If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to drive a chemical truck in the oilfields, then you’re going to love the interview we have with Cannon Bryan on today’s show. For the record, oil is NOT the slickest thing Cannon deals with. LOL
We’ve also got surprisingly few news stories including the 14-hour rule, futuristic Michigan roads, what to look for in a used truck, what to do when your employer blacklists you, some trucker health help, and hey, what do you know; yet another safety blitz. yay.
Ryan is going to point us to some good Indian food in the Trucker Grub segment and we’ll hear from Rob, Steve, Goose, and Maurice, on topics such as scary CDL school situations, trucks stuck on railroad tracks, and the slim chances of any trucker ever needing a gun.
Be sure to check out the 50% off ebook combo pack for Trucking Life and How to Find a Great Truck Driving Job while you’re here. Limited time only and only available here!
Maurice listened to TD146: Personal Safety Tips For Truckers and brings up a good point about the slim chances of ever needing to defend ourselves as truckers. He also takes me to task about Volvo. LOL
Well, I managed to come up with jack squat for a topic this time, but that turns out to be a good thing since I’ve been behind on my feedback from listeners for quite some time. So I’m turning my writer’s block into a positive thing by catching up on feedback. Lemons to lemonade, man.
In other words, there’s no legitimate blog post today. But if you’re interested in what we talked about in the podcast version, check out the links below.
Photo by Ognian Mladenov via Flickr Creative Commons
Podcast show notes
I was a guest on The Trucking Podcast. We had a blast talking about all kinds of stuff, so please check it out. Look for episode 108.
Who doesn’t like to hear about another person’s aches and pains? No one… right? Right? Tough noogies. I open the show with my kidney stone woes. Good times.
More in the complaint department, I whine a bit about the crappy Internet at my new home.
Of course, everyone loves to hear a trucker bitch about trying to get home. Well I don’t disappoint with the story of my emotional rollercoaster ride trying to get home for Christmas.
I’m also looking for listener’s input on whether being called a “Trucker Dumper” is insulting or just plain funny. I ask because Buck and Don over at The Trucking Podcast are having a heck of time finding a name for their audience that doesn’t piss someone off.
Listener Trucker Bob and I recently announced a new Slack community called iTruckers. It’s basically a place for Apple fanboys (or fangirls) to get together online to talk about their love of Apple gear and services.
So if you’re a trucker who owns an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, iPod, or maybe you want to own one or have questions about them, please click the link to read about joining the iTruckers Slack group. Or you can email Trucker Bob directly at iTruckers@iCloud.com to receive an invite. Truckers or related fields only please!
I mention current iTruckers members @holden657, @darkstaff, and @driverchrismc.
I was hammering through a bunch of past episodes of The Trucking Podcast when Buck said something I’ve heard at least 847 times before, “The Hazardous Materials endorsement just isn’t worth it any more.” Okay, that may not have been his exact quote, but it was something like that. So is that true?
Is it worth it to go through the hassle of calling the TSA (1-855-347-8371), finding a fingerprinting location, setting up an appointment, getting your fingers scanned, letting the FBI run your prints and do a background check, pass a written test, and pay $86.50 (at the time of this writing), all for the privilege of being able to haul hazardous materials? And then you get to do it all over again every 5 years?
Well first off, let me start by saying that I’m not singling out Buck. His comment is just what spawned the idea for this blog post. I totally respect Buck’s opinions and insights into the trucking industry. And the more I listen to The Trucking Podcast, the more I realize how truly ill-informed I am of this industry that I’ve been a part of for almost 18 years.
I doubt Buck would claim to be an “expert” in the field, but he’s a regular Stephen Hawking compared to me. I mainly chalk that up to the fact that he likes learning about the industry because he actually enjoys trucking. I, on the other hand, like it about as much as I’d enjoy sipping on a literal Bloody Mary. To me, this is just a job. I have no desire to learn more about it than is absolutely necessary.
So having said that, I don’t think anyone can make a blanket statement about having a Hazardous Materials endorsement (Hazmat). There are just too many different situations to consider. Let’s look at a few of the reasons a driver might want to get the Hazmat endorsement.
1. Not having a Hazmat endorsement might keep you from getting a job
I imagine that the vast majority of current CDL holders studied for and passed the hazmat exam while in truck driving school. I expect the schools have you do this because it makes new drivers more attractive to employers. This in turn, jacks up the reputation of the truck driving school. “Hey! Look at us! 100% of our students find jobs within one week of graduating! Aren’t we awesome!” Yeah. Maybe you’re awesome. Or maybe it’s because the industry is so desperate for drivers that they would hire Helen Keller if she walked through the door.
