Well, I must say it's only been a bit over a year since I've been OTR but it feels like a lifetime. I will go to Orientation next week -- you didn't think experienced drivers could skip that, did you? -- and then things will start to move. I intend to update this journal with all I go through.
I have to begin the chore of packing soon and never look forward to that. The company I will work for is based 125 miles from home, so they will be renting a car for me to drive. I will have to take a lot of stuff -- but only the really necessary stuff. (Related: What to Take With You)
I'm diving headlong into the task of figuring out how to get online from the road with the minimum of hassles and trouble. Sounds daunting to me. I stumbled onto some good info on the web, though and will be sharing that with you as well.
Well, here I am today in Maple Heights, OH at the consignee, waiting to unload. I have finished Orientation and all of that exciting stuff and I'm out trying to make some money. The forces haven't exactly been working for me, though but that's pretty typical when starting a new job -- whether trucking or whatever else.
Orientation typically involves the following subjects and takes somewhere between 2-3 days on average. Some companies pay while you attend, some pay meals, most pay the motel bill.
Typical Orientation Subjects
Company specific policies & procedures
Logbooks, Hours of Service
Truck/Trailer Maintenance Intervals/Procedures
Pay Issues, Bonuses, Unloading Pay, Lumpers, Multiple Stop Pay, Layover Pay, etc
OS & D Department - What to do in case of claims
Pre Trip Inspections
Reefer Units (refrigerated trailers)
Safety: Accident/Breakdown Procedures
Benefits: Health, Dental, Vision, Life Insurance, 401K, Direct Deposit Signup, Park-n-View, etc
Issue fuel card, truck, load assignment, loadlocks, keys, pulp thermometer, trainer, etc.
The Waiting Game....Hurry up & Wait....Wait.....Wait.....Wait
This is where I find myself today....Playing the "waiting game" again.....
It is (unfortunately) typical that there are a lot of trucks waiting to unload. The waiting game is a major problem in this industry. It can be far more exhausting to wait for a long period than to drive. Shippers enjoy using trailers as "rolling warehouses" - it's cheaper to leave it on your trailer than to take up precious warehouse space.
I'm hauling meat, which is notorious for this ridiculous amount of time. It took 6 hours to unload. Beware that if you drive for a company that hauls meat, this may be your future, too. (I was paid $60 for the excess waiting time to load but could've made more money driving.) This particular load, much worse than normal, took 43 hours to load.
And where do I find myself this evening? BROKE DOWN! I did a drop & hook in a little OH town - that worked just fine. I came to the nearest truckstop to weigh the load out, turned in the parking lot and the dreaded low-air buzzer beeped about and the trailer brakes came on. Yep, it happens that quick. The trailer emergency line broke - just snapped. That's not uncommon in the winter - but not something you expect so much in the summer. Oh well. At least I chose a good truckstop for this to happen. My CB radio went out this morning and there just so happens to be a CB shop here so I got that taken care of during my wait. I also had some supper, made some phone calls, got my paperwork caught up and my route planned out. Road service isn't exactly quick this evening in getting to me -- I have about 2 1/2 hours waiting in on this deal now.
Hmmm...sure has been interesting trying to get online on the road. I have my trusty laptop and now I think I'm finally set up but it hasn't been easy!!
Just Gotta Love That East Coast Traffic!
I'm kidding of course, I mean, who could love this... I hadn't really forgotten how bad the traffic tended to be in the east, but I definitely received a big reminder.
Drivers say there are truly only two "seasons" of the year: Winter and Construction!! This is a true statement -- a word for the wise: do as much as you possibly can at NIGHT because travel during the day, especially & particularly in the East is SLOW going.
Well, here I am, back again. Since I wrote last I've been through a lot... of problems, that is. Things are just working against me lately. Sometimes there are days, even weeks, like that. I remember back when I first started driving I would get awfully bent out of shape when things went as screwy as they have lately. Although I still get frustrated, I've come to realize, and any driver who wants to stay in this thing should, there are just loads where everything goes wrong. There are days like that and there's nothing you can do about it but sigh and hope the next day/next load is better. A short explanation of my crappy week:
43 hours waiting to get loaded in Schulyer, NE was a bad way to start the week.
a broken air line slowed me down
$45 out of MY pocket for a lumper in Maple Heights, OH was ridiculous
7+ hours to unload in Dayton, NJ was a bit excessive, as was another $25 lumper out of my pocket
Upon reloading in Clayton, DE, I drove 60 miles to a public scale to weigh out to discover I was 400 pounds over gross. I had to drive back through rush hour traffic to get them to redo it.
