Posts Tagged ‘fuel’

Oh Boy. Another Birthday. Yay.

August 23, 2011

My birthday was August 19 and this year it came up on me like the Millennium Falcon would come up on a Yugo with bad spark plugs. It passed just as quick. As usual, it was nothing special. No big party. Nothing to write home about; although I could have, since I didn’t even manage to be home on the big day. I’m a truck driver, which means I spent the day driving. Happy happy, joy, joy. That’s not at all how I’d planned it.

As some of you know, I’m trying to get off the road so I can go back to school. You might ask, “What’s wrong with trucking?” Well, trucking in general certainly has its share of problems. For instance, as of now no one has given me permission to yank my e-log unit off the dash, smash it with a 10-pound sledge, and take a leak on it for good measure. That’s a problem in my eyes. Nor has anyone made a new rule that if a driver sits in a dock for more than two hours, they’re allowed to walk up and kick the loader in the junk. *sigh dreamily* Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Still truck driving isn’t all bad. As a matter of fact, certain aspects of it rock harder than a Pantera concert. As an over-the-road trucker, I don’t know the meaning of 9 to 5, other than it’s an old movie about giant boobs… or something like that. I always get distracted from the story line. In other words, there is no such thing as a set schedule. I kinda like the variety that brings.

Truckers also have some of the best scenery of any job. Looking out at snow-covered mountains or a valley full of fall foliage sure as heck beats staring at a cubicle wall covered with Dilbert paraphernalia while secretly planning the perfect murder of the annoying co-worker in the next cell block.

Yes, being a truck driver is a fine job to have, but there is also what is known as too much of a good thing. Take Skittles as an example. I love me some Skittles, but if you made me eat them every day for over 14 years, I’d show you daily how I “Experience the Rainbow” in the form of violent outbursts of colorful vomiting.

Now with that being said, here’s why this birthday sucked more than a big rig sucks fuel. I wasn’t supposed to be out here on the road this birthday. You see, The Evil Overlord’s (my wife and ex-codriver) college courses started back up today and I was supposed to be beside her to make her look good. Okay. Maybe that’s the other way around. Yet here I am, still in the truck.

Back at the beginning of the year, my plans were to quit my current job a couple of weeks before school started. That meant I’d be at home for my birthday and in time to get settled in for classes. I was still holding out for a miracle, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t drop the classes I had booked until a week before school. I kept hoping something would happen that would get me out of trucking for good. It didn’t.

You know, with my purposed schedule consisting of Trigonometry, Calculus I, Chemistry I, and Zoology, you’d think I’d be happy to be driving instead of studying, yet sadly I’m not. I’d much rather be at home tonight, mumbling under my breath about what I’d gotten myself into.

If I’m honest with myself, I could have guessed I wasn’t going to make it. We haven’t been paying off debt as fast as we had planned. For one thing, I haven’t been making the same kind of money that I used to. I blame some of that on e-logs. There are other causes too, but I think I’ll blame the rest of them on e-logs too, simply because I can. I also had an unexpected hospital bill pop up.

But perhaps most of all, The Evil Overlord has had our three nephews and their bottomless pit stomachs most of the summer. How the heck do you people afford kids? We didn’t really choose this, we kinda had to do it. Their mom and dad just got separated and it was best to remove the brats from the situation. But that’s over now.

Much to their chagrin, the little dorks are back at school and are now back with their parents (well, one at a time any way). That means that we’ve started the crackdown on the bills again. Once again, I’ve set a goal to start school in the spring. Still, I’ll have to admit that I was still a bit skeptical whether we were going to be able to pull this off by then. But perhaps my fears were unwarranted.

To my utter surprise and delight, The Evil Overlord has decided that even if the bills aren’t completely paid off by spring, she still wants me to come off the road. She figures that at some point you just have to dive off the cliff and hope you don’t lose your Speedo when you hit the water. I’ve been thinking the same thing lately.

Now I know some of you are thinking that it’s irresponsible to quit a good-paying job when you’ve got debt, especially in this job market. I know where you’re coming from. Heck, that feeling is exactly why I’m sitting here in this truck right now. Never you fear though, I’m not throwing all caution to the wind. I’d never quit this job until I had another one lined up.

After much discussion, it’s been decided that if we still have a lot of debt come springtime, I’ll just get a local job doing whatever makes the most money. If that’s working on an assembly line, fine. It’s nothing I haven’t done before. Shipping/receiving job? Been there, done that. Even if it’s a local driving job, that’s dandy too. At least I’ll be home more often and I’ll feel like I have a place in The Evil Overlord’s world.

Granted, we all know I’ve made plans like this before and look where that’s gotten me. I’ve had two similar school deadlines come and go and I’m still looking at 11 hours of driving tomorrow. So who knows? Maybe I’ll be out of trucking by Christmas. Maybe I won’t. Until then I’m going to try to act like these are my last few months on the road while I keep working to make it a reality. I’m going to try to keep a more positive outlook on life.

Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking again. I said I’m going to try. TRY! No guarantees. After all, it’s kind of hard to keep a cheery attitude when your low-budget diet consists of tuna salad, peanut butter, and canned soup. Maybe the occasional bag of Skittles would help?

