October 6, 2016
The truck parking situation in the Northeast is now critical. I am still avoiding much of the whole mess by traveling when most are sleeping and vice versa. When I leave truck stops or even roadside parks, the mass of trucks is astounding. They are parked not just in every space, but also in every space that is not a space. They line the driveways and side streets and even the off ramps from and onramps to the Interstate. The rest areas are so overflowing that I sometimes have to hop the trailer tires over a curb to get out to the road. From there, it is smooth sailing because…why? That’s right – most all the other trucks are off the road! By the time I am ready for a break it is about six or seven in the morning and there are spaces left by the early risers who have departed. Sometimes I can roll past the still sleeping trucks lining the on-ramps, avoid the side-liners in the driveway and find a nice vacant pull-through in the main parking lot at those hours.
If parking is crowded at a fuel stop, I can log my fuel stop for the first 10 minutes then go on “break” while I top off the reefer and add DEF (explained later). After that, I must pull forward if there is a truck behind me, but I can still buy some wiper fluid or oil, find the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, etc. If by that time I don’t have the required 30 minutes, I will watch the mirrors while the guy behind me stalls around for the same reason. If he gets through fueling, I have to move, but mostly, I manage to kill the 30 and drive on. Jill stops saying “you have one hour and seven minutes of remaining drive time” to saying “you have four hours and 35 minutes of remaining drive time. The difference would be only three hours but she holds up your on-duty time (fueling, inspections, time at shippers or receivers) until you break, as well.
When I settle for the “night” it is about two or three in the afternoon. Empty truck stop spaces abound. Some rest areas are vacant except for my truck and two or three others. All those empties and far, far more will be occupied when I leave again. I have some photos of this phenomenon.
Above: Trucks parked on the Interstate ramp that leads to a rest area. I see these by the hundreds on any given “midnight run”. The law says you have to stop driving and park the truck after 11 hours of accumulated driving. At times, there is no good choice for that location. The parking situation is critical in the Northeast and getting worse. I avoid it – for the most part – by my “graveyard shift” driving hours. By the way, notice the cool “spacecraft-like” appearance of my instrument panel 😉
Above: This phenomenon is not limited to nighttime hours. This is not long after dawn.
Above: Except for the truck in the fuel line (far right), all of those vehicles are in a “no parking” zone. Nobody kicks them out because they have little choice. The drivers will all quickly move their trucks when awakened if they block somebody in. Those blocked in apologize for awakening them and are quite understanding in a “there but for the Grace of God go I” sort of way. Ninety-nine percent of truck drivers are polite, thoughtful and helpful individuals.
Newark is a lot like a truck stop in the middle of the night. There is no extra room to be found. When there might be some, they start a construction area there. This applies to warehouse areas and streets in industrial zones. Where in small towns there are wide open spaces surrounding industrial zones, Newark has shops and houses that border them. I went down a narrow residential streets to get to the new home for the half-million-dollars-worth of beef. I had parked on the street to walk my papers to the guard to check in. I parked right by a fire plug – see photo below 😉
Above: I reckon I could talk my way out of this ticket.
They had a vendor parking area that was basically a trailer junk yard with a little extra space. Paved with gravel and diesel oil in a black organic ooze that gets tracked into the truck. Driving out in the morning, Jill, the Virtual Navigation Girl told me to turn where rigs were parked on both sides, take narrow streets where cars lined the edges, use closed entrance ramps. Nobody had told her about construction areas or detours. I wore out my touch-screen finger pressing the “re-route” button. I was hopping curbs and making sign-language pleas for cars to back up and let me avoid taking out road signs on the corners. I went around in circles until I finally worked up an escape velocity and left the orbit of Newark. (…with apologies to Douglas Adams)
Not far out of town, I picked up a load of plastic bags to take to North Carolina. This was at another of those obstacle-course yards where I had to back blind-side into a space with a fence in front making life difficult.
