Overloaded truck

TD124: The Overweight Axle Debacle

🎼 (To the tune of Gilligan’s Island) Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale… A tale of a fateful trip… That started from this Northeast town… Aboard this great big truck. 🎤 Wait a second! That’s not how the song goes! But it is the way this story starts.

As with most of my blog posts, I like to tell a story about something that happened to me and somehow I manage to stick a “moral of the story” onto it. Just like every old sitcom now that I think about it!

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So this story (or rant, depending how look at it) began with a long run from Elkhart, Indiana to Newville, Pennsylvania, which is just south of Carlisle on I-81. I got the load on a Friday and it needed to deliver by Friday midnight to get the 560 miles on my next paycheck. But thanks to the awesome Household Mover’s Guide most truckers get paid by, the trip was actually well over 600 miles. In the end, I needed to average 58 mph to pull it off, which is a real feat in a 64 mph truck even in the best of conditions.

My dispatcher said it couldn’t be done. Especially since the customer hadn’t authorized any toll roads and my rarely does on their own either. I’m pretty sure my company big wigs think the Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania turnpikes are all hunting grounds of a flock of giant, truck-eating pterodactyls. Anyway, I thought I could pull it off.

Turns out we were both right. I could have delivered the load by midnight, but I didn’t have enough hours to get off the receivers property and they didn’t allow overnight parking on site. So I have elogs to thank for my crappy next paycheck. 😡

Anywho, I parked at our yard about 15 miles from the delivery because I had an oil change due on the new Kenworth. I got about 6 hours of sleep and was planning on going back to bed after the service, but instead I went to the driver’s lounge and watched a few episodes of Law and Order and then got caught up in back-to-back showings of all three The Expendables movies. What a waste of 6 hours.

The movies were entertaining enough, but the best parts were always when they were subtly poking fun at the 80s movies they’re playing off of, such as Commando and Rambo. The “in” jokes always cracked me up. The best one was when Chuck Norris’ character Lone Wolf shows up out of the blue to save the day. Sly says they heard he got bitten by a King Cobra, to which Chuck replies, “Yeah I was. But after 5 days of agonizing pain, the cobra died.” As did I from laughter. Chuck Norris jokes rock!

So I tell you all this to set the stage that I was already strapped for sleep. I’d been up since 9:00 AM and I was planning on delivering and picking up my next load (same location) by 6 PM and delivering in North Carolina around 3:00 AM. Long day, sure; but nothing I couldn’t handle.

I adjusted my tandems (trailer axles) to the 41-foot mark (kingpin to center of rear trailer axle) which is the bridge law in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. I pulled out of the shipper at 6:30 PM with 41,000 pounds on board… or so the paperwork said. More on that in a bit.

Now I don’t normally call out customers, but I’m going to this time because, quite frankly, this rarely happens with this company. The customer was Unilever. Many non-truckers have probably never heard the name, but I guarantee you have many of their products in your home right now. Axe, Dove, Hellman’s, and Lipton are just a few. My company hauls a lot of freight for them and I’ve rarely had a problem with overweight issues. So I’m naming names to let you know that even reputable companies like Unilever sometimes have their heads up their butts. It happens.

So back to the story. Because these loads are often heavy, most of their facilities have scales on site. But not this one. The security guard told me they were leasing the building and the owner of the property wouldn’t allow them to install a scale.

Okay, first; how does a major company like Unilever not lease a space that meets their minimum needs? No clue. And second, why wouldn’t the leasor allow it? Seems like it would be a bonus feature if they ever needed to lease it again. Oh well. I tell you all this because the lack of an on site scale plays into the story.

The first weigh

The closest scale was 15 miles away in Carlisle, but it was the wrong direction, so I drove 32 miles south to Greencastle, PA and weighed the load there. That’s when the dread set in.

For you non-drivers, what you’re looking at is a screenshot from the excellent Weigh My Truck app from CAT Scale. Truckers, if you don’t have it installed yet and you ever need to scale a load, you’re an idiot. Or possibly you just don’t have a smartphone yet, which as a tech-junkie, still has me wondering about you. 😉 I’ll be reviewing the Weigh My Truck app at a later date.

