We all have bad weeks at work. I call them hell weeks. I’ve written about two of them before in TD26: Hell Week and TD71: Hell Week 2: The Sequel. The difference between a hell week for the average Joe blow and a trucker is that when a non-trucker has a bad week, they usually have other people around to lighten the mood. Friends will rib you about being a sourpuss, children will do something silly make you smile, and any spouse worth their salt will listen to you vent and provide an appropriate amount of sympathy, even if they do think you’re being a drama queen.
But as an over-the-road trucker, you’re out here on the road all alone. Your dispatcher certainly doesn’t want to hear you moaning about your crappy week. Sure, you can always call your spouse, but it’s not quite the same as getting a shot of understanding and a big hug from them in person. And I hate to break it to you, but the whole time you are telling your ride-along dog about your bad week, while he may looked interested, but he’s really only hoping that you are about to present him with a bowling ball-sized wad of bacon.
Speaking of bacon, my most recent hell week started with a pig. Well, actually it started a bit before that, but I just couldn’t pass up that segue opportunity.
So let’s set the stage…
I had just spent Labor Day weekend at home, doing nothing more special than sitting around on the couch watching Netflix with The Evil Overlord and playing the solo campaign of an old Halo game I never got around to playing years ago. For the record, I suck at first person shooters. And if you think I’m exaggerating, have a listen to my conversation with my nephew Jared.
I get a call on Monday and my dispatcher needs me to go rescue a load from a guy at the new Flying J truck stop in Springfield, Missouri. I threw everything together, loaded up the truck and headed out. After swapping trailers with the driver, I ran in to look around at the new truck stop. Now I can usually pass the Cinnabon stand with only mild regret, but this place also had Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. Uh oh. I would have probably been fine, only I noticed they were just pulling some fresh ones out of the oven. So five minutes later I’m driving down the road and getting cinnamon sugar all over my truck. That stuff is like sand at the beach! Well that sounds like the start of a great week, right? Hang on.
I delivered near Dallas at 10:00 PM that evening and bobtailed to our nearby company terminal to find an empty trailer. I still had about 4 hours available to run, but dispatch told me to hit the sack and check in for a load in the morning. I wasn’t happy about it, but at least they have good wi-fi at our yard. I fired up Netflix and watched an excellent documentary on Winston Churchill called Walking With Destiny and a couple of episodes of World War II in Colour (the Brits will be happy to see “color” spelled correctly) that The Evil Overlord had been telling me about. I woke up at 7:30 AM the following morning, refreshed and ready to roll. That’s when I found out my next load doesn’t pick up until 8:30 PM.
For all you non-truckers out there, this is a scenario we truckers face all the time. We are rested and ready to go, but our load isn’t. So what do we do now? We need to be alert and ready to drive for 11 hours starting at 8:30 PM, but we just slept a full night. I put the odds of me being able to sleep for another 10 hours on about the same level as me ever consenting to a nipple ring.
Now here is the shocking part. Even though I had free wi-fi at the yard, instead of bingeing Netflix all day, I chose to edit my last podcast, TD116: Diabetes and Truckers. Is there some sort of award for self-motivation? Because if there is, someone needs to nominate me for it. Anywho, around 5:00 PM I attempted to take a 3-hour nap. I did manage to sleep a bit, but I tossed and turned more than a dryer full of socks.
So that’s the official start of this particular hell week. Sitting for 20 hours instead of the mandatory 10-hour break, and not getting as much sleep as I would’ve liked to have had for my 600+ mile run.
I treated myself to an A-1 burger at Whataburger (because really, who can pass it up when they’re in Texas), picked up my load, and headed out US 287 towards Denver, CO.
The pork in the road
I was out in the middle of nowhere between Wichita Falls and Childress, Texas around 2:00 AM when I saw a pig meandering out into the road.
You know how you sometimes find yourself in one of those situations where you’re walking towards another person and you both step the same direction two or three times and can’t seem to get out of each other’s way? Well that’s what me and this wild boar did. I guess you could say I was playing chicken with a pig.
I dare not swerve harder than I did because I knew this particular load would shift easily. So I hit my brakes and did my best, but ultimately I hit the yummy beast with my front left bumper.
To be honest, I barely felt the hit. Still, I slowed down to ease onto the shoulder to check out the damage. When I went to downshift, my clutch pedal went straight to the floor with no resistance. Uh oh. I forced it out of gear and rolled to a stop.
What I expected to find and what I actually found were two totally different things. I expected most of my left bumper to be gone and for there to be pig blood and guts all over the undercarriage. Instead, I only found one 6-inch crack in the bumper (that I almost missed), and only a few splashes of blood and meat on my battery box. The only way I knew I really hit him (other than the thump) was the pig-sized dust print on my bumper. So why wasn’t my clutch pedal working?
