08 November 2015

Days of Heaven

 Morning at the truck stop at Casa Grande, AZ

"Livin' on the road, my friend, will keep you free and lean"--Townes van Zandt

Snowfall in northern Utah, Interstate 84

Along the Hood River gorge, Oregon

A storm cloud on the high plains. Rawlins, Wyoming

On Interstate 70 west of Denver, CO coming down slowly in slush and snow from 10,000 feet. At the base of the pass on the roadside was a turned over Fed Ex double, the tractor on its side, its trailers torn open, packages strewn about the ditch. 

Interstate 70, Utah

Burning the fields after the harvest north of Sacramento, CA on Interstate 5

Pass on the right for suicide

This intrepid beast hopped up into my cab at French Camp, CA

Teams of grackles and sparrows come each morning to feed on the dead insects caught in my grill

M'laiksini Yaina the Indians of the Klamath call it. The mountain of steep sides. Border of California and Oregon. 

09 October 2015

On The Road

The Driver at Crowley Lake

Peterbilt at Santa Nella, California

Roadside provider of showers and parking

Dawn in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Quixote's monsters along I-10 near Palm Springs, California

Joshua Tree

Snow in the high mountains above Deadman Pass

15 September 2015


This ice-less cooler runs off my truck battery with a 12 volt plug. It is 40 quarts in volume and keeps things very cold. The radishes, strawberries, plums and peach were grown at Rossi Farms in Oregon, family operated since 1880. Beneath are cheeses, cold cuts, milk, hummus, yogurt and water.

Ketchup, Ammonia, Lizards and Oranges

I. Ketchup

It was 4 am when the light turned from red to green beside the door. The lumpers were finished offloading the trailer. I went to shipping and receiving for my paperwork. The old woman pushed a yellow paper across the counter.

"There was cargo damaged that you'll need to sign for. Two cases of ketchup."

I pulled the truck forward from the door and walked back and looked inside the trailer. There were two cardboard boxes. One was crushed. The other was stained and wet and stunk of ketchup. I thought to throw them in the trash and drive to my next stop, but I remembered it was necessary to report cargo claims to the high command.

The woman at high command in Green Bay, Wisconsin told me to put the two cases in my cab and I would be instructed later on what to do with them.

I wrapped the wet case in paper towel and lifted it out. It weighed at least forty pounds. I put it on the floor on the passenger side. I set the crushed case on top of it.

II. Ammonia

The cab stunk of ketchup. The damaged boxes contained thousands of Burger King ketchup packets.

I pulled in to some sort of chemical plant for my pickup. There were large silver tanks with steel hoses and the air was thick with ammonia. I got out and went inside shipping and receiving for instructions.

I was to wear at all times a hard hat, a respirator, goggles and thick leather gloves. Even when I was driving.

Despite the protection the ammonia stung at my eyes and throat. I drove to the back of the plant where a man said he would spot for me on a blind back around a building and into a warehouse. There was limited room to swing the cab around. No driver had tried it yet with a big sleeper cab, he said.

Wearing the hardhat and gloves and goggles and the respirator made for a very awkward back but after a few pullups I put it into the warehouse. They loaded the trailer with 43,000 lbs of urea on wrapped pallets.

III. Lizards

Vanco was the nearest Cat Scale. It was still early. The sun had just come up. 

Stockton, California is a nasty town and the Vanco truck stop is the nastiest of nasty truck stops. I pulled onto the scale and pressed the call button. Before the attendant answered a pair of lot lizards, a black and a white one, came up to my door.

"You looking for company, daddy?"

IV. Oranges

I followed the computer navigation past where I should have turned. In my mirror behind me I saw the trucks parked at a building. Then the pavement narrowed to a single track and went up a steep hill through the orchards. I was looking for anywhere to turn around. The pavement crumbled and turned to dirt. At the top of the hill the dirt road ended at a chainlink fence.

What to do now, I thought.

This dirt area at the hilltop was wider than the road I had come up on, but it was not wide enough. Perhaps I could drive into the orchard down through one of the rows of trees and deep enough that I can back the trailer out and cutting it hard, swing the cab around.

I turned slowly into the orchard between the trees. The truck tore oranges from the trees on both sides and the branches scraped down the trailer. This had to be done, I told myself. There is no other way.

I pulled the entire truck into the orchard and stopped and in reverse started to slightly angle the trailer back out, tearing oranges from the trees and driving over them. I had the windows down and it now smelled wonderfully of citrus. The citrus smell overpowered the smell of the ketchup.

I made many pullups and was able to slowly angle the trailer back onto the dirt road so I could swing the cab around. I left deep tire ruts in the row of trees and crushed oranges and branches. It took me a half hour but I got out of the orchard.

V. Ketchup (Redux)

I dropped the empty in Sacramento and picked up the relay. It was 29,045 lbs. according to the truck computer. Anything under 30,000 lbs we were told it is not necessary to scale.

But after I coupled up and pulled away the load felt heavy.

There was a non-certified scale on site and I ran over it and wrote down the weights on each of the axles. I didn't trust the scale but the load scaled out legal. Still, something didn't feel right.

Sixty miles later I passed the first weigh station on I-5 and it was closed. I thought of the axle weight numbers I had written down. I realized they added up to over 76,000 lbs. I was pulling a lot more than 29,000 lbs. I pulled the paperwork out and saw there was a second page I hadn't looked at. An additional 11,000 lbs had been added to the trailer.

The load was over 42,000 lbs. I needed to scale this thing immediately before I hit another weigh station.

