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TD97.5 Trucking Santas

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Christmas TruckHey there folks. Surprised to see me again so soon? Well, don’t get used to it. As you may have noticed from the title number, this is a point 5 edition. I usually do these when I’ve got something to say, but it isn’t long enough to earn it’s own number. This is one of those cases.

You know, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I hope y’all have begun to take the time to stop and appreciate the things you have. We truckers are notorious for whining about our crappy lives (I know I certainly am), but all things considered, being a truck driver is one of the most secure jobs in this country. And in this funky economy, a steady job is as rare as a fully-clothed Miley Cyrus. For the most part, our paychecks put food on our tables all year long, it keeps the family from running around naked (well, except for that weird uncle), and it even manages to put some Christmas gifts under the tree each year. Not everyone is so lucky. Especially when it comes to Christmas.

That’s where Trucking Santas comes in.

I encourage you to learn more about them by visiting their Web site at TruckingSantas.org or, if you’re one of those Facebook weirdos, you can visit them there at Facebook.com/theoriginaltruckingsantas. Be sure to Like them while you’re there. At least that’s what I hear you weirdos do. Basically, Trucking Santas is an organization that helps the less fortunate have a decent Christmas. Well, it does if people step up to the sleigh and help load Santa’s bag with goodies anyway.

That’s where you come in, you cute little elves. We all know how we truckers are looked at by the general public. Needless to say, our reputation isn’t exactly stellar. This, my friends, is a chance to show at least a few people that truck drivers are great peeps.

So here’s the way this works.

Head on over to TruckingSantas.org and read what they’re all about. Next, click on the 2013 Families tab in the sidebar. Here you’ll see a list of the people you’ll be helping, along with a brief description of each family’s situation. Trust me here. After reading a few of these, you’ll realize your life doesn’t suck nearly as bad as you think it does. It really is like a kidney punch to the ol’ perspective. Further down (near the bottom of the page), you’ll see a section titled, Frederick Facility. Have a read and you’ll find out this is a Cerebral Palsy facility in Maryland that the Trucking Santas have adopted. Be sure to have a look at the pictures on the site. These are all heart-warming shots of the happy benefactors of Trucking Santas.

Giving couldn’t be easier. There are 2 ways you can fork over your fundage.

1. You can shop on an Amazon wish list

Amazon makes this super easy. Each Trucking Santas recipient or family has their own wish list. You can access the wish lists on Amazon by clicking here or you can go to TruckingSantas.org, click on Current Open Wish Lists in the sidebar, and click on one of the names. That will take you to the Amazon site and you’ll find all the wish lists in the left sidebar. Now just fill up your cart with however much you can afford and checkout as usual. Once the purchase goes through, Amazon will send each item to the correct recipient. Sweet! You can even have the shipper gift wrap your gift if you choose. Like I said: couldn’t be easier.

2. Donate directly and let the Trucking Santas folks do the shopping for you.

If you hate shopping (and what man doesn’t) you’ll find a tab called Donate Directly in the sidebar of TruckingSantas.org. Click that and then find the words “Click here.” Be sure to look closely so you don’t miss it. My crappy old eyes totally missed it the first time, so pay attention. The word “here” will take you to the fundraising site, but it’s really hard to see since the word is purple and the surrounding text is gray. Anyway, once on the site, simply click the ginormous Give Now button, enter the amount you wish to donate, and pay with your credit card, debit card, or your PayPal account. By the way, the fundraising is done through YouCaring.com and you don’t have to have an account or sign up for anything to donate. How’s that for a Christmas miracle?

So there you have it, folks. Now Amazon needs about 2 weeks to make sure everyone receives your gifts in time, so try like the dickens to donate by December 6. If you want to keep tabs on the progress of getting these wish lists filled, you can do your weirdo thing over at Facebook.com/theoriginaltruckingsantas or you can follow Trucking Santas on Twitter. Their username is @trkingsantas. I follow them on Twitter, and I’ve gotta tell you, it’s mighty sad to see all the tweets going by that say that “so-and-so” doesn’t have any Christmas gifts yet. How cool is that?

So c’mon people. Everyone deserves to have a little bit of a Christmas, don’t they? And if the super-chubby dude dressed in red isn’t going to squeeze his fluffy butt down the chimney this year, I think there’s quite a few truckers out there who could easily fill his humongous pants.

*Alright. I’m going to go ahead and thank everyone in advance for helping out with this great cause. And remember, you don’t have to give a lot. Whatever you can spare will work. Every little bit helps. Just make sure your tendency to procrastinate doesn’t trip you up. The deadline of December 6 is creeping up fast!*

TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemesis: Complacency

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I Love MeSo… I got a new truck the other day. And of course, that means I’m all out-of-sorts. Even though my new ProStar looks exactly like my old one on the outside, the interior is slightly different. Just different enough in fact that I still bump my head on something or other at least once per day, usually more. I have the tender skull to prove it. But what am I rambling on about? Well, my new truck just about got me in a heap of trouble the first day I had it.

First, let me say that there is only one particular day that I don’t miss The Evil Overlord (the wife and ex-codriver) out here on the road. That day is any day I’m switching trucks. You see, when it’s just me I can get all my junk swapped over and put away within an hour or two. But toss the wench into the mix and you’re looking at a four or five-hour job and a couple of butt-chewings because I never could resist a few jabs about how much crap she always brought. Why I inflict this torture on myself, I have no idea.

So anyway, I’d already had a long day when I got to the yard to pick up my new truck. So after I got everything sitch-ee-ated, I was pooped. After a long, hot shower and some potato ham chowder, I was itching for the bunk. The load I was picking up was on the yard, so I went on over and backed under the trailer.

Now every driver will tell you that there is a ritualistic aspect of hooking up a trailer. Most drivers do it the exact same way every time. One of the worst things that can happen to me is when someone starts talking to me during this routine. Due to my complete inability to multitask, I inevitably screw something up and have to double-check everything. But this time, I got no such interruptions.

Green is electrical Red supplies air to trailer Blue provides air from brake pedal

Green is electrical
Red supplies air to trailer
Blue controls air from brake pedal

I followed my ritual to the letter. First, I hooked up the pigtail (the electrical cord) and then my air lines. Next, I stooped down to see if the fifth wheel pin was flush against the fifth wheel (see photos below). The next step is to jack up the landing gear on the trailer. Hopefully the previous driver wasn’t an idiot who had cranked it high enough for Babe the Big Blue Ox to get his big blue butt under it. The ritual is completed after I do my walk-around inspection, which involves checking all the lights and thumping all 18 tires to make sure they’re all aired up (the thump sounds different if the tire is low or flat).

Now normally, the last thing I do before I hit the road is a pull test to make sure the fifth wheel is latched. You do this by leaving your trailer brakes locked and releasing your tractor brakes. A quick tug will tell you whether your trailer is secured to the tractor. But I was tired that night and I went to bed since I wasn’t going anywhere until morning anyway. I’m sure you all can see where this is going.

Well, I slept like crap that night. Despite having a new truck with a bunk heater in it, I couldn’t use it that first night. The shop guy said the truck had been sitting for quite a while and the batteries wouldn’t likely be up to snuff until I ran the truck for a full day. It was going to get into the 30’s that night, so it was cold enough to idle the engine. But there was a problem with that too. You see, my company bases our governed speed on our idle time. Since I just got the truck, if I’d have idled the truck for 8 hours I would’ve been at 100% idle time and it would’ve taken me a heck of a lot longer than 8 hours of driving to get my idle time back down to an acceptable amount. I was having no part of that. I don’t like going even 2 mph slower than I can.

So out came the cowboy long johns. Yep; bright red and complete with buttons up the front and an escape hatch in the rear. Cuz you never know when you might need a surprise “escape.” I love the warmth of these things, but I’m awfully glad these trucks don’t come equipped with a full-length mirror. It couldn’t have been very pretty. Still, even with wool socks and an extra comforter, I felt like a popsicle and therefore, tossed and turned all night. Funny; the cold didn’t seem to bother me as much last year. I think I’m beginning to understand why old people’s houses always feel like a friggin’ sauna.

When I woke the next morning, I was colder than a skinny-dipping Eskimo. That prompted a couple of snooze buttons and deeper burrowing into the covers. When I was starting to push my delivery time, I finally crawled out of bed. The only thing worse than crawling out of warm blankets (well, semi-warm) is the half-a-second that comes between your long johns coming off and your fit-for-public-viewing clothes going on. I then realized I had forgotten to fuel the night before. So now I’m in a hurry. I start the truck, release both brakes, and slowly pull out. Just as I started to put my foot into the accelerator, something feels… off. And then, BAM! I was too late. Well, not completely. It could have been much worse.