To keep you non-trucking peeps in the loop, the weight limits for standard tractor-trailers without special permits are:

  • Steer axle: 12,000 pounds (although I’ve never been hassled with more)
  • Drive axle: 34,000 pounds
  • Trailer axle: 34,000 pounds
  • Gross: 80,000 pounds

As you can see, my trailer axle is over by 1,540 pounds, meaning they’ve got too much heavy crap on the back-end of my trailer. This happens every now and then with heavier loads, so I took it in stride. I drove 32 miles back to the shipper and showed the security guard my weigh ticket. 20 minutes later I was sitting in a dock and someone started rearranging the load.

When finished, I looked at the load before I closed the door. I couldn’t do this the first time because the trailer was preloaded and already sealed. Just like before, the last two pallets were still heavy stuff. The only thing that changed was that before it had been Dove products and now it was Axe body wash. To me, it didn’t look like much had changed.

I checked out at the security gate and they put a new seal on. I reported the new seal number to my company and headed out. So do I go to the closer scale in Carlisle this time? Nope, for two reasons.

  1. I trusted they reloaded it right. These things usually get resolved the first rework so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, my perception of a load has been fooled before.

  2. Reweighs are cheaper. I can remember a time when a CAT scale was $8, but like everything (except driver pay it seems), the fee has increased to $11. But if you need to reweigh the load, every reweigh for the next 24 hours are only $2 each. Provided of course, you go back to the exact same scale you weighed at initially.

So another 32 miles later, I’m back at the TA in Greencastle. That’s when I see this.

Reweigh #1

As you can see, my instinct had been correct. In the hour it took to reload me, they managed to move a whopping 80 pounds forward! I was less than thrilled. Another 32 miles later, I’m back talking to the disbelieving security guard. Another 20 minutes and I’m sitting back in dock 291, which is where they do all their reworks. Ask me in a year and I bet I still remember that dock number after this debacle.

One thing I would like to mention here is that this “20 minutes to get a dock” thing is a reoccurring theme in this story. I have no idea why it took that long each time. After the guard closed the window, I saw her doing paperwork and computer stuff for about 10 minutes and then she’d be on the phone with someone for another five. Then five minutes to drive to the far side of the building, open the doors, and dock the trailer. Oh, I almost forgot. I had to drop the trailer each time and pull a few feet in front of the trailer. More stupid rules truckers have to follow sometimes.

Another hour later and the load looks better, but not great. I briefly considered going north this time to save about 17 miles, but if everything axled out this time, I would have gone out of route 34 miles to reweigh the load. And I would’ve had to pay a full $11 again being a new scale location and all. Well, really it’s my company that pays with the Weigh My Truck app, but you get the gist. I was also thinking, “who screws up a load three times in a row?” So I chalk up another 32 miles. The one bright thing in all this is I do get paid for all these extra miles. Wow. Talk about making lemonade.

Reweigh #2

Keep in mind that although this is only the second reweigh, this is the third chance they’ve had at getting the load right (don’t forget the initial loading). As you can see, they did much better this time, but they’re still 540 pounds over on the trailer axle.

I have no doubt in my mind that some driver is reading this and screaming, “Run with it!” Maybe I would’ve under other circumstances, but I was going through Virginia, and any experienced trucker knows that their weigh stations rarely close. You just don’t mess with the big VA when it comes to weight. A driver once told me he got a $1000 ticket for being 300 pounds over gross! Ouch! Sorry, but if I got a $1000 ticket due to my impatience, The Evil Overlord would slit my throat while I slept. After I mowed the lawn, obviously.

It was at this time that I noticed something weird. You experienced truckers may have already spotted it. Why exactly does a load that supposedly only weighs 41,000 pounds, gross out at 78,680 pounds? Earlier that week, I had hauled a 46,350-pound load of sugar and it only grossed 20 pounds more than this load, yet it supposedly had over 5,000 pounds less freight! And FYI: I had 1/2 fuel tanks for both loads.

