October 2002  

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Sometime around the end of October I got a nice surprise. I have been commuting to Council Bluffs, IA every single week for the past two and a half years to get into the truck when my partner was done with his week. It has been a drag to drive back and forth in my personal vehicle, but I like the home time that I get with this job so I have done it anyway. Well, finally a partner was found for me who lives close to my hometown of Des Moines, IA. I now switch out with him in Des Moines and this ends the commuting... Hallelujah!


This change also meant a different truck. My former partner kept the truck we had been sharing and he got a new partner. I went into the truck that my new partner has been driving since he has worked for this carrier. My new partner had been waiting for a space on this fleet to open and was on the verge of quitting. He'd been waiting something like a year. Come to find out he is a fairly new driver - this is the first carrier he's worked for.


So far, so good, though. The truck was very clean and neat and I was impressed with my new partner's organization. The truck was in pretty good shape, though I found an air leak right off the bat. I couldn't figure out where it was, but it was driving me nuts before I ever drove the truck off the lot. No truck should lose most of its air in an hour of sitting, but this one had.


I took off from Des Moines, IA, headed towards Topeka, KS around 10:00 PM, for a 7:00 AM delivery. The load hadn't come in until late and then I spent some time talking to my new partner, so I was getting a late start. I got about 100 miles south and blew a tire. Actually I didn't just blow a tire, I mean, I really blew a tire. I stopped, put the four ways on and set out the triangles. Upon inspecting the damage, I discovered that when the tire went, it also took out some trailer cross members and the reefer fuel line. The recap did not come entirely off though, and I couldn't get it off or cut it off.


As I am supposed to do, I contacted my carrier's Road Service via Qualcomm. I didn't want to continue down the road because the recap was still hanging on and it was on the left side -- the traffic side. I had a heavy load on, too, about 44,000 pounds, and I was worried that I might blow the other tire on that side and then where would I be?


I was about thirty miles from the next all night shop. I did not want to drive on this tire. In other situations, I would have, but this time it just did not seem worth the risk. The rest of that tire was going to come off, no doubt, but in front of who? And, with the way it was flying and flopping around under there, what else would it take out and cause damage to before I stopped again?When you blow a tire, quite often, you "take out" more than just the tire. In this case, the reefer fuel line went, too and trailer cross members got torn up. The mudflap was history as well.


Road Service turned out to be utterly incompetent. It took them nearly an hour to answer my Qualcomm message and when they did, they "suggested" that I go on down the road. I answered back that I did not feel that it would be safe to do so, and that I wanted a direct order if they still wanted me to go on, despite my objections. Half an hour went by, then forty five minutes and no answer. My cell phone battery was dead and I really felt left out in the wind.


Before Qualcomm and cell phones became so widespread, when you broke down you had to use the Thumb Method. This consisted of one of two actions: You keyed up on the CB mic and tried to find help or a ride to somewhere to call the carrier and work something out, or you stuck your thumb out in the air. I'm kidding, you didn't really have to hitchhike, you could find a ride over the CB easily enough, but the point being, you really were basically alone out there, along the side of the road. If you could limp your truck in to a shop, most of the time you would feel little choice but to do it. If the problem was severe, though, and/or the truck would not run at all, you were back to the Thumb Method. If you were lucky, maybe one of your fellow company trucks would come by and stop. It was an absolute sin to pass by a broken down company truck without doing something to assist.... An absolute sin. Some carriers would fire a driver for failing to assist one of "his own."


It was also something of a sin not to at least offer assistance via CB radio to any broken down truck. Unfortunately things have changed in this regard. This is probably due to the fact that many, even most carriers have Qualcomm units now and most drivers have cell phones so they can obtain their own assistance without nearly as much difficulty. The sad part of it is that things are much more impersonal now and drivers don't look out for one another quite like they used to... I'm not saying that they don't, just not like they used to.


Anyway, Road Service did not want to respond to me. It wasn't that they were busy or that they didn't know what to do, no, that wasn't it. Wanna know what it really came down to? They did not want to have someone sent out to me because that is expensive, but they did not want to order me to go down the road, either, because that would put liability on them. After all, the driver (me) had expressed the opinion that it would not be safe to do so, and by all rights, this consideration should have been respected. Actually it is law that no driver may drive any commercial vehicle that he or she deems unsafe and I had definitely expressed my opinion that I did not feel it was safe to continue in that condition. Whether I was right or wrong, it is still the law and my right (and obligation) to make that judgment call. After all, if that recap finally separated only to go through the windshield of an innocent four wheeler, just what do you think would happen to my driving career? I know that probably sounds very unfeeling, and I certainly don't mean it that way, but in this biz, you are trained to think about liability, liability, liability and anyone who ignores it will most likely eventually pay the price. I didn't want to injure or kill anyone, didn't want to jeopardize my own career and didn't want to cause further damage, in that order.


