Thursday, November 19, 2015

No Trucking

This was my truck.  It's a 2007 Kenworth T-600.  I never gave it a name.
I had to get off the road in 2010 due to a cerebral aneurysm.  It was sudden, and it was taken care of in no time, but it took me off the road, just the same.  Since that time, I've had more than one person ask me if I miss trucking.

Like any job, there were parts that I miss.  Of course, there are the parts that I won't miss at all.  When I moved from Milwaukee to the U.P., there were parts that I missed, parts that I didn't miss, and parts that I never knew I'd miss, but were part of the city experience that just aren't part of life in the country.  Trucking was no different.

I don't miss cranky, and sometimes surly, dispatchers.  I don't miss long waits for loads.  I don't miss Chicago traffic (or Indianapolis, or New York, or Baltimore...).  I don't miss areas where the nearest real truckstop is another 50 miles down the road when you have 15 minutes left on your drive time.  I don't miss the first two or three weeks of winter, as people re-learn how to drive on ice and snow.  I don't miss tarping/untarping a load in -20F weather.

On the other hand, there's no sight like the mountains of Colorado in the winter.  There's nothing like the smell of the citrus orchards of Florida.  There's nothing like watching the sunrise over the fields of Kansas.

My days often started at 3 a.m. with a walk to the bathrooms, a trip to the coffee counter and a look at the breakfast offerings at the counter.  Mostly, breakfast was a sandwich.  Egg, ham and cheese was the usual fare.  Usually, on an English muffin.

At 4, I walked around the truck making sure that the important things were still working, connected or stable.  I checked the load securements, be it straps or chains.  I checked the tarps for holes and made sure that they were held down properly.

By 4:15, I was on the road, trying VERY hard to miss the rush hour of the nearest city.  I could usually get about 150 miles under my belt before 7 a.m.

At the time, the Dept of Transportation said that a driver had 14 hours from the time he started working to complete his driving.  During that 14 hours, you could only drive 11 hours.  That meant that three hours of your day could include time loading/unloading, meal stops and breaks, but once you had driven 11 hours, you were done behind the wheel.  You could continue to work, but you were done driving.  You could only resume driving after taking 10 hours off-duty, be it sleeping or just lounging around.

Chicago wants your money.  BAD CHICAGO!!
Light loads were always welcome.  Empty, my truck and trailer usually weighed near 29,000 lbs.  This changes from truck to truck, and from trailer to trailer depending on make and model.  The limit for 5 axles (the typical truck) was 80,000 lbs.  A little math tells us that up to 50,000 lbs of freight was possible.  Most of the loads that I carried were around 45,000 lbs.  But, on occasion, loads of 10,000 lbs came along, and those were the ones that made for easy driving.  You passed other trucks on the way up long hills.  You had no problems achieving 7.5 mpg.

Fully loaded, you were lucky to get 6 mpg.  Some will say that 1.5 mpg isn't that much, but when you save that much over the space of one year, that translates to nearly 3000 gallons of fuel (never say "gas" in a room of truckers).  Fuel prices during the time I drove were nearly $4 per gallon.  So, that's a savings of $12,000 per year, if you could get good mileage.

Now, you wouldn't have light loads if it weren't for the heavy ones.  There were loads that nearly maxed the capacity of the truck, and were outright tough to get down the road.  I'm talking about the coils of steel that were always heavy, HAD to be tarped and rarely ran down the road without some sort of attention, somewhere along the route.  Other examples include lumber that towered over the trailer, and I was sure that there was a bridge along the route that would take the top layer or two off of the load, or there was the load of steel bars that liked to slide fore and back because they were impossible to strap down securely in all that ice.

Oops.  Time to consider a job in the food service industry.
You had to watch for the accidents, of course.  Truckers are an odd lot.  Most are conscientious and attentive to the job.  Most of the drivers out there know their stuff.  They know the route they're taking.   They know the bridges.  They know the areas where ground clearance could be an issue.  They know the traffic conditions and they know what parts of which cities to avoid at what time of the day.  I tried to avoid Metro-Chicago after 7 a.m., or before 7 p.m.  If that was impossible, I avoided the downtown streets of ANY city.  As a flatbed driver that wasn't as hard as it was for the van driver.  Those guys deal with deliveries to the downtown stores and warehouses, and I wouldn't have their jobs for anything.

Trucking is one of the few industries where one mistake will cost you your job, your property and/or your life.  Weather conditions, road construction, fatigue and even, bug migrations can affect your daily drive.  You go to sleep one night believing that tomorrow won't be that much different than today, only to find that 18" of snow fell overnight and today's maximum speed will be about 45 mph.  You pick up a load that you've hauled a hundred times before only to find that this one has some nagging peculiarity that causes you headaches with your tarps or straps.  You can pass five Level 1 DOT inspections in a row just to get hit by that one taillight that went out 2 miles before today's inspection point.  There are days where you're either the slowest truck on the road, or you're stuck behind the slowest truck.  I'm not sure which example is most frustrating.
Then there are the sights!!

There were the load origin points and destinations where you were early, only to have to wait for 6 hours before you can load or unload.  There were other points where you couldn't get there fast enough, and once you were loaded/unloaded, couldn't get off the property quick enough.  Load numbers didn't match purchase order numbers, and oversize permits were never available for the next state, but the permits for the last state you'd pass through were ready yesterday.

But, I'd make it through most days, hitting the cruise control, turning on Sirius/XM and watching the world go by.  Howard Stern in the mornings and Classic Rock in the evenings.  Watching the sun come up over the Colorado Rockies, and watching it go down over the Louisiana Bayou.

Peg and I got the chance to see Vegas, something we'd never have been able to do otherwise.  We toured Nashville during a layover.  We saw New York City, Orlando, Dallas, San Francisco and Charleston, all, places we'd never been and may never get to again.

So, do I miss trucking?  Sure.  Would I do it again?  Sure, but I'm here now, and there's no where I would rather be.  I'm a richer man for having experienced life on the road.  I would recommend it for any 21 yr old kid ready to see the country, but if you can't handle shitty hours, hard work and being gone from home for extended periods, consider a life in customer service or manufacturing.

For vids that will illustrate life on the road, all family-friendly, I might add, I recommend the following:
 Indiana Jack Jack has been on the road forever.
Trucker Josh  Josh is a Canadian trucker who comes to visit the states on more than 50% of his runs.  Watch him and his two dogs, Diesel and Sargent.
Jade and John  Husband and Wife team-truckers.  They run from Memphis to the West Coast on a dedicated run.

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