us to get the trailer fixed ourselves, and it turned out that breakdown had already called them and they were expecting us - its just no one had bothered to contact us and let us know. It took them about three hours to get the wiring working right and our lights back on.

By the time we were rolling again it was 2am, and the load we were supposed to repower was supposed to deliver to its first stop at 5am. Dispatch told us to go ahead and get it and do the best we could. 

We got to Lake City, FL around 4:30 and found that the load we were supposed to repower was parked in a dollar store parking lot on a narrow side street in a bad neighborhood and the driver was nowhere to be found. We called dispatch to find out what was up.

It turned out that the driver was sick and had gone to the hospital. But apparently, before he'd gone to the hospital he'd been quite a pain in the rear for dispatch and the broker who was handling that load. 

Mike had to get into the guy's truck to disconnect it from the trailer and he said the inside of the guys truck was a horror show of trash and stink. Then we discovered that the seal on the trailer had been broken so we had to call dispatch again and talk to safety/security to find out if we needed to call the police. When we looked in the trailer it was only half full. 

After over an hour of being transfered back and forth on the phone we finally established that all the freight was there and were told to re-seal the trailer and run with it. Mike went to sleep and I took the first leg of the trip. About halfway to Atlanta I got a message on the qualcomm that we needed to call the broker for the load ASAP. I pulled off at the next rest area and made the call. The broker put me on a three way confrence call with the shipper and they asked me when we would be at our first delivery. There were 4 drops on the load, and all of them were late. I told them that we would be at our first drop around 11:30 am, which didn't make them happy because the first stop was supposed to have been at 5am. They got my cellphone number and called me back once an hour for updates. 

Mike and I swapped just south of Atlanta so he could drive while I navigated. We turned on the traffic report on our Sirius radio and found that the entire I-285 loop around Atlanta was shut down due to an accident with  big-rig going through a center divider. Now I had to find an alternate route on back roads, we had to deal with surface streets, city traffic, near blinding downpours, and a nervous broker. Luckily all of the places we were delivering to were off of I-20 West of the city proper, so we didn't actually have to go downtown or anything.

To sum it all up, we got it all delivered. The recivers were hard to find, and three out of four of them were actually closed when we got there - we only got unloaded because the broker and the shipper made a bunch of phone calls and got them to take us late. The broker was impressed with us, and said he's be glad to work with us anytime - he even offered us a reload, but we already had one scheduled. We really pulled that load out of the fire for SRT. 

Thus ending one of our most exciting weeks so far.
Friday, March 13, 2009

Drivers are facing a serious problem out here on the road.

On March 5, 2009 Jason Rivenburg was shot twice in the head and killed. He was a truck driver. He was parked at an abandoned gas station near Interstate 26 in South Carolina waiting to deliver his load, because the load's receiver wouldn't allow him to wait on their property.

On March 13, 2009 a driver was shot and injured in North Memphis when he stopped on an exit ramp to switch places with his co-driver. There are no truck stops or rest areas on that stretch of Interstate 240.

On February 22, 2008 truck driver Robert Earl Lee was fatally shot and robbed while trying to sleep in his truck. He had arrived early for his delivery in Tampa, FL and was told by the gate guard that he couldn't enter the property until 8:00 am. He had no choice but to park on the street.

On October 12, 1986 truck driver Robert Campbell was shot and robbed of $6 as he was taking his rest break at a rest area along Interstate 95.

Drivers are forced to park along streets, on highway ramps, and in empty lots due to a shortage of safe parking. At the same time several states are closing down their rest areas – most notably Virginia, but Vermont, New Hampshire, Arizona and California all have plans to close rest areas that provide valuable parking space for tired truckers.

Truckstops are filled to capacity and overflowing, forcing drivers to waste time circling the lot hoping for a space, then drive on down the road while tired to find a place to park.

Many shippers and receivers won't allow drivers to arrive early for appointments and require them to leave immediately after delivering – even if they are out of hours and can't legally drive.

The federal government, through the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFTEA-LU), provides $6.25 million for states to provide rest areas and safe parking for commercial vehicles. This drop in the bucket has to be shared out between all 50 states, and is woefully inadequate. To give you an idea of where truck driver safety rates on the federal priority scale – the 2009 Omnibus spending bill included $6.6 million dollars for termite research. Apparently we rate just behind bugs.