Yep. Just like you suspected, the trailer wasn’t latched and I nearly dropped the trailer to the ground with the landing gear up. Luckily, my reflexes were sufficiently awake to stop soon enough that it only landed on my truck’s frame. After 10 minutes of hard cranking that had me breathing so hard I tasted blood (seriously), I noticed that the fifth wheel pin was still flush to the fifth wheel. Ahhhh… so that’s the problem. Apparently, new trucks come with the fifth wheel jaws closed (see photos below). Since the jaws normally stay open when not attached to a trailer, I hadn’t thought to check it before I backed under the trailer. And there it is, a trucker’s worst nemesis: complacency.

[box]complacency: |kəmˈplāsənsē | noun: a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements[/box]

When you’ve been driving a truck for as long as I have, it’s bound to happen. You get cocky. You don’t watch the rear of your trailer during turns as much as you should. You don’t get out and look when you’re backing into a tight parking spot. After all, you’re “pretty sure” you’re going to miss that other truck’s mirror. You glance at the Twitter stream on your phone while driving more than you should. You might even find yourself thinking, “Yea, I’m driving, but that apple didn’t roll that far back into the bunk area. I’m pretty sure I can reach it without pulling over.” And obviously, you don’t check your fifth wheel properly.

C’mon now drivers, don’t leave me hanging like a married lady’s lingerie. Let’s be honest. How often have you had an accident or even a little mirror-tap oopsie right after you had a close call with another incident? Rarely, if ever. You’re on high alert after a close call. No, bad things happen when everything is going swell. When you’re feeling confident in your driving skills. When you’re feeling a tad bit holier-than-thou. When you’re feeling complacent.

I remember the first time I felt completely confident in my trucking skills. I don’t remember the exact day or even where I was, but I do remember the feeling. I was about 10 years into my career at the time. I pulled into a shipper and everything was tight. Really tight. I saw all the trucks that were already docked and I saw the one dock space left. Then I looked at the banged-up chain-link fence that had obviously taken it’s fair share of truck paint. I saw how tight it was going to be and for the first time I thought, “I got this. If those drivers can get in those docks, I know I can too.”

I remember that striking me as odd that it was the first time I’d felt that way in my driving career. In the past, I’d always break into a light sweat and think, “I’m never going to get into that spot!”  So much so that to this day The Evil Overlord always teases me about saying stuff like, “I’m never going to get onto this busy road.” Or my most-used phrase ever, “We’re never going to find a parking space in here.” Somehow, I always managed to get the job done despite her constant ribbing, but it was never without much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Okay, maybe I didn’t weep, but I know I lost a lot of fingernails in the process and I may or may not have squirted in my shorts a few times.

So what can we drivers do to keep from getting complacent? Well, I hope you didn’t read all this hoping I’d solved the problem, because I haven’t. I’m clueless. If I knew how to keep complacency from creeping up me, I’d tell you. So instead I’m going to ask you. What do you do to keep from becoming complacent? Or do you not have it figured out either? The only way I seem to keep complacency at bay is for something bad to happen or at best, a near miss. Frankly, those are both crappy options.

Surely there is someone out there who has an answer. Every time I see a driver with a “3 million safe miles” sticker on his truck, I think, “How did they manage that? Are they just lucky or do they really stay focused on safety all day, every day, without any lapses in judgment?” I just don’t know how they do it. Maybe they’re robots. Or at the very least, cyborgs. Whatever they are, I’m not one of them. I guess I’m just too easily distra… SQUIRREL!

So what about it guys and gals? How do you stay focused on the job? Or do you? How do you keep from getting complacent? You’re welcome to write in and admit you get distracted too. Even if you don’t, saying you do will help me feel better about myself. Leave your comments below.

TD93: The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon

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The truck driver's seat

Look at them butt-prints!

If you’ll remember from the last podcast called Honor Among Truckers, I mentioned that if you were to drive around a truck stop parking lot, you’d see lots of drivers sitting in their driver’s seat whiling away the hours. They’re talking on their phones, doing paperwork, people watching, playing with their laptops, turned around at an awkward angle watching their TV, or even weirder, staring off into space with a blank expression. I just don’t get it. And since the word “phenomenon” makes anything sound more mysterious than it actually is, I’ve chosen to call this one “The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon.”

Here’s the thing I just don’t get. The average solo trucker drives approximately 120,000 miles each year. I actually ran about 127,000 last year. All of those miles are done while sitting in the driver’s seat. Yes, the driver’s seats in these trucks are highly adjustable to make the long hours of driving tolerable. Yes, they have air-ride suspension to keep you from feeling like Superman punched you in the tailbone every time your load takes you on US69 near Stringtown, Oklahoma. But even with all that, why in the name of Zeus’ hemorrhoids would you want to spend even one more second in that seat when you don’t have to?

Now sure, I understand that team drivers have more of an excuse to be welded to the driver’s seat.

Maybe your co-driver is getting out of bed and you don’t want to see his great-hairy-chasm-of-a-butt-crack sticking out of his tidy-whities. Can’t say as I blame you there. Or maybe your co-driver is your wife and you actually do want to see her backside, but she’s meaner than a giraffe with strep throat when she first wakes up; meaning you’d have a better chance of getting lucky with said giraffe than with her. Not that I have any experience in this whatsoever. *clears throat* Anywho…

Another scenario when you might need to occupy the driver’s seat is when you’re shut down and your co-driver is trying to sleep. Since The Evil Overlord and I always tried to keep on a set schedule, this used to happen to us a lot, especially when the economy took a kamikaze-worthy nose-dive in 2008. I used to put my TV in the passenger seat and sit sideways in the driver’s seat for hours while playing video games on my Playstation 3. After all, the giraffe… errrr, wife needed her sleep if I were to keep her from waking up tired and smiting the world with her mighty hand. I tried to be super quiet up there, but even with the curtain closed The Evil Overlord would often wake up when she’d hear me cussing under my breath or feel the truck moving as I shook my controller in frustration. LOL Hey, what can I say? Some of those games are friggin’ hard! Still, I didn’t sit in the driver’s seat because I wanted to. Like I said, I had the fate of the world in my hands.

Now that I’m a solo driver, I’ve got absolutely no good reason to sit in the driver’s seat when I’m shut down… therefore, I don’t.

When I start my day, I do my 3 B’s (breakfast, Bible, and bended knee) in the bunk area, where I’ve got a nice little desk to eat and read on. The bed makes an excellent place for the bended knee part, too. If I stop for lunch, I hop in the bunk area and eat back there if I have time. If not, I make my traditional peanut butter and jelly sammich and then eat on the run. If I’m picking up or delivering a load, I vacate the driver’s seat and go lounge on the bed with my feet propped up. At the end of my driving shift, I’m required to log a 5-minute post-trip inspection. A walk-around inspection only takes about 2 minutes, so I just do paperwork or hop on Twitter for a few minutes. But once that 5 minutes is up and hit the button on my retarded e-log unit, I’m outta the driver’s seat and sitting on the nice soft bunk while I make yet another bowl of soup while watching a DVD and ignoring the fact that I have a podcast due.

The fact is, I spend waaaaaay too much time in the driver’s seat already. If you want a really good look at the shape of my butt (and who wouldn’t), just look at the driver’s seat, because there are some super-lifelike butt-prints there. Good thing butt-prints aren’t like fingerprints, else there’d be a heck-of-a-lot of identity theft in the trucking industry. LOL And by the way, if you’re sniff-testing your newly-assigned truck for hidden cigarette smoke, I’d advise against putting your nose right up against the driver’s seat. Anywhere but the driver’s seat. You have been warned.

So what’s up with this obsession of the driver’s seat?

Why do so many of you drivers choose to spend your off-duty hours sitting in a seat where you already spend so much time? And why the heck are you all staring into space? These are serious questions that I really want to know the answer to. I think about it every time I walk into the truck stop and see drivers sitting there and watching the world go by. What is so stinkin’ fascinating about seeing me walk into the truck stop or watching the guy down the way back into a parking spot? I just don’t get it. And lastly, why on earth would you spend even one extra second in a seat that’s been farted in more times than OMG has been texted by teenagers?

*Please help to ease my troubled mind. Leave your excuses for living in the driver’s seat below.*

TD91: Bungling The 34-Hour Rule

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the 34-hour ruleI totally goofed yesterday. While waiting for my truck’s air-conditioning to be fixed, I spoke a couple of words to a old trucker who was sitting in the trucker’s lounge. Although my beloved MacBook Pro was desperately crying for me to come back to her, I never escaped. What’s the matter with me? I know better than that! Well, I’m actually glad we chatted because it brought on this blog post. How so? By mentioning that he was on a 34-hour break and wondering how the new 34-hour rule would effect us come July.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the coming changes, I guess I’ll just have to assume that some idiot lumper accidentally locked you in a trailer for two years. I sure am glad the receiver didn’t accept that damaged pallet of Campbell’s soup. And I’m even gladder that your company finally realized you were actually missing.