Above: The offending fence. Its demise predated my arrival, but I rejoiced in its horizontality nevertheless. The text at the top of the windshield lists truck stops and rest areas along the planned route. Don’t worry – it’s dry-erase
I had to scale this load and found a Loves truck stop. It was easily accessed by making an illegal right turn. The scale was behind a powerline tower, necessitating a wait in the fuel line, then a diagonal approach to where I could wait for that one driver in a hundred who will leave his truck on the scale while he goes in to get his ticket. The obstructed approach left me with one trailer wheel off the scale. While I tried to pull up and back the trailer on to the scale, another one-in-a-hundred driver started pulling on to the scale behind me, thinking (being charitable, there;-) that I was through. So, I gave it up and went back to the Interstate to the next windshield-noted stop. It is possible to leave problems behind, occasionally.
While driving through Maryland, Jill told me about a new important message. She won’t let me read these while I drive. She does read them to me spontaneously, from time to time. I sure would like to find out how that happens so I could ask that on demand – but I don’t know. At a State-border weight checkpoint I stopped in the line long enough to read “Stop where you are! Call me when stopped.” This panic-inspiring instruction is easier said than done. The scale screen told me to exit to the Interstate, so I couldn’t stop there. After 10 miles of no rest stops or obvious truck stops, I exited anyway and looked for big parking lots. This happened to be a stretch of road with massive construction along both sides of ten more miles that left me no turns and no parking lots. The road dead-ends into a checkpoint for the Aberdeen Proving Ground – a Serious and Secure Army Installation. They would not even let me on to their website to research them for this post, because I was using a WiFi connection. The link below is Wikipedia.
It took some explaining about how I was not here to deliver, but was a lost soul looking to turn around and go the other way without being fired. They finally stopped traffic to let me make a (LEGAL and Company Acceptable) U-turn.
Finally, I found a Target and wove my way through the customer lot, only hopping one curb. I found my required eight parking places (and the here-to-for-hidden easy back way in) beside the building and called in to find out that the load was to be delayed a week!
Now, I was to drag my trailer to a shop of the refrigeration unit manufacturer in Carlisle, PA (it has a lingering problem) and drop it, pick up an empty and go to Lemoyne, Pennsylvania to pick up a load of “Freight, all kinds” and take it to Temple, Texas. Before I left the yard in Carlisle, that load was cancelled and I was assigned to go to Howard, PA, pick up a Coca-Cola load and take it to Minnesota.
This sets my record for number of different destinations in one day. The day was not over yet, but it ended before another destination could be flown in.
On the morning of the next day, I was reminded of the classic comedy routine by Abbot and Costello. Who’s on First?
- I show up at the shipper. He wants my empty trailer and I want a full one.
- I open the doors of the empty trailer and put it in a loading door. There, I drop it (uncouple and drive the tractor away).
- I “hook” loaded trailer, i.e., I connect it to my tractor.
- I take it for inspection by the shipper. We find out I have no load locks – extendable aluminum bars that keeps cargo from shifting. At least one is required to be installed on the load before they seal it and I get my paperwork. My last two locks were in the previous load that I dropped yesterday. It is sealed, so I could get them back.
- So, I drop loaded trailer and bobtail (verb – to drive a tractor-trailer truck with no trailer) to truck stop to buy load locks.
- I return to shipper and hook the loaded trailer again.
- I drag loaded trailer to the truck stop to scale load. It is heavy on the front, like all Coca-Cola loads.
- I shift trailer axles to balance load.
- The meat lock (a giant hasp and padlock that locks the trailer’s cargo bay – but good!) is installed.
- I go through the “Countdown” to depart. Meds, water, coffee, windshield, pre-trip inspection and so on.
- The Countdown is interrupted by message from the Company that Coca-Cola doesn’t like my empty trailer. It needs a wash out. I had backed the open trailer into a door. They could have looked at it at their leisure while I went to buy load locks. But they waited until I had hooked the load and left.
- I return to shipper and drop loaded trailer.
- I hook empty trailer and take it 45 miles to wash shop.
- I return to shipper and drop the empty trailer.
- I hook loaded trailer and depart. No Countdown. It is time to put this town far behind me.
On the bright side, I am getting really good at dropping and hooking trailers.
Above: On the way to the wash shop. The leaves are turning.