I know back in 1997 when all the trucking recruiters were coming to our driving school, every single one of them needed you to have the Hazmat endorsement in order to hire you. Now I doubt that’s the case anymore, because it just doesn’t seem like nearly as many carriers are requiring it. I considered calling a few companies and driving schools to verify my suspicions, but in the end that would’ve been like actual research, that quite frankly, I just didn’t feel like doing.
So my advice to newbies is to get your Hazardous Materials endorsement when you first get your CDL, even if the school you’re attending doesn’t require it. As a rookie with no experience, you already have fewer options to chose from. Don’t let the best job you have available escape simply because you didn’t want to jump through a few hazmat-fueled flaming hoops. Just get it. And if you find you don’t need it later, just don’t renew it. Or maybe you’ll have to…
2. The DMV might require you to have the Hazmat endorsement
Recently, I found a local job that would let me sleep in my own bed seven days a week. And it paid more than my OTR (Over-The-Road) job! I knew these jobs existed; one had just never popped up in my neck of the woods. That’s probably because I live so far out in the sticks that we don’t have roads. But guess what? The job was pulling fuel tankers. The problem? I didn’t have my Tanker endorsement.
Now as luck would have it, I talked to the recruiter on a Friday and told him I’d have the Tanker endorsement on my license by Monday when he read my résumé and cover letter. I just so happened to be delivering in Joplin, Missouri just before I went home, so I dropped my trailer at the customer and bobtailed over to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).
But guess what? After I passed the written Tanker endorsement test, the Trooper said, “Do you have your Hazmat endorsement? ‘Cuz you’re gonna need it to get the Tanker endorsement.” As Ace Ventura would say, “Reheheheheheeeee-lly!” Since when? Since recently.
Apparently, the great state of Missouri decided that the two endorsements were to be combined. Well, sort of. You can have the Hazmat endorsement without the Tanker endorsement, but you cannot have the Tanker without the Hazmat. No idea why and neither did anyone at the ever-so-friendly and helpful DMV. Call that one a shocker.
Even weirder, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be hauling milk or flour. If it’s in a tanker trailer, you have to possess the Hazmat/Tanker combo endorsement. At least in my screwed-up state anyway. Hey Missouri! “Show Me” some me reasoning behind this!
Well, as luck would have it, I already have my Hazmat endorsement so I was in the clear. Although the Trooper thought they might need a current record of me passing the Hazmat test. Bummer. So to avoid waiting in a long DMV line, only to be rejected back to the testing room, I sat down for another round of testing. Well, I’m happy to say that I passed with flying colors. Unhappily, that means if I can pass a hazmat test without studying a lick, then I’ve been driving a truck for waaaaay too long. Oh well. It be what it be.
The point here is that if I didn’t already have my Hazmat endorsement, my résumé might’ve been tossed into File 13 before I even had a chance at the job. Before 9-11, this wouldn’t have been any big deal. Take the written hazmat test, pay the fee to add it to your license, and be done with it. But now that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) have their fingers all up in your junk, it can take up to 30 days to get approved for a Hazmat endorsement. Find out the complete process to obtain your Hazmat endorsement here.
And for the record, I didn’t get the job. I found out afterward that another driver had been talking to a regional manager with the company for over a year, so he was pretty much a shoe-in. Now I’m not wishing any ill-will on anyone, but… oh who am I kidding. I hope he’s a lazy sack of crap that gets fired in the first month! You’ve got my number, Mr. Recruiter! Call me!
3. You could get more loads with a Hazmat endorsement
I have experienced this one numerous times. You see, my company doesn’t require us to have a Hazmat endorsement, but they sure love the drivers who do. I recall many times getting a call from dispatch asking if I had my Hazmat endorsement. “Yepper. Why?” “‘Cuz we need you to cover for another driver who doesn’t have one.” Sometimes this even meant extra deadhead miles!
So, great. The Hazmat-holder gets the worm (I think I screwed up that idiom). But put yourself in the position of the other driver. He was all set to take a load. He started his 14-hour clock and now it’s ticking away because he couldn’t cover the load. I would say I feel sorry for him, but I’m far too busy driving down the road with his load. Yes, my compassion for humanity never ends.
But guess what, there’s an even bigger benefit of me having the Hazmat endorsement…
4. You could get paid more for having a Hazmat endorsement
This is the part that I love more than getting a scalp massage from The Evil Overlord, which I believe I last felt somewhere around the turn of the century. My company pays me 1¢ more per mile for having a Hazmat endorsement. But the even more important fact is that this penny pay raise is for all miles run, even if I’m not hauling a hazmat load.
And here’s the real kicker; I can take off one sock and count the number of hazmat loads I pull in any given year. Heck, I could even lose a couple of toes in a freak rhinoceros stampede and still count high enough! And even on those loads, often times the quantity of hazmat is so low that placards aren’t even needed.