So now to catch you up. Back in March of 2011, I did a blog post called, Truckers: Be Heard on the Proposed HOS Changes where I shared my comments to the FMCSA. Then in January of 2012, I told you how I thought the new HOS rules would affect drivers, carriers, and the industry as a whole in the post called, Are All These Changes Good for the Trucking Industry? Now I hate to brag but.. oh, who am I kidding? I love to brag! I totally nailed it on at least one of the topics: the 34-hour rule.

Okay, I’m going to presume that y’all were too stinkin’ lazy to click on the above link to see what the new 34-hour rule involves. Basically, the current rule says that if a trucker can shut down for 34 continuous hours (either Off-Duty, in the Sleeper Berth, or a combination of the two), they can restart their 70-hour workweek. So doing a 34-hour restart means that we can actually work 82 hours in a week.

The new 34-hour rule that starts in July states that this 34 hours now has to consist of two periods of midnight 1 a.m to 5 a.m. Another new twist is that you can only do one 34-restart per week.

So back to the story. When the old trucker wondered outloud how the new rule would affect us, I had an answer for him. You see, of the past three weekends I did two 34-hour restarts, and I could have done one the last weekend. Why I chose not to really isn’t all that important for this story, so I’ll spare you all the gory details. You know, I think that just earned me an extra reward in heaven. Hope it’s a Klondike bar.

34-hour rule FAIL #1

The first weekend, I was at the Flying J in Beloit, Wisconsin. I got there at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday and started my break immediately. That meant my 34-hour break would be over at 2:30 a.m on Monday. Good thing, because I had to be up near St. Paul, Minnesota by 8 a.m. After my mandatory 15-minute pre-trip inspection, that left 5.25 hours to go 316 miles. Yes, I knew it was going to be tight. Averaging 60 mph in a 64 mph truck isn’t easy, especially when I figured I’d be hitting St. Paul rush hour. Well, I’m happy to say that I pulled it off. And I got my 34-hour restart to boot. But guess what? Come July that restart wouldn’t have counted because I didn’t meet the requirement of two periods of midnight 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. And there’s nothing I could do about it. I got to the truck stop as fast as I could and I left as late as I could. I couldn’t wait around until 5 a.m. unless I wanted to deliver late. From some reason, trucking companies tend to frown on that kinda stuff.

The case of the mysterious bus ride

Onward to the next weekend. This was the mysterious weekend where I was tweeting as I was walking toward a city bus. Yes me. As @DriverChrisMc tweeted,

Yeah, I’m pretty pathetic, but there you have it. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be cryptic; I was just trying to be sneaky. You see, The Evil Overlord has been working for Talent on Parade for the past few months, which is a dance competition that is owned by her aunt and uncle. Since they travel to a new city every weekend, I was happy to learn she was in Des Moines, Iowa, which by dumb luck just so happened to be on my route. I also had plenty of time on the load and had planned on getting in a 34-hour break somewhere along the way.

I got online and saw that there was a city bus stop 1.2 miles from the Flying J in Altoona, Iowa and it had a route going directly to the convention center. Well, as directly as a city bus goes anyway. That’s when I launched my plan. And that’s why all the secrecy. While The Evil Overlord isn’t on Twitter, her uncle Eric and her cousin Kyle do follow me. I figured they’d be too busy to be watching my Twitter stream, but I played it safe just to be sure. Well, I’m happy to say: mission accomplished. I surprised the heck out of the wench and everyone else.

Since The Evil Overlord is extremely busy and sometimes works up to 16 hours a day, my plan was simply to surprise her, hang out for a few hours, and catch the last bus back to the truck stop. But once her aunt Kim found out I was going to be hanging out at the truck stop for 34 hours, she surprised us with a separate hotel room. So basically, for the rest of the day and part of Sunday, I hung out with The Evil Overlord as she tabulated the scores for what seemed like a million dance acts involving 10 million girls. Adorable little girls, awkward pre-teen girls, a few lone boys who had the foresight to get involved in an activity where they’d be surrounded by scantily-clad girls, and older, clothing-challenged girls, a few of which I have no doubt will be manning the poles of America in the near future. I just looked away during most of these. The Evil Overlord had warned me that “wardrobe malfunctions” happened more often than they probably should. I don’t want or need to see that kinda stuff. Seriously, some of the clogging and traditional dancing is kinda cool, but the hip-hop numbers were… well, let’s just say I’m surprised there’s so many dads that let their little girls take dance lessons. So anyway, back to the trucking side of things.

34-hour rule FAIL #2

I got to the truck stop at 4:15 a.m. early Saturday morning, amazingly found a parking spot on the front row, and hit my bunk so I could jump out of my foxhole and launch my surprise attack around noon. My load didn’t have to deliver near St. Cloud, Minnesota until 6 a.m. Monday morning. With 309 miles to go, I figured I’d leave by midnight to give me plenty of time to get there. That is until I got my preplan on Sunday afternoon. To keep from losing the 1300-mile preplan, I now needed to leave around 4 p.m. on Sunday so I could get to the receiver and get a 10-hour break in before I picked up the preplan. Problem was, The Evil Overlord couldn’t break free to get me back to the truck until almost 6 p.m. Luckily, I’m a moron who can’t tell time. After getting under way in a freaked-out panic, I soon realized that my appointment was for 8 a.m., not 6 a.m. Whew! Disaster avoided. Sometimes it’s good to be the town moron.

So now to the 34-hour stuff. By the time I left at 6 p.m. on Sunday, I had just under 38 hours of down time. But once again, it didn’t meet the idiotic two periods of midnight 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. that the new rule requires. So come July, that break wouldn’t reset my 70-hour workweek either. Even worse, if I’d been able to leave at midnight on Sunday night like I’d originally planned, I would’ve had almost 44 continuous hours off-duty and I still wouldn’t have gotten to reset my 70! Utterly. Friggin’. Ridiculous.

34-hour rule FAIL #3

Now for this past weekend. I used every last hour I had to get to the Pilot in Priceville, Alabama. At that point, I had a choice to make. Dang it! I just had my Klondike bar ripped from me! Oh well, may as well proceed now that it’s gone. So anyway, I had to deliver the load 496 miles away in Columbus, Ohio by midnight on Monday. That meant I had just enough time to squeeze in a 34-hour break. But if I went that option, I wouldn’t have been able to get my air conditioner fixed at our Columbus shop until Tuesday morning.

But I did have one more option. I had 5 hours to run after my break and 5.5 hours available on Sunday. If I used these hours, I’d be at the shop first thing Monday morning. Now normally, that’s a no-brainer. But not only would I be missing a chance to do a 34, I also didn’t have full hours the rest of the week… the week that I’d be trying to get home. Well, to make a long Klondike story short, I opted to skip the 34. But of course, this decision would’ve been a breeze if it had happened in July, ‘cuz yep, you guess it, it wouldn’t have counted either.

So here’s the thing. Unlike some drivers, I’m not totally convinced that the rule makers at the FMCSA are out to get us. I truly believe they’re trying to make things safer for us and the public. That they think the new 34-hour rule is doing us a favor by getting us two “nights” of sleep. Well, as you can see from my last three weekends, this rule just isn’t going to work. And without that 70-hour reset, we’ll no longer have the potential to work 82 hours. Well that was weird. I just felt my right butt cheek raise up. That’d be the one that holds my wallet. But for toots-and-giggles, let’s say all three 34-hour restarts had counted. Well, even then only two of those restarts would’ve qualified since the new rule also states we can’t do two restarts in the same week. Ugh.

Listen up, Hours-Of-Service rule makers

I already wrote you once, but apparently you didn’t listen. So pull those rose-colored earplugs out and I’ll tell you again, “The rule is useful as it stands. Change it and you may as well get rid of it altogether.” Now normally I’d be pounding on my chest and doing the Tarzan yell to prove my awesomeness in being right. But in this case, I’m just shaking my head slowly as I try to figure out how the heck these people’s heads got so full of bat crap.