At this point, I am so far behind schedule, I have to really run hard to Rochelle, IL
After unloading that load, the only load I'm offered goes to (yuck) the East Coast again...and loads out of a meat plant in Joslin, IL (yuck). It has two other drops on it on the east coast, also. (yuck)
This is my idea of a bad week... I'm crossing my fingers next week will be better!!! Until next time!
Oh boy, am I reminded of why it's a bit tough to run the east.. There is absolutely nowhere to park!!!
I spent nearly an hour just trying to get OUT of the T/A Truckstop at Columbia, NJ the other day..
This is a truckstop with 190 legal spaces and another 50+ "creatively designed" spots--not a one of them was open.
I have to ask: what will they do when/if the new Hours of Service Regs go thru that say we must take two two hour breaks during our driving period? WHERE will we GO to do this?
Oh, boy, am tired. Yesterday I managed to get all my drops off. I had loaded in Joslin, IL (13 hour wait) and had to really stay with it to get to Edinberg, VA on time. The next drop went to Upper Darby, PA (Philadelphia suburb) and the final to New Castle, DE. I then reloaded in South Plainfield, NJ and have managed to get myself back to Youngstown, OH. Whew. This load is due in Jackson, WI on 6/15. I'm hoping to work my way home for a couple of days...and start over again...sure would be nice to avoid the East Coast next time, but I don't think I'll count on that.
Spent the night last night at Bordentown, NJ Petro Truck stop. It is a HUGE truckstop with spots for several hundred trucks, at least. EVERY SINGLE SPOT WAS FULL! I was forced into parking "creatively". On the east coast, if you don't find your spot at the truckstop by about 8pm, forget it.
Ever wonder why newspapers advertise "No East Coast" and why that is appealing? I'll have to go into that happy subject soon...but not tonight, gotta catch some z's. Take care out there!
Long time, no write! I enjoyed a few days at home and am at it again. I've brought my son along and have been concentrating on him so please excuse my absence! I left Des Moines, IA (home) and dropped & hooked in Iowa City, IA and delivered that load in Marcy, NY. On the way there, we stopped at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH for a fun filled day at the amusement park. I've never been a roller coaster person but I've been changed forever now. What a day.
After delivery in Marcy, NY I deadheaded down to Elizabethtown, PA. There was a problem with the pick up # (they didn't like it) and it took about 2 extra hours to sort that out. The directions I got were horrible and that took another extra hour. (Directions I was given: Go three stoplights and turn Right. The Real Deal was: Go seven stoplights and turn Left. Yikes) Finally got the load, though and am on my way to Bluffton, IN. I have a lot of time on this load, which would make me unhappy at most times, but since my son is with me, it' s okay. The company has a Rider Policy for your children and I got all the paperwork filled out when I was home. (Birth certificate, picture, fill out form) He's a little bored, even though I have a TV/VCR, Refrigerator, Sony Playstation and Gameboy games for him. Kids need quite a bit of amusement -- they don't always travel very well. It's also very expensive to take a child, considering you have to feed them!) It's fun, though and I really enjoy having him with me. This trip also brings to mind a problem I encountered years ago....truck stop SOAP. When you get a shower, they also give you a bar of soap. Let me warn you that this stuff is as cheap as it gets. It made my son break out terribly and he's pretty miserable with it.
So, a word of warning: BRING AND USE YOUR OWN SOAP.
Something I'd forgotten about NY was that they allow double 48 footers to run on the turnpike. (Actually they call their turnpike the "Thruway".)
This picture doesn't quite do the image justice....double 48's are rather a site to see. And no, I did not take this picture as I drove - my son took it for me. Yes, I actually got passed by this truck pulling two, count 'em, two, double forty eight foot trailers. My truck is somewhat slow, but yikes, it isn't that slow!
I've delivered in Bluffton, IN and have now deadheaded up to Paw Paw, MI. I'm waiting for them to load it (what's new) and then will take it to Lincoln, NE. I have too much time to get it there, considering the paid miles, but I am not complaining because it takes me through the house. I'll be able to go home long enough to take care of a few things and do laundry and off again. My son will get off the truck there, too, as I think he's nearly had enough of this trucking stuff and more than that, he wants to play baseball!
As I was traveling the back roads in Indiana, I was reminded of something I've wanted to mention. When and if you run the two lanes in Indiana, be very, very careful and watch out for the Amish. I should not limit this to Indiana, as there are Amish all over: Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania.
They are a large number of Amish in IN, though. It is legal for them to run their "horse carts" on 55 mph highways. If you come up over a hill at 55 mph and there's an Amish horse cart, it's all over. Be careful! Not 20 minutes after this picture was taken, my son and I saw the remains of an accident of a car with a horse cart. WATCH OUT!
