September 2000

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9-1-00

 

I sat at the dock in Itasca, IL from 10:00 AM until about 8-8:30 pm last night.  What a stupid deal.  I was more irritated than usual during this wait... probably because there was no access to any food - other than a roach coach.  Wouldn't you know it, though -- when the roach coach came next door, that was the exact same moment that the receiver finally came out and asked me to open the doors. (They had said to leave them shut because they wanted to come out and break the seal.)  The chow wagon left before I got the doors open, because Mr. Receiver had to fumble around with a big set of bolt cutters first.  Bummer.  I was starving and had eaten all the snacks that I normally keep in the truck.

 

After finally getting out of there I get a load out of Paw Paw, MI  that goes to Omaha, NE.  I won't deliver it because it doesn't deliver for 5 days.  I know the place at Paw Paw and they're definitely not known for speedy loading so I know yet another long one is ahead.  The only saving grace is that the dumpy truck stop just down the road from the loading place has the most fantastic water pressure in their showers.... hey, thank heaven for small miracles.

 

Chicago traffic is pretty heavy tonight - especially for a Thursday night.  I get caught in one relatively short traffic tie up.  It's amazing how a closure of one lane can make traffic back up for miles & miles.  It wasn't nearly as bad as the tie-up going the other direction (on I-94).  There had been a truck and car that got together in the area of the truck's fuel tank/step and two lanes were blocked -- resulting in about a 5? mile backup.

 

Some have said that if you can drive in Chicago you can drive anywhere.  Some others say you're not a real driver until you experience Chicago.  I don't know if it's true but Chicago can be a rather trying place!  I'd suggest that you try very hard to go through in the middle of the night, if at all possible.  Another tip would be to never, and I must repeat never, go "blind" around the Chicago, especially near downtown, areas.  Chicago is notorious for a lot of low underpasses.  You'd be wise to buy a Chicago Truck Driver's Low Clearance Map, too.  They are easy to find at a truckstop near the city.  Try Bolingbrook on I-55 or Calumet on I-94, not to mention one of the stops around Gary, IN.  Get the best directions possible for anywhere you're going, too. 

 

Upon arriving in Paw Paw, MI around 1:00 AM I am told by the shipping department that they are "running behind".  I've loaded out of this place about 10-12 times and they've said that every single time.  There are trucks everywhere.  I give up, drop my trailer in their yard (to be loaded at their convenience) and go to the truckstop with the fantastic water pressure.  Upon waking later, I enjoy a thoroughly refreshing shower and miracle upon miracles, I am told when I call the shipper that the load is ready!!!!  I'm on my way to Council Bluffs, IA and my week is done....

 

9-9-00

 

It's a little hard to motivate to go to work.  I'm like that with any job:  I dread going but once I'm there I'm okay.  I have to drive 130 miles or so to get to work and the first half an hour is a drag... but as I'm driving out on the interstate with all the big trucks (and me in my pick up) I get in the mood to go get into my own big truck and go....

 

After arriving in Council Bluffs, IA and getting the truck set up, I read through the Qualcomm messages from the previous week.  I like to see what my partner did.  From the looks of it, he had a tough week.  He had to load in Chicago, IL and sent in a request for directions into the shipper.  The directions he received said,"I-94 West to Exit 47B, turn left at end of ramp.  Go under the 13 ' 6 high overpass......and so on."  Yikes.  I would not have liked these directions, but the company gave them so you'd think they'd be correct.  A couple messages later, my partner sent in an Accident Report at the location of the 13 ' 6 overpass.  He said that a piece of metal was hanging down and clipped off the front left top marker light on the trailer.

 

What a raw deal.  The driver followed the directions given to him by his own company, yet this happened.  What's even worse is that I'd bet a dollar to a donut that this will appear as a "preventable" accident in his file and on his DAC Report.  As a commercial driver, you're held to a higher "standard" than others.  You know that after an accident the "fault" is decided.  As a commercial driver, the next question is, "Preventable or Non-Preventable?"  An accident may be decided as the fault of another, yet also called preventable on your part.  If there was something you could have (or should have) done to prevent the accident from occurring (even if you did not cause it, start it, etc) but you did not do that particular thing, it will be labeled a "preventable" accident.  This will go into your Driver File and most likely find it's way onto your DAC report also.  Most accidents will be called "preventable".  Maybe this doesn't seem fair, but the simple truth is that other than the weird flukes, most accidents truly are preventable.  This deal my partner went through is pretty unfair -- considering he followed directions from the company -- but I'd bet that in the end, this will appear as a "preventable" for him.

