Monday, December 31, 2007


Ft. Worth, Texas

878 miles west of the Dawg House, no load, and looking like I'll spend New Year's right in this truckstop. I haven't been out here in Texas in more than six years and I took the trip for the miles and money, knowing that I probably wouldn't make it back home this week. That's what happens when you have bills to pay; you need the money to pay them with. Miles equal dollars, in my business, and so forth. I told dispatch before Christmas that I couldn't afford to take a week off without pay for the holidays, like quite a few drivers did, so I left back out in the wee hours on Dec. 26th. I sure got what I asked for!

Actually, it's been sweeter than usual, on the road this past week. Not as many trucks running. A lot of drivers get the whole week off between Christmas and New Year's Day, so truck traffic is lighter. Not much fighting for parking spaces, like usual and you can get in truck stops later at night and find a parking slot. I found a pull-thru slot open at 7 P.M. the other night -- unheard of on any normal week. I enjoyed the run down through Oklahoma Saturday and on the weekend, traffic was slow in places like Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Rolled into Denton, Texas -- about 30 miles north of here -- yesterday. Dropped my loaded box at the Peterbilt plant there and hooked up to an empty, then got the expected "no load" message in a jiffy. I rolled on down here and parked it until??? Holiday weekend again, so all bets are off on any load at all until Wednesday. Some places are working today, but not that many at all. Plants tend to take vacations at this time of year, shutting down until Jan. 2, 2008.

I originally planned to make Denton on Saturday, as it's a place where you can deliver anytime and my prospects for a load might have been better on Saturday than on Sunday, but I got hung up in Morton, having some much-needed repairs done on my truck. About a week before Christmas, something went "blooie" in my engine. The "Check Engine" idiot light was on, intermittently, the idle was so rough and the steering wheel shook so bad that I had to shut the engine off in order to graph my logbook. I couldn't write a lick, with that shaking. The worst thing of all was the performance on hills, with a heavy load. It didn't have any performance at all, to speak of!

Now, our trucks are lousy at climbing anyway, because my company likes to castrate them by cutting the horsepower back on the engines. Nothing to write home to mama about normally, BUT -- this was absolutely pitiful, even by our usual standards!! Coming up Saluda -- the steep hill at the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, on Interstate 26 -- I was down to 15 mph, on the steepest bottom part of it, in fourth gear, all the way down in low range on the transmission! I've been up that hill many times in the past, with heavy loads, and I never dropped below seventh gear, in high range, and averaged about 25 mph, going up. It was obvious something major was up with the Kitty-Cat under my hood! It was a sick kitty, to say the least. I was due for routine maintenance service anyway, but I put it off until after Christmas because I wanted to get home for that holiday, at least. And, of course, I did.

I got to Morton on Thursday and proceeded to spend the rest of that day, and half the night in our shop, then in the shop of a local Caterpillar dealer down the road from our yard. They sent me there to get my motor checked out. Our mechanic said it sounded like a bad fuel injector. That had been my suspicion all along, so I concurred. The tech at the Cat dealer hooked up a diagnostic-equipped laptop computer to the ECM (engine computer) and ran about 45 minutes worth of tests on it, while I worked the throttle and ignition switch as he directed me.

Yep, it was a bad injector, all right. A totally dead one, on the number 6 cylinder. In addition, the number 3 cylinder had a broken rocker arm stud, meaning that the valves in that cylinder weren't working properly, which meant, in turn, that I'd been running on just 4 cylinders, out of 6!! No wonder it didn't have any power!! And no wonder my fuel mileage had gone totally to pot! Now I knew why!! The tech worked another two hours, replacing the injector and repairing the broken stud, then cut me loose. Man!! I'm tellling you -- it felt like I had a new truck! It accelerated like a rocket, compared to what it had been doing! The tech said that the injector had probably been going bad for awhile and had gotten worse and worse, before going to Injector Heaven, or wherever they end up when they die. Probably just in a dumpster, in reality. Anyway, you get the idea. Now the truck's not rolling over and playing dead when it sees a hill in the distance; I can actually pull smaller grades without shifting at all, just like I'm supposed to. MUCH better indeed!!!