Well, it is time for a shower...best go...since I didn't buy fuel here (and can't buy fuel here since it is not on the company fuel network) it is going to cost me $5.00...I don't like to pay it but when you need a shower, you need a shower! That reminds me of another subject I was going to bring up: truckstop showers.
Let me just say they are often less than wonderful even if they are better than nothing. It is almost a rarity to find a shower that has water pressure. Mostly the water just kind of "drips" from the showerhead, and you get wet. Most have hardly enough pressure to get the shampoo out of your hair. The other annoyance, which I've coined "Freeze or Fry" is the occurrence that when someone flushes their toliet down the hall, your shower temporarily goes freezing or super hot. The last irritant I've found concerning showers is the lack of decent vents in the rooms themselves. If you take a nice, long, hot shower, too bad for you -- the shower room will be a sauna. Sometimes, especially in summer, you come out of the truckstop shower hotter & sweatier than when you came in! I often open the shower room door after I've dressed to try to cool it down and don't take those really long, hot showers. Pilots put fans in their shower rooms and this is a good idea and helps. There's really no way to avoid these showers -- you just have to remember which places have good showers, venting, etc, if that's something that matters to you. Unbelievably, I've found the best water pressure in some of the dumpiest looking places! As far as cleanliness, most are decent and the "big name" truckstops (Petro, Pilot, Flying J, Truckstops of America) will almost always be clean. Beware some of the truckstops that used to be 76 Truckstops -- Truckstops of America has bought most of those out and though they have remodeled many, they have NOT remodeled quite a few also...I was rather surprised recently when I took a shower at a T/A, expecting the normal cleanliness of a T/A, but received instead a rather old, dirty, non-ventilated shower room. Come to find out (because I went and asked) that the truckstop was a former 76 Truckstop, and the ground floor had been completely remodeled but they
had done nothing with the shower facilities (upstairs). Naturally -- they remodel the area that most people see -- the convenience store & restaurant -- and forget the rest. I was pretty disgusted, to tell you the truth of the matter.
Maybe you're wondering HOW DO I GET A SHOWER? You get a shower "coupon" by buying fuel from that place. Most of the time you must buy at least 50 gallons. When you purchase their fuel, they give you a shower "coupon" that is typically good for a certain period of time; one week is typical but there are some that do not expire at all. This coupon comes in the form of a piece of paper in addition to your fuel receipt, or the fuel receipt itself may be the coupon. Some "big name" truckstops will issue you a plastic card and put the shower on that card. When you want to redeem it, you present your plastic card and there you are. If you do NOT buy fuel, you will have to pay for a shower and it is typically $5-6. Save those receipts, since they are tax deductible. You will usually get one towel, a washcloth and a bar of (cheap) soap. I always ask for a second towel -- I mean, c'mon, I've got a lot of hair and one towel doesn't cut it! Some showers have a blow dryer in the room, but most do not. The rooms themselves are about the size of your normal bathroom, if not a bit smaller, and are usually in a hallway somewhere in the truckstop, with a number on each door. You're given a key that corresponds with a shower room number. Some truckstops instead issue a "PIN" code and have a keypad at the shower door. High tech showers. What a joke - they go to the trouble of installing a keypad, but there's no ventilation or water pressure.... seems like an odd level of priority to me. Oh well, that's enough! Take care and drive safe out there!
Here I am again....waiting on a meat load. I have 24 hours waiting time in now. What a drag. It's pathetic how these big meat plants can do as they please, load when they want and to heck with you if you don't like it. What the worst part is, though, is that if they release the load late (which is normal), the driver has to really kill him/herself to get it where it belongs. Some of the plants have this thing they call the "drop dead" time. That's the time that the load has to be to the driver or the driver cannot legally make it. If the load is released after this, chances are very high the delivery has to be rescheduled. If your company pays detention time, you might make a little extra for this ridiculously long wait, but if they do not, it's your time donated. There is surely a better, more efficient way, but no one is trying to find it. It is said that drivers spend an average of 40 hours per week just waiting on shippers & receivers. What a colossal waste of time.
When you wait for a load like this, sometimes you are provided facilities of some kind and sometimes you are not. Here in Dakota City, NE, you are not. I've chosen to drive to the nearest truckstop (just a few miles) so that running water, a shower and food is easy to get to. This is what I consider to be the biggest drag in trucking and must question why I choose to haul meat. It's not that there's no other commodity that makes you wait -- any and all can and often do make you wait -- but I'd say meat is about the worst. Avoid it unless you like long stretches of time to wait and hero-runs to make afterwards.
