TD104: Complacency Strikes

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Complacency. I know. You’re thinking that word sounds familiar. Where have you heard it recently? Right here, ya big dummy! Back in TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemisis: Complacency!

To recap; something really bad had almost happened, so I wrote about how a trucker needs to keep their guard up when it comes to driving safely. I also told you how we experienced drivers can struggle with complacency. And since I was clueless how to keep complacency at bay, I asked you good folks to write in and tell me how you did it, especially you drivers with those snazzy 3-million mile safety stickers on your trucks.

Well, no one wrote in except @DriverChrisMC, who wrote a blog post of his own about it. So the complacency incidents I’m going to tell you about today, I blame entirely on all of you who didn’t write in with your tips. And Obama. Because that’s just what Republicans do. 😉 And before you Democrats say anything about that, let me say one word: Bush. How soon we forget.

Okay. Now that I’ve pissed off at least half my readers, let’s move on to the part where complacency strikes… twice.

Let’s set the stage. This one happened back in October. After finding out my upcoming Halloween home time was only going to be 34 hours long, I was grumpier than a ballerina with bunions. Now 34 hours off wouldn’t be too bad if I had been out one week instead of 3.5 weeks. So yes, that’s a whole crock of crap my company was dumping on me. I’m totally aware of that. I’m also aware that I know this is part of what I signed up for. It’s also part of the reason why I probably make more money than you do.

About 90% of the time, I get 2-3 full days off, but every once in a while I get the Washington Monument-sized shaft. That’s just the way my company works. We get however much home time our load allows. That’s why I always hope to go home empty. Even when I don’t, there’s usually plenty of time to get sufficient home time. But it wasn’t looking good this time. I don’t much like this about my company, but clearly I’ve decided that money is my priority.

So anyway, I wasn’t in a great mood, but I hadn’t lost hope. If my next load was ready early, I might be able to get home early. Luck was not on my side, so I parked for the night and focused on I Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Yeah. I pretty much failed at that. Hey! We Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven!

The load was ready the next afternoon as scheduled. When I pulled the trailer from the dock, I couldn’t get the doors closed because some long metal rails were sticking out past the end of the trailer. Now I won’t say the name of the shipper, but they are the overhead door company that everyone’s heard of *wink, wink*. I had to back up to the door again and get a loader to rework some stuff. This shouldn’t been my first clue, but I’m often about as bright as a Bic lighter in a cave. Forty-five minutes later, I was finally ready to go.

As I said, the freight was all the way to the rear of the trailer, but nothing looked particularly heavy. Just some of those light railings and some cardboard boxes that were haphazardly thrown on. The way they were stacked, they looked fairly light. The paperwork said the load weighed 38,000 pounds. Now I regularly haul loads of pallets with similar weights without a problem, so I knew exactly where to slide my tandems. Or so I thought. This is where the complacency set in.

There was a public scale at a little trucking company just a couple of blocks away. Oblivious to my complacency, I drove right past it, as I did the CAT scales at Love’s in Aurora, Nebraska and the Petro in York. The weigh station just east of Lincoln was open, so I rolled onto the scale and stopped as instructed. I then got the green light to continue, but just as I started to roll off, the red light came back on. I sat there for 30 seconds wondering what I should do. No one was giving me verbal instructions. No one was coming out either, but the light remained red. Finally, I was told to pull over and bring my paperwork in.

Now this is odd for my company to get pulled into a weigh station, so I didn’t have a clue what was coming. You see, my company has a great safety reputation and the DOT knows we run electronic logs. Usually when I get pulled in, it’s because an officer needs to do one more inspection to meet his daily quota and he wants to do it on a truck and driver he’s fairly confident will pass with flying colors. Seriously. I’ve been told that more than once.

For what happened next, I wish I had video footage. I went inside with a friendly smile and asked what the officer needed. He asked to see all the normal stuff (registration, insurance card, and IFTA, or International Fuel Tax Agreement) and then dropped the bombshell, “You’re 5,000 pounds over on your trailer tandems.” I was stunned into silence. I don’t know how long I stood there before I realized my jaw was hanging open. That’s why I’d like to see the video. I must’ve looked like I’d just seen my mom naked.

When I could finally speak again, I asked if he’d let me try to get legal. He said he would, but I’d still have to pay the $373 ticket. Nuts. I’d just had my life insurance renewed and the $670 premium was due any day. Now this. Unfortunately, I was so perturbed that I dropped an F-bomb on the cop, which is something coming from a guy who’s nephews call him out when he says “dadgummit.” To his credit, and my luck, the cop took it in stride. Good thing, cuz he could’ve pulled off a Lurch costume on Halloween. This guy was a monster. As in HUGE!

