It was a looong, choppy tour – at least compared to my runs over the past 10 months. They kept me running for 16 days. I almost ran out of underwear. I left with a heavy load out of Houston.
First up, a short haul to Garland, TX for delivery later the same day. I did not make many friends at the receiver. I sat backed up to a door for perhaps an hour before I returned to the office to make sure I was at the right place. The surly dude crankily said, “We’ll get to you when we get to you.” I’m sure that added an extra half hour to my unload time. When they finally finished, I got the green light.
Special Note: when you get backed into most doors, they extend the ramp from the warehouse into the trailer and sometimes hook your back bumper. This causes the red light next to the door to illuminate. It won’t turn green until they unhook and retract the ramp. This is usually the signal that they’re done loading / unloading and you can return to the office to pick up your paperwork. There are variations on this theme that I will expand on at a later date.
As I was retrieving my paperwork, I noted who signed the Bill of Lading. I need this information for the “Empty” message I’m required to send in. I usually confirm the name with the individual giving me the paperwork. In this case, I very clearly saw Maria M*****. When I tried to confirm this with the clerk he responded with. “That’s me. And it’s MARION.” Riiight. I can only assume he was jerking my chain.
Next I was routed to our Grand Prairie terminal to pick up a relay load for Opelousas, LA. I spent the night at the terminal and left just before first light. Arrived in rural Louisiana and made a tidy drop and hook. Since I didn’t have my next load assignment I camped out at a nearby truck stop. After a long 30 minutes I got an assignment that picked up in Zachary, LA, a bit more than an hour away. I looked but didn’t see any gators along the way even though much of the trip was across rural roads and beaucoup (a little Cajun dialect) swampland. This load would deliver to Jacksonville, FL. Finally a decent run.
The downside was Zachary meant a HEAVY load of paper at a picky-ass mill. When I arrived I was about the 10th semi in line. This is a shipper that requires steel-toed footwear, long pants and a safety vest. It was nearly 100 degrees and, it being Louisiana, very humid. This shipper inspects your trailer for cleanliness and weather-tightness. They do NOT want their customers to get dirty, soggy paper. An hour later I was dropping my empty and hooking to my loaded trailer. The only “good” thing about this shipper is they have their own scale. Unfortunately, being close to my 80,000 pound load limit, it took a couple of trailer tandem adjustments to get the weight distribution just right. More unfortunately, I had to wait in line for each reweigh. Did I mention it was hot?
Under normal circumstances this would have been my shower night. Not this time. My clock was ticking down to the point where I was “running out of hours” I would only have enough minutes to limp to a P-O-S truck stop six miles down the road where I parked for the night. It had a one-holer men’s room with no counter space which meant I would be dealing with my contact lenses in the truck. Before sunrise the next morning, I weighed the truck again and made another adjustment before leaving. I am definitely not a fan of Zachary pick ups.
The trip to J-ville was uneventful and the drop and hook went without a hitch. (Well, technically, I had to unhitch and then hitch up again, so we’ll say it went with “a single” hitch.) No preplan so I spent a half hour at a nearby truck stop. Another wait. I was instructed to drop my empty at a customer’s warehouse (they were very appreciative) and bobtail to our J-ville drop lot and pick up a lightly loaded trailer containing irrigation hoses and tubes. This would be the longest trip so far to the beautiful agricultural mecca of Leola, PA.
I overnighted at a converted Pilot in North Carolina. Converted means that what started as an independent truck stop was either purchased or otherwise rebranded as a Pilot. These places are usually of lesser quality than traditional Pilots but I thought (thought) this one was better than most. Until I went to the men’s room to take care of my morning business. No soap. Ah, well, it happens. I informed the staff on my way out. They responded with, “Yeah, no soap. In the entire place. Our supply truck didn’t make it.”
That right there is a problem. Soap is important. Especially in a truck stop. They couldn’t have sent somebody to a nearby grocery store to pick up a dozen SoftSoaps??? Note to self: Never stop at this Pilot again.