Now you still might be thinking that it isn’t worth the hassle of getting your Hazmat endorsement. Let’s do the math. The TSA fee will run you $86.50 (at the time of this writing), and let’s add on a few extra bucks for gas getting to the appointment, your time wasted, license renewal fees, etc. So now we’re up to, say, $150. But let’s not forget, that’s every 5 years.
Now let’s figure up how much extra I can make in five years by keeping my Hazmat endorsement intact. According to my last pay stub of 2014, I made an extra $1,258.84 last year. At a penny per mile, I guess that means I drove 125,884 miles. And to think my mother-in-law falls asleep on the 30-minute drive into Walmart. Ah, but wait. We’ve got to compare apples to apples here. The hazmat cost is every five years. If I average the same mileage for the next five years, I will have made $6,294.20.
So is it worth it to have your Hazmat endorsement anymore? Well, maybe you’ve got a crystal ball or you’ve chopped off the head off a live chicken and you are 100% certain that you won’t need your Hazmat endorsement in the near future. Or maybe your company doesn’t pay you extra for having a Hazmat endorsement. If either of these is the case, then by all means, save the 150 bucks. But for me, I’m going to harken back to elementary math class with this simple equation:
$6,294.20 > $150
(Or is that the other way around? That symbol always screws me up.)
The Trucking Podcast with Buck and Don is a great podcast that covers trucking and non-trucking stuff. This father-son duo have a lot of laughs, so if you aren’t listening yet, click the link and start doing so.
If you don’t know what a hazmat placard is, well… you will in a second.
In the feedback section:
After much knashing of teeth and numerous recording devices, Greg sends in an audio clip about super truckers. Afterward, I wonder if other drivers consider me a super trucker due to the way I drive on snow-packed roads.
And lastly, 19-year veteran trucker Sam writes in and we have a discussion about driver complacency, driving in the oil fields, and going the speed limit. Afterward I start whining about how much work it takes to do this podcast. Surprise, surprise.
Sam also makes fun of my singing, so I point to a video of a much-younger me rocking some Led Zeppelin (WARNING: Explicit language) and some more recent (and much worse) singing I’ve done over at SingSnap.com
I’m fixing to kill two birds with one stone. As if I could even hit one bird with a stone, let alone two. Heck. I once missed a squirrel from 20 feet with a 12-gauge shotgun. Seriously. I’ve got no hope with a freakin’ stone.
Any-who, for those of you who don’t know, the carrier I drive for has made a lot of changes to company policy lately. I’ve been rather vocal about these changes, both online and off. This prompted me to write a letter to the head of our safety department. Not an e-mail, an actual letter; with a stamp and everything. Perhaps I should address it with giant block letters, that way it will for sure get noticed. Nah. I don’t want to have the HazMat folks evacuating the building.
I’ve decided to post this letter on the blog because it speaks to a subject that every driver has to face. What exactly are you willing to give up in order to get something else? Maybe it’s a nicer truck or the opportunity to be home more often? In my case, it’s higher pay that causes me to make sacrifices. But where do you draw the line? How much is too much?
Also, this letter will show you hot-headed drivers how to write a respectful letter to an employer, a government official, or a retailer who has given you bad service. Not that I’m an expert on the subject, but I know that some of you psychotic drivers out there think everything can be solved by cramming your fist down someone’s esophagus. While that’s a temptation we all want to give in to, a little respect goes a long way. So here goes.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also the company name, the address, and the pay rates. And before anyone asks, I’ll say it again. I DO NOT reveal the name of my company. This is to insure that my butt keeps it’s job. Also, the formatting of the address looks funky on here. I assure you that it looks beau-tee-ful on the actual letter.
November 24, 2010
Mr. Q.B. Cull
Dear Mr. Cull,
I trust that I have sent this to the appropriate party. If not, please pass it on to the correct individual or department.
In light of some of Turtle Trucking’s recent decisions (and some older ones), I felt the need to voice my opinion. According to many of the other company drivers that I’ve spoken with, I’m positive that I’m not the only one who is concerned.
We all know that Turtle Trucking charges its customers a premium price for excellent service. According to the company line, none of this is possible without top-of-the-line drivers. I fear that these policies are going to start affecting the quality of drivers that are attracted to Turtle Trucking.
I don’t actively recruit drivers, but I have plenty of them ask me about the company. The first thing they ask is if the 3 cents per mile is true. I have to tell them that pay rate was before the bad economy hit, and that it’s now 2 cents. Still, I assure them that the money and the miles are there to be had.