I called my company and thankfully they paid the ticket. Well, sort of. They agreed to deduct it in installments out of my next four paychecks. Fair enough (although I didn’t think so at the time, but that’s another story altogether). I slid the tandems all the way to the rear, rolled across the scale, and got pulled in again. Still 1600 pounds over! Ugh. Feeling guilty, I apologized to Lurch for my pissy attitude and he accepted, saying he’d be pissed too if the shipper had loaded it that poorly. He then called the weigh station on the other side of the highway to let them know I’d be heading back to the shipper for reloading.

Back at the shipper, the loader wasn’t surprised to see me. He said the guy who loaded my trailer earlier that day loaded them wrong all the time. The guy was lazy and since they hand-loaded everything, he saved all the heavy stuff for the back so he didn’t have to carry it so far. I asked why he didn’t bother to mention that fact earlier when I had him moving some stuff around to get the trailer doors closed. Amazingly, I did it without getting snotty, even though he would’ve had it coming. He had no answer.

He went on to say that the bad loader used to be a night shift supervisor, so no one had the nerve to tell him a lot of his trailers were being returned for reloading. Fabulous. You know, sometimes I forget how awesome it can be to have a job where I don’t have to deal with co-worker’s incompetence. There. I found something to be thankful for in this whole mess. Now that’s how you practice that I Thessolonians passage!

I told the guy to take at least 1700 pounds off the rear, preferably more. He pulled off about 1500 pounds of those cardboard boxes, which turned out to be about 50 pounds each. Another wrong assumption! I told him 1500 pounds wouldn’t be enough but I didn’t argue much since I new there was a scale nearby. I drove over to the scale and grabbed my jar of coins for the self-serve scale. Great. It didn’t take coins and I didn’t have enough cash. Out came the debit card. I was still 200 pounds over, so back to the shipper I went. He sheepishly took off some more freight as I smugly watched. Back to the scale and I was finally legal with the tandems all the way to the rear. Thankfully Nebraska and Iowa don’t have bridge laws to speak of.

Okay. So how was I complacent in this? Well, I acted as if all 38,000 pound loads are the same when I know they aren’t. A full load of pallets that all weigh the same is different from a load of mix-and-match loaded pallets, boxes, crates, railings, and assorted crap thrown on. I know this. I truly do. But I was in a rush and I was too confident in myself.

To add insult to injury, I realized the next day that I’d left my jar of coins on the top of the money machine at the scale. I had about $20 of change in it, but by the time I realized it I was too far away to go back. Even more frustrating, I’d left it there on my first trip to the scale and didn’t see it sitting there when I returned less than an hour later. Grrrr.

Now on to part two of this complacency saga.

I needed a haircut and I went to Walmart. Okay. That’s a lie. That wouldn’t be complacency anyway. That would be called stupidity. Well, at least if you’re a metrosexual like me. I didn’t use to be this way, but The Evil Overlord has changed me so much that I actually used the words “my hair stylist” the other day. She found that hysterical, the heartless wench. I’m quite disgusted with myself really. Anyway, part two seriously did happen because I needed a haircut.

Guys, if you haven’t been to Sport Clips yet, give it a try. The place looks like a locker room and there are TVs everywhere. Thankfully, it doesn’t smell like a locker room. The ladies there specialize in men’s haircuts and I’ve never had a bad haircut yet *knock on wood*. You can get the MVP package that includes a hot towel, a head massage, and a back massage (with an electric massager), all for about $20! The Evil Overlord and I made the mistake of taking the nephews there and now they won’t go anywhere else. The brats. If anyone knows of a good place to dig shallow graves, let me know.

Anywho, I was in Abilene, Texas and found a Sport Clips nearby with my iPhone. Using Google Maps, I used the Satellite view to see if there was a place to park a full-size big rig. Sure enough, there was a hotel right next door with a large dirt lot around the back. Man; how did we ever survive without smartphones? The only problem with Google Maps is that you’re looking down from above, so you can’t truly know what you face until you get there.

As I was turning into the parking lot, I noticed that it had a large hump at the entrance. I paused for a minute and thought, “I just went over some railroad tracks that were steeper than this. I shouldn’t have any problems.” Well guess what? I didn’t. I pulled right in, parked, asked the manager if it was okay to park there briefly, and ran over to Sport Clips for my free MVP.

That’s one more cool thing for OTR truckers. Every time you go to a Sport Clips for the first time, you get the MVP (hot towel, etc) for free. I get them free all the time because I stop in so many different cities. One more thing, Sport Clips will give you free neck trims between haircuts. And trust me guys, some of you dudes really need this. Too bad they don’t do ear and nose hair. They could make a fortune off truckers.

