A Bigger Hammer

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Orlando to Waco

August 24-26, 2016

My next load assignment was being shipped from the Orlando plant of a popular soft drink manufacturer (based in Atlanta).  While the shipper was only 18 miles away, I had to run the wrong way on I 4 to turn around and come back through town.  When I exited, it looked for all the world like I could turn left, go over the overpass and turn left on the feeder again to enter I 4 again.  But Jill (the navigation computer voice) told me to turn right.  Maybe she knows something I don’t?  So, right it was and a few blocks later she told me to make a U turn. And go back across the overpass.

Now making a U turn on a public road is a Termination Offense at my company, since it exposes the traffic to a run-under hazard.  That is a particularly nasty scenario where the top of a passenger car – and the tops of its occupants are sheared off because it can’t fit under the middle of the trailer.  The GPS would rat me out to Big Brother for sure had I actually made that dastardly maneuver.  Yet here was Jill telling me to do so, in the very words – “Make a U Turn”!

I ran out of Jill’s route and she started lecturing about how my path was “Not Approved”.  I can shut her up by pressing the re-route button.  Then she will figure out a trip from my “unacceptable” location.  She told me to continue forward and then make a U turn in a quarter mile.  We played this game until the street I was on ended in a “T” intersection.  She had no  choice but to relent and tell me to go left to a toll road that took me back to I 4.

I had managed to turn that 18 miles into about 45 miles by listening to Jill and ran into construction on I4 as well.  Fortunately, I had allowed a full hour and a half to go those 18 miles and so I arrived still early for my appointment.

The Shipper’s gate was unstaffed but with a phone number to call.  The gates were opened remotely and an agent in a golf cart showed up to check my appointment and give me a door number in less than 10 minutes.  The docks were blessed with long run-outs in front of the doors –  that means easy backing, which is always welcome.  I drew the door on the end which has a wall on one side and another truck on the other.  But, the long start made it less than impossible to back the trailer in.  As luck would have it, the other truck pulled out as soon as I set the brakes.  But, better to have the practice backing in a tight spot now because there will no doubt be more and worse in the days ahead.

The uncharacteristically fast live-load was over when another guy on a fork-lift came about half an hour later to tell me to pull out.  That after, I had conflicting instructions.  The golf cart guy had said to park beside the dock.  The fork lift guy said to  “go all the way down” the drive that led behind the docks.  So, I parked beside and walked to the back rather than drive.  That turned out to be the right procedure, as the next guy learned the hard way.  I met him as he was reversing his rig about 500 feet back out to the docks. If I had been wrong, walking back fetch my rig would have been far easier than that.   All told I was there for about an hour.  Phenomenal!  Wait time at shippers can be as much as 24 hours.

This next part needs some set-up.  There are truck “weigh stations” all over the country.  I am sure you have seen them, but you haven’t really given them much thought.  Me neither.  But, now these places are an important part of my day.  There are “weigh-in-motion” stations that actually have equipment buried in the highway before the exit to the station.  There is also an overhead sensor that reads some RF chip in the truck for registration and so forth.  These sensors also send a signal to me in the truck that makes a flashing light and a beeper go off on a plastic gadget stuck to the windshield.  If the light is green, then I can go on my merry way,  If it flashes red, I have to pull in for more detailed analysis.

Some of these places at state borders also want to know what your cargo is.  Up ‘till now, I was able to pull in and answer “beef” or “frozen chicken”.  But this load was different. I saw the cargo and it is in a bunch of 55 gallon drums that need to be at 34 degrees Fahrenheit.  The Bill of Lading says “Foodstuffs” and has some abbreviations that mean nothing to me.  That’s all I know.  It is not really important until I get a red light and am hauled off near the Florida border.    When they ask, all I can say is “Coca Cola Foodstuffs”.  I was a bit nervous about it because I didn’t feel that was an adequate answer.  But they must have seen the same hundreds of times before and they waved me on.

There are other weigh stations that have a scale similar to the CAT Scales in truck stops and some with no visible scales at all.  Some of them command you off the highway with the in-cab flasher and others have an “all trucks must exit when flashing” sign.  Louisiana is dastardly and has a sign that says “All trucks bypass when flashing”.  No two stations are alike and it pays to turn off all music, roll down the windows and look around for signs or officials behind glass, hopefully waving you on.

I arrived at the Waco plant and approaching, I see two driveways and BOTH say “EXIT” in great big letters.  After that is a row of parked tractors facing the second drive.  Truckers are very cautious about continuing into the unknown, because it may be 45 miles before a truck can make a safe turn-around (as we just discussed).  So, I slowed to a crawl (like that might help) and kept going.  Behind the parked trucks is another big-letter sign that says “ENTRANCE”.

In this business there is a lot of situations where the “Establishment” seems to be saying,

“What?  You weren’t born knowing this?”

I was struggling to back to a door between two other rigs when the yard tractor pulled up and the yard man told me that it would be a lot easier if I would slide the trailer axles all the way back.  I did that and then stabbed the thing on the first try.  The Yard Tractor Man is like the Oracle of Delphi – an all-knowing, all-seeing source of wisdom.

They unloaded my trailer quickly.  It is customary to use the 4-way flashers when maneuvering around the docks and when I was closing the cargo doors, I noticed the left flasher/turn signal was not operating.  This means that when I signal a left lane-change (something I might do 50 times a day) that no one behind me would know.  As I figured to drive this same trailer to Denver from Amarillo, I had to fix that overnight.  I have a spare lamp in the truck and I went to work at the shipper to try to replace it.  The retaining ring was a mystery piece of plastic with a half-inch rim and no visible screws or other fasteners.  I asked the company “Road Rescue” hotline about this and no one there knew anything, either.  I took the rig to a truck stop, figuring I might get help there.  I even emailed the trailer manufacturer too ask how to get this off.  But, of course, it was a Sunday and only drivers and clergymen work on Sunday.

I needed this load and I warned Road Rescue that I was going to buy a crow bar and hammer to get the thing off.  That’s what I finally did.  The replacement lamp has a different electrical connector, so I bought a “pig tail” and wired it in with the new lamp.  The new lamp didn’t flash either. The problem was in the wiring before the lamp.  Now, I was worried that I had mangled the light fixture without fixing the problem.  I said a four-letter word – repeatedly.

Taillight

Above:  The light fixture in question.  The ring got worse than this…much worse.

They finally sent me a mobile mechanic.  As he was setting up, I asked him how that plastic ring comes off.  He said, “They are really hard to get off.  I have to tear them off with a crowbar and replace them with a rubber grommet.”

Vindication!

He found the open circuit, repaired my twist-together wiring efforts and replaced that plastic ring with a rubber grommet.  I was ready to get my load in the morning and take it to Denver.  I arrived on time at the same place I had unloaded the day before.  They told me, “Drop your empty (15616T) and pick up trailer 12825T”.

So, all that rushing around to fix trailer 15616T was a waste of time?

Well, not really.  Somebody will have to haul that trailer out of that plant at some point.  It would have been irresponsible to leave it there, faulty as is was.

On to Denver!

Steve

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