27 August 2015

A Trucker's Art History Lesson



South of Roseburg the hills became mountains. In the valleys the smoke from the forest fires burning across Oregon was thickest. I turned the A/C to internally circulate the air but the visibility, even though it was afternoon, was limited. I was loaded with nearly 44,000 lbs and I downshifted into 7th to take the first of the summits. Then down, in a steep descent in 9th gear, rpms high, running the Jake on high, and then slowly up a second 2000 foot summit. After Grant's Pass I began the even slower climb up the Siskiyou to the highest elevation on Interstate 5.

I was in 6th gear now and had pulled onto the widened shoulder to allow the unloaded trucks to blow by me. I was high enough that the smoke from the fires had lessened. One driver had told me you can look out your window as you ascend and see the snails passing you. I turned on the audiobook recording of Giorgio Vasari's The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. I had found it on a website offering free downloads of classic, out of copyright texts of which anyone could make a recording and upload it.



The reader was an English woman with a gentle voice. The road steepened and I shifted into 5th and then back into 6th. A sign indicated I was nearly at the summit and that trucks were required to pull over and perform a brake check. But there was something wrong with this English woman's voice.

I pulled over and stopped in the line of trucks at the top and did my leak test, a pump down of the air brakes to check for the warning buzzer and that both the tractor protection valve and parking brake knobs popped at 25psi. As I waited for the air tanks to refill I realized the English woman had a speech problem.

"Cimabue twained in Fwowence and he was, in one sense, the pwincipal cause of the wenewal of painting..."

With the air tanks filled I started down the summit. A sign indicated the different gears in which trucks should take the descent given their weight. I started down in 8th with the Jake on high.

"Aftwa a time in Wome, he painted the Cwucifixion for the Fwowentine chuwch at Santa Cwoce..."

I felt the truck taking off on me and pressed the brake gently before I rounded a corner. I glanced in the mirror at the trailer, not wanting to see it begin to swing around. I had heard the stories of trucks braking too hard and the momentum of the trailer continuing on, the driver watching, horrified, as his trailer moved past him in the cab, jack-knifing the truck and dragging the cab down the mountain. That was how trucks ended up facing the wrong way on the road. 

"the bwead as the body of ouw Woord Jesus Chwise..."

I was concerned too with taking the steep turns too quickly and setting off the stability controls. All Schneider trucks were outfitted with a computer to report unsafe maneuvers for which drivers were immediately called and reprimanded. I had no interest in taking a call from Mitch Neemers.

"the powtwait of the Bavawian and in like mannuh the miwacles of Wanniewi..."

I passed the first of the truck runaway ramps. These were the long, thickly sanded paths off the roadside intended to slow trucks that had blown out their air brakes, had their brakes fail, or overheated their brakes from excessive use. You ended up in one of those and you would never drive again, if you lived.

"a mwavelous wesembwance to a chwoiw of sinwers..."

It was very steep now and I was braking the truck at 50mph to bring it back to 45mph using a practice called "brake snubbing." This application of the brakes to slow the truck 5mph at a time, watching the truck accelerate back to the speed you first applied the brake, and then re-braking the truck to slow that same 5mph increment, is intended to save your brakes from overheating.

"the fact he painted evewything in fwesco, nevew wepainting anything..."

I was still looking in my mirror for that trail of black smoke that told me my brakes were done and I should look for the next runaway truck ramp.

"Pietwo made the blessed buwial on a sawcophagus made to look like mawble..."

My Rand McNally announced I crossed the state border and entered California. The road began to level out and I upshifted into 9th. Then into 10th. I had descended from the Siskiyou Summit.

"how the wetouching of fwescos aftwew causes injuwey--"

I reached over and shut the English woman off. I had heard enough of Giogwio Vasawi for today.

Interstate 8


After Yuma, Arizona Interstate 8 crossed the desert along the border with Baja, Mexico.  Then the highway cut through a long field of dunes called the Algodones. The winds blew the dune sand across the highway and it seemed the road would be retaken by the desert.




Crossing into California, Interstate 8 went up into the mountains and I stopped for the night at the Golden Acorn Casino. The casino was built in 2001 by what remained of the once mighty Kumeyaay tribe. For many miles there had been signs advertising the casino's $7.77 prime rib and its many gaming merits, but most important were the signs welcoming truck drivers and promising parking.

I parked in the large truck lot behind the casino and went inside to the restaurant and ordered the $7.77 prime rib special and a cold beer. At the tables were young Mexican families and old obese gringo couples who traveled on motorized carts sucking oxygen through tubes. 


Inspired by the prime rib and a second pint of beer I was feeling both virtuous and lucky. I went to a slot machine, fed into it a $5 bill, pulled, and won $6. I cashed out, receiving a printed card for $11 and found a casino attendant who exchanged the card for cash and I returned to my truck, intending to safeguard my virtue and conserve whatever luck might remain.