*So, has anyone else been keeping track of how the new 34-hour rule will affect you? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on the matter. If for nothing else, so I won’t have to wallow in this misery alone.*

TD88: Guest Post: You Can’t See America From The Trucker’s Lounge. By Kevin McKague

Hey there, folks. Todd here piping in with a few words before we get started with today’s guest post. As many of you already know, I use my blog as a venue to share my thoughts about things related to trucking. I save the deep, insightful, well-researched articles for those other Web sites. But every once in a while, I want to cover a subject that I know precisely diddly-squat about. This is one of those times.

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After following the adventures of Kevin McKague on his Twitter account, I approached him for the job of covering for my ignorance of exploring as a trucker. He rose to the challenge. Not only did he turn out a heck of a blog post, but he’s also one of those nice guys on Twitter who can make you laugh, even if you totally disagree with the subject of the tweet. That’s a rare thing, so if you all aren’t following @KevinofMI on Twitter, you should start cutting yourself in shame right now. Or you could just click the link and avoid the inevitable pain. I hear blood stains are a bear to get out of clothing.

Since I’m a lazy bum who rarely goes exploring, I doubt I’ll be back after his post with any of my own thoughts. After reading this post, I will say that I felt more of a desire to see what I’ve been missing all these years. I’m not sure if I’ll follow up with any action, but hey, at least it tempted me. Maybe one day I’ll go out on a limb and try something I’ve heard about in the past. I think they call it “taking a walk” or something like that. I trust that y’all will enjoy this guest post as much as I did. So with that, I’ll shut my turkey-hole. Take it away, Kevin.

You Can’t See America from the Trucker’s Lounge

By Kevin McKague

I became a truck driver in my mid-thirties, after years of hating my career in retail management. I wanted a job that offered more security, that could withstand the ups and downs of economic tides, and that couldn’t be outsourced. Most of all, I wanted more adventure. I had always loved to travel, but I didn’t enjoy the kind of travel arranged by travel agents and tour guides. I love spontaneity, and the serendipitous moments of finding things you didn’t know existed. I love getting on a highway and literally taking the road you’ve never taken, just to see where it went.

I often run into drivers who believe that it is impossible to really enjoy a spontaneous travel experience while behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. While it’s true that many places are off limits to us, (you won’t find truck parking or any truck routes to the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty) you can find plenty of adventure if you are willing to walk a few blocks from the truck stop Subway shop. These opportunities are not hard to find, if you want to find them. In the days before smart phones, I would simply consult my Rand-McNally truck atlas, and start walking towards the closest interesting looking town or neighborhood whenever I was stuck in a truck stop for 34 hours. Today, there are apps for that! By the way, the Google Maps mobile apps include a lot of trails, and the “directions for bikers/pedestrians button” can point you towards them. Or if you don’t have a mobile device, AllTrails.com is an excellent way to find places to explore.

Western Maryland Rail Trail
Photo by Kevin McKague

One of my favorite stops along my current dedicated run is the Western Maryland Rail Trail in Hancock, Maryland; just off of exit 3 on I-70. Park at the Liberty Truck Stop, and walk across the street to the C+0 park entrance. You can also access the trail at exit 12. Look for the brown traffic signs by the side of the freeway stating “Rail-Trail access”. There you will find over 20 beautiful miles of paved trails built on a former rail line that travels along the Potomac River. I carry an inexpensive bike in the passenger seat of my truck for such a location (see the picture at the top of the post). The trail has plenty of wild life, in fact, twice while riding I’ve been joined by deer that have come right up to me when I wasn’t looking. One fawn ran alongside me for a few yards and then sped off into the woods as soon as I looked directly at him.

Casinos offer another opportunity for side trips. Even if you don’t like gambling, many casinos offer truck parking and shuttle buses. The drivers of these busses, by the way, don’t know or care if you don’t actually stay in the casino. Once during an extended layover in Moline, Illinois, I took advantage of a shuttle offered by the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River. There I found walking and biking trails that followed the river, and crossed over in two spots allowing you to shop and eat in two states. The Davenport casino is also within walking distance of Modern Woodmen Park, the home of Minor League Baseball’s Quad Cities River Bandits, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri offers truck parking, and while walking nearby I noticed that the parking lot is right next to the Katy Trail, another rail-trail that runs across nearly the entire width of Missouri. To the south of the casino is a nice wooded area with smaller dirt pedestrian trails that remind me of something Huck Finn would’ve found comfortable. Just to the north about a block is the historic city of St. Charles, with some good food and interesting architecture. Next to the Missouri River in town is a sign marking the location of an early campsite of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I don’t normally gamble, but the casino offers free fountain drinks inside (DIET COKE? Yes, please), and a cool Dean Martin themed slot machine that plays “Ain’t that a kick in the head” when you win.

In 2011, just a few days after we killed Bin Laden, I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The official memorial site had not been built yet, but was completed in time for the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and I’ve been told that trucks are still allowed in on weekdays. As always, I would recommend that you call first to make sure this policy hasn’t changed before making the trip in. The roads to the site from the Pennsylvania Turnpike are legal for trucks, but depending on which way you come in, some are very hilly and challenging for those with heavy loads. If you’re comfortable with dropping your trailer, there is a truck stop with a big lot in Somerset, at exit 110, (look for the National Memorial signs off of the turnpike) so you can bobtail in. Somerset also has plenty of good restaurants and some nice architecture. I recommend the Summit Diner, on 791 North Center Avenue, just a short walk away from the truck stop. If you feel comfortable approaching the subject with strangers, most of the people in Somerset and the surrounding areas have stories about what they saw the day when the world almost literally fell on them; 9/11.

Don’t forget to consider using mass transit when you can. Los Angeles offers a $5 pass which allows you to travel any city bus or subway (yes, LA has subways, who knew?) for the entire day. Early in my driving career, while stuck near Commerce City, a simple call to the LA Metro office got me all of the info I needed to get a map and make my way down to Long Beach. There I found plenty of nice restaurants, shopping, and beautiful boats to look at down by the docks. The beach there is sandy and clean, and it’s a good spot to have a picnic lunch while watching boats and tourists. From Long Beach I went up to Hollywood to look at the Walk of Fame. Like the casinos, Hollywood was never on any of my lists of things to do or places to visit, but once I got there I had a blast.

Now that the T/A Travel Center in Nashville, Tennessee has been re-built after that devastating flood in 2010, you can park there, walk across the pedestrian bridge, and visit one of the nicest, most entertaining cities in America. Even if you’re like me and don’t like Country music, it’s quite a different thing to see an up-and-coming artist live. By all means, just walk into the first bar that has live music drifting out of the door. Many of these shows are free. (Stick to the Diet Coke, you have to drive in the morning.) The library has a nice art display and will allow non-residents to use their computers and Internet. The State Capitol allowed me to roam freely when I was there. I wandered onto the House floor and into the Supreme Court Library. Ask the guard about the marble staircase handrail with the bullet hole. I won’t ruin the story for you, but let’s just say there is more than one way to stop a filibuster.

The key here is to expect the unexpected, and look for adventure each and every time an opportunity presents itself. Use your smart phone apps, and maybe keep an extra fully charged battery with you in case you get lost. The older I get, the more I have come to understand that the sayings that sounded like silly clichés when we were young are true. You truly only live once. While you’re sitting in a truck stop listening to drivers complain about the same things you heard drivers complain about in the last truck stop, eating yet another Subway sandwich and watching another repeat of Law and Order, you could be discovering something.

By the way, what is it with Law and Order? Is there a 24/7 Law and Order channel? Does the Department of Transportation actually require that Law and Order play non-stop in every single truck stop in America? But I digress.

This is a beautiful country we live in, my friends, it would be a shame to only see it from the freeways.

Kevin McKague is a father of three and a truck driver, and is probably somewhere between Flint, Michigan and Baltimore, Maryland at this very moment. He is a recovering elected official, having briefly served on the Davison, Michigan, city council. He is a media junkie, a social-media addict, avid reader, traveler, and optimist. He does not want to buy anything from you. He can be found online at Twitter.com/KevinofMI, at Flickr (http://flic.kr/ps/wg49J), and his Instagram ID is Kevin_McKague.

Photo by Kevin McKague

TD86: Guest Post: Benefits Of Semi Truck Weight Compliance. By Noble McIntyre

Hello, one and all. First, a quick update on the status of the new Web site. Things are coming along slowly, but surely. I recently fixed a major problem I’ve been having; so that’s good. But I’m still missing a major component, so you’re gonna have to control your giddiness. I’m sure you’ll manage somehow. Still, I have a feeling that I’m eventually going to have to crack this sucker open to the public with a few lingering quirks. It’s like choosing someone to marry. If you’re waiting for perfection, you’re never going to do it. The Evil Overlord is the exception to the rule. She really hit the jackpot there.