Next, they ask me how I like the company. I tell them that the company is efficient and the money is great, but that they will have to make some sacrifices for it. The first thing I mention is that no inverters are allowed in the truck. They always ask about the cigarette lighter kind, to which I say no. 9 times out of 10, they walk away.
If that didn’t scare them off, they usually say, “That’s okay, I’ve got one of those cooking devices that plugs into a cigarette lighter.” Now I have to tell them that they can’t have those either. I’d be willing to bet that they’ll walk off too. Every Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with is livid about this new rule.
Drivers only have a few things that make their life on the road bearable: a paycheck on Friday, a hot shower, and a hot meal. Turtle Trucking pays more than most carriers, but now if I want a hot meal I have to spend that hard-earned money to eat in restaurants. If the health and efficiency of the driver is truly a concern for Turtle Trucking, this can’t be a good thing. Not to mention, hot meals cooked in the truck are $2-3, and the cheapest you can walk out of a truck stop restaurant is $10.
I spoke with a couple of 10+ year Turtle Trucking drivers and some maintenance personnel about the inverter issue. It seems that they were banned after a couple of drivers misused their inverters, which caused their trucks to catch fire. I can only assume that some drivers recently showed poor judgment using their cooking devices too.
It’s disturbing to me that a few drivers with poor judgment can affect company policy so much. If a driver is found to be an unsafe driver, you don’t put the truck out of commission; you get rid of the driver responsible for the behavior. Why punish all the drivers who still use common sense? Clearly, these devices couldn’t be sold if they were unsafe to operate. It’s the idiotic driver who is at fault.
Next up: idling. While I personally think the new idling policy is fair, I’ve had many-a-driver walk away when I mention it. Most say it wouldn’t be an issue if we had APU’s, but as you well know, Turtle Trucking hasn’t decided that they’re cost effective yet.
E-logs are another matter. I know every carrier will eventually convert to E-logs, but I also know from talking to drivers that most want to avoid them as long as possible. Therefore, many won’t even be considering Turtle Trucking.
Despite what the company posters say, all the Turtle Trucking drivers that I’ve spoken with don’t like them. At worst, one company driver was going to retire early because of them. At best, the remaining drivers say that they don’t like them, but that they are “tolerable.”
Lastly is the fact that you have to turn your truck in if you’re going to be out of it for more than 3 days. I know it used to be 4 days. One of those 10+ year Turtle Trucking veterans said that it was 5 days a while back. While this rule won’t affect drivers who live near a yard, it will certainly affect those of us who don’t.
In order to keep my truck, I used to be okay with the idea of taking only 4 days vacation instead of 5. Now, if I want a week’s vacation, I’ll have to drop my truck at the Honolulu yard and drive home 7.5 hours. When I’m ready to come back, it’s another 7.5 hours. That’s one full day of my vacation wasted driving to and from a yard. I understand that you need to utilize your trucks, but how can you expect to keep drivers long-term if they can’t make their vacation time worth their while?
To sum up, I, and every other Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with know that we make sacrifices for the higher pay that Turtle Trucking offers. The question is this: In an industry where many carriers are striving to provide better conditions for drivers, how will Turtle Trucking fare when it comes to hiring and retaining quality drivers in the future? And how long before the extra pay isn’t worth it?
Christopher T. McCann
Okay. Don’t be laughing at the first name. Don’t force me to cram a fist down your esophagus.
I know what some of you are thinking, and you’re probably right. I don’t expect this letter to change any of our company policies, but hey, you never know. The engine with the low dipstick gets the oil. And since I’m so slick… uhhh, wait… or am I the dipstick? Oh, shut up and eat your turkey…Turkey.
Please leave a comment with your thoughts. And if you can stir up the energy to move your mouse to the top of the post, please give this post a rating.
When you drive a satellite-equipped truck, here’s the way the dispatching process is supposed to work:
Your satellite unit beeps at you.
If your company believes you to be incapable of reading a short message and hitting a few keys while you’re driving, then you pull over. If they actually treat you like a professional, you can do the remaining steps while you drive.
You examine your load information, which includes a load number, the shipper and receiver, their addresses (and sometimes phone number), the pick up and delivery times, possibly some fuel stop and/or routing information, and any additional information you might need, such as pickup and delivery numbers, weights, piece counts, etc.
If everything you need is included in the message, and you have the hours to run the load, you respond with a canned message that says you got the info and you accept the load.
You pick up and deliver on time.
You wait for the next beep.
That’s the way it works if you work for a normal company. Now I swear I’m not going to start another whine-fest, but I’ve got to explain what happened this morning to get to my point.
I had set my PTA (Projected Time Available) for 1:00 p.m. So naturally, I get a beep at 10:30 a.m. I’m not exactly shocked about this. The message says to call in for a “verbal.”