My navigation said the nearest Cat Scale was 40 miles away. Fortunately, the nearest weigh station was 20 miles after that. Still, if the load could not be made legal I was over 100 miles from where I picked it up. High command would not be pleased.

I scaled it at the truck stop and went in for the ticket.

There was 34,000 lbs exactly on the drive axles. I knew the law stated it had to be under 34,000 but I couldn't remember if it was legal at exactly that number. Nobody at the truck stop seemed to know either.

The tandems were already all the way forward so the only way to move weight off the drive axles was by pushing the fifth wheel the one remaining notch forward. But this would have the effect of moving 350 lbs off the drive axles and putting me about 50 lbs over the steer axle 12,000 lbs limit.

I would need to cut at least 50lbs of weight from the cab. The only thing to do would be to jettison the ketchup. That would bring my steer axle weight back below 12,000. The ketchup would have to go. The high command would have to understand. 

I lifted out each of the boxes and set them beside a dumpster.

I pulled back onto the scale for the re-weigh and went inside for the ticket. 

It was a success. By jettisoning the ketchup I was now legal by 40 lbs. on the steer axle.

07 September 2015

Backing Up

You can always tell a new driver when he starts to back up. He'll often get the set up wrong. He'll not get the trailer angled enough to get it into the space. Or he won't pull forward enough to give himself room to jerk the trailer around. Then when he starts the back he'll not help himself out by making good pull-ups and cutting down his angle. Every time he pulls up and turns the wheel he finds himself back in the same problem with the trailer too far to one side or the other. Then he'll get frustrated and start turning the wheel the wrong way. That's about the time the new guy goes and hits something. But if he's smart he'll stop and get out and look at his situation and try to relax a little. Maybe walk around the truck once. Accidents happen when you get the truck moving without a plan. 

Nobody was born knowing how to back 53 foot trailers, but at the truck stops you'll sometimes see experienced drivers who gather to watch and snicker at the new guy. The spaces between trucks and trailers can be very tight, much tighter than anything they put you through in trucking school. Most guys at truck stops are just watching to make sure their truck doesn't get hit. My instructor at school told me he was once awakened in the night by a naked fat man running through the truck stop yelling. The naked fat man had been asleep in his cab and was awakened when the truck beside him pulled out, cut the turn too hard, and dragged off the front bumper of his tractor. 

At CDL school and the Schneider Training Academy they had you back up between lines of orange cones or between trailers set far apart. They taught you tricks to make the backs easy. Markings to look for on the trailer that would mean you were lined up or to follow the tire tracks in the dirt. None of these tricks work outside the practice yard. I have mostly learned to back on my own and by watching others.

I observed a very interesting back a few nights ago. I was in my cab waiting on the lumpers to finish unloading my trailer when a very clean white truck pulled past me and set up to back into one of the doors. The cab window rolled down and I saw an Arab wearing a white kufi. The Arab opened the cab door and stepped out onto the top step. The Arab wore white linen trousers and a white linen tunic and had on white slippers. He stood on the step and looked back behind him at the trailer and the space he was to back into. On a headset he wore over his kufi he was jabbering so loudly in Arabic that I heard him over the roar of the idling trucks. His entire outfit was a dazzling white and, impressively, without a spot of dirt.

The Arab held onto the opened cab door with one hand and with one foot on the step, the other foot on the clutch, his hand back behind him on the wheel, he stood in the opened cab doorway and began to back the trailer towards the spot, all while continuing to yell in Arabic. I had once seen a guy back with the driver's door open which I figured gave more of a sight line of the trailer than simply using the mirror or looking out the window, but I had never seen anyone back while hanging halfway out of the cab. 

The Arab didn't make the back on his first attempt. But he didn't get back inside the cab to shift into first and do his pullup either. He pulled forward while still standing halfway outside the cab. It took him a couple of pullups and then the Arab got it in. Though I didn't learn anything from this demonstration of backing, it was most entertaining to watch.

02 September 2015


Truck stop exit 106 on I-10 Cabazon, CA

The creation of the Cabazon dinosaurs began in the 1960s by Knott's Berry Farm sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell (1897–1988) to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Cafe, which opened in 1958 and is now closed. Dinny, the first of the Cabazon dinosaurs, was started in 1964 and created over a span of eleven years. Bell created Dinny out of spare material salvaged from the construction of nearby Interstate 10 at a cost of $300,000. The biomorphic building that was to become Dinny was first erected as steel framework over which an expanded metal grid was formed in the shape of a dinosaur. All of it was then covered with coats of shotcrete (spray concrete). Bell was quoted in 1970 as saying the 45-foot (14 m) high, 150-foot (46 m) long Dinny was "the first dinosaur in history, so far as I know, to be used as a building." His original vision for Dinny was for the dinosaur's eyes to glow and mouth to spit fire at night, predicting, "It'll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass." These two features, however, were not added. With the help of ironworker Gerald Hufstetler, Bell worked on the project independently; no construction companies or contractors were involved in the fabrication. The task of painting Dinny was completed by a friend of Bell's in exchange for one dollar and a case of Dr Pepper. A second dinosaur, Mr. Rex, was constructed near Dinny in 1981. Originally, a giant slide was installed in Rex's tail; it was later filled in with concrete making the slide unusable. A third woolly mammoth sculpture and a prehistoric garden were drafted, but never completed due to Bell's death in 1988. (Wikipedia)


T. Rex

Wheel Inn Restaurant, closed

A shame to have missed out on visiting this national treasure when it was open.

 The truck stop with Claude's passing is now very much abandoned.

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.
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