Jason Rivenburg's family is working to raise awareness of this issue and they have built a website and started a petition asking lawmakers to work to improve the parking situation for truckers. Please visit their site and sign the petition for Jason's Law:

Please write to your representatives in your state and the federal government and ask them to increase the funding for safe rest areas and to pass laws providing for safe places for truck drivers to rest while we are taking the breaks that federal law requires us to take.

Sunday, February 15, 2009
Sitting in the eerie fog in Arcadia, Florida this morning. Mike and I got a couple of days of R&R at home, then it was back to running again.  And here we are, back in Florida, which I love - except for the traffic. And parking? In Florida? Faggedaboutit! As far as that goes it really is the sixth burough of New York City. 

Last time we were down here we had to drive forever to find a place to park to wait for our next load. Well, OK, most of the driving was to get a trailer wash out. Some shippers, especially if they are shipping food products, are very picky about how clean your trailer is (and with good reason, so I'm not complaining, just venting a little :) ). The only truck wash in the Lakeland area - the old Haines City truck wash - shut down last year, which means that the only place to get a trailer wash-out is in Tampa, which means a 60 mile round trip and lots of Snow-Bird traffic. 

But despite all the traffic I still love Florida. There's just something about this state. Or maybe I've just listened to to much Jimmy Buffet and read too many Carl Hiaasen novels. But then, having lived in Florida in my childhood (albeit the slightly saner northern part of the state) I can attest to the fact that tropical heat does make folks a little crazy.  That's part of the charm of the place I guess. I just feel more alive down here, and I love seeing the moonlight reflected off the water, the moss draped oaks and palm trees, the chance that if I watch close enough I might catch a glimpse of an alligator, or maybe a manatee in the water, or a Miami Vice style high speed boat chase. Yeah, I've definitely been reading too much Carl Hiaasen.

Our next load takes us out to California, but first we get to go play in Orlando traffic. Joy. I just hope this fog lifts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009
  This Weekend Only - Big Trucks on Ice!
   Get your tickets now!

Last week we repowered a load that was running late. We met the other truck just south of Nashville, and had to get the load to Calumet City, Il (just south of Chicago) by morning - no stopping. It was a critical load for an important customer, and it couldn't be late. It wasn't long after we crossed the line into Kentucky that the rain started. With temperatures below freezing we soon had a glaze of ice on the road and on the truck. Now the Parkways in Kentucky were originally toll roads, but the tolls have since been removed, and they don't get the kind of upkeep they used to. They are rough rides in the best of weather, but with ice... well, we must have looked like a pig on ice-skates. Mike was driving, and we slowed it down to a safer speed (not that any speed is really safe on ice), but we couldn't afford to shut down. By the time we got out of the freezing rain somewhere in Southern Indiana our truck was coated with 3/4 of an inch of ice. The rain had turned to snow, and the snow was sticking to the ice on our truck. By the time we got to Illinois we looked like the abominable snow truck. We made the delivery about an hour late, but we got it there. 

It was overcast and a little snowy in Chicago, and after we unloaded we had to head north through the city to pick up a load just across the Wisconsin sate line. Traffic wasn't too bad, and we don't go through Chicago very often (we avoid it whenever possible) so I got to do a little sightseeing - the Sears Tower, St Mary of the Angels Church, etc... Whatever I could catch a glimpse of from the freeway. I'd love to get up there some time when we have time to stop, Chicago is a city I'd love to visit. I want to visit the Field Museum and see Tyrannosaurus Sue especially. I was born just north of Chicago at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center base hospital, and I've always been curious about the Second City. It has a fascinating history - fires, the mob, The Manhattan Project, mysterious tunnel systems, Blago and Obama, and so on. And it just looks like a neat place to visit.

Once we got our load picked up and got out of The Big Windy we had to head to Ft. Worth, TX. But the big ice storm was only getting started. We ran back into snow just south of Chicago, and I was driving at that point. At first it wasn't bad, but it didn't take too long for the roads to start getting covered. The radio had reports of ice and accidents all over Missouri and Oklahoma, and our company sent out a message that they had issued a mandatory shutdown of all company trucks on I-44 through most of Missouri and Oklahoma. About 30 miles from St. Louis, as the snow picked up and the roads were so covered I was having trouble telling where the lanes were, I decided that the weather was too nasty and I found a spot to park at a rest area. 