In the morning I continued west towards San Diego. The highway passed through mountains made of giant piled boulders. These great boulder piles were the result of the erosion of granitic bedrock and rose up high from the desert scrub.  


Then the I-8 came down from the mountains and into San Diego. I had a live unload at the Convention Center and followed the navigation through rush hour traffic into the center of the city. The computer pronounced me "arrived" along the harbor in front of the convention center. I didn't see any signs for trucks. I must not turn somewhere and get this thing stuck, I thought. I figured the unloads must happen behind the building and I continued until I found a street that went back behind it. There I saw the other trucks and knew I was correct. 


The docks were in a covered area inside the building with very little room to maneuver the truck. I had to cut the trailer hard but be very careful not to swing the front end out and hit something.  It was my most difficult backing yet and I took a long time to get it in. I was either cutting it too hard or not enough, or I was going to run the front end into the parked forklifts and cases of water along the wall.  When I finally got it in I was sweating heavily. The unload lasted a couple of hours.

20 August 2015

Potato Chips

Temple at St. George, UT
 
In Bear River, Utah I drove into a dust storm. The wind blew down from the mountains across the valley and I felt the trailer sway with the gusts and pull the tractor with it. It was dark from the windblown dust in the air and I slowed down. On the bridges I thought the wind might take me over. I was carrying a trailer full of potato chips and headed to Bakersfield, CA. 

My truck computer navigation indicated "non freight related" stops in St. George, UT; Las Vegas and Barstow. It was explained to me that I would need to follow the stops directed in order to avoid the higher mountain passes that would explode the bags of chips. I wasn't sure exactly what it meant for me coming into St. George but instead of stopping at a truck stop I exited I-5 and began to follow the truck computer directions into the city. Perhaps I had to verify on the computer that I had stopped at the St. George final destination indicated by the computer. Perhaps there was something there. I did not know where the computer was taking me.
 
I knew something was wrong on the first big sweeping buttonhook turn I did at the corner of a gas station onto a narrow side street. I had to go out deep and wide and cut it back hard. Then I had to nail another buttonhook and up a hill I entered a subdivision. This was wrong, all wrong, I thought. I was taking this truck somewhere it shouldn't. I never should have followed the computer navigation.
 
The navigation pronounced me "Arrived" a few blocks later. I was in the middle of a subdivision of matching brown houses on a hill overlooking the southern part of St. George.
 
I would have to find a way out of this myself. I had seen a sign for I-5 back behind me, but I didn't dare turn onto a little side street to turn around.
 
In the front yard of one of the houses was a wedding party. They were Mexicans. Two older men in dark suits stood at a parked car and watched me approach.
 
"Caballeros, gentlemen. Perdoneme. Many pardons. I have a great need for assistance."
 
"Que necessita usted?"
 
"La autopista I-5. But it is clear this great beast cannot be turned around easily."
 
"Si, claro. Yes. Such is clear." These gentlemen understood the magnitude of the situation.
 
"We do not come from here, but I will consult the map in my car," said the one.
 
He had a map of the city. He studied it and then showed me that by staying on this street through the subdivision I would pass down the hill and back to a larger street that would take me back to I-5. I had only to avoid the smaller streets. I thanked the gentlemen and congratulated them on this wedding day and we wished each other much luck and I continued through the subdivision which was no doubt illegal for a big rig to pass through and then found the larger street indicated on the map and I was back onto I-5.
 
I left St. George in darkness the following morning. There was lightning in the distance. The road dropped steeply. I was dropping into the Virgin River Gorge a sign indicated. Lightning cracked across the gorge and illuminated the stone walls. I had the Jake on high and was braking hard. The truck wanted to take off on me. When the thunder sounded I thought I was hearing the bags of potato chips exploding. Then I hit a construction area. The road went to a narrow one lane with concrete mafia blocks set right up against the white lines on either side. The lightning lit up the road and it required great concentration not to clip the concrete blocks as the road swung down steeply to the river. I came up out of the gorge and into Arizona at dawn. I was already exhausted. I wondered about the potato chips.

13 August 2015

Trucker Tools



In my first days driving I watched my DOT hours of service clock counting down. I watched the countdown of time and wondered where I could stop and park this big beast. I had been advised to stop before dark as the truck stops fill up quickly around that time and only the most difficult spots, requiring monstrous feats of backing, would be available. But where to stop? It was not until I purchased this trusted guide to truck stops and rest areas along the interstate system that I could plan where and when to end my day. I could also plan for refueling and when to take my DOT mandated 30 minute break. I keep this guide within reach on the passenger seat and refer to it throughout the day. While my navigation system can also be keyed in for truck stops, it can be dangerous to drive and attempt to key in destinations on the computer. 

Rand McNally Trucker GPS 5inch; Indispensible for when my truck Qualcomm goes down which happens every day. 

Scenes from the Road

Outside Salt Lake City, UT

Trip back into the Mojave Desert, CA

Mojave Desert at high altitude

In the California mountains downshift into 8th or sometimes 7th gear on steep downgrades, depending upon how much you're hauling, and run the Jake Brake on high. Don't do that and you'll burn up your brakes and be hoping for the nearest truck ramp, packed with a light loose sand and hopefully long enough and steep enough to bring you to a stop. 