 

Ultimately, the driver is responsible for the end results.  For example, if the roads are icy & slick but your dispatcher tells you to go on anyway and you get into a wreck, blaming him for telling you to go isn't going to work. 

 

The Qualcomm

 

This is the "keyboard" of the Qualcomm.  It reminds me of the super old Commodore 64's from years ago... it's definitely not your PC at home.  It provides instant communication to/from your company.   If the company has it set up, you can also send/receive email through this.  There are a number of "canned" messages to send.  These are like the forms you fill out on a web site.  There are "canned" messages for loaded call, empty call, accident, etc, etc.  These units aren't hard to learn -- if you can operate a PC you can certainly operate a Qualcomm keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

This is the "saucer" that communicates with the satellite.  It is mounted somewhere on the back of the cab.  Sometimes your signal is blocked, such as when you are in an indoor dock.  You can be tracked by the satellite within a very short distance at virtually any time.  These units eliminate the need for doing check-in calls and really cut down on the time you spend sitting on "hold" waiting for your dispatcher.  They're also very nice if you have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere.  Some drivers don't like these (and other) tracking devices -- too much like "big brother".  It all depends on how the company uses them but personally, I like them.  I absolutely detest sitting on hold ... I've spent too many hours doing so.

 

I grab an empty trailer out of the yard and head up to Dakota City, NE to drop & hook.  The load I'll pick up goes to Northeast, MD for Monday at 9:00 am Central.  It's nearly 3:00 pm Saturday by the time I get the load hooked up and I know it's yet another tough run.  I backed the empty into a spot and had to sit there a moment because the driver in the photo below was backing his into a spot near mine.  I wish I could've had my camera ready just a second earlier, but I recently bought a new one and I'm still trying to figure it out.

 

This driver had no idea, but moments ago, he pushed the stop sign and yellow barrels about six foot with the front right of the trailer.  (which, incidentally, is completely blind to him as he's positioned now.)  After pushing them, he did a pull up and DID IT AGAIN --  the 2nd time he pushed them 2-3 foot.  He did a third pull up and got more or less straight.  He never knew he had run into these things or he didn't care.  (?)  You can't see it here, but the yellow paint on the drive tires tells the story. About 15 minutes later when  leaving this parking lot, this driver pulled out right in front of me -- making me slam on my brakes.  I don't know where this guy came from, but I wish he'd go back. By the way, the truck he's driving is a day cab.

 

The wind is very strong today.  Even with 44,000 pounds in the trailer, it's pushing me around as I'm driving down I-29 and across I-80.  The wind is a very strong force and one you have to really pay attention to.  It's strong enough today that I have to drive with me right steer tire on top of the white solid line to make my trailer stay to the right of the white dotted line. 

I made it to Oakwood, IL and call it a day...

 

9-10-00

 

The day began well enough... I had overslept but apparently needed the extra sleep.  It meant I'd have to drive most the night tonight but whatever... I ran I-70 through Indianapolis, IN (I-74, I-465, I-70)  and unfortunately saw this ugly rollover on the east side of town.

 

I hate rollovers.  I hate them intensely because they can so often be prevented by reading curve advisory signs and slowing down. (5-10 mph under posted advisory speed) This person flipped it on an overpass exit in Indianapolis, IN.  You can't see it from the picture, but the bridge is actually looking like it may give way to the trailer's pressure.    (Related:  Rollover)

 

This must have been very, very scary for the driver -- don't know what prevented him/her from going over the bridge and onto the road below....

 

I think this accident must have happened just before I came through.  There was a fire truck and ambulance there but no other emergency vehicles or police yet.  Please excuse the poor picture quality yet again -- this new camera is far smarter than I and I still need to learn to use it!  The smaller picture is the view from the other direction.  (Yes, I turned around and came back at it to get this shot... I'm not sick in the head, I just truly hate rollovers and if I can prevent just one because I harp on it here, it's worth it to me.)

 

9-11-00

 

I made my delivery in Northeast, MD without problems.  I'm re-dispatched right away to go pick up in Aspers, PA.  The new load delivers in Temple, TX on 9/14 in the afternoon.  There is no easy way to get to Aspers from where I am.  I spent about 1/2 hour trying to figure out a decent route.  Below is the route I ended up taking and it looks absolutely stupid, but I sure couldn't find a better one...