So what’s this about a guest post? Well, if you remember correctly, I told you in our last visit that I was working on providing a couple of guest posts to fill the Sandra Bernhard-sized tooth gap between the posts I’ve written.

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Today’s treat is brought to you by a gentleman named Noble McIntyre. Now I’m not positive, but I think Noble may be a bit clairvoyant. A while back, I began playing with the idea of asking for submissions for a couple of guest posts to fill in the gaping hole that the blog was becoming. Not long after, I received an email from Noble asking if I accepted guest posts. I’m telling you people… clairvoyant. I’m guessing that skill comes in handy with his day job. You see, Noble is an attorney. That’s gotta be pretty darn handy to get into the minds of the opposing counsel. And before you say it, yes, I know it’s hard to believe a lawyer was perusing my blog, but that’s just further proof that I rock. I’ve been telling people that for years, but no one ever listens.

So let’s get on with today’s submission. Afterward, I’ll be back to share my thoughts on the subject. Here we go. And oh yea. You ladies may want to check out Noble’s picture at the bottom of the post. He’s a handsome devil, he is. Hands off though, ladies. He’s already been snagged off the market. Sorry to disappoint.

Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance

By Noble McIntyre

It’s human nature to want the most benefit for the lowest cost. It may seem more efficient to load a semi truck to maximum capacity—or more—in order to transport more merchandise in fewer trips. That works in theory, but not always in practice. I’ve taken on semi truck cases that came about when someone was injured due to some sort of negligence on the part of a truck driver or a trucking company like, for example, overloading a truck. And accidents involving a semi have the potential to do much more damage when the truck is heavier than is legally allowed.

Surpassing truck weight limits can also cost more in fees and fines when trucks don’t pass inspection at highway weigh stations. But additional costs in fuel, maintenance, and safety must be considered as well. Here are a few of the ways ignoring trucking weigh limits can increase costs, and affect the safety of not just the truckers, but passenger vehicle drivers.

Road Fatigue

Highways are built to withstand a lot of wear—vehicles driving over them, harsh weather, heat, cold. They’re also constructed with certain weight limits in mind. When those limits are surpassed, the road suffers and begins to wear down more quickly than planned. This not only makes for uncomfortable driving, it increases road maintenance costs for the states the highways run through, and those costs are passed on to the taxpayers. By complying with weight limits, truckers and trucking companies can help roads last longer, and reduce maintenance costs, thereby saving states money that can be put toward other public needs.

Wasted Fuel and Time

It comes down to simple power-to-weight ratio—the heavier a truck is, the more power required to propel it. When a truck is loaded over its maximum weight, it will require more fuel to travel the same distance at the same speeds as a lighter truck. In addition to wasting fuel, this will also translate to higher costs for the trucking company because of the need to buy fuel more often. It also means lost time to stop for those fueling needs. Those costs are most likely passed on to the consumer. By adhering to weight limits, truckers can save time and money both for the trucking company, and for the people who buy the products being transported. For those of us concerned about the effect high food costs have on our communities, it’s frustrating to know that some of those costs could be more reasonable if weight limit regulations were strictly followed.

Safety

When loaded to maximum weight, the stopping distance for semi trucks is roughly 40 percent greater than that of regular passenger vehicles. This is assuming fair weather and road conditions. That distance will increase when roads are wet, for example, or when the truck is traveling above the speed limit. Now imagine how the stopping distance is affected when a truck is carrying more than the allowed maximum weight. Even in good weather, the distance is increased, not to mention, a heavier truck will do more damage to other vehicles and to property should an accident occur. Weight compliance promotes safety for the truck, its driver, and other drivers on the road. I would be more than happy to accept a reduction in the number of clients I have if it meant fewer people were being injured in trucking accidents due to poor practices.

The trucking industry remains the most effective tool in transporting goods from one location to another. There is plenty of room for improvement, to be sure. But until technological and mechanical advances come about that improve efficiency, current safety standards must be maintained. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law, a firm staffed by experienced Oklahoma City truck accident lawyers.

 

 

Good stuff, Noble. Thanks for entertaining and informing the peeps. Now from a trucker’s view, let me add a few thoughts of my own.

For quite a while now, my company has been sending out a satellite message about once a week reminding us to route around the Pawtucket River Bridge on I-95 in Rhode Island. It seems that about once a week one of my highly intelligent co-workers gets a ticket for crossing the bridge. You know, the bridge that has been marked as truck restricted since 2007. The one marked by those bright orange signs that are really hard to see. Yea, those. I just don’t get it. If a bridge is clearly marked as illegal, why would anyone cross it? Why not take the marked route? It’s not that far out of the way. Yet the coppers in Rhode Island have been picking trucker’s pockets clean for years. These fines aren’t cheap either. We’re talking maximums of $2000 plus. Ouch-a-mundo! But then there are times when things aren’t quite so clear-cut.

Now there isn’t a trucker out there who hasn’t come across a situation that can’t be avoided. Sometimes by the time you see the weight restriction signs on the bridge, you’re already crossing it. Oops. But hey, when you looked at the trucker’s atlas during your trip planning, the road was clearly marked in orange! For you non-truckers; roads highlighted in orange are supposed to be open to trucks. Most of the time, they’re right. But some of the time they neglect to mention that it’s okay to run the road, providing you’re under the weight limit. That would be the weight limit that isn’t posted anywhere in the atlas.

Other times, you find yourself stuck between an FMCSA rule-maker’s head and a hard place. There you sit, staring at a weight-restricted bridge in the dead of night. You followed your company-supplied directions to the letter. Yet there you are. You’ve got no place to turn around. What now? I wrote about this exact scenario in a blog post called Trucking in the Northeast. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I find that prayer helps.

But what about running with an overweight load? Truck drivers do it all the time. But why do we do it? Because your dispatcher says to do it? Sorry dudes and dudettes, but that crap ain’t gonna fly here. Drivers, you’ve gotta think about this. It’s your license. It’s your ticket. It’s your money that’s gonna pay the fine. It’s not a point of pride to say, “I can find my way around any scale.” Okay great.

What good does it do? It takes more fuel to go around the scales. The back roads always take longer too. So why do we do it? Yeah, it’s a pain to take the load back to the shipper for reloading. Yes, it’s annoying to stop five times to fuel in a 600 mile trip just to keep your load legal.

But notice I kept saying “we” truckers. Yes, @DriverChrisMc, I just called myself a trucker again. Mark it on the calendar. The thing is, I’ve done all this myself. I routed around all the weigh stations once a long time ago. I found it stressful and never did it again. Sort of. What I will still do is route around ONE scale if I know I can burn off enough fuel before I get to the rest of the chicken coops (weight stations–a little trucker-speak there). But why even do that?

Well, I know why I do it. Because the places where I load, you either take that load or you sit and idle your truck until you burn off enough fuel to run the load. I’ve asked the company to cut the load. They won’t. I’ve asked to deadhead to get another load. Nothing else in the area. That’s not hard to believe when you’re in the wasteland known as North Dakota. And this is why I NEVER fill my fuel tanks any more. 3/4 max for me. Less if I’m anywhere in the vicinity of one of our 46,350 pound sugar loads.

I guess if you’re an owner/operator, I can maybe see the point of dodging all the scales on an entire trip. Maybe it was “take the load or don’t get paid.” That’s your choice I guess. Just remember that not only are we all breaking the law, but we’re also defying every reason that Noble just laid out. And shame on us all for dissing the Noble.

Photo by Linda N. via Flickr

TD85: Time To Step Up And Help Some Fellow Truckers

An unhappy Lou

Ever been in need and wished someone could help you out? Well that’s where a couple of our fellow truckers are right now. They need our help so it’s time to step up, folks.

The people in question are Lou Obadal and Heather Pontruff. So what’s going on? Well, Lou has had back pain for months, but being the macho trucker (like we all think we are) and needing the money, he toughed it out and kept driving until it totally took him down. I’m no doctor, but it has something to do with a couple of herniated discs. That just sounds painful.

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So we’re looking at a case of bad timing here folks. No insurance, no workman’s comp, and to take the proverbial knee to the junk, the company they worked for cancelled their contract after Lou got injured. Ahhhhh, yes. There’s nothing quite like an employer who sees you through the hard times. For the full story, check out Heather’s article cleverly titled, Your Back Doesn’t Always Have Your Back. If you’re a super-generous person and you’ve already decided to donate to the cause, well God bless you. If you need convincing as to why you should help Lou and Heather out, the price you pay is having to read on. Actually, I hope you do.