Now, the load we were on was for the same important customer as the load we saved the night before, and it didn't have much time on it. Shutting down was sure to make us late, but our route took us across I-44, which was under a mandatory shutdown anyway. Of course it didn't matter that we would have had to have stopped on the other side of St. Louis - not two hours after I shut down we started getting messages from dispatch wanting to know why we weren't moving. Yeah, I could have eased it on through St. Louis, but then I would have been in the ice on the other side looking for a place to park with all the other trucks that were ordered to shut down. Seemed smarter to me to stop where there was parking available. The last thing I wanted to do was to end up parked in a ditch like some of the other trucks we passed jackknifed or on their sides.

Anyway, we were only stopped about three and a half hours before Mike finished his ten hour break and was legal to drive again, so he got us moving. I'm much more cautious than he is, but then he's had more experience than me. We cruised on through St. Louis just as the morning traffic was starting to put in an appearance. The roads were slick and snow-covered and there was no way to tell where the lanes were because the lines were hidden by the snow. Watching the four wheelers (trucker slang for cars) slip and slide in and out around the big trucks was like watching a suspense thriller - you know something dreadful is about to happen, you're just not sure who's gonna go first or which direction it's gonna come from.

Once we were safely out of St. Louis I went back to sleep and didn't wake up again till we were in Oklahoma. Now Oklahoma got some of the worst of it. The interstate was clear by the time I got up, the plow and salt trucks had been out working hard, but we had to get off the interstate and head south on US-69.

Once I woke up, Mike had some stories for me about his adventures that night, including how he had pulled into a Pilot Truck Stop just south of St. Louis. That truck stop was new, and it had been built on a hill with a steep slope leading from the entrance down to the fuel islands. Going into that pilot you have to make a left turn and go down the hill to the 6 fuel islands. Mike  made his way to the last fuel island, and he felt his trailer slide a little as he turned down that slick slope, but he let off the brakes and accelerated a little to get his truck back in front of his trailer and threaded right on between the diesel pumps to a safe stop. There were two other trucks behind him, and the next truck in line made his turn, only when his trailer slid he hit the brakes, and as his tractor stopped his trailer kept going swinging him around sideways and blocking all of the other fuel lanes. Amid a lot of ribbing and helpful suggestions over the CB, the unlucky trucker tried to back his rig up and get it angled to pull through the island, but the hill was too slick and his trailer too heavy. Every time he started to make progress his trailer would slide down the hill again. Eventually he ended up pointing up the hill with his trailer toward the pumps. Somebody suggested he just back between the pumps, and that's what he did, with the store manager standing there watching with a snow shovel tossed over his shoulder and an amused and long-suffering look on his face. A lot of work just for a cup of coffee. Most of a week later and Mike is still laughing every time he thinks about it. I wish I'd been awake to see it.

I was awake to see the truck that had been cut in half by a bridge abutment. It was I-44 in Oklahoma just before we got off at Big Cabin. The truck looked like it had been heading East and had lost control on the ice. His trailer came around and slammed into the bridge pillar, breaking clean in two and scattering huge rolls of paper across the highway. One of those rolls was all the way over on our side of the road. And that wasn't the only truck wreck we saw, though it was the most memorable. There were plenty of other rigs that had gone off the road and were in the median or in the ditch.

US-69 runs down through the Muskogee Indian reservation, and it's usually a pretty drive, and a good road, but the folks down there just don't get enough snow to justify having a large fleet of plows. The few plows they have just couldn't keep up with the snow and ice, and the roads were in pretty bad shape. The right lane in each direction had ruts made by all the big trucks that had passed through, so the going wasn't too bad for us, but those ruts are too widely spaced for cars, so the four wheelers where having a tough time of it. The left lane was loose snow and ice, and every time a truck got impatient and passed in that lane it kicked up a flurry of snow and slush  that made it nearly impossible to see. Mike and I were making bets over whether or not any given speed demon would actually make it around the line of slow moving traffic, but they all did amazingly enough. All we could do was take it slow and easy. The landscape was covered by a thick coat of ice that glittered in the sun like the whole world had been remade in glass. Foot-long icicles hung from the roadsigns and power lines. It was a beautiful sight to see even if it was scary to drive in. 

But we made it to Ft. Worth in one piece, and got our load delivered. After we delivered we had to head over toward Sulphur Springs, TX to pick up our next load, and we ran into freezing fog. The fog was slowly coating everything in white frosting, and it made the trees look like a  confectioner's whimsy - or one of those impossibly pretty scenes from a Christmas Card. But the fog didn't last long. Our load got changed and we ended up having to go up to DeQueen, Arkansas to pick up a load of frozen chicken from the Pilgrim's Pride plant there. 