As long as I can remember, there has always been a need for verbal dispatches. Maybe the load is too complicated for a satellite message. Maybe it requires special instructions, like you have to go to a different location to weigh your empty tractor-trailer before you go into the shipper. Maybe it’s a high-value load. It could be a lot of different things. These loads are fine for verbals. They’re actually appreciated.
However, lately, nearly every load I get requires a verbal dispatch. I don’t know why and according to every one I talk to, they don’t know either. Basically, everyone is just repeating something that someone else has already said, which just so happens to be the exact same information that is included in the satellite dispatch. Take this morning for example.
I call in and my dispatcher tells me where and when the load picks up and delivers, including the extra stop. She tells me to call another phone number. I call that number and the woman tells me the EXACT same information. Then that woman tells me that I need to call yet another number because there is 19 pounds of HazMat on board.
Okay. First off, 19 pounds isn’t even a reportable quantity. It still has to be listed on the Bill of Lading, but it doesn’t require any other special handling. Secondly, I’ve been hauling HazMat since 1997, so do I really need to be told to keep the papers in the side door or on the seat when I’m not in the vehicle? Thirdly, I’ve been woken up early and told to call three different people. Lastly, I think the stupid beep interrupted an especially interesting dream. I’m assuming that because I woke up grumpy, and frankly, that’s just not like me. Unlike The Evil Overlord and the wrath of her mornings, I usually wake up in a decent mood. Not today. Which brings me back around to the point. Yes, finally. Hush.
When I called the HazMat guy, I said these exact words: “Hi. This is truck #### calling in for a HazMat verbal, because clearly I haven’t learned how to do HazMat loads in the 13 years I’ve had my HazMat endorsement.” I admit that it was dripping with sarcasm, but it was in no way said with a mean or violent tone. I’d be willing to bet that if he would’ve laughed, I would have too. But that was not to be.
His response? “Do you have a problem.” I said,”Well, yes. This does seem a bit ridiculous, don’t you think?” His reply? “I can always route you to a terminal if you’d like to turn your truck in.” After a moment’s pause of disbelief, I said, “Wow. This company sure has changed for the worse.”
Now I realize that he didn’t deserve my sarcasm, but I didn’t deserve that kind of threat either. That’s like giving someone a swift kick in the nuts when they only gave you a friendly arm punch. I think he realized that immediately, because he started explaining that he had a job to do, and that he didn’t make the policies. I apologized for the sarcasm, but again explained to him that this kind of nitpicking does nothing to make us drivers feel like the professionals that they claim us to be.
And now to my point. Yes, I know. It’s about freakin’ time. You know, I’m fully aware that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I just prefer to get from point A to point B like an alcoholic wastoid trying to walk a white line.
I immediately called my dispatcher to tell her what happened. I explained to her what I had said and how I had said it. Knowing me fairly well, the sarcasm bit didn’t surprise her much. Still, she said that the HazMat guy shouldn’t have said that to me. She said she was going to turn him in, but I asked her to give the guy a break. Who knows what kind of day he was having, and our conversation had ended on a friendlier tone. I suppose my forgiving nature might have had something to do with some unnecessary sarcasm, too.
After that, I went into a mini rant about how things are changing at this company and where I thought the company was heading if they continued to treat experienced drivers like 4th graders. Although she has heard similar rants from me before, she calmly listened, agreed with certain points, and disagreed with other points. By the end of it all, we were laughing as usual. And that, my friends is the key, and the point B at the other end of my oddly shaped line.
Sure, a dispatcher needs to know what they are doing. They need to know the rules. They need to try to fight to get you pulled off the crappy loads. They need to try to get you home when you requested. But that’s not what makes a great dispatcher. First and foremost, they need to have the ability to listen, understand, and remain calm.
When the person on the other end of the line is having a hissy fit, they need to understand that life on the road isn’t a picnic. The Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It’s true. When she’s calm, it always calms me down. If a dispatcher gets combative back at you, it will only cause things to escalate. My dispatcher is always calm. Even when she’s having a rough day, she always manages to stay cool with me.
When you call to inquire why you only got 1500 miles last week, they need to understand that you’re not staying away from your family for weeks at a time, just so you can sit at a truck stop while you wait on a load. Not to mention, poor miles make them look bad. My dispatcher comprehends this.
When you call complaining about some policy that you both know will never be changed, they need to realize that you just need to blow off some steam. My dispatcher always has an open ear.
When you get woken up, causing you to cop an attitude at them or someone else, they need to understand that a trucker’s schedule is as wonky as SpongeBob on a Peyote vision quest. My dispatcher understands that I don’t hold the same hours as she does. She always apologizes when she has to wake me up to pass down the holy orders from the trucking gods.