Back to the shipper I go. The guard is shaking her head as I approach. I explained that they were a lot closer than the time before but that there was still too much heavy crap on the rear. For the record, the last two pallets were sitting at about the 48-foot mark. I also pointed out that I thought the listed weight of 41,000 pounds was incorrect. I also gently, but firmly demanded to talk to a supervisor before they reworked the load again.

The guard said someone would come out and talk to me once I got backed into my old friend, dock 291. I backed in, but no one came. Then I heard a giant thump on the trailer and knew they were starting without me. I went back and pounded on the side of the trailer and I had a conversation with the supervisor about my theory of the load being heavier than 41,000 pound. I could tell she didn’t take me serious.

I said, “I’m only 540 pounds over. If you can just cut one pallet, I’ll be out of your hair forever.” She said that their contract with Walmart didn’t allow cutting pallets unless the load was over gross weight. This didn’t surprise me.

First, Walmart always gets what they ask for because they’re Walmart. And second, I knew my company signed contracts like this too. Those sugar loads I mentioned earlier are always 46,350 pounds and dispatch doesn’t send us in to pick it up if we can’t pull that much due to too much fuel or having a heavier brand of truck. If we load it and can’t run it legal, we have to sit around and wait for a relay driver. Anyway, Mrs. Supervisor told me she was reworking the load herself and that it would for sure be legal when she was done. She was a supervisor. Surely she’ll get this sorted out, right?

Well, when I got the green dock light (clear to pull out) I went back to close the trailer doors and saw the load was now sitting even further back at the 50-foot mark! And there was still heavy body wash on the last two pallets. I pounded on the dock door but she was long gone. I drove back out the guard shack and told them I’d be back in a bit. They thought that was kinda funny. I didn’t.

Reweigh #3

At this point, I had no faith in this load, the loaders, or the supervisors. Heck, my faith in Chuck Norris was even waning. This time, I never even considered going to Carlisle for reweighing. Good thing, because as you can see from the screenshot, we were back where we started at 1540 pounds over again. I knew it!

At this point, I was getting really grumpy. Not only was I back to square one, but I was also running low on driving hours now. I raced back to the shipper (if my 64 mph top speed can be considered racing) to discover a new set of guards. Lovely.

I explained how many times I’d already been there that day and that I didn’t have enough time to rework the load again and still get off property to find parking for the night. Or should I say “day.” At this point it was morning and I had been awake for about 21 hours.

I told the new guy I wanted to drop the trailer so they could work on it while I took a break. He called inside and the lady supervisor would not let me drop the trailer and leave because the load “wasn’t her responsibility since I had signed for the load.” Say what? That might be the case if it was a legal load, but it wasn’t!

I called night dispatch and asked to drop the trailer on our yard and let another driver deal with it the next day since I’d been messing with it for 12 hours. He implied that was a crappy thing to do to another driver and selfishly I said, “It sure is. And it’s something every other driver would’ve tried to do to me if they were in my shoes.”

He didn’t argue, but I also didn’t win the argument. He didn’t have anyone else to cover the load and I believed him since I’d been at the yard the day before and the place looked like a ghost town. I think I actually saw a tumbleweed. I accepted my fate and parked at a rest area a couple of miles away. I heated up a frozen lasagna to try to lighten my mood. It didn’t work.

I woke up the next morning with a fresh confidence in a new day. Okay, that’s a lie. I woke up grumpy and doubtful that this problem would ever get resolved.

When I got back to the guard shack, the young lady from the day before was there again. I just smiled as I approached the window. She chuckled and got the 20 minute process started again with barely a word.

When the dock door finally opened up, a different loader was standing there. He said he’d been informed of my situation and he’d been called in on his day off to rectify the problem. I was just happy to see that Unilever was finally acknowledging the insanity of the situation.