 

"1" is Northeast, MD and "4" is Aspers, PA.  This is the route I choose -- it was 14 miles longer than the paid miles.  You have to be ever so careful when you start foolin' around on the backroads out here.... they can lead to a low overpass or restricted route in a heartbeat.  This route looks stupid -- I mean who wants to go south to go north?? Unfortunately, sometimes that's just how it is.

 

I hit a relatively short construction delay outside of Little Rock, AR.  The road is cut down to one lane ahead.  The left lane is the one that's open and there are plenty of signs posted to this effect, yet cars insist on flying around everyone who is lined up in the open lane to go to

 

 

 

the front and cut.  This tends to really burn truck drivers.  I mean, we have to wait our turn, why can't everyone else?  The driver in this photo is blocking the right lane to prevent cars from racing to the front to cut in front of everyone else. I am definitely not advising that you do this -- in fact, many police officers would pull you over and ticket you for blocking the lane as he's doing, but it tends to be maddening that others can't wait like you have to.  I have been pulled over by the Tennessee state patrol for lane blocking in a construction area (exact same scenario as this) and the patrolman read me the riot act up and down, but did not ticket me.

 

9-12-00

 

I am wondering just what is up with some drivers out here... why are people being so rude?  It has been a sort of "tradition" for years and years among drivers to "flash" each other.... don't go getting lewd thoughts... what I mean by that is that when a truck is passing you, once he's cleared you, you flash him with your headlights.  You simply turn them off for a moment (at night) or on (day) and then turn them back again.  The driver then moves in front of you and says "thank you" by flashing his trailer lights on and off.  (or off and on, depending on whether it's day or night, of course.)   People just aren't doing this anywhere near as much as they used to.  A bunch of drivers have quit saying "thank you" -- which is disappointing to me.  If you'd spaced off saying "thank you" years ago,  there was a good chance the driver who had flashed you over would pick up the CB mic and call you a jerk.  I was in one of my moods the other night when a driver didn't say thank you. I picked up the mic and said something sarcastic about him being too cool to remember his manners.... he apologized for forgetting.  I was surprised -- but pleasantly so.  Please, people reading this journal, remember your manners and say "come over" and "thank you".

 

Another little pet peeve of mine is when a driver passes me and allows his trailer to come partially into -- or very close to -- my lane.  His trailer has no business whatsoever in my lane.  Let's not forget that mirrors stick out there pretty far and if someone's trailer is on the line or over, there's a decent chance of it smacking my mirror.  Add a little bit of wind or a gust of it, and you could have a serious problem.

 

Because of the above, most drivers do move a bit to their right when being passed and the passing truck is usually positioned as far left in their lane as possible.  I think it's accurate to say that most drivers, when running the right lane, position themselves to the right of the lane -- running close to the solid white line.  I know in school they'll teach you center but ...you're better off positioned slightly right.

 

 

Positioning yourself a bit farther right in the lane is a good habit when traveling the right lane.

Notice that each driver is hugging the outside of his lane...this helps prevent your mirrors & his from smacking each other.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello there, Student Driver somewhere north of  Temple, TX on 9/14/00 around 1:30 pm.  (Hey, you did a good job negotiating that traffic!)

 

9-13-00

 

I nearly became a witness to a truck wreck today in Memphis, TN. 

Near Miss in Memphis, TN  (Sounds like a country song, huh?  :)  )

Scene One

 

Blue Truck:

A driver is in a big hurry for nothing.  He's out in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane to get around the other traffic.  Big trucks are never allowed in the HOV lane and fines can be extremely expensive.  I can't imagine being in this much of a hurry but...

 

Pink Truck:

This is little 'ole me.  I'm working on getting over into the right lane because my exit is coming up.

 

Red Truck:

Another driver...

 

Scene Two

 

Blue truck has came across three lanes of traffic (from the HOV lane)  with one flip of the turn signal and flies into the Exit Only lane for I-40 West. 

Pink truck (me) is hanging back because red truck has discovered late that he needs to get over to make the turnoff.  He has his right signal on and  I'm trying to let him in.

Red truck is starting to come into the lane in front of me but all of the sudden, traffic in front of blue truck slows down.  He hits the brakes hard.  The room that had been there for red truck closes up fast.  Red truck has to swerve hard back to the left to avoid smashing into blue truck.  Blue truck sees red truck coming over and panics, swerving right and then traffic completely stops.  He has to take the shoulder to avoid running over the car in front of him.

