Wednesday, June 19, 2019

But, I'm Not a Mechanic.

I pulled out of the Love's in Midlothian TX one afternoon, pulled up the to stop sign, and heard a whooshing noise, and suddenly air was rushing through the brake valve , the low air warning was screaming at me,  pressure in both tanks was falling like a drunken roller skater on a sheet of ice, and it was my turn to go.

I was 25 miles from my destination, with a delivery appointment two hours away.

I hit the 4-ways, made a quick right turn back toward the repair shop, and revved the  engine, hoping to keep enough air in the tanks to get the 100 yards back to the shop before the spring brakes locked up.

Short story, I made it, although I had to set the supply valve one time, halfway there, to build air back up.

I called my dispatch to alert them to a possible late delivery, called our shop to  start a job order, and went into the service bay at Loves.

I described the problem to the service guy.  He said "Sounds like a blown brake chamber."

Now,  I've  blown brake chambers before, and they didn't act, sound or feel like this, but I'm not a mechanic...

So I said:  "Feels more like something in the dash to me"
He smiled, and replied, "Yeah, brake chambers do that,  they blow all the time, and frankly, there's nothing in your dash that would do what you described."

Having watched while a mechanic replaced the brake valves in my dash before, I knew better, but after all, I'm not a mechanic.

I said, " My gut tells me it's  not a brake chamber, now, my gut has been wrong before, but my gut has been driving trucks for 30 years, so..."
He said, as soon as he had a minute he'd  take a look at it.
I relaxed.  In about 30 minutes I got a call from our head maintenance guy.

"Just wanted to check in with  you," he said "Sounds like a blown brake chamber."
" I don't  know," I said,  "I've had brake chambers blow before,  this was different."
"Yeah," he said "They blow all the time. While  you're  waiting,  why not take a walk around the truck and listen to see which one is leaking, it will save them time when they get you into the shop.

I did that.

No leaking sounds.

I waited, finally it was my turn.

The mechanic had me release the brakes, while he listened for a leak.
Then he had my apply the foot pedal, while he listened  for a leak
He went around to each brake chamber and tested  them  individually.

He pinched each one off, in turn, to find the one that was leaking.

Finally he came back.

"I can't find a leak" he said, Next step is I'm going to have to take your dash apart and see if its something back there."

"I'm not a mechanic," I responded, "but thats what it seems like to me."

We went inside and sat in the air conditioning of Arbys and waited.

About 90 minutes later, the mechanic came in with a small metal and plastic truck part in his hand, and showed us where it had cracked.

He had to drive to Dallas for a part, would be back in an hour.

Sure enough, an hour later, he was back, the part  was replaced, the problem was resolved, and the truck was fixed.

Now, I'm not a mechanic, I had no idea what was wrong with the truck, and Im still not quite sure what that part does.

I'm not sure I could  have identified and fixed the problem.

But I knew what it wasn't.

It wasnt a brake chamber.

My gut told me that, and my gut has spent a lot of time, firmly packed behind the wheel of a truck.

Sometimes, you have to trust your gut.

Even if you aren't a mechanic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

CB or not CB? That is the question.

Continuing on  with the ABC's of trucking, this week we are on

So let's talk about the Citizen Band, or CB Radio. generations, truckers depended on CB Radio.

It was their lifeline, their primary means of communication, and their chief source of information and entertainment.

No trucking movie of the seventies would be complete without the ever present CB.  That's because no truck in the twentieth century would be complete without one.

And the American people ate it up.

Even those with no exposure to trucks were familiar with CB's. After all, how else would Uncle Jesse have known what the Duke boys were up to without those radios that somehow had a range that extended all over Hazzard County?

CB really took off in the 1970's as a nationwide 55 mph speed limit took a bite out of paychecks and truckers used it to avoid speeding tickets. And with Smokey And The Bandit  hitting the big screen while Convoy played on the airwaves, soon everyone was playing along. Every truck, pickup,  car, and home was fair game as America got caught up in the craze.

But like the Hula Hoop before and the Rubik's Cube that followed, the novelty soon wore off and by the 90's CB's were mostly in the hands of a few hard core enthusiasts, farmers and of course, truckers.

The birth of the internet and the affordability and convenience  of smart phones have all  played key roles in the recent decreased popularity of the CB among truckers.

There is current a division of thought among truck drivers regarding CB Radios. There are mixed feelings as to whether it is a vital tool, a fun toy, or an irritating distraction.  I believe it is, at times, a little of each. Many of the hardcore, old school drivers  swear that no truck is safe unless the CB is turned on so the driver can be aware of what's ahead, while others feel that the foul language, name calling, political bickering, race baiting and general trash talking that comes along with it make simply not worth the bother.

There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue, and I have been called a variety of names and even invited to leave some social media groups, for expressing my somewhat neutral opinion.

Imagine if you will, a Facebook account where you were 'friends' with everyone within a five mile radius. Now imagine that everyone comments and posts anonymously. You can see how it could get ugly real quick.

