Thursday, January 31, 2008

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Day 95

Where should I start...
I have been through blizzards, gotten stuck in residential dead end streets, had the cover of my mirror blown off in a storm, etc. etc. I will try to fill in about all this soon. For now, duty calls. Check this post again later for the full story.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Good Idea / Bad Idea #002

Day 73

Good Idea.
Parking at a designated rest area to rest for the night.
a rest area near Lake Shasta

Bad Idea.
Parking in a snow drift on the side of the road to rest for the night.
near Weed, CA rest area

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This is my favorite adventure so far. Mainly because it had a happy ending - there was no damage to my truck (though I do need another reach bar), I wasn't issued any citations, and I was able to get back on the road in time to stay on schedule. I actually slept pretty well there too. Nice and quiet. I had an amazing view of Mt. Shasta the next morning too. Everyone that helped me out was really nice and understanding. In fact, when I mentioned how dumb I felt to the tow truck driver, he showed me a stack of work orders he'd already filled that morning for other driver's who had done the exact thing I had. I felt alot better.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

If You Fell Down Yesterday, Stand Up Today

Day 72

Yesterday I had my first load assignment. I had three pickup appointments all 2 hours apart. I should have known and humbly declined the load as soon as I saw that, but I wanted to impress my Fleet Manager so I gave it a shot. It's not that I am unwilling, I just don't have the skills it takes to pull it off yet.
1st problem: Planning. I accepted the load around midnight and then stayed up 3 more hours planning it, fueling, and otherwise getting ready. So I ended up ready for bed around 3am for a load scheduled to pick up at 8am. And then of course I couldn't get to sleep, so around 5am I started driving.
Truck Driver Fact: Drivers are allowed (by Federal Law inforced by the Department Of Transportation) to drive 10 hours per day within a 14 hour period. So if I started driving by 5am, no matter how many hours I drove I would need to park it no later than 7pm.
I arrived at the stop, found a place to park and tried to go to sleep again. By 8am I had still not been able to go to sleep. I considered calling in and telling my FM but I realized there was no way anyone else could replace me in time to make the appointments. I had already committed. I was getting ready to do 3 stops on zero sleep. Not good.
2nd problem: The Unexpected. 8am I was at the receiver's door ringing the doorbell. No answer. No one showed for 30 minutes. Finally when the receiver showed up they informed me that they would not be able to open up until the manager arrived which would be around 9am. 9am...plus one hour loading, plus one hour drive time, makes 11am...my next appointment was for 10am. Time to call my FM.
3rd problem: Poor Communication. Apparently at some point I was reassigned to a different FM and no one told me about it. No one told my old FM either so the next few hours was spent figuring out who my FM was and communicating with them. Lots of repition going on.
3rd problem: More Unxpected. Everone is here, I'm ready to dock the truck...but who's van is that parked in the dock? Can someone move it please? The receiver dooesn't have the keys. The Manager doesn't have the keys. No one knows who has the keys. After another hour or so the receiver comes out and informs me that the van cannot be moved as know one can locate the keys, so I should go ahead to my next stop. The stop I should have been at about 20 mintues ago.
4th problem: Beurocratic Lag. I made the call to my FM (both of them) who were at that point getting closer to figuring out who was who, and I was informed that I had to wait for another department to approve the cancelled appointment before I could procede to the next stop. So I waited. Another hour passed before I finally received approval and left.
5th problem: Poor Planning again: I had the directions all figured out on my lap top but kept having to reach over and scroll down the screen to try to read the next turn. Not good. Missed my turn, and ended up in a dead end ally. It took me about 15 minutes to get out. The 2nd stop was pretty ueventful. I hardly remember it because of what happened next. I missed another turn on the way to the 3rd drop and went about 20 miles before realizing I'd missed it. Once I did figure it out and turn around and finally arrive, I encountered the worst problem I would have all day.
6th problem: The Ally Dock From Hell.
Trucker Fact: Backing a truck is generally done by approaching the dock on your left side so that you can look in your left (driverside) mirrors and see what your trailer is doing. Approaching a dock on your right (passengerside) is called "blindside" backing and is considered unproffessional, dangerous, and just wrong. Unfortunately, the people who design docks are not truck drivers.
First of all the alley in front of the dock was about a lane and a half wide. Maybe 20 feet. My trailer alone in 53 feet. The people designing the dock had enough since to put it at a diagonal from the alley. The only trouble is that means the alley is on one side of the dock, and the buidling is on the other...you can only approach it one way. Looking back there is a technique I could have used but I don't think the alley was wide enough for even that to work. There was a dumpster at the end of the alley that kept me from pulling far enough forward to set it up correctly. Anyhow, I spent 2 hours wiggling that truck into the dock. by the time I was done with that pickup it was 5:30pm.
7th problem: It's 5:30. Do the math. You'll figure it out.
8th problem: Paperwork. My paperwork and communications with the office were a mess all day. I need to completely re-think how I am doing things and get it right.
I am hoping for better today. It shouldn't be that hard but I gotta get moving. I must live by the words of HG Wells: "If you fell down yesterday, stand up today."
 