Spent a restful night here with the locals. Charming place.

11 August 2015

Shower Power



As I had expected the lumpers finished the live unload after 9:30pm. Late in the afternoon I had refueled at the Pilot a few miles away and even at that time the lot had filled with trucks. But I had noticed a road behind the truck stop on which trucks were parked and a quarter mile section which trucks were not parked on due to them being unable to make the turn. I saw, however, that I could take a different road and access that quarter mile for parking and I remembered this as I drove in the night back to the truck stop. 

For Professional Drivers Only

Sure enough the lot was jammed with trucks. I passed through and then taking the road I had marked out that afternoon I then found on the quarter mile section of road one spot big enough for my truck. The rest of the road behind the truck stop was lined with trucks. My planning during the afternoon had worked out for me. I pulled onto the gravel shoulder and cleared my trailer and hit the sleeper. 

Proof of a great achievement in hygiene and the prevention of disease

I lay in bed thinking about the achievement of that afternoon. I had swiped my Pilot Professional Driver Loyalty Card and purchased 130 gallons of fuel bringing me to more than 500 gallons purchased at Pilot during the month. This, I understood, gave me Shower Power. I had not showered in many days and was excited by the thought of the hot shower I would take tomorrow. I fell asleep thinking of that delicacy of the over the road trucker. 

A computer voice also announces: "Professional Driver Number ___ your shower is now ready"

In the morning I started a pot on the coffee machine and walked to the Pilot and went inside and inquired if I had actually achieved Shower Power. Indeed I had achieved it, the Mexican lady said. And there were showers available. She swiped my Pilot card and then I went to my shower room and keyed in the password and went inside. The shower room was very clean with tan stone walls, a toilet, a sink, and fresh towels. With Shower Power I would now be granted a free shower every day for a month. It was a wonderful thing to have achieved. I could be as clean now as I wanted to be. Life on the road was opening up for me. 



07 August 2015

Scales

In South El Monte, CA I picked up a high value load at Proctor and Gamble that weighed out at 43,427 lbs. Any load over 30,000 lbs we are advised to scale to verify that the weight on the steer, drive and tandem axles does not exceed DOT limits. My GPS said there was a CAT scale 4 miles away and without a weigh station on the route and I drove there and went onto the scale. 




"First weigh or re-weigh," a voice said over the scale intercom.

"First weigh."

"Come inside for your ticket."

I went inside the truck stop and saw the ticket.


I was overweight on the drive axle by 1000 lbs. This was not good. I knew I could move the trailer tandems 3 holes forward, moving weight from the drive axle to the tandem axle, but each hole would probably only shift 300 lbs. Still, I had to try it. I went back to the truck and pulled the tandem release bar and locked it when I saw the pins had pulled back. I got into the tractor and released the parking brake and flipped the trailer hold switch. Now the trailer wheels were locked and I could push the trailer back along the rails by slowly backing up the tractor. I backed up until I heard the tandems hit and they could go forward no further. I got out and locked the tandem release bar and then got back into the tractor, released all the brakes, and drove back around the truck stop and reentered the scale.

"First weigh or re-weigh."

"Re-weigh"

I went back inside for the ticket.



I was still 100 lbs over on the drive axle. There was only one thing now to do. I would have to move the fifth wheel. I had one notch forward to move it and thought I could perhaps move 100 lbs of pressure from the drive axle to the steer axle. If not I would need to return to Proctor and Gamble and ask that the trailer be reloaded.

I wound the trailer landing gear down and then struggled to raise the raise the heavy trailer. I needed releive some of the pressure on the fifth wheel so I could slide it forward.  I got back into the cab and released the parking brake. I flipped on the trailer hold switch and the inter axle. Then I flipped and held the fifth wheel slide "mom" into the unlock position and, in reverse, slowly let off the clutch.

The truck lurched back. I got out to see if the pins of the fifth wheel were now in the furthest notches forward and they were.

I drove back around the truck stop and drove up onto the scale.

"First weigh or re-weigh."

"Re-weigh."

"Come inside."


I saw the ticket. I was now 80lbs under the max weight of 12,000lbs on the steer axle, and just 80lbs under the max weight of 34,000lbs on the drive axle. I was legal.

"You finally did it," smiled the Mexican girl.

"Yes. If that didnt work I would have to leave my 100lb girlfriend here at the truck stop."

"Really?" She stopped smiling.

"No. No. I'm only joking."

I was relieved I did not need to return to Proctor and Gamble and have the trailer reloaded. I had used up 1.5 hours of on-duty time getting my weight right. Now, as long as the load didn't shift before I hit the weigh stations, I would be alright. In any case, CAT promises to the accuracy of its scales and pledges to pay all overweight fines and to vigorously defend drivers in the courts. 
 
 
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