On the other hand on the morning of Sept. 11 2001 Diann and I were in Western Pennsylvania, driving towards Washington DC, for a delivery that afternoon, when I turned my CB on and we learned that a plane had just hit the WorldTrade Center.  That early knowledge helped us to stop and divert to a drop yard, before we got into the worst of the congestion and confusion. So I recognize that it can be a helpful tool if used properly.

My solution to the Great CB Controversy, is to Compromise.

I have a CB Radio installed in my truck. But I don't always use it. If I'm in heavy traffic, bad weather or congested docks and truck stops I'll be sure and have it on.  But other than that it's hit and miss.  I don't turn it on when I have a student on my truck, and I turn it off whenever it gets annoying.

It's kind of sad, the passing of an era. But one that I got to be a part of for a while.

10-4 friends, I'm going to back on out,  ya'll keep it safe, keep the purty side up and the dirty side down, and we'll catch you on the flip-flop.

 You can see more of my ABC's of Trucking here:
A - Attitude
B - Budget
C - CB Radio

And why not stop by ABC Wednesday

and see what other people are inspired to post this week.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Penny Saved

Continuing with my theme of the ABC's of trucking, Today let's talk about the letter B.

Many words came to mind.  Backing. Bill of Lading. BS Artist. Big Truck...

But one of the most critical, in my opinion, is Budget.

In the world of electronic funds, it's a little easier to get access to money than it used to be.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Back when I was starting, I had a certain amount each week.  When it was gone I was in trouble.  I had to make every nickel and dime count.  Many was the day I was living on ramen noodles and faith. 

Things are better now.  But I still like to keep things under control because easier to access can often mean easier to spend, and that can leave you scrambling to pay the bills. 

So what we do is have one bank account set up just for me to use on the road.  Each week we put my budgeted discretionary money in there and it's there for me to withdraw or access with a debit card any time I need to, throughout the week.

In the rare and unlikely event that I have an emergency come up, or another expense that causes me to exceed that,  we can decide how much needs to be transferred from our household account to cover it.  That way I'm not just randomly dipping into our household funds.

I make it into a sort of game to try to stay below budget every week, and save the difference. Some weeks it's easier than others. 

I engaged in an experiment in 2016.
I had read about the Penny A Day Challenge around Christmas of 2015 and decided I would give it a try.
It's very simple really.
On Jan 1, 2016, I put a penny in a jar. (In my case I used a cheap penny bank.)
On Jan 2, I put two pennies into the kitty. On Jan 3, three pennies. And so on...

It was easy at first; So easy it was tempting to just quit. But as the days progressed, the number kept growing.
By April 9, the 100th day of the year, when I was now adding $1.00 a day, it had become a habit. Every morning part of my morning ritual was to go through my pocket change from the previous day and take out the appropriate amount, before dropping the rest in a separate jar.  This jar, normally my laundry and vending machine money, came in handy later in the year when the daily challenge amount was more than my pocket change and I turned to the change jar to make up the difference.
Although it was easy at first, by the time July 18, the 200th day of the year pushed past the $2.00 mark it started to actually require a commitment. Of course by this time it was such a habit, a part of my daily life, that it made it easier to give up my afternoon donut and Coke. This in turn, presumably, had its own added health benefits.
And of course when Oct 25 rolled around and I hit the $3 per day mark, I was fully committed, and watching the money building up so much faster was part of the fun.
Continuing  for the entire year meant that since 2016 was a leap year and  it contained 366 days,  Dec 31, 2016 was the 366th day of the year so on that day I was up to $3.66 finishing my year contribution.
The result was a final tally of $671.61.

And the best part was that, since I resisted temptation to spend it early, I still had that in my hand AFTER Christmas.
It was such a fun way to challenge myself to save that I have decided to do it again this year.
But I'm going to add an additional challenge.
I'm also going to do the Dollar A Week challenge, which is self explanatory. $1 the first week, 2 dollars the second and so on throughout the year.

The tricky part will be that by the final week, if I am still doing both challenges, I will need to come up with $75.34, which currently exceeds my weekly discretionary allowance I have given myself.
Once I hit my limit,  I will need to find a way to generate additional money, either through mystery shopping or some other means of bringing in those extra dollars.  But we'll cross that bridge when it becomes a problem.
If I am able to keep up with both challenges, the Penny challenge should yield $667.96 while the Dollar challenge should add up to $1378.00 for a combined total of $2045.96.
I'd like to invite you, to join me in one or the other or both challenges.
I'll post periodic updates and try to provide some encouragement.
Lets do it!

Check out my other ABC's of Trucking posts.

B - Budget

Why not Head on over to ABC Wednesday and see what everyone else is writing about this week?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The ABC's of Trucking

Nearly ten years ago, an Englishwoman named Denise Nesbitt started a blog to share her thoughts and ideas with her friends and to allow them to share theirs.
Under the humble title ABC Wednesday, she started with A and each week progressed through the alphabet sharing things in her world that were inspired by that letter.
It was so successful that she continued, round after round, and her blog has, to date, cycled through the alphabet 19 times. During the fourth year  she invited me to join her team and I have participated in one way or another since then.
After much heartbreaking consideration it was decided last year that the blog would discontinue and so round twenty will be the final round.