Once I got to Pennsylvania I drove many miles down scenic rural roads. At one point, west of Lancaster, I was driving high along the north side of a wide valley. As I took a long view toward the far southern side of the valley, I saw more than 50 silos scattered across the countryside. Wish I could have stopped and snapped a panoramic picture. My last turn took me through half a dozen blocks of solidly middle class neighborhood to a small produce company surrounded by fields of rowed crops. Entering the sales office I saw immediately that I would be having my first up close and personal interactions with …
The giveaway was the lady with no makeup wearing a bonnet. The fit looking men with chin whiskers and long pants held up by suspenders sealed the deal. It being a small place I had to use most of the roadway out front to maneuver my truck back to the dock where a vary polite, suspendered young man had me unloaded in no time.
I was quickly on my way to pick up my next light load (styrofoam cups) in the same bucolic town. I would be heading to Harriman, NY . Unfortunately, I would be out of hours by the time I pulled away from the dock, so away I whipped around to the north side of the warehouse and spent the night. No running water before turning in for the night or after waking up in the morning. So I inserted my contacts with less-than-perfectly-clean fingers and snagged a coffee at a truck stop on the way to Harriman.
I arrived at the warehouse early and had to wait for a door to open up. And wait. And wait. They made me wait so long that a nice little weather system rolled in. Only after it started raining did they alert me that a door was open and I could back into it. Often the receiver will have me break the seal on the trailer. In this case, a receiver representative had to break the seal before I could back all the way to the door.
SPECIAL NOTE: Nearly all loads are are precious enough to somebody that the shipper affixes (or has me affix) a plastic or metal loop or bolt on the trailer doors. This doesn’t prevent theft of course, but it signals that a load has likely been violated. I’ve never had a violated seal in my almost two years in the biz. My company also requires that I padlock the doors with a super heavy duty chrome padlock which they thoughtfully forced me to buy for $50.
So I maneuvered my truck to the point where the warehouseman could break the seal and I could open the doors and put the parking break on. Ten minutes later, I walked, through the rain, to the receiving office to make sure I didn’t just dream that they were ready for me. After another 15 minutes the dude knocked on my door and said he was ready to break the seal. So I had to get out of my relatively dry cab and walk to the back of the truck in what was now a pouring rain to open the doors.
The adorable though tardy warehouseman broke the seal and noting my less than bubbly disposition said that they really needed the rain. I was not amused.
Thirty minutes later I retrieved my signed paperwork and began the wait for my next load assignment. Waiting. Again. This has been the first tour in quite some time where more often than not I did NOT have my next preplan before delivering my current load.
The assignment finally came through and I would be deadheading to Hazelton, PA, where I would pick up a load bound for Raymond, New Hampshire. I got as far as the Petro in Scranton where I snagged a shower (after a one hour wait) and made it the rest of the way quickly enough to get to the shipper 30 minutes before they opened at 7:00 a.m. I wound up being the second truck in line back at the docks. Which meant I only had to wait for 50 minutes before they began loading me.
This would be the first of what I fonly recall as “my woodchuck days.” While waiting to be loaded, as I often do when it isn’t too hot, too cold or too wet, I got out of my truck and wandered around the property. At the edge of the lot I came to a steep slope down to the railroad tracks that ran through the industrial park. After standing there for a few moments there was a minor commotion below me and I noticed a woodchuck scurrying downhill and ducking into his hole at the base of a pair of saplings. Wildlife.
I would see two more woodchucks sitting on their hind legs along the side of the road on each of the next two days before seeing a mostly flattened (and therefore deceased) woodchuck on the shoulder on the following day.
But I digress. This short run to New Hampshire delivered at 4:00 p.m. which should have been a no brainer. And I made the delivery on time with no problem. Well, no serious problem. Since I had to drive through a part of New Jersey, I got caught up in late morning rush hour traffic and a bit of construction. This telescoped the drive time enough so that when I left the freeway just north of the Massachusetts border, my eight hour clock was ticking down. The two lane, no shoulder road that I would be on for the last 18 miles meant that I had to stop for a 30 minute break before I got to the Walmart Distribution Center in Raymond. Trust me when I tell you that I was seeing no acceptable place where I could pull over. I was only nine miles from my final, and down to three minutes left on my clock before I turned into a pumpkin, when I found a produce business that seemed to be closed. It had a paved lot that extended to the left side of the two lane road. It looked like my truck would fit so I made an executive decision and pulled in. I swept onto the property as far as I dared and cranked back the the right. Lightly jackknifed in my front bumper was perhaps eight feet from the roadway and my back bumper was five feet. I put on my parking lights and prayed that noone hit me.