However, that very necessary work caused me to get a late start toward my Lone Star destination. When the truck was done, I hadn't eaten since late morning, so I gobbled down a sandwich at Arby's, then I laid down in the bunk and passed out. I didn't get started till around noon on Friday and got halfway through Missouri before I stopped for the night. I was still sleepy-headed and wasn't about to drive all night when I didn't have to. I didn't quite have enough hours to get all the way to Texas on Saturday, so I stopped outside Ardmore, OK, and spent Saturday night there. Sixty miles away and a short drive to the delivery yesterday.

So, here I sit at 2:09 P.M., CST, on the last day of 2007, not really expecting anything now, if I haven't heard anything earlier. And I haven't. Might drop this box tomorrow and cruise around the Fort Worth area, seeing what sights I can see. Don't have anything but my phone camera with me, but I can enhance those pix and make them look much better, so I might share some sights with you next week, of an area I operate in very little.

Don't mind running out here now and then. A little Texas Attitude never hurt anyone!!


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

DEC. 25TH, 2007

You MUST CLICK for the song to play.




A special wish for all my readers goes out on this most special of days. . .

May each and every one of you have the best and most blessed



And to my Jewish friends -- hoping you had a Happy Hannukah!!


Best Wishes for the coming year from The Dawg!!!


Sunday, December 23, 2007


You MUST CLICK for the song to play.


The slow, jazzy, familiar Christmas "theme song" that I included in this entry fits the title, but doesn't really come close to describing the week I had last week. A better piece of music for that would be the William Tell Overture, also known as the Lone Ranger Theme. Rushing around to get it all done and get home for Christmas, but seemingly running into walls everywhere. Pandemonium, in a word.

And I was nowhere near a mall, where that sort of thing is considered normal in this holidaze season.

Things started getting interesting early in the week. I was assigned a load at a customer I dread in South Carolina, where the dock is at the top of a steep driveway, with a curve in it, and is at an oddball angle to the pigpath of a driveway below. It also requires drivers to perform a double drop and hook -- one for the loaded box and another for the empty you bring in. This is necessary because they only load our trailers out of that one dock and they don't have any spotters on their payroll. You, the driver, are also the "spotter."

When I was there before, last summer, there was a vacant lot adjacent to it, where I dropped my empty while I hooked to the loaded one and pulled it around front, out of the way, until I could re-hook to the empty and put it in the dock door. Ahhhh, but everything changes, doesn't it? Yes, indeed, and now that vacant lot is blocked off, the gateway locked up. And now that pigpath of a driveway I mentioned is filled with an assortment of storage trailers and scrap metal hoppers. And if that wasn't enough, a "hopper-hauler" from the local recycling facility was in there setting an empty hopper back down when I slowly crept back there.

"Pardon me while I get in your way," I called out to him, jokingly. He smiled in response, laughingly mentioning the obvious -- that we were, uh, in each other's way, somewhat. Mexican stand-off? No, not quite, but I had gotten out to size up the situation and figure out how the hell I was gonna do this task, with virtually no room in which to manuever a 70-foot-long truck and trailer. "I'm a truck driver," I told him. "We do the impossible every day!" I didn't mention the fact to him that I had absolutely no intention whatsoever of trying to back my rig back out of there, up the hilly driveway and around the curve to the front of the place.

After trying to back blindside into a little cubbyhole on my right, and failing because I was right up against a storage container and had no room at all to swing my tractor around, to get back under my trailer, I had a brainstorm. I managed to pull over to my right just enough for him to squeeze his truck past mine and then I used part of the dock driveway to make a tight buttonhook turn into a space between a storage trailer and the empty hopper he'd just set down. I pulled down far enough to straighten my box out, hoping I wouldn't get stuck, then reversed it, blasting right across the driveway and up the hill, toward the loaded trailer in the dock. I ended up with the ass-end of my empty beside the loaded box and then I had room to pull out of there to my left, headed back up the driveway again. Ah-ha!! The difficult I can do in an instant; the impossible just takes a little longer! I backed my empty into a space between the hoppers and another storage container and ditched it, temporarily. After another 30 minutes, I was headed toward Corinth, Mississippi, and a remanufacturing plant there.

The trip to Missusip went normally and uneventfully. I got there right on time, dropped that trailer and sat next to another empty, expecting to take another load right back out of the place. I wasn't disappointed and got my bills a little later and hooked up to another loaded caboose, for a run, I thought, to West (by God) Virginia. But that never happened at all, as I was asked to swap loads with another driver and take his trailer to upstate New York.