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Importance of Idling...and Fuel.

Day 71
Here's something you probably didn't know...
When trucker's park it for the night and go back into the sleeper cab they usually leave the truck's engine running (called "idling") so that they still have heat/air conditioning and electricity. In some areas where it is illegal to idle (like California) some truck stops have "shore power" - basically a socket they can plug their truck into so that they can have heat and power without idling their truck.
Besides being illegal in some states, idling also uses fuel, thus no fuel no idle, no heat/power. Fuel is very expensive - my truck can hold almost 300 gallons, and it burns at a rate of 6-8 miles per gallon. The company pays for fuel by providing drivers with a fuel purchasing card which is activated once you are dispatched.
So here's the story:
I am a new driver. I have my truck, I have my fuel card, and I am waiting to be dispatched. Still waiting. Meanwhile I have been idling my truck for heat & power. Two days ago I had a quarter tank. Now I have none. Since I haven't been dispatched, my fuel card is inactive. No fuel, no idle, no heat or power. But wait! The company yard has shore power! I run to the shop and borrow an extension chord. I finally manage to get it to reach from the socket to my truck (I am parked just barely close enough) and now I am all plugged in, I crank on the heat and...cold air. Still cold. Even as I type. Cold. I have power, but for some reason no heat. I asked another driver and he said something about "playing with the thermostat" which I have done (I think?) but still nothing. I will have too sort it out later. I'm tired and at least I have an electric blanket (which I am now really glad I got) but the thing maxes out at 35 degrees. That just doesn't seem right. Maybe they meant Celcius. Anyways it feels a little warmer than 35 but not as warm as I would like. Good thing I have lots of blankets. Brrrrrr. Frigggin' fuel card. Sheesh.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

My New Home

Day 70
Day before yesterday I moved in to my new home - a one bedroom / no bathroom Columbia class Freightliner truck! Actually its more like a studio than a one bedroom. Luckily it came with a refridgerator so I can start saving money on food right away. It has two bunks, a closet, pantry, and a place to set my laptop. The stereo leaves a little something to be desired but I can upgrade when I get it to Fontana, CA. I also need to do something about the decor. Everything is econo/plastic-grey. Now, I can't paint, but maybe some pictures? Brightly colored drapes? The lighting kinda sucks at the moment too - I need to get on of those battery powered touch lights for my "desk" area. I thought about christmas lights, but I would have to be constantly unpluging them to save electricity whenever I shut my truck off. Draining my truck's battery is a constant concern singe I don't have a APU (Auxilary Power Unit). I'm still not sure what my fridge does when the truck is shut down. Either it shuts off, or it drains the battery. Both would be bad, but I'd rather it just shut off. As far as I know you can't exactly "jump start" a truck like this.
Maybe I should get a potted plant for my truck? I thought about gold fish too. Easier to take care of than a larger animal. We'll see.
For now I am sitting in the yard in Tacoma, WA waiting for my first load. Any time now my "Qualcom" (computer which links to the home office) will beep with a message telling me I have a load (hopefully going towards Fontana, CA). Meanwhile I am hanging out fixing/cleaning up my truck and playing on the internet. Wish me luck!