So why should we help Lou and Heather? Well, because there’s that whole “Do Unto Others” thing to consider. There’s also the fact that they’re fellow truckers and if we can’t take care of our own, then who will? Well, wait a second here. Actually, Lou is the “official” trucker. But anyone who knows Heather knows she’s really a trucker too. She may not do the actual driving but she rides along with Lou, takes care of most of the business stuff and still manages to do lots of good in this world. What kind of good? Well I’m glad you asked.

First of all, let me say that Lou and Heather had absolutely nothing to do with what I’m about to say. Knowing them, they’ll probably be shocked and humbled by it. All they asked of me was that I help spread the word by retweeting the link to their fundraising site. While I’m doing that whenever I get a chance, I think these two truckers deserved a whole blog post. And let me tell you why:

  1. Because Lou and Heather are funny. Just check out Heather’s YouTube Channel for verification of that. My personal favorite is the one where Heather is tormenting a totally wasted Lou. Funny stuff.
  2. Because they’re nice folks. For instance, Heather can have a completely opposite viewpoint from you and still carry on a civilized conversation that doesn’t turn into name-calling. Case in point; we both think each other’s spiritual beliefs are nuts, but we can have heated debates about it and still walk away friends. Not being a meanie is always a plus in my book.
  3. Because Heather speaks out for truckers. I especially appreciate the fact that she writes in-depth, well researched articles about today’s trucking issues. And that means yours truly doesn’t have to do any research. I can just wait until she posts an article on her Web site, Trucker’s Voice, and then retweet it with the words “yeah, what she said” tacked onto the end of it.
  4. Because they’re our Twitter buds. I know Heather’s active on Facebook and other social Web sites too (check out Trucker’s Voice for all the places you can find her).  While Heather does most of the tweeting, Lou pops in every now and then. What is it with husbands and boyfriends that don’t tweet? Perhaps Heather and @raysunshine77 could explain this phenomenon to us. I’d ask @ChrisandCasey (cancelled Twitter account) too, but Casey seems to have dropped off the face of the planet. I’m hoping the boys at the space station will snag her with one of those cool robotic arm doohickeys before she slips past them.
  5. Because they are two of the most generous people I know. In 2010, they started an organization called Trucking Santas to help provide a decent Christmas for families who weren’t going to have one. As part of this program, they also adopted three facilities within the United Cerebral Palsy of Central Maryland. They tweeted some heartwarming pictures of their visits to these facilities last Christmas season. Now how many of us can say we’ve done that? Don’t expect me to raise my hand. I’m busy twiddling my thumbs, looking around non-chalantly, and whistling.

So what do you think? Are Lou and Heather worth dipping into your checkbook? I sure think so. You don’t have to give a lot, but I’m sure there won’t be any complaints if you do. 😀 I’m sure anything will be appreciated. You can be a proud sponsor when you donate or do it anonymously. You can even hide the amount you give. Better hurry though. The fundraiser ends on May 27! Quite frankly, if I’d realized it ended that soon, I’d have done this earlier. My bad. But please don’t let my procrastination issues keep you from helping to reach their goal. They’re just over halfway there! Donate now! And please pass the word along to whatever social networks you belong to. Let’s get this puppy moving!

TD81: Videos: How To Do A Full-Body Workout Inside The Cab Of A Semi

Okay people. It’s the beginning of a new year. We’ve all spent the holidays stuffing ourselves with turkey, pumpkin pie, fruitcake, and roast beast. Then on New Year’s Eve, many of you drank enough to drown a hippo.

Shortly after, in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, you promptly puked every last calorie of your holiday gluttony into the floorboard of your best friend’s car. Better make that your EX best friend’s car. So what’s next?

Why, it’s New Year’s resolution time, of course! Personally, I don’t make resolutions. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of disappointing myself enough without the added pressure of a bunch of resolutions that I know I’ll never keep. But I know some of you are gluttons for punishment, so this post may help you out.

Undoubtedly, at least one of you out there have decided that this will be the year you’re going to get in shape. Well, I’ve got something that can help you out. It’s really designed to help truckers, but it can be used by anyone. It all started when I decided to start working out and being the whiner that I am, I started tweeting about it. That’s when I got the question:

“How do you do a workout inside your truck?”

Man, I’ve been asked this question at least a million times (give or take 999,996). In the past I’ve always said, “One of these days, I’ll make a video and show you.” Today is that day.

I’ve made two videos, each of them a little under 15 minutes long. In typical fashion, I’ve tried to spruce them up a bit with a little bad humor. I’ll let you decide whether I succeeded or if I earned a spot on the FAIL Blog.

Doing these videos has taught me one thing for sure. Video is hard. As long as it takes for me to write a blog post, it’s much quicker than doing videos. So don’t be expecting this to turn into a video blog anytime soon.

As a matter of fact, let me give you a bit of a disclaimer here. The audio and video quality isn’t exactly what I’d call stellar. In fact, it kinda sucks. I tried using both of my good video cameras, but neither of them had a wide enough lens to get the shots I needed in such a cramped space.

That left me with the crappy built-in camera and microphone on my ancient MacBook Pro, which just enhanced how bad the lighting was. In short, I did the best I could, so don’t be too mean when you leave a comment. You were planning to leave a comment, weren’t you?

Video #1 is the Introduction and the abs workout. Video #2 is the dumbbell workout. Perhaps another disclaimer is in order here. I am NOT a professional trainer. Never have been. Never will be. So do all these exercises at your own risk.

Start out easy and work your way up. I’d tell you to see a physician before you start any exercise program, but you and I both know that you’re not going to give a doctor any dough for something as trivial as that. I guess there really isn’t a lot more to say, so for once, I won’t.

One last thing. This is a G-rated video. I’m wearing a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. Trust me. You really don’t want to see my Austin Powers chest hair. Enjoy!

Here’s a couple of links that might help:

The Men’s Health Abs Diet Workout

Proper techniques for dumbbell exercises in a handy downloadable PDF

 

TD71: Hell Week 2: The Sequel

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may as well admit you knew this was coming. Heck, @darkstaff said as much in a Tweet. Even stranger, that weirdo even said he was looking forward to it. 😉 So now it’s time to spread the joy in a blog post. Something that future generations can read and marvel at the intelligence of the writer. Oh hush.

As I typed “Hell Week” as the title, I had a sense of deja vu. Sure enough, a search of my blog confirmed that I had already done a “Hell Week” back in September of 2009. So I took my cue from the extremely creative Hollywood movie studios and created a wonderful new title. Hope you appreciate all the thought I put into it.

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As I mentioned in my last post, “Post-Hell. Pre-Hell.”, I had a good time the last time I was home. When I hit the road again, I was totally kickin’ butt in the miles department. I had delivered in Dallas and immediately grabbed a load heading to Denver. Now at that point, I should have known to expect the worst. The only good thing that’s ever happened to me in Denver is meeting @alanqbristol and getting treated to some excellent pizza. Denver just so happens to be the city that hosted my only two preventable accidents. And they both happened on the same day. That story is reserved for another day. And that’s what lead up to the doom that loomed.

So, finally on to Hell Week. As Glenn Frey said on the “Hell Freezes Over” album, “And here’s how it all started…”

Friday

I was sitting in Denver, CO waiting for a load when the hell started. I received the load info for a run that picked up immediately. Or so I was told. I started my day on my *&$#ing e-logs and drove .8 miles to my shipper. I dropped my trailer as instructed and checked in. They proceeded to look at me like I was from Neptune and told me the load wouldn’t be ready until Saturday. I called my safety department to ask if they could ignore me starting my day since I’d only done a pre-trip inspection and drove .8 miles. That’s POINT 8. Not even a full mile! I don’t even know why I asked. I knew the answer.

What’s worse is by the time I went to go pick up my empty trailer, the yard jockeys had already grabbed it and stuck it in a dock. I asked to get it back, but they had already begun to load it with product that another driver was taking. Grrr.

Surprisingly enough, I got another load about 3 hours later. I was shocked to see it picked up 538 miles away in Omaha, NE. Hey, it doesn’t matter us company drivers. We get paid for every mile, whether loaded or empty. So ff I went.

Saturday

It was just after midnight on Saturday morning when the attack came. A deer came out of nowhere and we collided with both of us at full speed. I pulled to the shoulder to assess the damage. The grill was gone. My left headlight and signal lights were out. My bumper was cracked and was stuffed with deer hair. Or is it fur? Heck, I’m no outdoorsmen. I checked the rest of the truck and didn’t see a drop of blood anywhere, but I knew the deer was history. I could see where the antlers hit the radiator. It was pretty hard to miss with the coolant gushing out.