When I was good to go, I drove the final nine miles to the receiver. At my drop I was the sixth truck in line and it took almost half an hour to get through the gate. Because of stupid DOT rules I had to take a 30 minute break, nine miles (about 12 minutes) from the receiver where I would have to sit for 30 minutes before I could make my drop and hook. Modestly infuriating. I’m so glad the government has put so many ignorant rules in place to make driving so safe.
By the time I was ready to leave the receiver I had less than 45 minutes left on my 14 hour on duty clock. The closest truck stop I could find on my smart phone app was about 26 miles away, 18 of those miles were back down the same two lane road I had taken an hour earlier.
I reached the “truck stop” with only four minutes to spare. It was another P-O-S stop, but I had no options. And it was full. There were only 20 slots to begin with and some of those slots had cars or pickups in them. I drove in and backed up against a trailer that looked like it had been there for days. In doing so I blocked in another tractorless trailer and another truck / trailer combination. Hey, it was the 3rd of July so I figured that most of the truckers would be taking the weekend off. Plus I’d be leaving by 5:00 a.m. If one of the drivers I blocked in had to leave, I could easily move and take their vacated spot. Turned out I was good for the night.
This brings me to the truck stop store itself. It was a small independent and I already described it as a Piece of Caca, right? Perhaps I used the wrong bodily waste. It had a one-holer unisex restroom that entered from a door on an outside wall of the store.
Quick aside: As I was looking for the restroom inside the store the guy who appeared to be the owner said in his charming Middle Eastern accent, “You’re not parking here all night are you?” Yes, but if somebody needs to get past me, I would be happy to accommodate them. Plus I’ll be leaving early. And what about those cars and pickups, I asked. “They pay me for regular parking,” he replied. The dude was a revenue machine. And as you will see his expenses were minimal..
Back to the so-called rest room. It was easily the most disgusting room I have EVER been in. ANYWHERE. It had a single dirty 60 watt bulb (which may have been an advantage), a toilet, sink, and low tech air dryer. Dirty. Wet. Moldy. But it gets worse.
IT. SMELLED. BAD!!!
It reeked as though it was painted with a pee-based paint. It’s like they piped in air from a septic tank. It was like they had cornered the market on urine-scented air fresheners. I was pretty certain that even if I washed my hands, for a long time, I would walk out of that room dirtier and germier than when I walked in. I should have taken out my contact lenses earlier, like when my hands were only dirty and greasy. I felt grimy and yucky all night. I woke up before my alarm went off and was driving away before 5:00 a.m. I will break the law before I go back to that truck stop. Pardon me for a moment while I go take a shower.
There. I feel better now. Even the thought of that restroom makes me feel unclean.
My next load would pick up in Springfield, MA, bound for [Kiss My] Assonet, Massachusetts, just southwest of Boston. Another crappy short run. This load would be further complicated by the fact that it was a reefer trailer carrying dairy products from Wisconsin. I haven’t hauled a chilled load (other than every load in January and February) since my Stevens days.
I navigated my way to our Springfield drop lot over the objections of my GPS which wanted to route me from the middle of the freeway cross country in a straight line to the lot three blocks east and four blocks south of the freeway exit. I elected to take city streets instead. It was still raining off and on and the lot was fair-thee-well soaked. I was getting tired of the rain and the overcast. I shouldn’t have even thought about it. After dropping my empty and picking up my loaded reefer trailer, I was on my way to the grocery warehouse when the skies opened up again I had to flip on the windshield wipers.
Before I get to that excitement allow me to tell you about my fuel stop. I had to divert from my route about five miles to get 50 gallons of fuel at a Pilot off I-83. I swiped my fuel and loyalty cards and got to it. After I starting with the driver’s side I went to the passenger side pump. After getting it started I heard the driver side click off. Well, dang. So I put all 50 gallons into the passenger tank. I was pretty low on fuel and knew it the two tanks would equalize at least a little. When I reported this defect to the fuel desk inside the store I was informed that there was no malfunction. You are only allowed to fill one tank at a time. Massachusetts has so little trust in fueling equipment and drivers that it has a stinkin’ law prohibiting the fueling of both tanks at the same. I learn something new every day. The thing I learned on this day was to NOT fuel in Massachusetts.