Now, I fully understand that truckers haven’t cornered the market on crappy days. I have no doubt that working in an office must really suck. I know that dispatchers have bad days too. But what a good dispatcher must realize, is that at the end of the day, they get to go home and relax, while we’re stuck in our truck waiting for the next beep and our next idiotic verbal dispatch. And we’ve still got a week-and-a-half before we’ll see our family again.
So drivers everywhere, if you’ve got a good dispatcher, hang onto them. Tell them you appreciate the fact that they understand your life on the road. Maybe even get them a gift card this Christmas.
If you’ve got a crappy dispatcher, ask for a new one. And if you can’t seem to get rid of them, I’ll be barreling down I-29 tomorrow. Just bring them out and shove them into my path. That oughta do the trick.
*Please leave a comment and give this post a rating. Feel free to lie and give me 5 stars. ;-)”
Truck drivers disagree on lots of things; like whether bathing is necessary or not. But they also agree on many things. For example, no driver will argue when I say that the driving directions our companies provide stink worse than fresh tequila vomit.
The average trucker will drive 120,000 miles per year, so you’d think we’d have this whole navigation thing down, wouldn’t you? Yet we don’t. Well, some of us don’t. So what seems to be the problem? Well, let’s see…
First, I should explain that most drivers receive directions to the customer when we receive our load information. Who’s responsible for supplying that information? Well, the majority of companies that I’ve worked for haven’t had a standard. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
Some companies ask the customers for directions when they book the freight. Other times, they tell the driver to call the customer to get directions. Still, other times, I’ve had dispatchers tell me, “Hold on while I Google it.” Oh boy, this is gonna to be a hoot.
Let me address this Google thing first. While there have been numerous occasions where Google Maps has bailed me out (see Trucking in the Northeast), there have been just as many times where it’s gotten me into trouble. Just the other night, I found myself in a quiet residential area in Rhode Island because my company didn’t have any directions and the customer was closed on Sunday. Well, the neighborhood was quiet before I got there anyway.
The fact is, Google Maps aren’t truck-friendly. It doesn’t know a truck route from a goat path. It doesn’t consider the weight limits of bridges or the height of overpasses. And it certainly doesn’t inform us of HazMat restricted routes. Like I said, Google has gotten me out of a few pinches by simply providing a map of the area I’m in, but it’s anything but perfect for trucks.
You may ask, what about GPS? Even regular GPS units won’t do the trick. If you want all the information relevant to trucks, you’ve got to buy a truck-specific unit. However, having used one before, I have to tell you that I wouldn’t trust one of those any more than a dad would trust his daughter’s date on prom night.
I was talking to a driver trainer the other day who told me he had a student that refused to learn how to read a map. The trainee said he didn’t need it because he was going to get a GPS when he got out of training. First off, this guy would’ve never made it out of training with me. I would’ve sat there like a stone-faced gargoyle when he asked me where to go and where to turn. He would have learned to read a map or found a new instructor. Why? Because map reading and following directions are essential to a truck driver. What happened to this student next is a perfect example of why.
Two weeks later the student got his own truck. He called the trainer and asked how to get to a particular shipper. The trainer said, “Where’s your GPS?” He replied, “Uhhhh… I don’t have it yet.” Frustrated, the trainer said, “Where are you now?” The new driver said, “I’m over at the yard where you dropped me.” To which the trainer said, “Look across the street.”
So, back to our problem. How do we get and give quality directions? Well, we can’t totally control how our company office people handle directions, but we sometimes have a say in the matter. Many carriers will ask the driver to provide them with the directions to the customer once they’ve established a good route in. Once they’re in the system, they send them out to every driver going there in the future. And herein lies my beef. Many truckers are just as bad at giving directions as Googling non-truckers. So here are some do’s and don’ts when supplying directions to your company or any other fellow human being that you don’t completely loathe:
Do give enough information to be clear.
Don’t give more information than is needed. Is it really necessary that I know that I’m going to pass a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a WalMart, and a Long John Silvers? I’d like to deep-fry the drivers who do this.
Don’t give directions from your starting point. Not everyone going to Pennsylvania is coming from Oklahoma… freakin’ moron.
Do start the directions from the nearest Interstate. Even if the next driver is coming from a different direction, they can look on a map and see how they need to adjust their route. That is, he can if Mr. Know-It-All can read a map.
Do give a compass point off the exit ramp or main road. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go right.” Great. So if I’m going west, I’ll be heading north; if I were headed east, I’ll be going south. Or will I? What if the exit is a clover leaf to a stop light? Then it’s the exact opposite. See what I mean? You can be much clearer by saying, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go south.”
Don’t give the direction you are going on the Interstate unless it’s relevant. For instance, if an exit can only be accessed when going westbound, be sure to say something like, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin.). No access from I-44 East.”