Pink truck is saying, "Oh geez, wish I could've gotten a shot of that one...."

 

9-14-00

 

It feels great to be in Texas!  I haven't been down here for a couple years and didn't realize I've missed it.  Truthfully, I didn't used to like coming to Texas a lot because the speed limit was stuck at 55 for trucks at night, 60 during the day.  Texas is a very big state (something like 890 miles across the thickest section) and too big for such a slow speed limit and wide, endless territory.  Now the speed limit has been raised and Texas abolished the car and truck differential -- outstanding. They have a 5 mph differential between day and night, but no difference between trucks and cars.  I like the people down here... Texas is a friendly state.  I am not saying others are not, mind you, so don't be offended, but Texans are different in a great way.  Texans also seem to have a great sense of state pride.  So many people are outgoing and quick to smile.  I used to run down here a lot and I feel very much at home being back. 

 

The differences in people in different regions of the country is fascinating to me.  Midwesterners; easy going, down to earth, trusting.  Southerners; slow and in no hurry, friendly, still talking about the Civil War and hanging Confederate flags. Northeasterners; hustle, bustle, all action, hurry-hurry.  Southwesterners; happy go lucky and the sky is always blue... I have to leave out the Northwesterners because I just don't know that region well at all.  I've run very little of it.  I don't intend to offend with my generalizations because that is truly all they are.  They are simply the impressions I've formed and been left with in my travels all over this wonderful country. 

 

I deliver in Temple, TX and the load comes off in about two hours.  I deliver to a Wal Mart Distribution Center and I must say that these are efficient people.  They are incredibly picky -- if you're late for an appointment you may be put off until the next day -- but if you're on time, they're usually fast and right on top of things. 

 

I head up to Paris, TX to reload for Norfolk, NE.  I will take the load to Council Bluffs, IA where I'll get out of the truck and my partner will deliver the load on 9/16/00 at 5:00 AM.  I arrive in Paris around 10:00 pm and wait a short while.  I'm loaded and rolling out of there by 12:30 AM.  I only make it about 100 miles to McAlester, OK before I'm wore out and ready for bed but I'm thrilled to be running the backroads in the midwest again.  The traffic is practically non-existent.  I'm seeing a car about every 5-8 minutes.  The road is wide open and all mine tonight and after all the busy East Coast stuff I've done, this is heaven.

 

A truck parked in Paris, TX waiting to load....

 

More apologies for terrible picture quality but this one was taken at night, from a distance.  If you strain your eyeballs you'll see the bumper of a trailer smashed into a yellow pole.  This person was actually parked in a shipper's parking lot this way.  Didn't we just have one like this???  Please keep in mind there's at least 15 - 20 foot behind that you cannot see!  This person looks like a total fool parked like this.  This is the last thing you want anyone to see.  And to think it was so easily preventable by just taking a second to get out and look before proceeding any farther backwards... (Company name obliterated to protect the guilty.)

 

9-15-00

 

Upon waking in McAlester, OK, I see I have a Qualcomm message waiting. (There's a red light that lights up when there's an unread message.)  It says that instead of going to Council Bluffs, IA, I should instead go to Lincoln, NE.  They want the truck.  My partner will meet me in Lincoln, NE to help get his stuff out and will switch to yet another truck for (part of) his week.  He will then drive me back to Council Bluffs and drop me off.  He will be picking up a brand new 2000 Freightliner in Pennsylvania on his way to deliver in Maryland.  (He has to take that p.o.c. that I had a couple of weeks ago -- but he'll only have it for a couple of days.)  What a major drag and a pain in the behind.  This means I have to take my stuff out of this truck, put it into the p.o.c., then put it all in my pickup over in Council Bluffs, IA.  I swear to myself yet again that I will learn to travel lighter.  (A promise I just can't seem to keep)  This also messes me up because I have no choice but to go to Big Cabin, OK for fuel and that is out of route now that I'm going to Lincoln instead. 

 

I've considered going back in my writings and changing them when the company changes my plans mid-stream as they so often do.  I have decided not to do this so that you can see just how often things in trucking do really change.  Change is indeed the only constant.

 

9-15-00

 

Well it's been a busy week.  I pulled in too many miles, though.  Seems like a strange thing for a driver to say, huh?  I suppose it would if I were paid by mileage, but since I'm salaried, my goal is to try to keep miles low.  Anyway, here's what I've done this past week.  It was approximately 3900 and some odd hub miles.