Truckers: Be Heard On The Proposed HOS Changes

March 4, 2011

I’m known as the king of a few things. The Evil Overlord calls me the King of Cheese. I’m guessing it’s because of my love of Sharp Cheddar. Yea. That’s gotta be it. I’m also the King of Justification. With enough thought, I can make any of my stupid decisions seem like absolute brilliance. The third is the King of Procrastination. I can usually find a good reason to put just about anything off until the last second.

Well, today I’m proud to say that I overcame my procrastinating tendency. Instead of waiting until the last day to submit my comments on the proposed HOS (Hours of Service) changes, I waited until the next to the last day. Yes, I know… I rule. So have you let yourself be heard yet? If you haven’t, tomorrow (March 4th) is the last day to get your sorry butt over to the FMCSA Web site to let them know how you feel.

When you reach the comment box, you’ll notice that there’s a 2000 character limit. In my typical blow-hard style, I hit the keys 1998 times. It was kinda like a giant Twitter text box. You always find yourself needing a few more characters than they give you. Too bad they didn’t have a HOS-longer feature.

Anyway, here’s what I had to say to the folks who are put on this earth to torment us truckers.

First of all, I think you should listen to the 122 Representatives that are trying to get you to abandon any changes to the current HOS rules. Fatalities caused by trucks are the lowest they’ve been in 60 years & the roads are safer.

Please leave the 11 hours of driving intact. The carriers have already shown that a new 10-hour limit would force them to put more trucks on the road to cover the same amount of freight. More trucks, more accidents. That’s the law of percentages.

The 14-hour rule is almost useless now. It’s not that often that we are delayed at a customer for 8 hours so we can extend the 14-hour day. Take today for example. I used 45 minutes for pre-trip inspection, fueling, and dropping/hooking a trailer at a customer. After I stopped to do a brief workout, eat, and shower, I had pretty much used up the 3 hours extra that the 14 hours provides.

If you change the rule to a hard 14 that can’t be extended with an 8-hour sleeper berth, it will be entirely useless. The main reason truckers bump up against the current 14 is because of long wait times at shippers and consignees. As you can see from above, I was nearly up against my 14 without any loading/unloading time. If I have to wait even 2 hours to get loaded, I now have to decide if I’m going to skip my workout and shower to make use of my full 11 hours of driving. I’ll probably be eating fast food too. How is any of that healthy for the driver?

Next up is the proposed change to the 34-hour rule. I wish here that the people who regulated our industry actually understood how trucking works. You may have a normal work day, but trucker’s bodies don’t abide by the circadian rhythm. We may drive all night on Monday and all day on Tuesday. We can’t control when we don’t have loads and therefore, we can’t specify when we need our 34 hours to start. The rule is useful as it stands. Change it and you may as well get rid of it all together.

I pray that you all think like truckers when you vote.

There you have it. It’s not perfect, but I think it gets the point across. And in so few words. Yet another reason to be proud of myself.

I’m asking everyone that reads this to head over and give the FMCSA a piece of your mind… even if you don’t have that many pieces to spare. And remember truckers, your truck always has a better chance of getting fixed correctly when you’re nice to the mechanic; so no cursing at the clueless rule-makers. Just don’t expect too much. Even if your truck gets fixed properly, you can always expect a big ol’ glob of grease on your driver’s seat. Some things will never change. Unlike our current Hours of Service I fear.

*Please give this post a rating and leave a comment (this means you too, @raysunshine77)*

E-logs: My First Impression

January 1, 2011

Despite the fact that I’ve been driving for 13 years, I made a bonehead rookie mistake yesterday. It was especially unfortunate since it probably would have been covered if it didn’t coincide with my first day running with e-logs. But first… what are e-logs?

E-logs are electronic logs. For more details, you may want to jump on over to a previous blog of mine before you read on. I gave it the appropriate name of, “Fear and loathing of electronic logs.”

As my truck was getting e-logs installed, I was taking a class on how to use them. I went in grumpy and hating them. Four hours later, I came out with a slightly less grumpy disposition and a lower hate factor, but I’m still not doing round-off-double-back-handsprings. And thank God for that. I wouldn’t want you to see my cheerleading panties.

One thing I knew going in was that each company can set up e-logs according to their own guidelines. This is something that @Dean0806 had informed me of in the blog post mentioned above. Knowing my company, this was what I was most worried about. My worries weren’t unfounded.

For example, Dean’s company has their e-logs set up where he can creep along (7 mph or less) in rush hour traffic and still be on the “On-Duty, Not Driving” line. My company has it set to go to the Driving line after a half-mile, no matter what your speed is. It used to be set at 1 mile, but they decided that was waaaay too long. Grrr. Keep this under your hat, but I think mine is still set at 1 mile. Shhhhhh.

When they mentioned this in class, all three of us drivers started talking at once. Our concern was this. Many times we’ll be parked at a shipper/receiver waiting for a dock. Or maybe we got there the night before. Either way, if it’s going to be a while, we’ll start our 10-hour break. At some point, we’re going to have to wake up and back into a dock. Now there are a lot of massive warehouses out there. Some of them even have off-site buildings. Many of them will require us to drive over .5 mile to get to the dock. That will effectively break our mandatory 10-hour rest period.