I explained to him how I thought there was more than 41,000 pounds on board and of course he doubted it. At least he was nice about it. Naturally, I asked about cutting a couple of those back pallets, but he confirmed that Walmart wouldn’t have any of those shenanigans. 😡

At least I didn’t have to explain that I couldn’t have that heavy product on the tail of the trailer; he’d already pointed that out. He said he’d been loading trucks there for 5 years and he would get it right the first time. My response was, “No offense, but that’s what the lady said last night.” He laughed and said he wasn’t surprised because that supervisor was a horrible loader. Apparently everyone knew it except for her… and me obviously. His cockiness restored my hopeful attitude just a tad.

When he finished, he had managed to get all the freight forward of the 45-foot mark. Impressive! This time, I had as much confidence as he did about it being loaded right. The last two side-by-side pallets were still that heavy Axe body wash, but with everything that far forward I thought this saga might finally be over.

He gave me the office number and said he’d be awaiting my call to confirm his awesomeness. On the way out, I told the guards it was nice talking to them the last two days, but I hope I never saw either of their faces again. *sigh* My wishes so rarely come true.

Reweigh #4

This time, I drove to the Flying J in Carlisle because my 24-hour reweigh limit was close to expiring. The Weigh My Truck app charged me $11 again and I didn’t care in the least. Nor did I care that I was out of route. When the weights popped up on my iPhone screen, I’m pretty sure my chin actually sank to my chest. I was soooooo disappointed. I shot a message off to my company and then I called the loader. I could literally hear the cockiness fade from his voice when I told him I was still 540 pounds over.

When he found out my fuel was only at 1/2 tank, he asked me to put on as much fuel as I could. His reasoning was that if the load was close to 80,000 pounds he’d have an excuse to cut a pallet off the load. Sounds reasonable to me.

I called dispatch to authorize some fuel and as the dispatcher was getting ready to set it up, I heard another dispatcher in the background say with a firm tone, “He’s not adding any fuel if you guys can’t get him legal. You’ll either call Walmart and get them to approve cutting a pallet or we’re leaving the load on your property. That’s your choices.” ‘Bout friggin’ time. I headed back to the shipper without adding fuel.

When I got back, the guard said she’d have just taken the load and avoided the scales. Without a too-sweet smile on my face I said, “I shouldn’t have to risk a ticket because your loaders are incompetent.” She had to agee with the logic, especially when I told her how strict Virginia was on weight issues.

Back at the dock (yes, 20 minutes later), I saw a different loader when the dock door rolled up. I thought I had been passed off again, but my mind was eased when the once-cocky dude showed up again as we spoke. I asked what the plan was and he said he’d both called and emailed Walmart with no response. No surprise since it was a Sunday. Despite that he was going to cut a pallet anyway and take the consequences on Monday. Thank God for a guy with a set of gonads the size (and possibly weight) of bowling balls.

He yanked a 1,065-pound pallet of mayonnaise off, but when I looked at the load, it hadn’t moved forward any. I was concerned that the pallet he pulled had been too far forward so that it wouldn’t affect the back axles by 540 pounds. Was I right? God, I hoped not. I barely spoke to the guards on the way out.

Reweigh #5

I headed back to Carlisle for my $2 reweigh and when I saw the weights I could literally feel my body relax. It was finally over. Final tally was:

  • Steer axle: 11,440
  • Drive axle: 32,360
  • Trailer axle: 33,620

So all said and done, 28 hours of my life was gone; 10 of it on a mandatory DOT break and the other 18 driving from shipper to scale and back a jillion times and sitting in dock 291.

To make me feel better about this whole thing, I ran into Flying J and grabbed some classic comfort food in the form of a couple of corn dogs. They were two of the worst things I’d ever eaten, but of course I waxed them off anyway. Overweight axle debacle or not, I’ll always be a cheapskate. And thanks to Flying J for capping off my perfectly crappy two days.

So like I said in the beginning, I like to try to learn something from these ordeals and pass it along to you. In this case, I’m going to reiterate a situation I talked about in the last episode.

The moral of the story

If you’ve got an extra day-and-a-half to go back and read this article, you’ll notice that I often said I was unhappy… or grumpy… or outright angry. But never once did I lose my cool on anyone. I did explain my situation and boldly state what I wanted to happen, but I did so without raising my voice or cursing at anyone. Would it have helped if I had?