So I wasn’t complacent, right? Not so fast. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I didn’t give it a second thought. If I had gone over that hump once, surely I’d roll right over it again, right? Wrong. I high-centered the trailer on the landing gear (see photo above). I hit it just hard enough to wedge it in there good. And before you ask, yes, I had the landing gear all the way up. I may be complacent sometimes, but I’m not an idiot.

For the record, I see this particular bit of compacency all the time. As I sit here writing this, I can see three trailers with the landing gear only partially jacked up. Bad plan guys and gals. You may know your route well and know there aren’t any steep railroad tracks or driveways along the way, but what happens if you hit a detour that puts you on the back roads? Sure, if you’re just moving a trailer a few hundred feet, you might not bother being so thorough, but you’ve got to be careful with that too. Before I got smart, I almost high-centered a trailer pulling one out of a steep dock area. Better safe than sorry. Jack that sucker up!

Well, I tried putting stuff under the tires, but I couldn’t get enough traction. I turned on traction control. No dice. I turned on my differential locker thingamabob. Noper. A guy in a 4-wheel drive pickup even hooked up a chain to the rear bumper, but quickly gave up when he had all four tires squalling without budging it an inch. Even the heavy-duty tow truck had to hook up both cables to pry it off that stinkin’ hump. I’m guessing that $250 tow truck bill will be coming out of my safety bonus. I won’t be mentioning that to The Evil Overlord. And now I’m grateful that she doesn’t read the blog.

Yep. Complacency. And I’ve got no excuse either. I know that you can hit the same bump at different angles with different results. I learned this in my ’68 Firebird way back when I was 17 years old. You see, our local McDonald’s had a wicked-steep driveway. If I hit it one way, I’d strape the crap out of my traction bars and look like a dork. But if I rolled in at a different angle, I’d remain the cool dude that I am.

So I ask again, how do you drivers out there keep from getting complacent? Or do you?

First off, let me say that I don’t think it’s possible to keep complacency at bay 100% of the time. I’ve spoken with two 3-million milers and both admitted that they’d had things happen that should’ve been counted as a safety incident, but neither were. Both of their safety directors said the same thing, “Let’s not ruin a perfect record over something so trivial.” To be fair, neither incident was any big deal, but still, average drivers like you and me wouldn’t have gotten away with it.

In @DriverChrisMC’s blog post, he said that he wakes up every day and assumes he doesn’t know everything about trucking and that helps keep him alert. The thing is, I’m well aware that I don’t know everything either, yet I still fall back into complacency when things are going well.

He says he also keeps the Smith System’s 5 Keys in mind as he drives, but exactly how does that happen? When I’m driving, I’m listening to podcasts, music, or thinking about how I’m going to spend my Mega Millions winnings. And no, I wouldn’t be safer in silence because I’d be asleep and drooling on my steering wheel. Sure, I think more about safety when I’m in heavy traffic, but what about when I’m not? Neither of my recent incidents involved heavy traffic, nor was I listening to anything to distract me. I was just doing routine stuff every trucker does.

Chris is undoubtedly better at warding off complacency than me, but even he admits in his post that the main reason he doesn’t get as complacent as some of the rest of us is because he’s a trainer who usually has a student in the truck. I can totally see that. But quite honestly, I’d rather go back to that Nebraska weigh station and kick Lurch in the nads than put my life in the hands of a student driver. Ya know what I mean, Vern?

*Okay. I’m asking again: How do you keep complacency at bay? Got any tips or tricks? Or maybe you’ve failed in the complacency department too. Please write in a tell your story so we can all learn from it… and perhaps laugh at you a bit.*

Additional links from the podcast version:

The Evil Overlord (wife and ex-codriver) recently had neck surgery. Check out the photo of her neck scar.

The Trucker Dump podcast is now part of the lineup on BigRigRadio.com, an Australian-based 24/7 Internet radio station that focuses on the transportation and mining industries. Check it out!

@DriverChrisMC and his blog post about complacency

My failure in regards to I Thessalonians 5:18

My podcast/blog post about Sliding trailer tandems and bridge laws

The first of many podcast/blog post about electronic logbooks

IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement)

If you don’t know who Lurch is, check out this video clip

My podcast/blog post called What Makes The Evil Overlord, Evil?

Dudes; check out Sport Clips for your next haircut

Photo of my trailer high-centered

Smith System 5 Keys to Safe Driving

Know what I mean, Vern?

Listener Buck writes in to comment about his love of flatbedding and I wonder why. His latest podcast is called The Trucking Podcast.

New listener Dave listened to TD41: Trucking In The Northeast and tells us a similar story.

Check out BigTruckGuide.com for a help figuring out stuff about truck weights, including each state’s bridge laws.

New listener Paul writes in and tells us that big rigs didn’t used to have front brakes and he points us to a cool video with a two-stroke diesel at a tractor pull. Saaaa-weeeeeet!

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