Okay, now I’m in a hurry. No time to go back to check on the deer. Besides, that’s a few weeks of supper for some redneck family. Don’t thank me. I just like to do my part to help society. I’m very giving like that. Anyway, it’s too bad my truck is speed-limited. I had about 8 miles to get to the next truck stop; about 20 to get to one with a shop. After calling my maintenance department, my goal was the shop. I got about 4 miles before the engine overheated and shut itself off. I coasted to the shoulder shaking my head in disgust.

My plan was to let the engine cool and run again until I got to the shop. I went to open the hood to help the motor cool, but it felt like it was going to come off the hinges. I rethought that strategy and left it in place. The last thing I needed was a hood lying on the highway. Unfortunately, I had to readjust my plan when it took an hour to cool down enough to run again. Now my goal was the first truck stop. I had gone 4 miles the first time, so I figured I could make it with one last 4-mile sprint. I had gone 3 miles when I saw the flames. Yes, I said flames.

Wouldn’t you know it? 2 A.M. in the middle of Nebraska and this is where a big rig catches on fire? I pulled to side of the road again, watching my e-log count down. If the road didn’t clear soon, I’d have a log violation on my hands. Then again, at least I wasn’t roasting marshmallows on my truck. I finally pulled into the truck stop about 10 minutes after my log ran out. Of  course, there wasn’t any parking so I had to go across the street and park in a hotel parking lot.

I called maintenance again and they asked if I wanted to get a hotel room there. Since the weather was nice and cool, I passed. I think me not wanting to go to hotels is a remnant from days past when The Evil Overlord was out here with me. I HATED having to pack all her crap and lug it to the hotel. I will go to a hotel if the weather sucks, but only then.

The next morning I found a spot at the truck stop and called in again. I was informed no one would be towing me until Monday morning, mainly because the local International dealer was closed on the weekends. While that wasn’t exactly happy news, at least I had access to a shower and a microwave so I wouldn’t starve or smell any worse than I normally do. I didn’t even ask for a hotel room. Why doesn’t my company love me more?

Sunday

To my surprise, the tow truck driver showed up on Sunday afternoon. Apparently he’d been having Sunday lunch at his mother’s house, which was close to me. I sat in my truck the rest of the day outside International dealer. Thankfully, there was a convenience store right across the street. I worked on my new Web site all day and got a lot accomplished for once. Had a lot of good Twitter time too. Thanks to everyone for keeping me in a good mood that day.

Monday

I checked in at the shop as soon as the door opened. By noon they had evaluated the damage. Apparently, there are only two styles of radiators used in that year of truck. They had one in stock. Of course, it wasn’t the one I needed. This is Hell Week, you know. It was going to be Thursday before they got the part. And that decided that.

I had been planning to stick with the truck, but with that bit of bad news I elected to hitch a ride from another company driver to the nearest company terminal. Then the plans changed. I’m quite convinced I would’ve had a Half Hell Week if that hadn’t happened. Instead they sent a different driver to haul me back to the Denver area to pick up an abandoned truck. My first thought was,“Great. If a driver is a big enough jerk to abandon a truck, I wonder how nasty it’s gonna be.” My fears would soon be realized.

A driver named Danny picked me up and we were both grateful neither of us smoked. He was funny and just as talkative as me, possibly more so. Ha, ha. Very funny. I know what you’re thinking. Anyway, after a quick stop for coffee, we were on our way.

Tuesday

We arrived at the Flying J in Aurora, CO about 3 A.M. and I went inside to get the keys from the cashier. Supposedly, they had been left there, but the cashier couldn’t find them. Well, that’s just fabulous. We began looking for the truck. We found it and the door was locked. Grrrr. But then I noticed the windows were rolled down. I told Danny, “This guy must’ve been a real jerk to leave the windows down.” He agreed. I stood on the running board and reached inside to unlock the door. That’s when the face popped out from the bunk area. Holy crap! I wasn’t prepared for that! The driver was still in it. What the heck? I thought it was abandoned?

Okay. First off, I could smell the cigarette smoke when I was standing on the running board, but didn’t notice the butt funk until I was throwing all my stuff in the bunk area. This truck smelled horrible. I mentioned the smoke to the driver, but didn’t mention the B.O. issue. Aren’t I sweet? Like all smokers, he didn’t think it was all that bad because he smoked with the windows roll down. Oh boy. I won’t get started down that path.

Now here’s a reminder to everyone that there are always two sides to a story. The driver’s girlfriend would be there to pick him up in a few hours. Since I wasn’t going to sleep while he was in there and he didn’t appear to have any intention to get out of the truck, we chatted. Naturally, I asked him why he was quitting. He told me he got another job and had put in a two-week notice. That was three weeks ago and his dispatcher had just given him another load to Wyoming. Problem was, he lived in Joplin, MO. That’s near my home and the opposite direction from Wyoming. Small world, huh? And that’s why he was “abandoning” the truck. Two sides, folks. Two sides.

Turns out his apartment building was one of the many lost in the recent tornado. I felt sorry for him… but not for long. The job he got was my dream trucking job (if there is such a thing). FedEx had hired him to drive from Joplin to St. Louis and back 5 days a week. Home every day. I’ve been looking for something like for years, so I asked him how he landed a sweet gig like that. He said, “Every single time I was home for the last 4 years, I went into the FedEx terminal and asked ’em for a job.” Okay. Clearly this guy deserved it more than me. Kudos to him… and curses.

The driver’s ride finally arrived and I rolled out my sleeping bag. I wasn’t going to get any of my real bedding out as I had no intention of staying in that truck. Having a kick-butt dispatcher, she called me first thing that morning and asked me about the condition of the truck. When I told her what a pig sty it was she said, “Okay. I’ve already started looking for a load to the yard.” No argument at all. I really wasn’t expecting that.

I got a load and as I was loading it I talked to another driver. Would you believe it? His family was from Joplin and his mom was in the hospital at the time when St. John’s Hospital was hit. The world keeps getting smaller and smaller.

When I took off, I discovered that Mr. B.O. liked to idle his truck… a lot. As some of you know, our truck’s speed is determined by idle time. This truck was at 54% idle time. Any trucker will tell you that going 60 mph sucks. However, it’s amplified to the tenth power if you’re going 60 mph across the flat lands that is I-70 in Eastern Colorado and nearly all of Kansas.

The load delivered near St. Louis, but my goal for the day was Kansas City. Since my company doesn’t allow certain toll roads, I had to bypass the Kansas Turnpike between Topeka and KC. The first leg of US-40 is lined with trees and is as dark as Satan’s closet. I was only going 45 mph when I came within 20 feet of hitting another deer. Had I not hit the brakes HARD, Rudolph would’ve been toast. About five miles further, I came about 50 feet from taking out all of Rudolph’s relatives.

Wednesday

It was just after midnight and time was ticking down on the ol’ e-logs as I was pushing it to get to KC. I was planning on pulling into a Quik Trip I knew of and grabbing some hot water for some ramen noodles, then booking it to a little parking area just west of KC before my time ran out. Being the bonehead that I am, I was thinking the QT was on I-435, when it was actually on I-635, so no hot meal for me.

After my mandatory 10-hour bunk time, I finally caught a break. My dispatcher had been looking for a relay that would get me near our yard and she found one going directly there. So by Wednesday night, I was waiting at the yard for the shop to open Thursday morning.

Thursday

I was waiting with bells on Thursday morning. I asked for a new truck and of course, was told there weren’t any available. They offered to clean the smoky B.O. truck. I told them I’d give it a shot, but I wasn’t holding my breath. I mean really, I’d already been holding it for a couple of days.

I was right. After the cleaning, it simply smelled like an orangy, smoky, B.O. truck. Time to go see the boss. She said the same thing. The only trucks available were reserved for the new hires. Okay. That’s when I got a bit hot.  I said, “So basically, the new hires are more important than someone who’s been with the company for a year?” She went back and talked to the guy in charge of tractors. After a long time, she came back and told me to hang out and they’d find something for me. They finally did.

This truck didn’t smell at all like smoke when I got in it the first time. And since it’d been sitting in the hot sun all day, I thought I had a good one. However, the longer I’m in it the more I notice I can smell it sometimes. It’s very faint and it comes and goes, so I’m not going to pitch a fit about it… for once in my life. HA! Beat you to it.

I got a load to the Texas Panhandle and after picking it up, I noticed that my e-logs where acting funky. I called and to my delight I discovered that my new truck was one of a handful of trucks that was testing a new version of software. Oh boy. It was still buggy and required me to call the Safety Department for corrections nearly every time I picked up or delivered a load. The bugs are still there. And that really “bugs” me.