 

And yet another week is done... it's time to enjoy being at home!

 

9-22-00

 

It was hard to leave the house this week.  I don't know why, but I just didn't want to go.  But, duty calls and another week has begun....

 

Meet my new truck - a 2000 Freightliner Century.  I used to have a 1997 Freightliner Condo FLD.  The difference in the two trucks is pretty extreme.  Many of you will drive one of the two trucks I just mentioned -- they are very popular fleet trucks.

 

This truck has some differences that will take some getting used to.  The hardest one, I've found, is "Opti-Idle".  You set the temperature you want the cab to maintain and the truck shuts itself on and off when necessary to run the heater or air conditioner to maintain that temperature.  I've always been a solo driver and when I'm laying in the bunk and the truck starts but I didn't do it, it scares me to death.  I couldn't get the thermostat to work properly at times so I didn't sleep well this week.

 

After one full day I finally found the ashtray.  I didn't find the button for the tilt-telescopic wheel until the 5th day.  I like some of the changes Freightliner has made from the FLD - such as a pull-knob in the cab to open the sidebox instead of a key lock.  Another nice thing is that when a Qualcomm message comes in while I'm driving, a small portion of it pops up on the display in front of me.  This is very nice because I know if I should bother to stop & read it.  These trucks are set up so that the Qualcomm isn't supposed to work when the truck is moving -- a safety thing.  The company sends out informational messages to drivers pretty often that are not important enough to warrant a stop to read.  They also occasionally have to contact you right away for a family situation or a load change.  With the old truck, you couldn't know what kind of message you were getting unless you stopped.  You'd hear that Qualcomm go off, "BEEP!" and you wouldn't want to stop, but it would just drive you nuts, because you'd be wondering if you could afford to ignore it.  It also never failed that the goofy thing would go off just about the time you'd reached highway speed after having stopped for fuel or something. 

 

I pick up the truck and an empty trailer in Council Bluffs, IA and go up to Norfolk, NE to pick up a load for Lancaster, NY for delivery on Monday morning at 7:00 am.  I pick up the load around midnight Friday night/Saturday morning.  I make it as far as Stuart, IA before I call it a night and go to bed.

 

9-23-00

 

Stuart, IA is just west of Des Moines, IA, the place I call home.  I wanted very much to go to the house.  For one, I hadn't wanted to leave in the first place and just wanted to go there.  For two, I had discovered upon picking up the truck that my partner had taken his CB radio out because it had fried.  I had my CB with me but had left my mic, coax, antennas, etc at the house.  I don't talk on the radio much, but I still wanted a working radio in there just in case.  I debated whether I could afford the time.  I decided I could afford it if I didn't stay long.  I knew, though, that I wouldn't NOT stay long so I decided to just keep going..... bummer. 

 

This is going to sound bad but there are times you must forget home.  You have to forget that you miss home, that you love someone(s) there, that you want to be there.  If there are problems at home that you can't do anything about, you have to learn how to forget them (temporarily), too.  I am NOT recommending irresponsibility or spacing people off!  My point here is that if you really concentrate on these things, it will mess you up in the job you're trying to do.  You'll be distracted and stressed.  You'll be more prone to messing up on the job and your stress level will increase dramatically.  You truly must learn to "disassociate" and leave home at home.  This is much, much, much easier typed than done, my friends.

 

Okay, I'm off and running today and make it to Columbia, OH before going night-night again.

 

9-24-00

 

I have all day to run the rest of the way into Lancaster, NY.  It's nice to have a little spare time.  I overheard some drivers talking today about snow... When I heard that "four letter word" I listened harder.  They were saying that Cheyenne, WY had just gotten hit with 2 foot of snow.  I couldn't believe it -- it's not that I doubted the snow but 2 foot already?  I later read a newspaper article that said Cheyenne actually received 10 1/2 inches.  Funny how the snowstorm story gained more than 6 inches per state. (I was in Illinois when I heard the drivers talking about it.)

 

9-25-00

 

I deliver in Lancaster, NY on time.  It's about a 3-4 hour unload -- not too bad.  I'm immediately off to Buffalo, NY to load for Clinton, TN for 9/27 at 7:00 am.  They hold me up for about 8 hours in Buffalo, NY and am finally rolling around 8:30 pm.