New York??!! The week before Christmas?? Nothing out of that state goes south, that I've seen in ten years! How'm I gonna get home?? We'll take care of you, I was told, but this driver has to get home. Family emergency. Well, crap! Okay, okay!! So I contacted the driver and we agreed to meet up for the swap in a little nothing of a place about 30 miles northeast of the shipper. We did, we swapped, and I was on my way up to the Empire State, still having misgivings about where I was going and the lack of southern-bound backhaul loads.

Well, they did find me a load back south, through a freight broker. Right back to South Carolina, but in a different part of the state from where I'd come. Brokered loads are like the Forrest Gump "box of chocolates;" you never know what you'll get. But this one, amazingly, was a light load, for once, and not the typical brokered heavyweight monster that belongs on a flatbed. A welcome break, when you drive one of my company's castrated trucks and learn to despise heavy loads early on.

The only problem was that the load delivered on Saturday!!  Uh, excuse me, dispatch, but this is a Saturday delivery, on a holiday weekend! Everything will be closing up on me! Are you going to be able to find me a load home for Christmas?? We're working on it now  -- working on getting everyone home, I was informed, curtly. Okay, I'm not stupid -- I know a brush-off when I encounter one. The implication was, "we're busy as hell trying to line up loads; don't call us, we'll call you!" Okayyyyyyy! I'll go away now, and so I did.

So then I managed to get my sleep schedule all screwed up, bigtime. I went from sleeping during the day, to sleeping at night, and then back to day sleep again on Friday. The previous night, I'd gotten my "nap" out well and so wasn't the least bit sleepy that day.  I dozed on and off for 3 or 4 hours, then sat awake, reading and schmoozing, for the rest of that break. Naturally, I was getting drowsy up in the wee hours, as I motored closer to my destination. And the holiday traffic, insane even at 4 A.M., wasn't helping things one bit! I finally rolled into the little town outside Greenville, South Carolina, followed my Qualcomm directions to the letter, and promptly got my ass lost! Don't ever let any trucker tell you that he never gets lost. That driver is a damned liar and I'll call him so to his face!!

I turned left at the second light and that trailer droplot that was supposed to be on my left, a quarter-mile down the road, wasn't to be found anywhere. Well, crap -- I guess they moved the damned thing, I thought! Actually, my thoughts were just a wee bit more profane than that indicates and I started cursing Qualcomm directions in general in my most fluent Texan. My cab  was so filled with blue air from my unprintable observations that I had to roll the window down, to let it escape, so I could see where I was going. Or was that just the rain? Suffice it to say that I was not a happy camper on Saturday morning. Another unknown direction-sending driver was getting his ancestry traced back at least fifty generations and discovering that he was related to a family of jackasses, to put it mildly. I threw the alpha male version of a real hissy-fit! I've worked for it, I've earned it, and nobody's gonna deprive me of it, by Golly!!!

Drove down another street, thinking maybe I'd counted the lights wrong. But nothing there, either. A call to the customer yielded a phone ringing off the hook endlessly, with nobody in the office to answer it, presumably. I followed some trucks down another street, hoping that maybe one or two of them were bound for the same place I was and would lead me right to it, but no such luck was to be had. Basically, I drove around in circles for 30 minutes, asking around on the CB, but getting no one who knew where the place was. Desperately, I parked behind another truck in the turn lane, put my flashers on, and walked toward a little market, hoping someone there would know and I wouldn't get ticketed while I inquired.

At that point, I had some luck. I met the driver of the truck parked in front of mine as he came walking back out of the market. He asked me if I was lost and I told him I sure was, indeed. I told him the place I was looking for and he explained that there was an extra light there now. He bade me to follow him and he took me right to the place, which was located off the third traffic light now, not the second one. They had opened a new street since those directions were sent in and added another traffic signal. Confusing? Yep, especially at 4:30 A.M., when it's still dark outside, raining, and when you haven't had much sleep. Thanking him profusely and wishing him the best of holidays, I was in the dock fifteen minutes after he went back on his way again.

I catnapped while the lumpers unloaded my trailer, then sent in my empty message. I didn't have to wait but a few minutes for the load assignment -- a load from a paper mill, some 100 miles further south, that delivered near Columbus, Ohio on Dec. 26th. I flew down there and got it as quick as I could, then headed toward the Dawg House. By then, though, I was really pooped out and my drive hours were starting to dwindle. I got most of the way back to Spartanburg, then pulled into a rest area for some sleep. I could've pushed myself and made it on home, but why risk an accident when you're that tired?? Not worth it at all.