The company is aware of this and is looking into it. For now the fix is to call in to the Safety Department and let them know what happened. If they can verify you never left the property, they’ll fix it. While it’s good that they’ll do that, it’s a big fail in my book. Still stranger, I’m thinking they wouldn’t even have this problem if they’d just left the 1 mile limit in effect. Although that still wouldn’t fix the off-site problem…

Next, I asked about a situation that happened to me not long ago. I had enough hours to get to my delivery location, but they didn’t have any parking. My plan was to park at a nearby Lowe’s that I had been parking at for years. Since I didn’t have enough time to fit in a 10-hour break before my delivery appointment, I was just going to drive the 5 miles from Lowe’s to the customer and show on my paper logs that I had been at the delivery point all night. Illegal? Technically, yes. Done frequently by truckers? Definitely yes. Able to do on e-logs? Nope.

That was my plan anyway. What actually happened is a tow truck driver knocked on my door and told me he was instructed to tow any truck that wouldn’t leave the Lowe’s parking lot. Naturally, I left. Here’s the thing though. I was about 7.5 hours into my break. If I had been down 8 hours I could have used it as part of a split sleeper berth, moved, and gotten my other 2 hours somewhere else. Since it wasn’t, I moved, pretended I didn’t, and delivered my load on time.

But that was only possible because I was on paper logs. I asked the trainer about this scenario and was told that since I didn’t have any hours available, and I had to move before my 10-hour break was completed, I would be charged with a log violation. She did say that the company would note the situation along with the violation so that it could be seen that I had no choice in the matter. While this sucks more than a dehydrated mosquito, that’s not the worst of it.

Since I had moved before completing my 10-hour break and I hadn’t even gotten 8 hours in to set up a possible split sleeper berth, I would now have to start my break over. So now my mandatory 10-hour break has just turned into a mandatory 17.5 hour break (that’s my wasted 7.5 hours that didn’t count, plus my new 10-hour break). Furthermore, I’m sitting 5 miles from my delivery point, but I now can’t deliver because I don’t have any driving time. In this situation, another driver would have to come and deliver my load.

The trainer said the fix for this problem was to plan ahead. If you know that a receiver doesn’t have parking, tell your dispatcher how close you can get and they’ll find another driver to relay the load. This is going to lead to a LOT of relays, especially since my company doesn’t always know which customers allow parking, and which don’t. Even crappier is that many times you can get within the same city as the receiver, you just can’t park at their facility. Since my company doesn’t pay a dime for local runs (within the same city), many of these runs won’t pay anything except for the miles it takes you to get to the relay point. So that guy taking that relay from me would’ve been hosed on money.

While all this sounds easy enough, what about those situations like the one I was in? I’d been parking at that Lowe’s for years. How was I to know they’d change the rules all of a sudden? Or how about those times when you park somewhere questionable because you’ve run out of driving time? Truckers are forced to move all the time for reasons such as this. Who gets stuck with the log violation, the ticket if we get caught, and possibly a service failure if the load can’t be delivered on time? Once again, it all comes back to the driver.

Here’s the next thing that didn’t make sense. Any calls to breakdown must be done during On-Duty time. So say you pull into a truck stop, do your walk-around, and notice a flat tire. You call into breakdown while you’re still On-Duty, then you check into the shop at the truck stop. They say it’ll be about 3 hours before they can fit you in. That’s fine, I’ll just go to sleep until then, get my 2 hours of my split sleeper berth in, and finish the other 8 hours after I’m out of the shop. Right? Wrong. The new e-log rules say that when you are awaiting repairs, you have to log it as On-Duty time. So not only are you wasting time that could be going toward your 10-hour break, you’re also using up your hours on your 70-hour work week. Can someone please explain to me how this is any different from moving on a customer’s property to bump a dock? Cuz my e-log trainer couldn’t.

One thing I was anticipating was for them to say how much time e-logs would save me. It came as expected. She said, “Using paper logs, you have to log 15 minutes for fueling, even if it only takes you 5 minutes. Now, if it takes you 5 minutes, it saves you 10 full minutes of driving time!” To which I responded: “But isn’t logging 15 minutes for fueling a company policy?” It was. “Federal guidelines say that anything under 7 minutes doesn’t have to be logged, other than flagging it. So, in essence, we’re losing 15 minutes, because under DOT rules, we wouldn’t even have to show fueling if it only took 5 minutes.” No good answer followed.

AMMENDMENT:

I later discovered that ANY time working has to be logged. So I was mistaken about this and so was my e-log trainer. Gee, that’s comforting. If they can’t get it right, how the heck am I supposed to? So in the above scenario, even if I managed to fuel in 5 minutes, I would still have to log it as 15 minutes on my paper log. So now that that’s clear as a tornado sky, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled program.

END AMMENDMENT

Next was the mandatory Pre-Trip Inspection. 15 minutes minimum is the standard for both carriers and the DOT. As I happily pointed out, “Here’s another 15 minutes lost. Before, I could log my PTI when I fueled, no matter what time of day it was. Now you’re telling me I have to do it at the beginning of the day, and it can’t be combined with any other activity.” Again. No explanation.

Now back to my rookie mistake. I got my load information and wrote it all down. For some reason, my brain decided that my delivery time of 1300 (1 p.m.) was actually 3 p.m. I don’t know how that happened. I’m guessing the “3” in 1300 stuck in my demented brain. Anyway, here’s how e-logs affected this situation.