 

Remember the incident my partner went through with the low underpass and bad directions?  I found out that he was indeed punished with a preventable accident as well as given points on his company record. (points are bad things)

 

9-26-00

 

Why does it seem like pictures like this are getting to be a weekly occurrence...??  This trailer was left parked this way in a drop lot in North Cove, NC. Once again, the name has been obscured to protect the guilty.  The trailer has pushed the yellow concrete barricade back at least a foot or two into the concrete whatever-it-is.  The concrete whatever-it-is is also pushed back from being hit by the barricade.  Yikes, how embarrassing!

 

9-27-00

 

My right wrist & forearm hurt today... and I know what it is but wish it wasn't.  Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  I had a bout with it years ago and thought I'd beat it, but I think I just put it on hold.  There are certain "conditions" that drivers have more trouble with.  Back pain is a common complaint among drivers, but personally, that's never been my problem.  Neck pain has really gotten to me.  This is going to sound strange, but I also think I can contribute a slight bit of hearing loss in my left ear to driving a truck.  I smoke cigarettes and when I smoke, I crack the window.  That wind noise is loud.  Diesels are loud.  Being around them, in them, etc, all the time can take it's toll on a person's hearing.  The bright side is that you do develop a few good things, too.  Your right leg will become strong as steel.  Your gut will become laced with iron.  Even your arms gain strength from nothing other than holding a steering wheel all day. (This sounds pretty simple and easy, but try fighting Nebraska and Wyoming winds all day and you'll find your arms are sore when the day is done!)

 

Carpal Tunnel is a problem that drivers don't talk about often, but it's more common than you might think.  It started with me right after coming off of the road after about 4-1/2 years of over the road driving.  The pain had been there before but I hadn't recognized it for what it was.  One night I woke up with a numb arm and soon it hurt so bad I couldn't stand it.  I was up for 2? hours -- in severe pain.  This continued nightly.  I also had a decrease in the strength of my fingers.  I could lift things reasonably well if I used all my fingers -- my whole hand -- but if I tried to use just two fingers to pick something up, chances were pretty good that I'd drop it.  I couldn't trust my right hand.  This was fantastic timing, as I'd just started driving a gasoline/diesel tanker locally.  I had to lift, carry and throw heavy hoses to load and unload the gasoline and fuel.  My right hand always had a sort of dull ache in it.  I finally just couldn't stand it and mentioned it to the man who was training me to run the tanker.  He knew instantly what was wrong and told me to go buy a wrist / forearm splint and sleep with it on every single night.  He'd been through it, too.  He'd driven for 35 years.  I followed that advice and got the splint that night.  After wearing it about a week, I never woke in the middle of the night again.  My fingers still couldn't be trusted to grasp, though.  I continued to wear that splint for about 6 months.  I'd say it was at least that long before there was a noticeable improvement in my ability to pick up an object with two fingers.   I think I almost waited too long to seek advice & help.  Don't let that be you!  So, I am going to start wearing the brace again.... I haven't awoke in pain and my fingers grasp fine now, but I know the "danger signs" and I know how bad it is when it really "sets in".  I don't want to go back there again....

 

Carpal Tunnel Information -- what is it, what to do about it, etc...   

 

9-28-00

 

Today's drive was a beautiful one... across I-40 from Knoxville, TN to North Cove, NC.  It was a very enjoyable drive.  There is a relatively well known mountain grade along this stretch, which most people refer to as, what else but, "Black Mountain".

 

On this grade you are required to enter the brake check / grade information area before you may proceed down the grade.  Some mountain grades have required brake check areas and some are not.  (A black and white sign means you must or you could be ticketed -- a yellow sign is an advisory only.)  It is strongly suggested, however, that you always make a pit stop and at least check things out.

 

There are some mountain grades set up as the Black Mountain Grade is.  You enter the Brake Check/Information Center and there are parking places along the sides so you can stop and look things over.  When you're ready to go down the mountain, you pull up to these traffic lights.  When you get a green signal, it's your turn to go down.  The next truck waits for his green signal and so on.  This has the effect of "spacing out" the trucks so that the trucks aren't running on each others' bumpers down the grade.

 

runaway_ramp_Black_Mtn2.jpg (6243 bytes)

If worse comes to worse, this grade has 3, count 'em, 3, truck runaway ramps....

 

You can see this one is really quite short.  Don't worry; this ramp will stop you -- the combination of gravel and other similar materials is very thick and you'd sink into it instantly.  It's critical, though, that you hit one of these ramps square (dead on) if you ever have to take one. (I hope you don't!)    (I hope that I don't, too!)