I’m sure the drivers who flip out on people think it helps. But far too often I’ve seen what happens when people get screamed at. They simply have no incentive to help you. You’ve already yelled at them so how much worse could it get? But the driver being nice when being wronged, that’s the trucker who’s problem they want to help solve.

I’m going to go back to the principle where I always tend to wind up…

The Golden Rule: Treat others as you’d like to be treated.

If someone else screwed up a load that you’re trying to fix, would you want to be yelled at about it? Nope.

Even if you’re the one who screwed up, do you want to see spittle coming from an irate trucker’s lips? Nada.

And if you’re the guard up front who has absolutely nothing to do with the loading or the insane 20-minute procedure put in place to check in an overweight truck, would you want a pissed-off trucker charging up to your window with paperwork flying while being called a son-of-a-douchebag and every other vile name in the book? I dare say you wouldn’t.

People screw up. Companies screw up. Heck, once every 20 years or so, even I screw up. When it happens pull your panties out of your arse and take a chill pill. Trucker dumps happen, you know.

What’s the longest time you’ve spent trying to get a load axled out? Leave your own long, drawn-out story in the comments section.

Feature photo by Gavin Bell via Flickr Creative Commons

Podcast Show Notes:

Ever had one of those crappy days that just seems to drag on forever… and in fact, it actually does drag into the next day? Well, that’s what happened to me recently when a shipper just couldn’t get me loaded legally. I share the story with mind-numbing detail. Lucky you.

I also interview Bill Busbice from HWY Pro, an app that helps owner-operators find, accept, and plan loads more efficiently than current methods.

If you signed up to win the Meritor jacket, you’ll want to stay tuned to see if you won. I also talk about some new audio editing software I’m going to buy. Yes, this cheapskate.

In the feedback section, we hear from Renae, Emily, Garry, David, and Andrew.

Links mentioned in the intro:

I’m planning on reviewing the My ONE20 app soon, but you can go ahead and check it out now.

I’ve started a Trucker Dump Podcast Facebook page. Yes, I finally broke down.

Along with that is a Facebook Group called Trucker Dump Podcast. Since I buckled from the pressure, I expect all of you to join and participate. So get on it.

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to promote my books. Yes, I’m shameless.
Trucking Life: An Entertaining, Yet Informative Guide To Becoming And Being A Truck Driver
How to Find a Great Truck Driving Job

Links mentioned in the blog post section:

Gilligan’s Island theme song

Chuck Norris’ best line in The Expendables 2

TD28: Please, Oh Please Give Me The Bypass is about weight distribution and the bridge laws.

Weigh My Truck app from CAT Scale

Go to TD124: The Overweight Axle Debacle ??? to see all the screenshot of my weigh tickets

TD32: SLC To CYA talks all about seals and load security

TD101: Stupid Rules That Truckers Tolerate is pretty self-explanitory

The moral of the story is a reiteration of a topic covered in TD123: Advice For New Truckers

In the feedback section:

Renae mentions the Trucking Nation podcast and she talks about health issues for truckers and the general lack of respect truckers receive.

Emily listened to TD119: Winter Truck Driving Tips From An Alaskan Trucker and wanted to share a related article called Winter Survival Kit: 10 Things To Keep In Your Truck.

An old high school friend named Garry wrote in just to say hi. Hi Garry!

David writes in to let me know he was the author of the mysterious “Bluegrass Cellular” email I read on the previous podcast.

Andrew asks why the heck I’m not on Podbean and I do my best to explain. He also has some constructive criticism about the previous podcast, which I love getting. He also asks about talkative truckers, which is something I obviously know a lot about.

Show info:

You can email your comments, suggestions, questions, or insults to TruckerDump@gmail.com

Join the Trucker Dump Podcast Facebook Group

Join the Trucker Dump Slack Group by emailing me at TruckerDump@gmail.com

Got a second to Rate and/or Review the podcast?

Download the intro/outro songs for free! courtesy of Walking On Einstein

Mystery Feedback Song – Only a cheater would click this before listening to the podcast! You aren’t a cheater, are you?

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