Do give an exit number and the name of the town or street on the exit sign. If you’re not certain of the exit number coming from the other direction, say, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin). Unsure of exit # from Eastbound.”
Do use the term “right” and “left” once you’ve got your bearing off the main road. It sounds too confusing when you say, “Turn south at the exit ramp, go east on Naval Drive, north on Bellydancing Lane, and west on Bellybutton Circle.”
Don’t give distances off the main road if it’s fairly close. However, if your next turn is 6 miles down the road, say so. That way, a driver isn’t slowing down at every intersection for the next 6 miles. And all those 4-wheelers can refrain from cussing us for 6 miles.
Do provide street names. “Take the second left” just doesn’t cut it. How do you know a new street or two hasn’t gone in? “Take a left on Port-A-Potty Road” is much more precise.
Don’t use landmarks that could change. Providing landmarks can be good in the right circumstances. For instance, railroad tracks, bridges or the city hall rarely change, but Hardee’s, stop lights, and gas stations do. Not long ago, I got directions that said, “Turn east onto Route 126 and turn right at the Exxon station.” I happened to remember the customer, which was fortunate since the station had recently changed to a Phillips 66.
Don’t be too frugal with your wording. In-cab satellite systems have been in use since the mid 90s, so truckers have been doing the whole text-shortening thing a lot longer than you 4-wheeling punks. Satellite systems usually charge by the character, so truckers were encouraged to use as many abbreviations as possible. Substitutions such as 2 and # were used in place of the words “to” and “number.” I once got directions that said, “Go 4 mile and the customer is on the right.” I went 4 miles. Whoever had typed the directions had substituted the number “4” for the word “for.” Don’t do that. U-turns in a truck just flat-out suck.
Sometimes the directions that we get are perfect. Those have been sent in by yours truly. You’re welcome. Sometimes the directions that we receive aren’t wrong, they’re just extremely vague. One is just as bad as the other. When you’re driving a 70+ foot vehicle, the last thing you need to do is get lost.
So here’s how I plan to solve this problem. As soon as someone is willing to give me a million bucks, a computer programming whiz, and a list of every business in America, I’ll get started making a database that carriers can subscribe to.
On second thought, that sounds like an awful lot of work. What-say we drivers just pull our heads out of our tailpipes and use some common sense when we’re sending in those directions to our companies. And any dispatcher who gives me directions from Google should be coated with BBQ sauce and left in a cannibal-infested desert.
Please click the “like” button if you enjoyed this post and/or give it a rating. Okay, folks. Tell me what I forgot. What are your suggestions to make directions more clear. Leave a comment for all to see.
In my 13-year driving career, I’ve experienced a phenomenon within the trucking industry. In EVERY orientation class I’ve ever been involved in, there is an annoying guy or gal. To my shock, this phenomenon was cracked during my recent job switch.
Usually you know who “The Annoying One” is the second you meet them. The unfortunate sucker that gets stuck in a hotel room with TAO, is the first to know it. I have the most sympathy for this guy. At least the rest of the people in class can avoid TAO once class is over. The roommate is screwed.
TAO will grind on you and every other person being hired. Sometimes it will even frustrate the instructor. So what is it about TAO that gives me fantasies of reenacting the torture scene from the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale?
Sometimes TAO is just born that way. It’s nothing in particular; they just drive you friggin’ crazy. Maybe it’s in their DNA. I’m sure you know a TAO too.
Sometimes it’s because they feel the need to tell a trucker story for every policy that gets brought up in class. If the instructor starts discussing the bad weather policy, TAO will pipe in with a story about getting stuck in a blizzard on Donner Pass. If it’s about cash advances, he’s got a story about how it took him 5 hours to get a cash advance. New policy, new story.
But most of the time it’s because this TAO hasn’t figured out that he no longer works for his old company. This time, when the instructor addresses the bad weather policy, this guy feels the need to inform everyone how his old company handled bad weather. Same with cash advances. And that’s where I stepped in for the first time.
You could feel the tension in the room every time this husband/wife team started talking. At the time, I had never heard of the company they were whining about, but to this day I remember the name of their old company. “Armellini did it this way… Amellini did it that way… Yadda-yadda-yadda.” This had gone on the entire first day of orientation, and although I could tell that everyone, including the instructor, was getting annoyed, no one said anything to Mr. and Mrs. Armellini.
The second day, they started up again. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a confrontational kinda guy. Especially when the guy was big enough to smoosh me with his pinky finger. I told The Evil Overlord that I was going to say something and she urged me keep my trap shut. Perhaps I should stop to explain.