While I'm complaining about meat, I'll bring up the subject of Lumpers. Lumpers are people who unload trucks. They don't have easy jobs, mind you, but most of them make A LOT of money. A great many do not pay taxes on their earnings because they are so often paid in cash. Why are they needed? There are a variety of reasons there is such a market for lumpers. The shipper may ship their product on the wrong size of pallet so when it arrives at the receiver, it must be put on a smaller/larger pallet. The shipper may use a different "pattern", i.e., may arrange the product on the pallet in a way that the receiver doesn't like. (Perhaps too high). Now the receiving end insists it must be re-arranged, re-stacked, etc. Or, maybe the shipper didn't use pallets at all -- not everything can be palletized. Maybe the shipper could've used pallets but didn't -- now all the product is on the floor of the trailer and every single piece must be put on a pallet for the shipper. A great deal of the time, unless the product was shipped exactly how the receiver wants it, guess who gets to re-arrange, re-stack, etc the product? YOU!!!! Imagine you've driven all night and you're exhausted. Can you see why the lumper might have a very, very good market?
A great many companies pay for lumpers, so don't panic after reading this. BUT, a word of wisdom, if you don't want to get in that trailer and do this work, make sure you understand the company's lumper policy. Some drivers LIKE to do their own re-stacking for the exercise, not to mention the extra bit of money it pays. My particular situation is that the company pays a set amount per load. I can use that money to pay a lumper or do it myself and keep the money. If the lumper costs more than the "allowed" amount, it usually comes out of my pocket. There are some exceptions. For instance, I delivered at a place the other day that would not allow a driver on the dock unless the driver wore steel-toed boots. Well, in the middle of summer, I do not carry steel-toes around with me. In this case, I was forced to hire a lumper because I wasn't allowed on the dock. The amount was more than my "allowed" lumper cash, but because I couldn't get on the dock, it was paid in full.
Sometimes you're not allowed on the dock at all. Most drivers love this! (this one included)
Some terminology to remember:
Someone who unloads trucks for cash.
Means you get to "touch" the load -- you get to do the work.
You get to "help" unload by doing re-stacking, affixing stickers, cutting off plastic wrap, etc
As the name implies, the driver does not touch anything...the receiver does all the work.
How do you get a lumper? Quite often they are already there, right on the dock. They are usually NOT employees of the company you're delivering to. It's all a pretty big scam, if you ask this driver.
If the receiver won't allow them to remain on premises, they often wait just outside the place. As you approach, if you see a bunch of guys standing around, looking at you, chances are they are lumpers waiting for a truck to unload. These guys usually know what kind of commodity you have just by the name on your truck. The receiver may stipulate that the lumper has to ride into the facility with you.
Have you wondered why I haven't said a word about loading as opposed to unloading? It's pretty unusual that a driver has to LOAD his load -- the work is almost always on the receiving end.
Are you surprised that this goes on? You'd think that your job was done when you got the product to the receiver, safe, sound and undamaged, but it is not. With all the hoopla with Hours of Service Reform and Driver Fatigue, you might even think that it's sensible to get the driver OFF the dock -- after all, this is a large contributing factor to fatigue! Unfortunately, it's an issue that has yet to be addressed in any major way ... Meaning, people have been whining for years, but nothing that has made any impact has been done. There was a new regulation passed recently over the use of pallet jacks, though it's more of a joke than anything. You must be certified and trained now in order to operate an electric pallet jack. (Similar to forklift operating regulations) If you do not have this training, you're stuck with the non-power pallet jack. If you have heavy items to move around, this can be quite a workout.
What do I do to pass the time? I have nearly every source of amusement possible. I watch television, a movie or play on the computer. I have books to read and letters I need to write. I balance the checkbook, or find the nearest Wal-Mart. If I'm really bored and can't find anything else, I give up and go to sleep. I use the time to plan out the trip - down to every detail - fuel stops, sleeping breaks, etc. I get all my paperwork caught up. Anything to pass the time but I prefer to do all of the things that will save me time when I actually do get out of here. I missed my son's baseball game because I'm stuck here. It's hard not to be bitter & angry but if I allow that to set in, I'll get a headache and in the long run, it hurts me far more than the stupid meat plant.
BE CAREFUL DURING HOLIDAYS: IF I do ever escape this place, my load finals in New Castle, DE. It has two other stops - one in Greencastle, PA and the other in Denver, PA. All of them deliver on July 3. This presents a problem. If I am held up here too long, I won't be able to make delivery on July 3 and it will be pushed up until July 4. Few places receive on the July 4th holiday, so delivery will then be pushed up until July 5. Today is only June 30, so my big concern here is that I could get stuck on this load for 6 days (June 29-July 5) for a lousy 1370 miles. That would be far worse than pathetic. I can't do a thing but wait and see at this point. Patience is a virtue, they say, and if you want to drive a truck, you'll develop some or go insane.