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. http://blogs.tampabay.com/breakingnews/2008/02/truck-driver-sh.html


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. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE4DF123AF931A25753C1A960948260


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: http://www.jhlrivenburg.com/


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.



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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