Friday

Just before I got to Amarillo, I blew a trailer tire. I had planned on delivering the load by midnight since that was the end of the pay period, but now that wasn’t going to happen. With the Hell Week I was having, I needed it. Alas! Another ray of light! I called night dispatch and asked them to include the load on that pay period. Amazingly, they agreed. I’d asked them numerous times before, but this was the first time they actually did it. I knew those jerks were always lying in the past when they told me they system wouldn’t let them. Grrrr.

And for good measure… an extra day: Saturday

I was on my way back from Texas when I noticed a lump on a trailer tire. That’s not all that strange, except it was night and I was moving at the time. The lump was that big. I stopped to check it out and I was shocked. It looked like a cantaloupe was trying to bust out of the sidewall! I considered letting some air out to alleviate some of the pressure, but quite frankly, I was scared to get any closer to it than I already was. By the time I got to Joplin to get the tire fixed, the bulge had actually gone back down. There was a rip in the sidewall, but miraculously, the tire was still inflated.

Anywho, a mere 5 hour wait for the tire to be fixed and I was on my way again. And thus ends Hell Week 2. Got a Hell Week of your own? Or how about a Hell Day? Click on the comment button and let’s hear about it. I’ll bet you can do it in waaaaaaay less than 2882 words. Heck. You could probably start a new country and write your own Constitution in fewer words.

Photo by designshard via Flickr

TD68: Guest Post: This Is The Life. We All Have To Be Somewhere. This Is My Life. By Jean McHarry

Hey! Todd here. Yes. I know you were expecting me, but I won’t be the one entertaining you today. Let me explain. You and I both know I’m a blabbermouth, but sometimes I just don’t know what to say about a particular subject. I had one of those cases back in July of 2010 with a post called Riding Along with a Trucker.

This post was written due to a question I got from Lucinda, a woman who was planning on riding along with her trucker husband, but only as a passenger. She was asking for advice. Well, I’ve never done that and neither had The Evil Overlord, so I enlisted the help of a couple of Twitter friends. Patty, a.k.a. @luv18wheels and @CB_SnowAngel (who apparently has given up on Twitter) gave some sound advice, but I knew I’d want more eventually. That’s how we arrived today at my first guest post.

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I don’t plan on doing this a lot, but I thought I knew someone who could both answer the question better than I could and reach meet my required level on the Snark-O-Meter. Recently, I decided to hit up Jean McHarry, a.k.a the infamous @raysunshine77 on Twitter. She’s a first class smart aleck on Twitter and she always cracks me up with her sarcastic sense of humor. I’m also beginning to wonder if she’s a long-lost sister of The Evil Overlord. After much manipulation (I lied and told her I liked her), she finally acquiesced. I think you’ll be glad she did. She did a bang-up job on what she admitted was her first writing assignment since high school. I’ll let her introduce herself. That’s her standing next to her devastatingly handsome husband. Love that macho mustache. Hey, wait a second…

This is the life. We all have to be somewhere. This is my life.

By Jean McHarry

Don’t call me a seat cover! Don’t assume I’m a lot lizard! Don’t disrespect me because you don’t want women taking away a man’s job! Don’t accuse me of not having knowledge of this industry because I ride! Don’t ask me to run away with you cause you have a bigger, badder truck! And for the love of all that is chrome, don’t ask me to move the stupid truck!

I have driven, I’ve dispatched, I’ve loaded and unloaded trailers and I’ve run a truck stop. DOT assumes I’m a driver and will sometimes ask for my log book. I have to produce paperwork to show that I am allowed to be here, that I won’t do anything that would be considered work and I pay for this privilege. I love my life, I love being out here on the road. I enjoy every aspect of being a truck driver except I don’t drive the truck and let’s make this clear, I don’t want to drive the truck and no one is going to make me.

My husband has diesel running through his veins. He says it’s all he ever wanted to do (that’s a small lie, he also wanted to be a train engineer or a boat captain) and I believe it’s all he’ll ever do. I enjoy being out here. I love going new places, meeting new people and just being a little bit of a gypsy. Waking up someplace new and not knowing where I’m going to be tomorrow is a thrill that I truly appreciate. I am a passenger. That’s all I want to be.

I call myself a rolling assistant because I do more than just sit here and look pretty. I spend about a quarter of my time playing navigator. Between maps (both truck and city versions), a functional GPS, the company’s routing, the local directions, and my notes on the local directions, I can tell where we’ve been, where we’re at, where we need to be going and just how long it should take to do it all. This knowledge also helps me with keeping an eye on the weather. Twitter really has been my best friend in this endeavor. Those up to the minute updates that tell me it’s raining in Texas helped a whole lot when we were dealing with blizzards in Buffalo. I keep track of loads and payroll, keep up on all relevant news and generally just keep him company.

I cook. That sounds so simple when you type it. Is there any way to make it simple in the truck? We don’t have a refrigerator, so storage of perishables must be done in a cramped cooler that also holds our water. Canned goods have one cabinet available to them and it can’t be opened without something landing on a foot or head. I carry a crock pot, a lunchbox (it’s shaped just like those old lunch boxes your dad took to work and functions kind of like a crock pot) and an electric skillet. One of these days when I find room, I want a rice cooker but at this point something else has to move out for it to have a home.

We try to eat out of the truck for 18 out of 21 meals. Sometimes we accomplish this, most weeks it’s closer to 14 out of 21. Sometimes, we just need out of the truck. It’s not like eating dinner at the house. Imagine you had to eat every meal with your spouse in the bathroom (just throw a mattress over the tub and put the lid down on the toilet). At some point, you would need a break. Restaurants have so much more space and other people to help carry on conversations. These two luxuries can make a really long day seem like a vacation. Because when there are just two of you, there is only so much to be said and quite frankly if he asks me one more time “whatcha doing?”, I might hit him with a tire thumper.

I clean. That’s another one of those things that sounds so simple but is never as simple as you want it to be. Mirrors need to be cleaned. Glass on both the inside and the outside. Dusting (I hate dust and in a truck, the stuff just reappears the moment you knock it off). To sweep and mop (something I try to do every other day) requires half the truck be picked up and put someplace else while I accomplish such an easy task. The cooler (loaded down with ice, half a case of water and whatever perishables have been purchased for the week), the crock pot, the lunchbox oven, the trash can, 4 pairs of boots, 3 pairs of tennis shoes and the rugs. They must go somewhere. I just wish I knew where. The bed is already loaded down with luggage, a shower bag, my purse, laundry baskets, and a dozen bags of other stuff that one of these days will eventually find a home. Once the floors are all pretty, it all has to be put back. At least until bedtime. Then everything has to be moved back up front so we can sleep.

My goal is to try to make his load a little lighter, especially since I increase the weight of the truck (I have to bring a lot of stuff). Didn’t you see all the stuff I just mentioned? I’d like to have so much more, but there will never be room and I probably wouldn’t use it if I finally got it in here. My resolution each year is to try that whole minimalistic lifestyle. One of these years, it’s gonna happen. Trust me.

I spend my day trolling for news articles to read to him. I download podcasts that we both enjoy to kill the hours of driving. There is only so much music and news you can listen to in an 11 hour day. Even less now, since every hour the whole thing seems to repeat. We joke, we tease, we argue, we repeat.

I spend a huge chunk of my day online. I harass people I’ve never met (and some I never will) on Twitter. I stalk people I do know on Facebook. I farm and tame the frontier. I troll truck driving and cooking forums. He used to complain that I spent most of my day on the computer and phone. He’d ask what could I possibly be doing that would waste 7 hours a day. Why wasn’t I looking at the beautiful scenery and enjoying just relaxing while he drove? Why wasn’t I paying more attention to what was going on around us? That’s what he does. Why couldn’t I do that? I tried to explain.

From my side, with no vehicle to control, just looking at scenery that I’ve seen 100 times isn’t entertaining. It’s like staring at a wall. Now when we go home, I drive. That’s 8 to 12 hours, depending on who we are going to visit. He whines the whole time that he’s bored. I tell him to relax and enjoy the scenery, pay more attention to what’s going on around us. That’s how I get new toys.

I’d like to say we are unique, but that wouldn’t be true. I know plenty of couples out here that are in the same boat we are; one drives and one rides. Anybody that has met him will ask how I spend 24/7 with him. I am heavily medicated. All kidding aside, we love each other and we take care of each other and we are co-dependent on each other. We’ve spent time apart. I didn’t like it. He didn’t like it. I respect couples that team. I respect women that stay at home while their husband is out here on the road. I’ve been there, done that and I don’t plan on going back.

Todd here again. Please leave your comments and/or questions here and I’ll make sure Jean sees them. You can also contact her directly through Twitter @raysunshine77, email her at janedean77@yahoo.com, or check out her Facebook page. I hear she also doesn’t mind the occasional stalker. 😉