I crawled underneath and immediately saw the problem. There’s a small hose about a big as round as a dime that had snapped off and the fluid had spewed everywhere. My massive intellect and unparalleled mechanical knowledge told me it was probably the clutch line.
The road service
I called my company’s 24-hour breakdown service and surprisingly they found a guy who would come out who was just a couple of miles away. Well what do you know? I guess I’m not in the middle of nowhere after all. He showed up an hour later and took the line off the truck, hoping he would have a replacement back at his shop. No dice. He would have to check in the morning to see if any of the local shops had one.
He asked if I needed a ride to a hotel, but the truck was running fine and the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) which powered my air conditioner was working, so I just spent the night on the side of the road. There’s not really a whole lot going on in that part of Texas at that time of night… other than pig street parties, I guess.
Besides, I figured replacing a clutch line would be fairly routine, right? I assumed it would be repaired by morning and I’d be back on the road. I can hear you chuckling at my naivety right now. Knock it off, wise guy!
Later that morning the guy calls back and tells me they will have to order the part from Wichita Falls and it wouldn’t be delivered until the next day. My dispatcher arranged for someone to come get the load and I jammed the truck into gear, pulled out from underneath the trailer, and drove the 2 miles to the shop without a clutch.
Yes, I know that wasn’t smart, but it was either that or the repair guy towing me in with a 1-ton pickup truck, which probably would have been fine, but who knows. Anyway, I got to the shop with only a mild sprinkling in my shorts, due to the fact that I dang near didn’t get it yanked out of gear when I pulled into the driveway.
Repair shop time
I spent the rest of the day in the truck putting the final edits on the podcast and publishing it. So at least something good came out of all this. Knowing me, had it not been for this breakdown, that podcast might not have been released until next summer. My company asked if I wanted to get a hotel that night, but I passed again, “knowing” the truck would be fixed not long after the part arrived the next day. Ugh. Will I never learn?
The clutch line arrived shortly after noon the next day and the mechanic set to work on it immediately. It didn’t take long to install it, but bleeding the air out of the line was giving them fits. I thought I’d be helpful, so I offered to pump the clutch. Little did I know I would be pumping the clutch for the next three hours. 5:00 PM rolled around and there was no change in the clutch pedal. I could’ve depressed it just by blowing on it.
Unfortunately, the mechanics had been told not to work past 5:00 PM on it. Apparently, it would cost my company more money to pay them after hours shop fees than I would earn the company if I was rolling down the road.
So this time I took the company up on their offer for a hotel room. I had been sweating my butt off for the past three hours and I really needed a shower. And since I was feeling pretty good about getting the podcast done, I felt deserving of a Netflix binge. Also, my naivety had vanished since they hadn’t made any progress in getting the clutch line bled, so I thought I might be down the whole next day too.
The office lady took me down to the hotel, which looked like a perfect place for a low-budget horror thriller… empty swimming pool and all. Lovely. Just as my ride pulled away, I realized I had forgotten to bring a Comchek.
I ran out the door waving and screaming, but she didn’t see me. Now normally if a hotel takes Comcheks, they will have some of them on hand, but of course, they had just run out the day before. Nice.
I quickly called the shop lady, and she was nice enough to come back and take me back to the truck. These kinds of things happen during hell week. It’s just one thing after another.
Thankfully, the hotel was nicer on the inside than it was on the outside. It even had a fridge and a microwave, which was great because you know this cheapskate had brought cans of soup so he didn’t have to spend money ordering pizza.
Much to my delight, the Wi-Fi was just barely good enough to get Netflix, so I binged watched about the first half of season one of Gotham. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it revolves around the Batman universe before the superheroes were super. It’s a really neat idea and a great show. Highly recommended by yours truly, Captain Netflix.
The next day, just before the 11:00 AM checkout time, I got a call telling me the truck was done. I got a ride back to the shop and was ready to go. But there’s a problem. My company was debating the bill. Apparently, the initial estimate was $800. The final bill came out to be $1300. This is because of all the extra hours trying to bleed the brakes.
The mechanics had called around to numerous different repair shops and everyone (including the International dealer) was telling them that bleeding a clutch is pretty easy as long as you don’t get an air bubble in the line. If you do, it can take forever. Of course it would. I’ve always been told I was full of hot air, but I had no idea that it could actually seep into the clutch line. I AM ALLLLL POWERFULLLLLLLL!!!!!
