I was hoping I was done with sub zero driving, but, alas, it was not to be.
On my last trip out of Houston I caught a load back to Ohio, last seen when frost bit my index finger and left me scarred for at least three weeks. While, as I mentioned in my last post, I thought I was fully recovered, I still have pain in one place on my index finger, and my hands get colder, quicker. And my truck’s auto start system still wasn’t working right. In fact, my first night out I was filled with trepidation about freezing to death in my sleep. I spent the first night at a Pilot in northern Louisiana and sho nuf, my auto start didn’t. Fortunately, it didn’t get below the upper 20s, but I had to get up and manually start the engine in the wee hours. Bummer. My auto start had not spontaneously healed during my time off.
This trip had me relaying my load outside of Akron and getting a load bound for – wait for it – Minnesota. Poop!
On my way to Bloomington, MN, I spent the first night in one of my favorite (barf, barf) places, The Roehl terminal in Gary, IN. I got there early enough that parking was not an issue. And since it had a fully equipped and staffed shop (barf, barf) at least I would be able to get my auto start fixed. Wrong, diesel breath. When I checked in I was told they were very busy. They wouldn’t be able to get to it until late that night. Heck, the foreman said, they had eight or nine repairs in front of mine. But I had called ahead and made arrangements, I said. Riiiight, they replied, but it’s still first come, first served. But, but …
It was about zero already and I made arrangements to stay in one of their “bunk rooms” so they could get the truck whenever they wanted to without waking me up. The only problem was I had numerous items in my tractor that I didn’t want to FREEZE SOLID. I conned my way into a parking slot in one of their unused bays until they could get to my repair. Cool.
So I adjourned to my bunk room.This was a first for me. Stevens had bunk rooms, but I had never had cause to use one. When I got the electronic key to my room in Gary, I was filled with anticipation. Since my expectations were quite reasonable, I can’t really say that was let down when I let myself into my room. Well … it was clean. I thought of a room at the YMCA. Although I had never seen one, I would expect a room at the YMCA wouldn’t be quite as nice as the room I was entering. Nevertheless, it was quite Spartan. I could envision a monk living there. Or even a student at a really downscale college. It had a twin-sized bed with clean sheets, a pillow and a blanket. There was one small table and chair like you might see in a Holiday Inn conference room. The restroom was across the hall.
Before I adjourned for the night I thought I’d check with the shop foreman one more time. Of course, a new guy was on duty who reported that there were seven or eight drivers in front of me and there wasn’t a prayer they would get to my truck for a day or two. Super. My preliminary call notwithstanding, I would be leaving Gary (good news) with an ongoingly defective auto start (bad news). I actually called dispatch before I turned in to see if I could just route myself through Marshfield (the Roehl mother ship). By going to Marshfield, according to the shop foreman, I might be able to get my truck fixed and still make it to Minnesota in time for my delivery. I got one of the snotty night fleet managers who said the shop foreman doesn’t have a say in where I drive and to shut up, go to sleep and check back at 5 a.m. if my truck still wasn’t fixed. I knew the answer to the last statement.
So in the morning I went down and did not see a shop foreman. I then went to load my stuff in my truck, which was NOT where I parked it the night before. I found it elsewhere in the shop and went back to find someone who could shed any amount of light on the situation. The shop foreman I had talked to first the previous day said it had not been fixed and that, perhaps, dispatch would have me pick up a loaner to complete the delivery. I did NOT want to have to move stuff from my truck to a loaner truck but said, fine, let’s do the loaner. Foreman said, dispatch knows where the loaners are and whether one was available for me. I called in and got an idiot night fleet manager who said to check with the shop foreman, who would know about loaners. Of course, he did not, so I called back hoping to get a different dispatcher. I did and he gave me a truck number. The foreman thought it was on the lot someplace but sent me to find it. I found it, dancing through three inches of newly fallen snow, only to find that while its auto start was working (the truck was running), it was locked up and the shop didn’t have the key. I elected to set out on my truck and deal with whatever I had to in order to survive the sub zero temperatures I would find in Minnesota.