I had to give up on Road Service and appeal to Dispatch. I am a stubborn person and I wasn't going to continue down the road unless and until I was ordered to do so. The Qualcomm reflected a record of my communications and if they ordered me to go on, I would do so, knowing that every word had been recorded and that I had done exactly as I was supposed to. Finally Dispatch stepped up to the plate and gave me the order... The Qualcomm message was something close to this:


"Go on down the road to the shop at mile marker XX. Run along around 30 mph and it shouldn't take long for the rest of the recap to separate and come off."


DUH. No kidding, the recap was going to separate. I wanted to fire back a smart-&#! message but I was so ticked that I didn't trust myself to type. I had wanted someone to be brave enough to provide instruction, and now I had it, even if it was lousy. Whew, I thought, this dispatcher had indeed put himself on the line here. He advised me to break two laws in one Qualcomm message. First law was the advice to continue when I felt it unsafe, second was to drive at a speed illegal on the interstate. Okay, buddy, I thought, I'm gone.


I picked up the triangles and got ready to go on. I decided I would answer the Qualcomm message and hit the "Reply" key to do so. My Qualcomm unit froze up like a Windows based computer. No kidding. All of the characters on the screen turned into &!_&## weird symbols and pressing keys did nothing. I felt jinxed.


The recap did finally separate and went flying off into the road somewhere. It took the tractor's mud flap and hanger with it. I heard someone on the CB talking about it being in the middle of the road. I was trying to warn people, I had the four ways on and the whole bit. When I pulled into the shop, I sighed with relief. It was nearing 4:00 AM. It was pretty obvious I wasn't going to make Topeka, KS on time. My load required 35 degrees and since that was approximately the outdoor temperature, the fact that the reefer hadn't run for hours wasn't really hurting anything.


I had to wait almost an hour before the mechanic could get started on my truck. Now that I had access to a telephone, I dialed that baby up and proceeded to speak with the jerk in Road Service who couldn't be bothered to answer me earlier. He blew it off and more or less tried to blame the stupidity on me, which tends to be normal. I told him that in addition to the original problems, I was now also minus a mudflap and bracket. He astounded me by saying, "Geez, I didn't realize you had so much damage. Have them fix the tire there, but go to the yard in Kansas City, MO to fix the other stuff." EXCUSE ME? Unless he was unable to read, he had indeed known the full extent of the damage. This guy was a real piece of work. I fired off a Qualcomm message to my Fleet Manager to please print out the entire Qualcomm conversation, starting with my first message. No way was I taking any blame whatsoever for the damage, nor the late delivery, nor any load problems that might come up due to the reefer not running most of the night. Call it CYA.


It was every bit of 5:00 AM before I got out of the shop, maybe closer to 6:00 AM. I had tried to grab a nap, but having a tire taken off and another put back on makes for a lot of racket and sleep is impossible. By the time I got out of there I was so tired and angry that I didn't care what time it was, if the load delivered that day or next year. I headed to the Kansas City, MO yard and they got me in right away. Kansas City headed westbound on I-70.


I got a few newer drive tires out of the deal and was able to grab a couple hours of much needed sleep. I got out of the shop and Dispatch messaged that I should go straight to the consignee in Topeka, KS because they'd accept the load if I could get there by noon. I didn't think I could make it, but they wanted me to try so off I went. I was still exhausted and angry and in addition, starving and looking like hell. To top it off, I was having a really bad hair day, too and the black circles under my eyes would've made a raccoon jealous. Let's just say that my frame of mind was vicious and pity the poor fool who dared to cross me.


I made it to the consignee with about two minutes to spare. Part of me hoped they'd refuse the load so I could go to the truckstop and take a nap and shower, but they did not. Of course they unloaded me very quickly so there was practically no nap opportunity while unloading, either. It is hard to sleep when you just know that someone is going to be pounding on the door soon. To add insult to injury, when warehouse people come to wake a driver, they all seem to knock as if they think you might be dead in there. I mean they really pound on the side of the truck, multiple times. Seems pretty unnecessary to me and scares me so bad sometimes I come flying out of the bunk. What's up with that, anyway?


When I sent in my empty call, my next load came across immediately. It said I would load out of Eduardsville, KS, about an hour + away, at 8:00 PM that night. It was around 2:00 PM and I went straight to the truckstop and finally got some of my long sought after sleep.