Since I got this load information the day before and I didn’t want to sit around and wait, I had already asked if I could deliver early. No one would respond to my dispatcher, so I never got an answer. Now if I had been on paper logs, I no doubt would’ve taken off extra early and tried to deliver before my appointment time. If the customer would’ve taken me early, all would be well. If they wouldn’t take me until my appointment time, I would’ve simply showed taking off a couple of hours later on my logs. Again, illegal? Yep. Done by truckers every day? No doubt.

Instead, I waited until the very last minute to take off. I knew that the second I rolled out, my 14-hour clock started ticking. If I rolled out too early and couldn’t deliver, I’d have burned all that time while I sat waiting on my appointment. I wasn’t going to do that. The problem was, I only left in time to deliver by 3 p.m. When my dispatcher called to ask me why I wasn’t heading toward my delivery, I knew I had screwed the pooch. I had planned on rolling in by 3 p.m. Now I was going to be 2 hours late.

Luckily, I have a cool dispatcher who knows I don’t make rookie mistakes like that very often. It was also lucky that there was heavy fog out that she could blame my lateness on. I’m telling you folks, I’ve got the coolest dispatcher. Still, if everyone on e-logs is trying to maximize their time, it seems to me that it will put a whole lot of truckers in a race against time. Does anyone think that’s a good idea?

So now that my first day with e-logs is completed, here’s my initial impression. They are fairly easy to learn and use. It has some cool features that I didn’t have before, such as a running total of my hours, always knowing what city/state I’m in, and how it automatically knows when I arrive at a customer.

While all of that is great, the ability to search and read messages while I’m driving is my favorite feature. My old Qualcomm unit wouldn’t let me read a message unless I was at a complete stop. They say that I still can’t type while I’m going down the road, which is to be expected. Again, I think they forgot to disable this feature in my unit, because I’ve tried typing while going down the road and it works just dandy. Of course, I’m not planning to abuse this, but still… shhhhhhh.

I’m convinced that the trucking industry is going to have to change if e-logs are going to work. Shippers and Receivers in particular are going to have to start caring about a trucker’s time. And if some of the new proposed rules, such as the hard 14-hour workday take hold, it will be even more necessary. I just don’t think e-logs are quite ready for the weird situations that truckers find themselves in every day.

To sum up, I think the key isn’t the e-logs themselves. The key is how they’re set up. E-logs can be as flexible as a double-jointed gymnast or as rigid as an Eskimo’s clothesline laundry. Here’s to hoping that trucking companies prefer leotards over stiff boxer shorts.

*Please leave a rating and post a comment with your concerns or experiences with e-logs.*

Non-Truckers: Don’t Take It for Granted

September 11, 2010

As I’ve stated before in “Why I do this,”  one of the main reasons I have an online presence is to inform non-truckers what it’s like to live as an Over-The-Road trucker. Sure, bad days can come off sounding a bit whiny sometimes, but the idea is not to gain sympathy. The plan is to help people stop and think when they’re around trucks. From what my non-trucker friends tell me, it’s been working.

Driving a truck isn’t the hard part of trucking. Living the life is. Once you learn how to drive the monster truck on steroids, the actual driving is usually a pleasure. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the desert, a hillside full of fall foliage in the Northeast, or a glimpse of Lake Coeur d’ Alene in Northern Idaho never gets old. It also helps not to have a boss who is constantly trying to catch you surfing the web instead of working.

Of course, there’s also the threat of crossing snow-covered Rocky Mountains, fighting rush hour traffic, and the very existence of New York City, which is about as much fun as a titty-twister from a professional arm wrestler. Still, the majority of time it beats staring at a cubicle wall and kissing some jerk’s buttocks day after day.

So what exactly is so hard about the trucking life? It’s the little things that most non-truckers rarely, if ever, think about. For instance,

When was the last time you:

  • had to wonder if your shower was going to have hot water?
  • had to worry about having good water pressure in that shower?
  • had to worry about even getting a shower?
  • had to get dressed in the middle of the night to take a leak, or worse?
  • had to blow a non-family member’s pubic hair off your toilet seat?
  • had to brush your teeth while smelling someone else’s butt funk or five someone else’s?
  • couldn’t easily get to a hospital when you were puking up something that resembles cottage cheese and hot dog chunks?
  • had to be a contortionist to make your bed?
  • were up all day and were then told you need to drive 500 miles?
  • got out of your vehicle and the parking lot smelled like boiling urine?
  • tried to pass a vehicle for 5 minutes before you gave up and got back behind the freak with the fickle right foot?
  • couldn’t find a place to park?
  • had to sleep in a pool of your own sweaty B.O.?
  • couldn’t sleep because your toes felt like they’d been dipped in liquid nitrogen?
  • got bad directions, cursed, missed your turn, cursed, and couldn’t turn around for 10 miles, cursing the whole time?
  • were woke up and solicited by a hooker? Sorry men. Dreams don’t count.
  • were separated from your spouse for over a week… and that happened every month?
  • were forced to have a marital spat over the phone?
  • missed your child’s big event because you were in another state delivering a load of really important ketchup packets?
  • had to post a “Beware of falling objects” sign in your vehicle to remind you every time you open a cabinet door?
  • couldn’t get to a Starbucks when you really, really, really needed a fix?
  • realized that your restaurant choices were limited to where you could park?
  • had to get out of your vehicle 10 times just to back into a parking space? And you weren’t 16-years-old.
  • had to drive up a painstakingly long 6-mile hill at 25 miles per hour?
  • had to drive down a painstakingly long 6-mile hill at 25 miles per hour?
  • were told you couldn’t drive any further until you got a nose-hair-sized crack in your windshield repaired?
  • had to account for every 15-minute period of your day?
  • had to sit for 10 hours just 15 miles from home because the Department of Transportation has deemed that it’s too dangerous to drive another 15 minutes?
  • had to live in a room the size of a walk-in closet, sometimes with another crabby person?
  • had to sleep in a bouncing bed? On second thought, don’t answer that.
  • had to pack a suitcase to go to work?
  • had to do 15 loads of laundry in 30 hours? I should have bought stock in April Fresh Tide years ago.
  • had to pay twice as much as another driver for the exact same traffic violation?
  • were issued a DUI after one beer? CDL holders can be; because we all know that the type of plastic card you hold makes all the difference in how your body handles booze.
  • had to fuel at a particular station, even if the lines were longer than an NBA star’s criminal record?
  • had to take a particular route to work, even if it took longer than the way you’d prefer to go?
  • had to cancel a vacation because your employer couldn’t get you home in time?
  • were told you could go home on Friday afternoon, but you didn’t actually get there until the following Thursday?
  • got a 30-hour weekend after working for 3 or 4 weeks?
  • said “TGIF” and it actually meant something?
  • had a friend that didn’t involve an Internet connection?

I rest my case for now. I urge my non-trucking readers to appreciate the normal lives that they lead. Your life may seem mundane at times, but please don’t take it for granted. When you’re on your way to your weekend golf game or a baby shower, remember the truckers that are en route to the docks at Golfsmith and Babies-R-Us. Hopefully, those thoughts carry over into the weekdays too.

To the folks out there who are considering driving a truck for a living, I’d like you to think long and hard about what you’re getting into. While it’s true that you’ll never really know if you’re cut out for the trucking life until you’re actually doing it, you can do everything in your power to be informed before you try to enter the industry.

Talk to truckers. Read about trucking. Ride along with a trucker for a week or more if you can manage it. Whatever you do, please don’t get into trucking without careful consideration. The last thing we need out here is another whiny trucker. Just follow me on Twitter if you don’t believe me. 🙂

*So, what is it that I missed? What do you think people shouldn’t take for granted? Let us all know by leaving a comment. And please pass this post along to all your non-trucking friends. Who knows? Maybe they’ll started giving us truckers a bit more consideration out on the road. Thanks.*

Why I Do This

December 16, 2009

Most everyday on my Twitter account, I post a little ditty about trucking. Here was my post from a couple of days ago:

Daily Trucking Tidbit: As you do your Christmas shopping today, remember that every item you see was delivered by a truck driver.

That’s seems fairly benign, doesn’t it? Well, for this, I received a message from a follower (and fellow trucker) that basically told me to check my bloated ego at the door and do my job like every other American worker out there. His point was that lots of workers are responsible for getting a product onto the shelves. Everyone from the forklift driver to the secretary in the front office all do their part in the process. He’s right.

Now here’s my point. How many people do you hear complaining about unsafe forklift drivers ? Ever heard of anyone complaining about the nuisance of having too many secretaries? I didn’t think so. Now when was the last time you heard someone having the same complaints about truckers and trucks?

As I explained in a message to my attacker, I’m not looking for any sympathy out here. I chose this job and I can leave it any time I feel like it (or so I like to tell myself). One of my goals for writing a blog and tweeting my fingers to the bone is to let the general public have a glimpse into the life of a trucker. I’m thinking that the more someone knows about what we go through to deliver the goods that they need and love, the more respect we’ll get, both personally and professionally.

On the personal side, I’m not too worried about what folks think about me as a person. Sure, most people love me because I’m so freakin’ adorable, but even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t slit my wrists over it. What I’m really hoping is for people to give trucks a second thought when they encounter them on the road. Yea, I know. I may as well wish for an obedient wife that hangs on my every word, but hey, what’s life without hopes and dreams?

Think about it. Other than truckers themselves, who are the people who are most helpful to a truck tooling down the road? You know, the car that lets you change lanes in front of them. Or the minivan that stays back from the intersection so you can get around that tight right turn. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of these helpful drivers know a truck driver. I’ve had friends tell me that they pay more attention to trucks nowadays, simply because they know The Evil Overlord and I drive one. How about you, truckers? If you’re anything like me, before I started driving a truck, I hated trucks. Then again, some days I still do.

Nowadays, when I’m off-duty, I help other truckers when I can. Usually it’s just helping a driver merge into traffic or something easy like that, but one time it called for a bit more effort. One cold Christmas day, we stopped to pick up a trucker who had run out of fuel. To make matters worse, he didn’t even have a gas can. As you can imagine, it took quite a while to find a store that was actually open on Christmas, buy the gas can, go fill it up, and take him back to his truck. When the engine wouldn’t start, we made another run to fill the fuel can. After that, he insisted that I go on with my day, saying that if it still didn’t start then, there wasn’t anything I could do to help. At that point, I was kinda glad.