I spent the next night at a TA in Hudson, WI, four miles east of the Minnesota border. On the drive north I decided there had to be a way to keep the truck idling for more than five minutes. The solution I found was to wedge something between the brake pedal and the accelerator pedal. That evening I looked around the cab for something. What I settled on was several of my audio books. After a little trial and error, the answer to my idle prayers was “Black Widow” by Randy Wayne White (excellent read / listen) plus “Indellible” by Kristen Heitzmann (okay read) plus the Hazardous Materials Handbook (boring). Wedged in just so, these three literary materpieces kept the truck idling at about 850 RPMs. Since it wasn’t just idling, but felt to the truck like a person was keeping the idle up with his foot, the truck kept running all night. This was important because when the alarm woke me up the next morning, it was 13 below zero.
The delivery went okay. I got there 90 minutes early for no apparent reason since they didn’t start unloading trucks until 09:00. From there I got a local delivery (more on “locals” below) that picked up nine miles away in Bloomington. This particular load was a drop and hook, which should have been quick, but cold. But remember, I have a very balky electric fifth wheel disconnect system. It ended up taking much longer than anticipated because I had to replace a loaded trailer at the dock with the empty trailer I was pulling. This meant:
- Unhook my empty and leave it in the lot (temperature – minus 12 degrees).
- Hook up to the loaded trailer at door #2 and tow it into the lot (temperature – minus 12 degrees).
- Unhook the loaded trailer and leave it in the lot (temperature – minus 12 degrees).
- Hook up to my empty and back it into door #2 (temperature – minus 12 degrees).
- Unhook from the empty trailer at the dock (temperature – minus 11 degrees) and, finally, at long last,
- Hook up to my loaded trailer (temperature – minus 11 degrees) and …
Drive to our drop lot in St. Paul Park. After a quick missed turn and semi-legal U-turn, I dropped my bales of shredded paper bound for Green Bay (seriously – a hundred bucks worth of waste paper was being shipped a couple of hundred miles) at the drop lot, picked up an empty, dropped and hooked a load of 3M industrial products bound for southeastern Wisconsin, and set out for a service stop in Marshfield.
YES! All my problems would be solved.
And damned if they weren’t. I got to Marshfield just before dark. They had my truck in the shop within 30 minutes and began a stem-to-stern maintenance inspection, after which they would hand the tractor off to the local International dealership. The dealer would fix my auto start problem.
I checked into the Marshfield monk’s quarters and slept the second night on this tour in a properly conditioned bunk room. When I awoke the next morning at 04:00 I found my truck, hooked up to my loaded trailer, and set sail for Pleasant Prairie, WI. I wasn’t sure if the auto start had been fixed, but I assumed, correctly in this case, that it had been. They did change my fuel filters (again), top off all my fluids, clean my cab air filters, and steam clean my fifth wheel. I was good to go.
So I goodly went. In two loads I made my way as far as Houston. I made my drop, expecting to then drive to our drop lot and catch a ride home for a couple of days, when I got a preplan for a local delivery.
I was not happy. Here’s why. A local delivery means no miles. I am paid by the mile. To help ease this pain, the company pays a flat rate for the delivery. That flat fee is TWENTY STINKIN’ DOLLARS. The last couple of short hauls I dealt with took five and three hours to execute. This mean I was being paid CRAP money to haul Roehl loads. When I complained to my fleet manager she said, I paraphrase, “Hey, every once in a while you gotta take one for the team.”
Bovine excrement! It’s not like they overpay me for all the other loads I haul so I owe ’em one. I’m barely making minimum wage as it is. Asking me to take LESS than minimum wage is a nonstarter for me. I conveyed this in a pretty harsh phone call to my fleet manager and she had pretty much no response. In this case, it wasn’t quite as bad because my pickup was only three miles off the route back to our drop lot, the shipper got me loaded within an hour, and all I had to do was take this load to our drop lot. So I didn’t get totally screwed this time.
I hope by making a big stink, my fleet manager will be less inclined to stick me with many more local pulls.
Thus endeth another run. My fervent hope is that by the time I get back in the Upper Midwest, the below zero temperature readings will be history or 10 months in the future. By that time I will have hit the lottery or, more likely, I will have a new regional gig that keeps me waaaay south of the Arctic Circle.