This is a classic example of how a driver may have plenty of hours to run but is exhausted anyway. When you are out of hours, it isn't so hard to say to Dispatch, "Hey! I'm outta hours, I can't run!" but when you have plenty of hours, you feel sort of like a wimp to make the announcement that you're just too tired. It is a pride/ego thing and I must admit that even though I think of myself as humble, if I have hours, I am gonna run rather than moan and groan about being tired. I suppose that may be the death of me someday. I do not, however, have any problem saying something when I am sick. I hate driving sick. I classify that differently. I mean, you just can't expect someone to truck on down the road with a barf bag beside them.


I got in a long nap but awoke still feeling groggy. My hunger had grown to epic proportions so I went first and directly to the restaurant, then to the shower. I left with barely enough time to get to Eduardsville for the 8:00 PM appointment. In fact, I pulled in the shipper at 7:55 PM, but into the wrong driveway. I got turned around and found the office where I needed to check in, but by then it was 8:05 PM. The shipping clerk instructed me to go park at the backside of the lot, along with the other waiting trucks. I did so and returned to the office. By this time it was about 8:25 PM. Upon returning to the check in window, the same clerk fiddled with some paperwork and then said, "Sorry, we stopped shipping at 8:00 PM. You'll have to come back in the morning. We start loading at 6:00 AM."


I felt what some people must feel just before they throttle the life out of another human. Obviously they did not want to load another truck on this night, and telling me to go park and come back was just a way to make me even later so that they could refuse to load me. I mean, what other reason was there? Someone at my carrier had evidently goofed up, too, because 8:00 PM wasn't the appointment time, it was the latest that the shipper loaded. It was the end of an open window of loading time. Something in me snapped and all of the sudden I just didn't care. "Whatever," I told him and went to the Total truckstop on Kansas Ave. Luckily enough, there was a front row spot. Goodnight, Irene.


I woke up around 7:00 AM and went inside to get cleaned up and get a doughnut or two. By the time I returned to the truck, there was a Qualcomm message asking why I wasn't at the shipper because they were in a hurry to get me loaded. Well, good for them, I thought. Does anyone really wonder why drivers become cynical and sarcastic???


They loaded me fast once I got there and I ran it over to Indianapolis, IN and dropped it for another driver to take on. It was going somewhere in the southeast and I would have liked to run it myself, but that wasn't to be. Whatever.


Do you see that one of the most often used words in a driver's vocabulary (or at least in mine) seems to be "whatever?" This really is a good word, despite what some dispatchers, fleet managers and others might think. "Whatever" helps you to distance yourself from the stress, the troubles, the baloney you have to deal with. If you don't learn to use "whatever" properly, you could possibly go insane. Better yet, it is an all-purpose, all-situation word. Load fell through and now you have to layover when you are supposed to be home? Whatever. Load takes all day to load and now you have to run all night? Whatever. The receiver makes you sit in the lot and listen to a CB radio all day, waiting for your turn? Whatever. The load that was going to get you home gets cancelled? Whatever. If you learn to say it enough, at some point you might actually believe that you don't care and this goes a long way towards guarding your emotional stability. Ok, ok, so it doesn't always work, but nothing is foolproof. Your child in tears on the telephone because you can't make it home for his birthday? Unless you are a truly callous and mean individual, the word "whatever" does no good here. "Gee, honey, I'm filing for divorce because you're never around." Ditto on the no good.  Well.. wait a minute...


Truck with bent fairing.  This usually happens as a result of a high hook or getting the tractor/trailer at too sharp of an angle (tight u-turn.).As tends to be the case when you are having a bad week, the problems continued. After dropping the load in Indianapolis, there were no empty trailers to be found. I had a load but no empty trailer to load it on. I was told by Dispatch to go ahead to the shipper bobtail. Upon arriving at the shipper, I was informed that they didn't have any empties either, so I was back to square one. I drove the 30 or so miles back to the yard and grabbed a box, since this load didn't need a reefer. Dispatch could have saved me a couple of hours if they had checked to see if the shipper had empty trailers there. Whatever.


Upon pulling into the shipper the second time, I saw a guy high-hook his trailer.  (White truck in photo)  The photo is actually after he got it pulled back off of the fifth wheel.  I didn't have the heart to snap a pic when he was in the midst of the high hook.  The damage wasn't as bad as it could have been... in this case it looks as though all he did was bend the fairing.  If you high hook and don't catch it quick, you can run the trailer front right into the back of the sleeper.   


The load loaded pretty fast and I was headed to Omaha, NE. Thankfully this completed my week and I was certainly glad that it was over!



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