Now I’d like to think that I’m a helpful kinda guy, but if I wasn’t a trucker myself, that guy might still be sitting on the side of the road. I can easily see someone who has a friend or a family member who is a trucker doing the same thing. I believe I forgot to mention that I had a carload of eight family members at the time. Not one of them complained. I apologized to them when the guy went in to pay for the second can of fuel, but they just said, “Hey, what if that was you guys? We’d hope someone would stop for you.” Once again, consideration because they knew a couple of truckers.

So that’s my goal. To have world peace through my blog and a few tweets. Okay, not realistic. Still, if shedding a little light on the trucking lifestyle makes a few more people drive a little safer and friendlier around trucks, then I’m not wasting my time. And if you still aren’t going to help me change lanes, then you better start scooching over! I’ve had my signal on waaaaaay too long. Freakin’ jerk.

*So what about you? How do you help truckers? Or do you? Leave a comment to show us all what a thoughtful and caring human being you are. And consider passing this on to a friend or two. I know you’ve got at least one that drives like an idiot around trucks. Or do you look at them every day in the mirror?*

Hauling Hazardous Materials

September 15, 2009

Wow. What a great title. I put soooo much thought into that. Hazardous Materials, or HazMat for short is part of the big, bad, scary side of trucking. Or is it? What are Hazardous Materials, what does it take to haul them, and how dangerous are they?

First, the technical definition. A Hazardous Material is a substance or material which has been determined by the Secretary of Transportation to be capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce, and which has been so designated. The term includes hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, marine pollutants, and elevated temperature materials.

Now Todd’s special definition. Hazardous Materials are products that are more dangerous to haul than regular freight, but the average driver will probably never notice.

How’s that for short and sweet? Truly, the hardest part about hauling HazMat is getting your HazMat endorsement tacked onto your CDL (Commercial Drivers License). Before 9-11, you could obtain a HazMat endorsement simply by taking a short written test. But in today’s world of terrorist activity, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA (yes, the same people who confiscate your fingernail clippers at the airport) requires a driver to go through an FBI background check and fingerprinting before you’re able to take the written test.

Other than that, hauling HazMat doesn’t take much extra effort; at least not for the average trucker. You see, most of the really dangerous stuff is hauled by carriers who specialize in that particular hazardous material. Since that’s usually all they haul, those drivers receive specialized training from their company.

So who’s responsible for what? In short, shippers are responsible for packaging and labeling the product, preparing certified shipping papers, providing emergency response information, and supplying the proper placards to the driver. Placards are those pretty little signs that are required on all four sides of the trailer. There are nine classes of HazMat, all of which get their own placard. There are an additional two classes that usually don’t require placards. Here are the classes and a few examples of each class.

  • Class 1: Explosives — e.g. Dynamite, Fireworks, Ammunition: For the pyromaniac in us all
  • Class 2: Gases — e.g. Propane, Oxygen, Helium: Because The Evil Overlord loves to do her balloon voice.
  • Class 3: Flammable and Combustible Liquids — e.g. Gasoline Fuel, Acetone: Vroom, Vroom!
  • Class 4: Flammable Solids — e.g. Matches, Fuses: Because cigarettes are sooooo good for you.
  • Class 5: Oxidizers — e.g. Ammonium Nitrate, Hydrogen Peroxide: Providing teenage girls everywhere with an excuse to be stupid.
  • Class 6: Poisons — e.g. Pesticides, Arsenic: Where would mystery writers be without poisons?
  • Class 7: Radioactives — e.g. Uranium, Plutonium: So Iran can produce “nuclear power plants.”
  • Class 8: Corrosives — e.g. Battery Acid, Hydrochloric Acid: Without acid, there’d be no Joker. Without Joker, there’s no Batman. Without Batman, well that’s just a horrible thought…
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous — e.g. Formaldehyde, Asbestos: Asbestos causes death, which calls for Formaldehyde.
  • ORM-D (other regulated materials-domestic) — e.g. Hair Spray, Charcoal: Because without hair spray the ’80s could have never taken place.
  • Combustible Liquids — e.g. Fuel Oils, Lighter Fluid: Lighting cancer sticks across the globe. Zing! That makes two digs at you smokers.

I won’t go into details on these because it’s nearly as boring as watching a PC boot up. Ooooo. Low blow by the Apple fan boy. If you still want all the gory details, click here. But please, go get some friends afterward.

The carrier’s (the trucking company) responsibility is to double-check the shipper’s paperwork, refuse any improper shipments, and report any accidents or incidents to the proper authorities.

The driver’s responsibility lays in double checking HazMat labels and markings, refusing damaged or incorrect product, putting placards on the trailer, insuring proper blocking and bracing of the product, safely transporting the product, and keeping the shipping papers and emergency response information in the proper place, which is in the driver’s side door or in the driver’s seat when they’re out of the truck. For more details on each parties responsibilities, click here, you glutton for punishment.

Now that may sound like a lot to know and remember, but in reality, average truckers like myself have very little knowledge of specific hazardous materials. There are simply too many different types, guidelines, and combinations to memorize. Instead, we’re issued HazMat guide books by our companies and taught how to use them. So here’s how it actually works.