On the way north we stopped at SRT's yard in Texarkana to fuel up and get a new battery put in the reefer unit on the trailer we were hauling. The yard was full of trucks and trailers, and most of them were waiting to get into the shop. Now, trucks and trailers that are on a load are supposed to have priority, and we didn't have much time to get to DeQueen to get our load on time, but a battery should have been a ten minute job, tops. We ended up sitting on the yard for two hours while Mike went 10 rounds with dispatch and the shop foreman trying to get that simple job done. He wrote up the trailer and dropped the form off with the shop. He told them we were under a load and didn't have a lot of time, and was told in return that they would "get to it eventually". So he went over to dispatch and told our dispatcher what the trouble was, and she called over to the shop and told them to move us to the top of the list. They told her that our trailer was due for a regular maintenance, and that they didn't have time for it because there were too many other trucks that needed work. But none of those other trucks were on a load, and we couldn't just swap for another trailer because every single empty reefer trailer on the yard was in line to get work done on it. 

Our dispatcher told Mike that she had told the shop to drop what they were doing and get us moving so we could get our load on time, and told Mike who to talk to at the shop. So Mike went back to the shop... and well, it went on like this for a while before they finally got the work done and got us out of there. By the time it was all said and done, Mike was ready to chew up horseshoes and spit out nails. And after all that hurry and frustration we got to DeQueen only to find out that the plant had been shut down by the ice storm the day before and our load was going to be 6 hours late because they were still trying to get caught up. 

So we finally got to sit still for a couple of hours and get caught up on sleep - though the smell that permeates the air around a chicken processing plant is not conducive to pleasant dreams - yuk!

And once again, we were on a load that had no time for goofing around. They wanted it in Nashville at 6am that next morning, but because the plant was running late we didn't get it delivered until nearly 11am. From there we repowered yet another late load and got it back down to Ft. Worth, then repowered another load headed for Florida. This one had two stops on it, the first stop was just outside Jacksonville, Florida on Sunday morning, the second one was south of Tampa, on Monday morning. So we spent Sunday, after our first delivery, driving past Tampa - on Sunday... Superbowl Sunday! Traffic was pretty thick, but it wasn't the nightmare we thought it would be. We stopped at a rest area to sleep for the night, and woke up to pouring rain on Monday morning, but that's OK... I'll take a tropical downpour over ice and snow anyday!!

So we're due for some home time and R&R next week, and looking forward to it. 

Monday, January 12, 2009
So here we sit in Othello, Washinton, waiting to pick up a load when we are supposed to be at home. Our hometime was supposed to start today. But we're trying to look on the bright side. We could be out of a job. Thousands of truckers are finding themselves out of work across the country as one trucking company after another closes its doors. Our company has even started cutting costs by cutting out its training program among other things. We're keeping our fingers crossed that SRT will make it through these hard times and we'll still be driving when the economy turns around.
Less buying means less product is being shipped which means fewer loads for us. Mike and I have been pretty lucky so far. We are a strong team with a reputation for saving late loads and doing things right, so we've been getting plenty of miles, but even so we've still been sitting still a little more than we are used to. Some of our major accounts, like Firestone and Pilgrims Pride have shut down plants or cut back production, which means our company is having to stretch to find freight.
So we aren't complaining too much about being late for our hometime. At least we have a job.
We gave up going home over Christmas to stay out and take advantage of the Christmas freight. We were running loads of steak out of Omaha, Nebraska, and dealing with -7 degree temperatures - not fun. But the past couple of weeks, until today anyway, we've been down south - Atlanta, Dallas, Nogales, Phoenix, LA. That was a nice break from the cold. We rescued a late load from a solo driver and delivered in Portland, OR this morning.
We've also recovered two trucks that were abandoned by quitting drivers. The lack of freight, and the way the company is cutting back on things, is maming a lot of drivers go looking for other work. When we recover a truck it means that Mike and I have to split and drive solo for a day or two. He delivers the load we are on, I get the recovered truck back to the yard in Texarkana, then he gets back to the yard to pick me up. It's weird driving without him in the truck. Every time I made a potty stop I keep expecting him to pop his head out of the sleeper wanting to know where we are and why I'm stopping. It's too quiet in the truck without him. And he says he doesn't like not having anyone to talk to. But it's extra money in our pockets.
I'll try not to go so long between updates, but no promises.

About Me

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I'm a 34 year old wife, truck driver, writer, and photographer with a love of adventure and travel. I am a Libertarian, and a total sci-fi geek. I studied archaeology at Auburn University.


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