Let’s save your eyes and shorten the story here. After a few calls between the shop and my maintenance department, a compromise was made. The shop dropped their road service fee (which they didn’t have to) and my company reluctantly agreed to pay about $1100. They weren’t happy about it though.
At this point, I didn’t care if they were happy or not. I just wanted to get moving. Their bickering had cost me another two hours! Well, my desire to get moving and salvage this paycheck was about to be foiled too.
The first delay
Remember, I’m out in the middle of nowhere Texas. We have very little freight around there. I was ready to roll, but the next load couldn’t be picked up until the following day.
Now I have to admit that this next part surprised me. Trucking in general holds very little excitement for me any more. So that’s why I was a bit shocked when I found myself almost giddy about getting a load to Arizona, despite the fact that I couldn’t pick it up ASAP. I hadn’t been to Arizona in about about six years. I guess it’s good to know there is still an AntMan-sized sense of adventure still in me somewhere.
I drove for about two hours to get near the shipper in Plainview, Texas and then sat for another 24 hours. Thankfully, there was a Walmart that allowed overnight parking, so I got free Wi-Fi and a rotisserie chicken from the deli while I waited. Yes, I spent money on food that wasn’t canned. Get up off the floor, would you? I waxed off season one of Gotham before hitting the sack.
The Arizona load
The next day I finally got a full day of running in. I took US 70 all the way across from I-27 in Texas to I-10 in Las Cruces, New Mexico and then stopped for the night at the coolest looking rest area in Arizona.
Once there, I had to take about a 15 hour break. That’s five hours longer than the mandatory 10-hour break, but I couldn’t start my day any earlier since I couldn’t deliver the load earlier than my appointment time. An extra 5 hours wasted sucks, but compared to the way my week was going, it was an outright blessing from God on high.
The second delay
My next load picked up a mere 90 miles away in Nogales, Arizona, which for those of you who don’t know, is a town right on the Mexican border. I got about two hours total driving in before I sat for another 18 hours just a few miles from the shipper. To make matters worse, when I went into the Pilot to shower later that evening, I realized I’d left my shampoo and body wash at the hotel. Talk about adding insult to injury.
I had two pick ups in Nogales. The first was set for 10:00 AM and the second for 4:00 PM. You truckers can see the problem here. I hope whoever scheduled these loads have a couple of flat tires this weekend. And possibly an allergic reaction to something.
For my non-trucking readers, these two stops are six hours apart. With the advent of the FMCSA’s brilliant 14-hour workday, at least six of those working hours are probably gone. Thanks FMCSA!
But things started out good. I drove to my first pick up and they had me loaded in a mind-boggling 15 minutes, which is probably the fastest I’ve ever been loaded in a border town. So I had high hopes that my second pick up would be ready early and I would get moving towards Phoenix, where I planned to meet listener Shannon @holden657 later that day.
The third delay
Nope. Not only was the load not ready early, but it took them 2.5 hours to load once I finally hit the dock door. So by the time I was ready to roll out, I had about seven hours in the sleeper berth. If I had taken off, I would’ve only had about 4 hours to drive before having to take another 10-hour break. Sheesh. I might as well sit tight for another three hours and get the 10-hour break in now, yes?
But of course, I’ve been awake all day again. Now I’m getting yet another fitful three-hour nap before I’m driving for 11 hours. Or so I thought.
I finished up my 10-hour break, and since I was within sight of the Mexican border fence, I checked my entire vehicle for stowaway Mexicans (yes really), and drove three hours to Phoenix. My next load out is right there in Phoenix and it was already preloaded on a trailer and ready to roll. Only problem was, I had dropped my load at our yard and there weren’t any empty trailers there. The shipper required an empty trailer in order for me to pick up.
The fourth delay
Let’s make another long part of the story shorter by saying that I spent the next 7.5 hours looking for an empty trailer. I finally got lucky when I caught a driver bringing one back into our yard. And because I hadn’t been kicked in the ribs enough when I was down, when I went to do my walk around inspection on the trailer, I couldn’t find my tire thumper. I remember having it in hand in Nogales in case I needed to thump a Mexican instead of a tire. I also remember setting it on my side step at some point during the pre-trip inspection. I bet it rolled off the second I put it in gear. Grrrr.
Bummer, but whatever. At least I can get moving now. Not so fast Speedy Gonzalez! Since I’m inside the gates of our yard, I now have to go through the inspection bay, which if anyone has heard me complain about before, is about as fast as turtle sex.
By the time I got out of there I had about two measly hours on my 14-hour clock and I felt I needed to use them, considering my crappy week. Not a wise choice I know, but my patience was gone. I got parked just north of Phoenix, which of course, meant I missed my meeting with Shannon. Bummer. Like I said, I so rarely get to Arizona.