You arrive at a shipper and they load your trailer. Although the shipper is not officially responsible for loading the trailer, in my 12-year career I’ve never loaded any HazMat and don’t ever expect to. Once loaded, the shipper tells you there is HazMat on the load and supplies you with the correct placards. Before I close my trailer doors, I look inside to make sure that nothing looks like it will move around or fall over. Let me take a tangent here.

Although it is officially my responsibility as the driver, I rarely look to see if the product is marked correctly. For one thing, I can’t open every container or unstack pallets to verify that sort of thing. Secondly, the shipper has given me a certified shipping paper that states that they know what the heck they’re doing. They know far more about this stuff than I do, so I’ll just take their word for it. It would be like questioning your IT guy at work. If the stinking printer starts working, don’t try to verify how it was done. Just give him a manly slap on the buttocks and thank the good Lord above. On second thought, maybe you better leave the butt slapping to the NFL.

Back to the process. After I close my trailer doors, I put the supplied placards on all four sides of the trailer. That is, if they’re required. Loads with very small amounts of certain kinds of HazMat don’t require any placarding. How would I know? Here comes the company supplied HazMat handbook.

Every hazardous material is assigned a number. For instance, paint is UN-1263. That number is required on my shipping papers. I look up that number in my guide book and it tells me what the product is, what type of placards I need (if any), and how to deal with an emergency. What I like to do is put a bookmark in that page and store the book in the driver’s side door alongside the shipping papers. That way everything is in easy reach if something horrible happens.

The actual transporting of the product has a few small hassles. For one, all placarded loads must come to a complete stop before crossing any railroad tracks. So please quit cussing the poor driver who keeps stopping on that back road with a million railroad crossings. An even bigger hassle is routing.

There are many tunnels across this great nation of ours that won’t allow HazMat loads. For instance, I-76 in Pennsylvania has a few and Eisenhower Tunnel just west of Denver on I-70 is a real doozy. Since you can’t take HazMat through Eisenhower, you’re forced to take US 6 over Loveland Pass, which just so happens to be an 11,990-foot-high goat path full of sheer drop-offs and switchbacks that force you to use both lanes. It’s tolerable in decent weather, but I’d rather get rammed in the groin by said goat than drive it with snow on the ground. Been there, done that. Trust me that it will NEVER happen again.

Another issue with routing is with route restrictions. Cities all across America have certain routes that you must take around or through their city. Cops love to issue tickets for ignoring their signs.

These routing problems aren’t much of a problem for an experienced driver. We know where these places are and can usually avoid them quite easily. It’s the newbie driver that has to watch out. If you don’t know about those tunnels in Pennsylvania and Colorado, you could be in for a lot of extra miles trying to find an alternate route.

To sum up, HazMat scares more people than it should. Sure, every now and then we hear about the big HazMat spill that shuts down the highway for hours and hours. I, myself, had one minor HazMat spill which held me up for an entire hour. Accidents happen. However, the vast majority of these HazMat loads get delivered without incident. And many of these HazMat loads just shouldn’t be feared at all. I mean, really. Who could possibly be afraid of a load of hairspray? Although I suppose a hijacking by a spandex-clad ’80s glam metal band might be kinda scary.

*Okay. I’m sure I left out something vital so be sure to leave a comment telling me what an idiot I am. Or if you’ve got your own story about hauling HazMat, tell us all about it. Unless of course it involves having your face burned off by acid or something. I have a hard enough time attracting readers without that mental image.*

Are Oregonians Too Stupid to Fuel?

August 9, 2009

Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr

A couple of days ago, I was reminded of something that I had known for years, but had totally forgotten about. It seems that the good citizens of Oregon (and all passers-by) are apparently too stupid to put fuel in their own vehicles. At least that’s what the state’s lawmakers think.

As usual, I was wandering around the truck stop waiting on The Evil Overlord to finish up her shower. Women are so stinking slow. Anyway, I happened to be looking out the front doors as two cars pulled up to the gas pumps. Then they just sat there. No one got out of the car. “Hmm,” I thought. “Why are they just sitting there?” My question was immediately answered when an employee said, “Excuse me, sir,” as he slipped out the front door and proceeded to start pumping gas.

First off, am I really old enough to be called “sir”? I guess I am, but I doubt I’ll ever get used to it. Although I did get used to answering when I hear The Evil Overlord use the words “dumb-ass.” Or is that just one word? Sorry. Off on a rat hole again. Back to the subject.

As soon as the guy started those fuel pumps, I remembered. Many, many moons ago, The Evil Overlord and I had been stranded at a company shop near Portland, Oregon. We had borrowed the company car and stopped for some gas on the way into town for a nice dinner at Jake’s Famous Crawfish (YUMMY!!!). Being the lightning fast guy that I am, I had the pump in hand in a flash. That’s when the guy came running out to stop me.

When he first explained that I wasn’t allowed to pump my own gas, I thought he was joking. Only after a few minutes of him pleading with me did I honestly believe that I wasn’t the victim of a Candid Camera joke or something. When asked why they had this stupid rule, the kid just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Don’t know. It’s just a state law.”

