Twenty Mules

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September 12, 2016, Tyson Plant, Wadron, Arkansas

After the delivery at Clarksville, I headed for the closest truck stop on I-40, to wait for a new load assignment.  This was another of those “pocket” stations where parking for 20 rigs is jammed in behind the fuel island.  Both that parking and the surrounding streets were full, so I looked up rest stops and found one on I 40, not far away, with “Room at the Inn”.

In a Homer Simpson moment I realized I had not sent my “Empty at Destination” message.  No load assignment will happen before that.  Once that was done, the message came within seconds – obviously set up in advance.  This load picks up in Waldron, Arkansas.  This place was about an hour and a half away, down US-23, a winding, up-and-down two-lane blacktop with no shoulders.  It would make a great motorcycle trip.  It makes a big-truck trip where paying attention is a survival trait.

Frozen chicken is the new cargo.  It started out looking like a  24 hour ordeal of drop the empty trailer one morning and hook a loaded trailer the next.  I had all day to drop, but why wait?  I got in the gate before 8 AM and found the office with some guidance from a helpful employee.  These guys all wear warm, long-sleeve jumpsuits, steel-toe boots and carry mittens.  They keep the warehouse cold since this is frozen chicken they load.

The guys in shipping told me to back into door #4.  Apparently this would be a live load!  So, I don’t ask questions, I just get to the truck and look for the door.  It is in an inside corner, with a trailer parked sideways on the approach, a really big tank, a dumpster and a trash compactor in front.  About 45 minutes were needed to get this one done.  I got some pictures, but photography is not allowed in the plant, so don’t tell anyone.

chickendoor4aAbove:  In this view, doors one, two and three are to the left, door five to the right – all occupied with dropped trailers.  That dumpster on the right comes in to the story later.

Plan A:Pulling in from stage right and swinging theChickenDoor4BRotate

Above:  Plan B was to pull over  in front of the trailers, stage right (PRIME inc., etcetera) and back around the parked trailer (whose taillights you see) into the door.  To quote Chico Marx, “Dat’s a-no good, too”.  Plan C: Drive out and to the left.  Back in beside the last visible trailer (there is a sign there that says, “Don’t even think of parking here. ” Who’s parking?)  Then pull past taillight trailer and the trailers (no tractors) in doors one, two and three, swing wide and put the tractor in the space between the compactor and the dumpster, seen in the previous photo.  Then reverse into door #4. That worked.

September 14, 2016 7 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Williams, AZ

While waiting (and not long) for the load to be put on board, I worked on the trip plan.  If I can get  a couple of hundred miles behind me it will take the distance off of the final run to delivery, in three days’ time.  The problem is not drive time, but all the waiting at first receiver, then shipper has again worn down the 14 hours and I must get on the road asap/

My trip plan is only roughed out when the loading is finished and so I submit Oklahoma City as the target for the day and promise the Driver Manager (DM) that I’ll finish the plan later. It is a matter of driving as far as practical and finding a place to stop for ten hours (A “Ten”). I soon see that OKC is out of reach and I have looked up the exit numbers of the truck stops and rest areas. A rest area near Henryetta wins the stop and, now committed, I see as I pull in a sign that says “No Facilities”.  OK, it does beat the Ad Hoc  Truck Stop (#1) since I knew it was there before arriving.  At Three PM, mine is the only truck parked.  By the time I roll at Two AM, there are a few dozen, but it is a big area, since there is no room taken up by restrooms, water fountains or vending machines.

We have established that the best plan is to start in the “wee, small hours”  between midnight and four AM.  By the time my day is done, the parking at truck stops and rest areas are mostly vacant.  This works well, but sometimes clashes with afternoon delivery appointments.

Below is a photo of a sandstone formation at a rest area somewhere in New Mexico. I know at least a few of my readers have a Geology background.  So, would one or the other please enlighten me as to how these rocks were weathered like this?

sandstoneweathering2Above: Cubbyholes in the sandstone.

The second leg is to Albuquerque where I am directed to fuel up, but that is out of reach and Santa Rosa, New Mexico fits the bill for a Ten   A few hours out I begin noticing the outside rear tire on the trailer looks a little flat.  That is the furthest from the driver and it is supported by the other tire, so it’s hard to say.  But, I pull into the tire check lane and the Loves’ tire tech checks the pressure with a set of eighteen hoses that attach to all the tires at once.  Meanwhile, I put in just more than 50 gallons (qualifying for a shower credit) because the annoying red light and a dashboard message that won’t let me see my digital speedometer tell me that fuel is low.

Sure enough, that tire is at 29 pounds (should be 100).  Without the other tire in the dual, it would be flat as a pancake.  I wind up “in the shop”. The trailer is, anyway. The tractor is outside the shop  and far from the work zone where the tech is finding the leak, so it’s just one more parking place to me.  The usual truck stop routine is in force – eat, shower and sleep.  By the time the first two are done, the tech shows me the nail my tire picked up and I sign off and move the truck to normal parking (still with lots of vacancies) and sleep.