Back to the windshield wiper. Shortly after I flipped them on, the driver side wiper wobbled off the wiper arm and just flopped back and forth. So while I hadn’t lost the wiper, it was doing no wiping whatsoever. I thought about puling over and seeing if I could fix it, but by that time it wasn’t raining too hard so I made it to the receiver with the thought I could do what I could while the dairy products were being unloaded.
This was a biiig place. It rivaled any Walmart DC or even the bigger grocery chain warehouses I had visited. I made my way through the security shack and back to the refrigerated section where I checked in with the receiving clerk and was directed to the lumpers. There were half a dozen other trucks moving and a dozen lumpers ready to jump into action. They assigned me a door and told me they’d let me know how much the fee would be. So I backed up to the door and waited. From the time I got there until the time I was unloaded it was nearly two hours. Ah, well. The lumper fee was less than $100 which seemed like a deal for this part of the country. Not the quickest but I’d seen worse. Silly boy, silly boy.
Unloading was just the beginning. I had to wait an additional 90 minutes for the paperwork. All those doors and all those people and it was still almost a three and a half hour experience. Plus it was really raining by the time I left.
Fortunately I had reattached my windshield wiper and it was working fine as I left the property.
Unfortunately, the wiper flew off less than two miles up the road. Within the next two miles I had found an overpass and semi-legally stopped under a protective two lane road. Doing my best to avoid being hit by the Yankees whipping past at more than 70 miles an hour I retrieved another wiper from the utility space under my bunk. I had salvaged it from the last time I replaced my wipers. So with a soul full of hope, I switched out the uncooperative wiper with the lightly used wiper. It stayed on!!! I made my way back to Springfield where I dumped my reefer and rehooked to my empty trailer.
By the way, when I dropped the empty I was able to use my trailer lock for the very first time in 10 months. It’s a a little doohickey that locks around the trailer’s fifth wheel pin. It worked like a charm and wasn’t as hard to put on or take off as I had anticipated. I immediately set off for the bucolic berg of Erving, MA.
The last 20 miles was through a scenic vacationland that made me want to come back in a four-wheeler with a popup camper. There was even a river, complete with rapids, that parallelled the road for most of the last few miles. I found the paper plant on the east side of Erving and pulled in. Bear in mind this was Independence Day which explained why there were only 11 vehicles in the employee parking lot. After dropping my empty I bobtailed the quarter of a mile to the shipping and receiving office.
It being a holiday of course it was closed. I found two other doors but was not able to find any actual people, even though I wandered well past the “Employees Only” signs. So operating on a hunch I went to the Roehl trailer parked along the roadway between the empty lot and the plant. The trailer number happened to match the trailer number on my load assignment. I opened the trailer doors and found the paperwork that also matched the delivery instructions. After calling in and confirming I could hijack this particular trailer, I headed back on the aforementioned scenic two road highway and south on I-91 to Connecticut where I was scheduled to fuel and where I planned on spending the night.
As I left the paper plant I wondered at an unload taking three and a half hours at a facility that almost seemed overstaffed (Assonet) and a 20 minute drop and hook taking place at a shipper where I didn’t encounter a single human being. Conclusion: People slow things down.
I got to my TA truck stop in Connecticut with only minutes left on my clock. I made good time other than a little traffic mishap in the left lane of I-83 just a few miles north of my destination. I scaled my load as soon as I pulled in, then looped around to top off my tanks (both of them at the same time – thanks Connecticut). The weight was not distributed as elegantly as I would have liked so I made an adjustment and rescaled in the morning before I set out for Oshkosh, Wisconsin! Finally, a good run, although I wondered about hauling paper to Wisconsin. I mean, aren’t there paper mills all over the state? They had to import 22 tons worth of paper from New England?
Well, that’s 3,500 words on week one. I’ll get to week two next.