So now I have this awesome 900+ mile load from Phoenix to Cheyenne, Wyoming. My company doesn’t give me an exact route to run, but they do give me specific fuel locations which often suggests the shortest route and the one they assume I’ll be taking. This time they had me fueling in Grand Junction, Colorado, which means I would take I-17 up to Flagstaff and then US 89, US 163 and US 191 up through Moab to I-70. I was fueling in Grand Junction, Colorado when I got the call.
The new dispatcher
I should stop for a minute to explain one other thing. About the time my truck was rolling into the repair shop after the hog slaughter, my former dispatcher was getting fired. So now I’m working with a new guy that I know nothing about.
I called someone I trusted at the company and asked them about him. They said, “He’s been here forever.” Well that’s a good sign, right? He probably knows everyone in the company, which always helps things along. This was my biggest complaint with my former dispatcher, as he was fairly new. Then I asked what my new dispatcher was like. “Lackadaisical” was the word description given.
Fabulous. What good is it to have a dispatcher that knows everyone, but is too lazy to pursue what’s best for me? I’m going to give this guy a fair shot, but as you can imagine, it didn’t start out well, as you’re about to see.
The chain law
Okay; back to the story. My new dispatcher called and told me that I was not allowed to go over the mountains in Colorado since I wasn’t carrying tire chains on my truck. To be honest, I had thought about this as soon as I saw the fuel routing was sending me over I-70.
It had been a long time since I’d been in those mountains, but my memory was telling me that Colorado chain law said I had to carry tire chains from the beginning of October to the end of May. Well, at least I got May right. Crap. It was the beginning of September, not October. Ugh. The sad thing is, a quick Google search would’ve saved me a lot of trouble, but I was in such a hurry to make some miles that I hadn’t bothered. I’d like to say I learned a lesson, but rationality and impatience just don’t mix.
Anyway, I told the new dispatcher that I had seen the chain law sign before I crossed the weigh station, but the last thing I wanted to do was be delayed by waiting for someone to relay this load off me. So I was just going to take my chances and run across I-70 without tire chains. This is not like me AT ALL! Impatience at work again.
The new dispatcher was having none of it. Instead, he rerouted me up through Salt Lake City to I-80. I admit that this non-cusser dropped an SOB on the new dispatcher. I didn’t call him one, I just said, “Well, SOB!” about the situation. Hello impatience.
Normally I would be fine with this rerouting because it means extra miles for me. But I was trying to get home for a concealed-carry class I was going to take on Saturday. I knew technically I had enough hours to get home if everything went fine. But this was going to throw a major wrench into that.
For the record, I don’t really care about concealed-carry in the least, but The Evil Overlord does. She spends much of her time alone and she grew up near Dallas so she’s naturally a bit paranoid about personal safety. So I’m going to take the class just so I don’t always have to be moving the gun out of my reach in the car. Besides, I think it’ll be a fun thing to do with her. And if an unarmed Evil Overlord isn’t scary enough for you, she’s already picked out this Smith & Wesson LaserMax 38 Special with, believe it or not, a laser. As she said loudly in her best Frau Farbissina voice, “Arming the laser!!!!”
Enough of that. I finished fueling and grumpily headed back to US 191 in Utah where I could cut up to Salt Lake City. Instead, I decided I’d be clever and cut a few miles off the trip by following US 191 heading northeast up to I-80 in Wyoming. I did check the atlas and it was all legal road for trucks. The way I figure it, I had run US highways all the way from Flagstaff and they were wide open. A bit hilly at times, but nothing major in the way of curves. That’s sound logic, right? Yeah, yeah. I know.
Most of the way was fine, but I eventually hit an extremely windy and hilly stretch near Flaming Gorge Damn where I smoked my brakes on an 8% grade. I had more smoke coming off them than I have in 19 years of driving.
I can hear some of you drivers out there saying, “If you’re doing it right, you should never smoke your brakes.” Believe me, I know to how to drive down mountain grades, but it doesn’t matter a lick when your stupid Jake brake won’t kick in below about 1300 RPM’s in seventh gear.
I don’t care how slow you go (I had to go 20-25 MPH for the curves), that steep of a grade requires you to brake if you don’t want to blow up your engine. I had to pull over for a whole hour before I felt they were cool enough to roll again. It’s a good thing I stopped too. There was a cop sitting at the bottom of the hill. I’m sure that would’ve been an instant ticket.
Thankfully, I made it up to I-80 and Rock Springs without further incident. I delivered later that day in Cheyenne and lo and behold my next load was going to Kansas City (close to home) and it was ready a whole two days early! Even better, the receiver would take it as soon as I could get it there! I might make it home for my class after all! Well this is hell week, so that wasn’t going to happen.