Orientations suck. I hate them more than the taste of liver and onions; and that’s saying something. I’d rather have each individual taste bud plucked out with tweezers than eat liver and onions. Orientations are filled with boring subjects. Filling out paperwork, discussing company policies, and watching slobber-inducing videos on defensive driving and hazardous materials is NOT my idea of a jolly time. Most drivers just want to get it over with. Any extra stories or useless information is just making things more difficult. So back to the story.
There are few things in this world that are more dangerous than defying The Evil Overlord. Yet I did. I was sitting right behind the offending couple and as soon as one of his stories ended, I said, “You know, this class would go by a lot quicker if we could all keep our trucker stories to a minimum. You ARE aware that you’re not working for Armellini anymore?” It got a few laughs from the rest of the group, but The Armellini’s didn’t think it was all that funny. Luckily, the instructor finally piped in and backed me up.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Armellini didn’t talk to me the rest of the orientation, I was a hit with the other drivers. Nearly all of them came up at one point or another and thanked me for saying something. Even the instructor thanked me. While I was glad that I had spoken up, I really didn’t like singling this couple out. They kept to themselves the rest of the class.
This incident did teach me something though. Do like Barney Fife and “Nip it in the bud.” Now when I go to orientation for a new company, I wait until all of the drivers are together for the first time. It may be at breakfast in the hotel lobby, or it might be while we wait in front of the hotel for the shuttle van to pick us up. When I get the chance, I’ll say something like this: “Hey guys. I’d like to ask a favor. I hate orientations, and this class will go by a lot quicker if we could all keep our trucker stories and talk of our former companies to a minimum. And reach over and smack me if I start doing it.” You’d be surprised how well this works. Not only does it get the job done, but it also does so without singling out TAO. Try it at your next orientation and you’ll see.
I do need to say that this will not keep you from identifying TAO. There are still breaks and lunch at orientation, and the time you spend at the hotel. When I first went solo, The Evil Overlord drove me to orientation and spent the night in the hotel with me. The company paid for my part and we had to pay for the extra person. She was going to leave the next morning, so while I was at breakfast, I quickly identified TAO, and casually asked who was rooming together. Sure enough, TAO was in a room by himself and they were planning on transferring me over to his room that night. He seemed ecstatic to have a verbal punching bag, but I told him I was paying for my own room. Best money I ever spent.
So back to my recent orientation experience. I couldn’t afford my own room this time. My roommate, Andrew, was a man in his 50’s. I had been dreading having a roomie, but he was clean, nice, and hilarious. We had a lot of laughs and some good conversation. The only woman in the group wasn’t easily offended, as shown by her retaliating fart on the final day of class. She did have the decency to get as red as a baboon’s butt as we all scattered. She was a solo driver. Brave woman. I kept getting her name wrong. It was Kathleen… Katherine… Kathy… oh screw it. Mark, was middle-aged and extremely quiet, so much so that if the instructor hadn’t asked me to teach him how to use the satellite system, I might have forgotten he was there. Elliot, the 32-year old single guy was funny too. And then there was the old guy in the group.
Rocky was quiet the entire first morning. So naturally, I looked over at him at lunch and said, “Rocky, you should really quit monopolizing the conversation.” He chuckled, but didn’t say much. Everyone else thought it was a hoot. The instructor was new to this company, and he had read in the files that I had worked there almost 2 years. Since I knew the company better than he did, he was asking me a lot of questions as the day progressed. During one such question that afternoon, I mentioned that I had been Driver of the Month for this company. And THAT’S when Rocky decides to break his silence with, “All the other drivers must have been off duty.” Everyone, including me, erupted in laughter. Rocky was a smart-ass and I liked him on the spot. He wasn’t nearly as quiet after that. And guess who he liked to target?
The rest of the class, we all ribbed each other, helped each other out, and generally had a good time. We called Rocky and Elliot perverts, Elliot commented on how loud Andrew was and how much I talked. I know that probably shocks you to find that out about me. Still, we didn’t have one annoying person in the whole class. Although, I suppose the old, “if there isn’t a TAO in your orientation class, you’re probably him,” could be in play here.
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 you’ll 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. In todays 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 are 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 that 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, plus one extra, all of which get their own placard.
Flammable and Combustible Liquids
ORM-D (other regulated materials-domestic)
I won’t go into details on these because it’s nearly as boring as watching a PC boot up. Ooo. 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 (trucking company) responsibility is to double check the shippers 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 drivers side door or in the drivers seat when 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 are 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 have 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 are 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 are required. Loads with of very little 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 drivers 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 are 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 were 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 shut 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 highjacking by a spandex-clad, 80’s glam metal band might be kinda scary…
A couple of days ago, I was reminded of something that I had known for years, but had totally forgotten. 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. After all, I’m 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 soaking his wife in gas and setting 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 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. Incidently, 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.