Back in the present, I asked the current gas pumping dude the same question. He said, “I heard two reasons. One, was that a long time ago a husband and wife had gotten into a heated argument while the man was gassing up the car. One thing led to another and he wound up soakin’ his wife in gas and settin’ her on fire. The fire spread and the whole place went up in flames. The lawyers got involved and sued everyone. So they passed this law.” I guess my expression showed my doubt as to the validity of this story, because he said, “Yea, that one’s a bit hard to swallow.”

“The second reason I heard is that the lawmakers decided that pumping gas exposed people to toxic fumes, so they outlawed it.” I added, “So it’s okay to make one person sniff toxic fumes all day, every day, but it’s bad for everyone else to inhale those same fumes for five minutes every three of four days?” To which he replied, “Yeah. I’m not sure I buy that one either. But I could see them not caring about a guy that’s pumping gas for minimum wage.” I agreed, but added that I didn’t think even the government would be that stupid. I stand corrected. They can be. His story wasn’t too far off.

Thanks to the iPhone and the internet, I quickly found the truth. In 1951, Oregon lawmakers ruled that, due to the flammable nature of gasoline, it was unsafe for “unqualified” persons to pump their own gas. New Jersey had passed a similar law two years earlier. Many other states have had similar laws in the past. All but Oregon and New Jersey have since grown a brain cell.

I guess it made sense back then when pumps didn’t have automatic shutoff valves. But times have changed. At least for 48 of our states, it has. Click here for more information about these laws. Incidentally, they have modified the rules to allow truckers to fuel their own vehicles. So for once, a trucker was determined to be smarter than the average citizen. Hear, hear!

When I revealed the truth to the gas guy at the truck stop, he didn’t seem surprised. I think he summed it up nicely when he said with a grin, “Doesn’t surprise me. Don’t really care either. People who live here are lazy and this job keeps me off welfare.” Well put, my friend. Well put.

*Okay Oregonians. Or whatever the heck you call yourselves. I’m expecting to hear some flack from you, so don’t let me down. Everyone else is welcome to pipe in too. Is this one of the dumbest things you’ve ever heard or is it just me? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.*

When Company Policy Overrides Common Sense

April 11, 2009

Anyone who’s heard me speak of trucking knows that I always recommend the large national carriers to new drivers. I’ve got many reasons for doing so, but that still doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. Sometimes they leave me shaking my head like a bobble head doll in a monster truck.

Take this morning as an example. I delivered a load in St. James, Missouri and received my load information to pick up a load in Jonesboro, Arkansas. As sometimes happens, the load was going to have to be picked up late. It wasn’t my fault. They just didn’t have another driver that was closer, so it was up to me to pick it up as soon as possible.

Anyway, in their infinite wisdom, my company (and many other large carriers) always sends us routing information so that we know what route to take. Company policy states that we cannot deviate from the supplied routing. Unfortunately, it’s not always the best route to take.

Today, it was sending me on every little back woods, twisty-turvy, hilly, state highway to get to Jonesboro. I’ve had previous experience with these particular roads and knew it would be slow-going. In the past, if I saw that the route wasn’t practical for whatever reason, I just sent a satellite message to my boss informing her of the route that I was going to take. She always deferred to my judgement and experience. But today was different.

Today, I have a new boss (more on that in the next post). I sent a message as usual stating that it would be much faster, not to mention safer, to go a little out of route over to Rolla and take US-63 instead of the back roads. It couldn’t have been more than 20-30 miles out of route, if it was even that far. No dice. I get a message back saying that it’s against company policy to deviate from the routing. Of course, I already know this. But sometimes you’ve gotta use your brain too.

What’s going to waste more fuel?

  1. Going 20-30 miles out of route, but maintaining a fairly steady speed for the entire route?  Or. . .
  2. Taking curvy roads with huge hills, causing massive speed fluctuations and gear shifting.

Now I don’t really know the scientific answer, but my gut tells me that the nice, steady, fairly flat, bigger road would save fuel. Maybe I’m wrong. But what about safety issues?

Large companies are always saying that their #1 priority is safety. Really? Let’s look at that.

Which route would be safer?

  1. A US highway that is partially four-lane, fairly flat, and mostly straight?  Or. . .
  2. Numerous tiny two lane highways with no shoulders, narrow bridges, small towns with tight corners, and long sections of tight 30-35 mph curves that sometimes requires my tractor or trailer to be in the oncoming traffic’s lane? Not to mention the fact that if you’re a team operation, your co-driver isn’t sleeping well because of all the curves, speed changes, and rollercoaster hills. And they have to drive later on that day.

I trust that my point is made. A smaller company might be able to bend certain company policies if it’ll benefit both the company and the driver. But a large company can’t afford to, or won’t make exceptions as easily, even if it’s the smart thing to do. And in that regard, this round goes to the smaller company.

As for my trip this morning, I was right about two things:

  1. It was as curvy and hilly as I remembered, so it took me 1.5 hours longer to make the trip than if I had taken US-63.
  2. The Evil Overlord (wife/co-driver) didn’t sleep well so it’s gonna be a bad day.  Too bad my new boss can’t trade me places just for today.  I bet he’d trust my judgement the next time I offered it.  Company policy or not!

Dang. I love it when I’m right.


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