The load was actually ready like dispatch said it would be, but I had to backtrack about 270 miles west to the other side of Wyoming to pick up the load before I could roll towards home. So basically, 270 miles one way plus 270 miles back to Cheyenne is nearly a full day of extra driving. Again, great for the paycheck; horrible for getting home by Saturday morning.
Believe it or not I was actually in Kansas City by about 7:00 AM Saturday morning. I was supposed to grab a preloaded trailer out of the same customer and take it to our yard in Kansas City before I could head home.
The head fake
At this point, I had a faint glimpse to the end of hell week. You see, I had enough hours to get close enough to home that The Evil Overlord wouldn’t mind driving to pick me up, but only if I didn’t have to pick up that extra load and take it over to our drop yard first. I called weekend dispatch and explained the situation. Once again I was shocked when they told me to just grab an empty and go directly home.
The weekend crew usually won’t make these sort of snap decisions, especially when it involves 120 deadhead miles. I’m thinking there must’ve been some sort of note in the computer about the hell week I was having and to get me home ASAP at all costs. I’m guessing the words “hell week” were part of that message. You think?
But remember, this is hell week. It’s grubby little grip doesn’t let you off that easy. Happily, I checked into the receiver and asked for an empty trailer. But of course they didn’t have one. Why would they? So at this point I would’ve had to go find an empty someplace else, which, as evidenced by my 7.5-hour empty hunt a few days before, would’ve taken enough time that I couldn’t get close to home anyway.
At that point I had given up. What little optimism I had left was shattered like the glass in the original Diehard movie. Shoot…the… glass. I decided just to have them unload my current load and reload the one that was going to the Kansas City yard. By the time it was loaded I was already over the 14-hour mark.
The one thing that went right in all this, is there was a truck stop about a half mile away, which was close enough not to trigger my electronic logs to the driving line.
So there I sat, two lousy hours from home. I had realized the day before that I probably wasn’t going to make the gun class, so we had already cancelled it. But I still wanted to get home ASAP, right?
The fifth and final delay
So now I can finish this 10-hour break and head home about 6:00 PM, right? I’ll be home in time for a late dinner! Wrong again. I was now up against the 70-hour rule and I didn’t get have enough hours to get all the way home until midnight. Hang with me. Hell week is almost over.
So if all worked out perfectly, I’d take this load up to the Kansas City yard, grab an empty, and be home by 3:00 AM. But alas, hell week still has its vice grip-like clutches on me. Of course there aren’t any empty trailers at our yard. I called night dispatch and they tell me to take a break and check back in the morning to see if an empty has come in. So much for my “get him home ASAP” theory.
In my nicest tone, I explained to them that I had just taken a 15-hour break and I wanted to go home. To their credit, they hadn’t realized I just been on break and they sent me to a location where we might have empty trailers.
I just love this. They “might” have empty trailers there. Mini rant! How can a company not know where their trailers are? Why do we truckers have to drive all over God’s green earth looking for empty trailers? I mean, they don’t lose their loaded trailers. They always know where they are. What’s so different about an empty trailer? There, I’ve said my piece. Because Lord knows this post isn’t long enough without adding a few side tracking rants.
When I arrived, the security guard said that if they had any empty trailers, they would be in the parking lot on the right side and all the loaded ones were on the left. I checked the right side and they were all loaded. What the…? Great. Hosed again.
But then I thought he might have just mixed them up. He was old after all. And heaven knows I know how easy it is to get confused. By the way, what was the Colorado chain law again? With trepidation, I headed to the “loaded” lot. Ta-dahhhhh!!!! There’s one trailer on the “loaded” side and it’s empty! Hallelujah! Thanks for the scare, old man.
The home time
I finally got home around 3:00 AM and The Evil Overlord picked me up to end hell week. Well, now that I look at the calendar, it was actually a hell week-and-a-half.
The Evil Overlord and I had a great weekend catching up on Marvel movies (Thor 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War), laughing our butts off to some of our favorite past episodes of Big Bang Theory, and ironically, eating a whole heck of a lot of port loin. I kid you not.
[box]Have a Hell Week story of your own? Share your story in the comments section below!
Feature photo by Zweer de Bruin via Flickr Creative Commons[/box]
I'm a 22-year truck driver with an interest in tech stuff. I do the Trucker Dump podcast and blog, which is all about life as a trucker. I have also written two trucking books, "Trucking Life" and "How to Find a Great Truck Driving Job."
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Good grief I had forgotten how much you like to “talk” ;P