 

There was a driver in a truck going down the grade ahead of me who must have been pretty afraid.  I certainly don't hold that against him... anyone who doesn't feel their heart quicken at least a little bit would make me wonder.  None-the-less, this fellow was going about 10 mph down this grade.  The truck speed limit is 35 mph.  The day was clear and dry.  There are three lanes going down this grade and trucks are not allowed in the far left one.  Let me repeat, I don't blame the driver for being nervous, ambivalent, or even downright scared, but it was very dangerous for him to go down this grade so slowly when the weather conditions did not warrant it.  I would imagine he was afraid that he couldn't stop -- which is of course the scary part of mountain grades!!!  Once you get going, on a grade such as this, you cannot stop -- or at least not without supreme effort.  I am referring to a trailer that is fully loaded here, by the way.... Going down a grade empty when weather conditions are ideal is not usually a hair-raising, palm-sweating event.  Anyway, this driver was so afraid of not being able to stop (I think) that he was presenting a danger to the trucks behind him who would not have been able to stop either.  I don't think this occurred to him.  Luckily enough, I was empty and the lane next to me was open so getting around him wasn't difficult.  I took a peek over at him and though I didn't see him well, the poor guy looked terrified.  I don't want to downplay mountains -- they'll get you if you aren't careful and prepared, but drivers cross them every single day and live to tell.  Anytime you are white-knuckled at the steering wheel you have to ask yourself, "What am I so afraid of and should I quit, or can I quit, doing it?"  Some fear is healthy; it pumps your adrenaline and makes you more alert - aware - you even think better - but to be terrified is another story.  The "white-knuckle test" is a good one to remember for winter time driving....if you find yourself like this, it might be a very good indicator for you to find a place to park and give it up for awhile.

 

Later:  I ended up passing my turn.  My directions were to head north on Highway 221 (off I-40) and look for the company's sign 15 miles up the road on the right.  By the time I got up there, it was dark and the sign couldn't be found, much less read.  Up the mountain I went.  The 2 lane road was narrow, twisting, windy.  There were quite a few places that if anyone were to come from the other direction, I'd have to come to a stop because I had to take part of their lane or hit the rock wall.  Beautiful.  There's nowhere to turn around....for awhile, anyway.  I did eventually find a place to do an 18 wheeler's version of a 3 point turnaround.  (I'll admit it was more than 3 points)  Luckily enough there was telephone and I called the shipper and got better directions.  Actually, it was very simple -- they were practically right at one of the traffic lights that I'd passed. 

 

9-29-00

 

I delivered in Waukegan, IL this morning at 7:00 am and was unloaded by 7:45 am.  I can't remember the last time I was unloaded this fast.  I was dispatched to go load in Franklin Park, IL.  I was then to take the Franklin Park, IL load to Indianapolis, IN, drop it and pick one up from there going to Prineville, OR.  That was to be the load that would take me back to Council Bluffs, IA where my week would end.  What a bunch of running around.... I was already going to be 1/2 day late.  Luckily, my dispatcher changed his mind.  He had a driver bring the Oregon load up to Gary, IN.  After loading in Franklin Park, I met that driver in Gary and we swapped.  Got all that??  :)

 

The incredibly filthy T/A truckstop lot in Gary, IN. These pictures don't begin to show just how bad the lot is.  This trash is nearly knee deep in places.  I realize that the drivers are the ones who make such a trashy mess of the place -- but doesn't the truckstop have any kind of responsibility (or decency) to pick it up?  For what it's worth, this truckstop has been so nasty in the past with prostitution and drugs, that there is almost always a Gary, IN cop on the lot anymore.  Thank Heaven for small miracles.  I avoid this truckstop if at all possible.

 

There is a Pilot truckstop across the street from this T/A and they're in the process of rebuilding the entire thing.  It used to be nearly as bad as the T/A.  As of the time of this writing, it is heavily under construction.  They've changed the driveways to get in and out of the Pilot now -- in fact have reversed them.  This caused a bunch of drivers problems today, including this one.  What had been the exit is now the entrance.  The former entrance is closed because it's being worked on.  The problem is, once you realize that what used to be the entrance no longer is, it is too late.  I turned right and followed alongside the large fenced lot (recent addition, excellent) hoping there was a driveway into the lot, but no such luck.  All the side streets were very narrow and posted with "No Trucks" on the poles.  In about 1/4 mile I came to a stoplight and the familiar "No Trucks" sign indicated that going straight on wouldn't be a good idea.  The only option as I could see it (as did countless other trucks) was a sort of gravel area off to the left, then a sharp left u-turn thing cutting across both lanes.  The gravel was very thick -- that stuff you sink in if you don't watch it.  I kicked the differential in and ba-haaed through it.  What a joke.  You'd think they could post a sign or something... One of the locals said that he'd seen hundreds of trucks do the same maneuver over the preceding several days.