I have not always regularly contributed to the blog each week, but as this is the final round I am going to make an effort to fit it in among my various other daily activities (like working and stuff.)

Sometimes my posts will be elaborate, some weeks they might just be a picture or a quick thought. But I will try over the next 26 weeks to share some snippets of the trucking world, one letter at a time.

So this week let's start with:

A is for Attitude

An important aspect of trucking is attitude.
Trucking  is a career and a lifestyle that requires an enormous amount of dedication; If you approach it with a chip on your shoulder it's just a matter of time before someone will knock it off. 

In order to be successful in this industry you need to be flexible, patient and willing to learn.

 No matter how long you've been out on the road there are still new things that you can learn and once you've decided that there's nothing else to learn, it's time to hang up your keys and call it quits.

 As  a truck driver you are going to go places where they feel their time is more valuable than your time is and you can either accept that and get your load eventually, or you can be upset about that and get your load eventually.

 Don't believe the tough talking guy in the truck stop who tells you that all he had to do was throw a temper tantrum and he got his own way at the shipper or receiver. Temper tantrums are not effective tools in this industry.

Whether you are dealing with clients, law enforcement, your dispatcher, the cashier at the truck stop, or just your fellow drivers,  a nasty attitude will seldom get you very far. A smile a kind word and a little bit of courtesy and you will be down the road before you know it.

 Most of us get paid by the mile and it's a sad fact that the pay per mile is the same whether you drive with a grumpy face or a smile on your face. But an upbeat attitude can make those miles go by a lot faster

You can click RIGHT HERE to see what other participants around the world are sharing this week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Playing Trucks With The Big Boys.

I love what I do. 

Many days I feel like a kid out playing  trucks in the sandbox.

It is fascinating to see all of the different kinds of trucks the other kids have.  Every once in a while I get to see one that is especially unusual or different.

Specialized carriers each have a different niche in the trucking industry.

Recently I pulled into one of my favorite secret parking spots to sleep for the night, and I saw a big truck parked along the edge of the lot, with guys climbing all over it working on something.

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I took a couple of pictures and went to bed, wondering what was going on.

In the morning when I got up I found out.

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One of the fields of specialized trucking is called “Heavy Haul” and I met a  crew that was assembling a Heavy Haul Rig in order to move a large crane truck from Illinois to Texas.

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This was a crew from Ocean Work Cranes, an aerial lift platform company that specializes in wind tower blade and turbine repair, in the USA, Canada and Mexico.

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The Crew Foreman, Craig took some time to talk to me, the other guys, Richard, Wade, Ceo and Lucas,  were all to busy working to talk.

They had to put the rig together and then load the crane onto it.

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The crane they were hauling weighed 100,000 lbs and has a boom capable of extending 400 feet in the air. The specialized trailer they used spreads that weight out over a longer distance and distributes it between more axles so as to keep the load legal and allow it to move on the highway without damaging the road surface.

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I parked my truck in front of it for perspective.  As you can see there is plenty of their truck sticking out at both ends.

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And from the other side my truck almost disappears.

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It kind of makes a regular tractor trailer rig look kind of insignificant in comparison, doesn’t it?

My Truck                   The Big Boys Truck

2015 Peterbilt             2015 Peterbilt

70 Ft long                   150 Feet Long

13. 6” Tall                    14’ 7” tall

18 Wheels                   50 Wheels

5 Axles                        13 Axles

44,000 lb capacity         250,000 lb capacity

10 forward gears            36 forward gears

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A big Thank You to Craig and his team, from Ocean Work Cranes for letting me come out and  play trucks with the big boys for a day.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pumpkin Trucking

In a world where everything from Oreo cookies to Ramen noodles is suddenly inundated with pumpkin spice and where pumpkins are everywhere you turn, it was inevitable that I would get at least one Pumpkin Spice flavored load.
I usually like my job, but sometimes, I get a load that I really enjoy. One where I go someplace new, see things I have never seen before and learn some new things.

I have always been fascinated with the process of things.  From start to finish, how they are made, how they are grown, where they come from.

This week I got to to pick up a load of pumpkins, from a large pumpkin grower in Illinois, and take them to a small local farm, in Missouri..

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I picked up at Frey Farms in Keenes Illinois.  Frey Farms had over 3500 acres of pumpkins this year, 400 of them in Keenes.  So I was picking up at a 400 acre pumpkin patch.

It was fascinating to watch as the field hands picked the pumpkins and loaded them into “pumpkin buses.”

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The buses were then driven to the processing facility where they were unloaded, washed and sorted by size





Then they are boxed up and loaded onto trucks,






Once I was loaded I headed to Mikus Farms in Wright City Missouri.


Mikus Farms operates Pumpkins Galore, a seasonal spot where friends and families can see the animals, pick their own pumpkins, shoot the pumpkins cannons, and enjoy a a fun outing.









Dave Mikus explained to me, as they unloaded my truck, that usually they grow all the pumpkins they need, but this year with the flooding in Missouri all spring, they lost a big part of their crop and ended up having to supplement with locally grown pumpkins.



It was a great day for me.
I got to see a big farm in operation, visit a small farm, and even stopped to pet the horses.
Some days I really love my job.