Photo by Trenton Schulz via Flickr

TD26: Hell Week

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Photo by Trenton Schulz via Flickr

Everyone has bad days.  I’m no different.  But what I just went through could only be described as “Hell Week.”

While all of you normal working stiffs have been anticipating a long, relaxing Labor Day weekend, The Evil Overlord and I have been out here on the road.  The last few weeks before our last home time were pretty good.  We ran hard and made more money three weeks in a row than we have since the economy took a turn for the worse.  Unfortunately, the high-value load I wrote about last week was the end of that spree.  We delivered that load on Saturday morning, and by the following Friday we had a whopping 300 miles.

Hell Week started when my company didn’t have a load for me Saturday morning.  I sat at a trashy truck stop until the following morning, when I took off to pick up a load approximately 180 miles away.  The shipper asked me to turn off the truck so I could talk into the intercom that was at the outer gate.  I did so and the truck started right back up.  I again turned the truck off at the inner gate, but this time it wouldn’t restart.  It wouldn’t even try to turn over.  It didn’t even click.  My voltage meter showed 12.5 volts when it should have been 14-15 volts.  I knew I was screwed.

Although I know better, I didn’t have any jumper cables in the truck.  I used to keep a set in the side box, but I went so long without using them that I decided to leave them at home years ago.  I hadn’t needed them until now.

The shipper eventually sent a forklift driver out to jump start my truck.  After numerous attempts, I hadn’t even gotten a “click.”  Then, out of the blue, it just started.  And that’s when the weirdness started.

When my truck restarted, my satellite wasn’t working properly.  I could see that I was getting messages, but the messages were blank.  I couldn’t send any messages at all.  Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this until the forklift driver was long gone.  Since this little quirk had happened before, I knew that if I rebooted the satellite system it would work just fine.  Problem was, I needed to turn the truck off to reboot the system.  If I did that, I didn’t know if I would get lucky enough for the truck to restart.

Now having a malfunctioning satellite won’t normally keep me from running.  I might have to call my dispatcher to get all my load information, directions, and routing, but other than that it’s business as usual.  But Hell Weeks are anything but normal.

As you may have guessed by the outer and inner gates, this was another high-value load.  High-value loads needs to be kept track of and updated.  And of course, they accomplish this through the satellite system.  Therefore, I was ineligible to take this particular load.  An hour later, I watched as another team drove away with my load.

The next step was to call the Maintenance Department and inform them of my problems.  I heard keys clicking away as I described my issues to the friendly maintenance guy on the other end of the line.  He told me I needed to get to a shop.  Duh.  As it so happens, the only loads we had anywhere near there were all high-value loads.

I sat all day Sunday and reported my issues to my full time dispatcher on Monday morning.  By 5 p.m. I was still sitting there twiddling my thumbs.  My boss couldn’t understand why the planners hadn’t sent me to a shop yet, as I was only 150 miles to our nearest company terminal.  Out of desperation, he told me to call the Maintenance Department again.  When I called, I found out that my issues had never been written up, so no one was aware that I even needed to get to a shop.  No wonder I was still sitting there!  Once they actually wrote up my issues, I immediately got permission to go to our shop without a load.  So, in short, I sat all day Sunday and Monday because some moron didn’t write up my problems when he was supposed to.

On to step two of Hell Week.  I get to the shop later that night and they inform me that the truck won’t even get looked at until Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.  As you may have guessed, it was more like Wednesday afternoon by the time they got to me.

Once in the shop, they did some tests and believed the problem to be a faulty starter.  Now instead of checking to see if they had a new starter in the Parts Department, they proceeded to tear out the old one.  Only then did they discover that they would have to order one and it wouldn’t get there until the following day, which, if you’re keeping track, would be Thursday.

Naturally, it’s kind of hard to start a truck without a starter, so they told us to go to a motel.  You might think this is good, but for us it’s just a pain-in-the-sitter.  The truck is set up with everything we need.  We have to lug a bunch of bags to a hotel room.  Not good.

Once at the motel, we discover that they don’t have any non-smoking rooms.  Again, not good news when The Evil Overlord has an allergy to tobacco smoke.  After a couple of calls to other nearby motels, we finally found a non-smoking room at a dumpy little Motel 6.  The only luck we had this week was that the room turned out to be tolerable.

On Thursday, we waited for an hour for the company van to pick us up at the motel.  When we finally got back to the shop, we found our starter replaced.  Yeah!  Not so fast.  They had discovered a leaky wheel seal and were now working on it.  By 6 p.m. that was finished.  Yeah!  Hold on now.  “We need to put a limiting device on your inverter now.”  Great.  I had told dispatch we were ready to go and they had a load for us.  Now we lost it.  Almost through, right?  Wrong.

Our mechanic was so proud that he had discovered that our truck had never had a special part installed on it, even though every other truck had it.  (Sorry, I can’t tell you what part it is because it is unique and I’m not supposed to let anyone know what company I work for.)  The bad news was that the only guy who knew how to install it was a day shift mechanic and yup, you guessed it, he was already gone for the day.  Fabulous.  I went to pull the truck out of the shop and guess what?  It wouldn’t start.  A quick jump start ensued and they told me that it was probably just low batteries due to sitting in the shop all day.  Uh-huh.  Whatever.

That night we would at least get to sleep in our truck.  Since there was nothing to do until morning, we began to watch a DVD and cook some dinner in the microwave.  BANG!  We blew a fuse.  On our inverter.  You know, the one they just added a limiter to?  I ran across to the shop and got two more fuses.  BANG!  BANG!  Two more down the drain.  The mechanic came out and determined I had a bad battery cable.  He assured me that this may also be the cause of our truck not starting.  So no TV and no microwave.  Dominoes got a call that night.

I was standing outside the shop door on Friday morning when the door opened.  To my surprise, they had me pull in straightaway.  They replaced all of the battery cables and told me that the batteries were at full charge.  My special part got installed and we were finally released.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Four hours later, we had a load.

Well, we delivered that load and had received our next one.  It wasn’t that great of a load, but what can we expect on Labor Day weekend?  As I sat at the truck stop waiting to pick up the load at the scheduled appointment time, our truck died.  This was not a surprise because our trucks turn themselves off to let you know when they need to do a regeneration process (for EPA regulations).  No problem!  I’ll just start it back up with my nifty new starter.  No click, no nothing.

After numerous attempts at restarting, I gave up and went looking for a fellow company driver who might be willing to give me a jump start.  I was prepared this time because I had bought a set of jumper cables as soon as found the nearest Wal-Mart.  As the driver was getting out of bed and making his way over to me, the truck decided to start.  I still have no idea why.

One thing, however, is crystal clear to me.  Hell Week may not be over.  It may, in fact, turn into Hell Fortnight.  Don’t you just love British words?

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