 

I stopped at the Walcott, IA T/A for a shower and supper on my way to Council Bluffs, IA.  They claim - or at least used to - that this is the biggest truckstop in the country.  I don't know if that's true -- and I'm pretty sure that the Giant truckstop in New Mexico could easily rival them for that title, but nonetheless, it is a very, very large truckstop.  They've recently added a huge amount of parking and it's nice to know that no matter what time of day or night, there's usually a spot for you there.  You may have to walk a half mile to the truckstop itself, but ? 

 

Tonight I'm not pleased with T/A especially, though.  The Truckstops of America chain has recently instituted a new way of getting your "frequent fueler" points and showers. 

 

Unfortunately, all of the T/A's in the country don't seem to be working together in this effort.  Some stops have the new system set up and ready to go, yet others are still using the "old" system. 

 

Showers and frequent fueler credits are put on a new plastic card.  You then get your shower and/or credit(s) by sticking your new card in a machine that spits out whatever you've requested.  Ok, whatever.  I went to request my shower.  The cashier informed me that since that particular T/A truckstop did not have their system in place in both buildings (this stop has a fuel building and a main building), I would have to walk back over to the fuel building, where the only functional cash-in machine was located, get my shower off the card and bring the shower coupon back to her.  No dice.  I just wasn't having any of this.  It was about 1:00 am.  The fuel building is about 2 city blocks away. I was the customer and hadn't done anything other than buy their fuel.  Why should I have to do all that running around because they didn't have their system in place?  I admit I threw a fit.  I dug into my organizer and found a spare shower ticket that I'd received just a day or two earlier from one of the stops not yet on the "new system".  I used it rather than debate the ridiculousness of the whole situation -- but I would've fought that one tooth & nail before I'd walked across that lot.  I've decided that unless I absolutely cannot help it, I will not buy any fuel from a T/A.  I'm tired of them.  Tired of their dirty showers.  Tired of their dirty parking lots.  Just plain tired of T/A.  Never thought I'd say it, but to Pilot or Petro I shall go whenever possible from now on.  This incident was certainly not the first -- it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back....

 

ANYWAY, I met a Dick Simon trainee at the restaurant tonight.  He was out on his first run with his trainer.  They'd just come out of Salt Lake City, UT and were on their way to somewhere in Massachusetts.  He said he'd never been east of Denver before and was looking forward to seeing more of the country.  He seemed pretty happy with life and we talked for awhile. One of the first things he said was that he had been starving because his trainer wouldn't stop the truck.  I giggled -- now wait me out, I'm not sadistic -- but I've been accused of the same thing.  If you're into that 3 squares a day thing, you can just forget it now.  You are not going to eat 3 squares a day on the road.  You will get used to going longer than you want to before you eat.  You get stuck at docks sometimes without access to food for long periods of time.  That's just how it is.  It may not be a bad idea to bring snacks with you when you're with your trainer because that person may "starve" you out, too.  Personally, I'm doing well if I eat one full meal in a day.  I used to be really bad -- only eating one big meal about every other day.  I think many drivers just get "on a roll" and don't want to stop -- it ruins the momentum.  It's also a big timesaver to do all things in one stop whenever possible so a driver will wait until he can take care of everything at one time.

 

9-30-00

 

I stopped in Des Moines, IA to wash the truck and discovered that my reefer had decided to zonk out.  Luckily the load only required 60 degrees --- and it was only about 75 degrees outside so it wasn't a life or death situation, but still a problem.  I had help jump starting it and it turned over and ran... for about 5 seconds and quit.  I made some phone calls and was told to head it on over to Council Bluffs anyway.  I felt bad knowing my "partner" would get stuck dealing with the problem, but ? what was I to do... ?   He was thrilled that he was starting his week with a bad reefer unit.  I was jealous that he was going to Oregon... well, kind of.  To tell you the truth, I want to stay out East the next several weeks because I love the changing of the fall colors there.  Obviously, you can see the fall colors all over the United States, but to me, it's especially and breathtakingly beautiful in the Northeast.  What do you want to bet I'll go to the west coast??  :)

 

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