I did fuel up in Albuquerque .before dawn and there was a beautiful overlook of the city on the way out of the depot.  I tried to grab a couple of picture at the stop light, but both came out blurred.  I will look for another photography solution.  (Anybody with Go-Pro camera experience?  Please let me hear from you).  I was short-clocked by the 8 day rules to only 9 hours and change today (14th) and only made Williams, AZ instead of Kingman, which was the target.  I can still make the final on time, but it will be a three hour trip that morning instead of a half hour hop.  It pays to stay flexible and put the fat in the schedule at the end of the trip.

I passed the “divide” of Arizona at 7337 feet of altitude and wind picked up during the day.  Williams is West of Flagstaff and on the turn-off to the Grand Canyon.  This is a good example of the fallacy of the “see America” aspect of this job.  With the Grand Canyon mere miles away, I saw the truck stop.  The sky was tinted red with dust at sunset and the temperature was 48° F in the morning (September 15, 1 AM, local).

September 15, 2016  5 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Tulare, California

At the border, there is an inspection station.  They are more concerned with what I am carrying, not its weight.  I hand over the Bill of Lading (BOL) and tell the guy, it’s frozen chicken.  He says, “I know you guys carry either that that or frozen beef.  I tell him (briefly) about the frozen fish.  I don’t bring up bananas, since it might occur to him to look for fruit flies.  There is an old joke that goes, “Time flies like an arrow.  Fruit flies like a banana.”.  He wishes me a safe trip and I am back on the highway.

California is a ten percent pay cut, since the speed limit is everywhere 55 Mile per hour.  Not to worry, though because I can make up for it by driving more hours.  The cars can all go 70 still and they probably curse us in our trucks when there is no passing lane.  Hey, they  voted for the dufusses who made the speed limit!

My next fuel stop is programmed for Boron, CA.

Boron is a chemical element with symbol B and atomic number 5. Produced entirely by cosmic ray spallation and supernovaeand not by stellar nucleosynthesis, it is a low-abundance element in the Solar system and in the Earth’s crust.[12] Boron is concentrated on Earth by the water-solubility of its more common naturally occurring compounds, the borate minerals. These are mined industrially as evaporites, such as borax and kernite.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boron

That definition mentions in passing that Boron is made by exploding stars.  It is a little appreciated fact (except by Astronomy Degree holders – Guilty, Your Honor) that all elements except Hydrogen are manufactured by Nuclear Fusion.  So, a great deal of what makes up your body was once inside a Star, somewhat like the Sun.  Boron requires Stars that explode and fortunately for us, our Sun is too small for that.  So, Boron comes from other Stars or bombardment of cosmic rays – which is even weirder when you know where cosmic rays come from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray

But I digress (like way!).  The town’s name comes from the local Borax Industry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax

You may remember the Brand Name “Twenty Mule Team Borax” which is mentioned in the above link.  However, unless you are Cretaceous, like myself, you won’t remember the 1950’s television series “Death Valley Days” that was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Products and hosted by a very young actor in Western costume.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  More digression – but this time locally influenced.

I had called this truck stop from Arkansas two days ago, to ask if they could order replacements for my windshield wiper blades.  I had no luck finding the right parts in truck stops over many states.  The guy assured me they were in stock and I found them there.  As planned, I continued for three more hours to get here to Tulare.  This sets me up for a three hour drive to the Final in the morning.  I had some time left and could have driven to a rest stop 24 miles further on, but the prospect of a shower was too much to pass up.  Upon arriving, I realized that the last Loves shower credit – the one I earned in Santa Rosa – I had used up in Williams.  I still had “clock” and could have continued to the rest area.  But, it could be closed or over-crowded and that would force me back here anyway.  That scenario would have cost me an hour of drive time tomorrow (due to the eight-day problem) so I  stayed.  I know I promised to lay off the “drive clock” subject, but it keeps cropping up in the day-to-day events.

September 16, 2016, 7:20 AM PDT, Winco Distribution Center, Modesto, California

So far, I like this place.  They give you a map and directions and send you to pull-through (i.e., easy) parking to await your appointment.  Then off to a door and walk your papers into the office.  I have called the local Walmart Supercenter (about 5 miles away) and received permission to park while shopping.  After that, I will go to a nearby Pilot (16 miles – where I have 5 shower credits) and take a 34 hour break which will reset my 70 hour 8 day situation.  That should stop this running short on drive time.  I’m hoping this will set me up for a long trip, but there are no guarantees.

11:11 AM PDT

I have now completed all my paperwork for this trip, save the Lumper receipt which they will bring me when I am released.  I’ve also cleaned up my email inbox, replied to some messages and written this bit of prose for y’all.  The door light has been green for over an hour and still I have no clearance after three hours and 11 minutes from my appointment (for which I was timely).  Can you guess if “detention pay” is in force with this receiver? 😉

Trip Complete. On to Wal-Mart

Over The Road,

Steve

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