So, I slept like a baby then got up and rolled in here about mid-morning today. Tried to go shopping, but couldn't find a thing I wanted and the crowds got on my nerves very rapidly. I hate shopping. That part of the holidays sucks, for me, and always has. But, I'll get up REAL EARLY tomorrow and look elsewhere for gifts. "Last Minute Larry" is living up to his legend again this year!!!


Sunday, December 16, 2007


The moan of pain brought Crankhandle out of his thoughts. He scanned the highway and his mirror, making sure there was nothing to be concerned about on the road, then looked over toward the floorboard on the passenger side of his truck.

"What's wrong, Muffin? Huh? What is it, girl? You a-hurtin' again?"

Hearing her name called, Muffin, Crank's  little tan mixed-breed dog looked up at him. Her expression told him that the last bump he'd hit had jarred her painfully.

"Awwwww! Okay -- you just wait till I can stop and daddy'll get you a cushion to lay on, okay? Poor baby!!" She looked at him as if in perfect agreement with that idea.

Crank turned his attention back to the road ahead of him and sighed. Dog was getting old, he thought. She had these painful spells that came and went, and they seemed to be happening more frequently nowadays. Her ears weren't nearly as sharp as they'd been a few years back, and her legs were so weak now that she couldn't make the hop up onto the passenger seat any more. Probably not too much longer and she'd no longer be with him. His heart grew heavy at the thought of that. Muffin had been his constant companion on the road and off for almost ten years. He shook his head, not wanting to contemplate life without his beloved pet around any longer. He tried to force himself to think of other things, but his thoughts kept coming back to Muffin.

A few more miles went by and then Crank spotted a rest area, where he pulled into a vacant truck slot. He got up from his seat at the wheel and went into the sleeper, where he grabbed an extra pillow he kept in one of his cabinets. Putting it on the floor, he picked the dog up as gently as he could and placed her on it, petting her head and shoulder lovingly. Muffin licked his hand and looked up at him with the expression of unconditional love and devotion that all dogs have for their owners.

"Now you got something to protect you from those mean old bumps on the road! You stay here, girl, till I go use the little boy's room, then we'll go on to this shipper."

Walking back to his truck from the building a few minutes later, he looked at the empty driver's window, realizing how much he missed her sitting on his seat, faithfully waiting to greet him with her yipping bark and doggie smile when he returned. She just wasn't able to do that anymore, and it made him sad.

He went through the gears, getting back up to speed again and idly watched the white divider lines flash by for a few minutes. His thoughts drifted back to when he and Muffin had first met. She'd been fully grown when he first saw her, although she was still quite young at that time. Laurie, a waitress who worked in one of his regular watering holes, had taken him out behind the restaurant, where she'd made a little makeshift doghouse for her out of a large cardboard box. She had explained that the dog was a stray and had just showed up one day. She and another waitress had taken her in until they could find someone who wanted a pet.  

"Boss said she's gotta go," Laurie had told Crank. "Can't keep a dog around here because of the health department regulations. Heck, Crank, you need a pet to ride with you! Be great company for you to have around. You won't get so lonesome all the time! Look at her! Ain't she the sweetest little thing??"

Crank looked at the cute little mutt, with her long, curly tan hair and the one little tuft that half-covered her eyes. The dog looked up at him, grinning as only a dog can do and yipped. He reached out to pet her and she licked him, then looked up appealingly at him. Crank's heart had melted. She was adorable, just as Laurie had said, and it was love at first sight.

"Hell, I reckon she likes me. Looks like she's adopted me. Okay, I'll take her along and see how she likes truckin.' Been thinking about getting me a pet anyway. She is a cute little thing!"

"Oh, look at you, Crank!! You're already in love with her!! A woman can tell these things, y'know? One woman to another!! " Laurie giggled and petted the dog affectionately. "Gonna miss you, little gal, but I know you're in good hands with Crank!"

The rest, as they said, was history now. The dog had taken to riding in the truck like a duck takes to water. She was a smart one, too -- easy as pie to train and housebreak, and she had the sweetest temperment Crank had ever known in a dog. He'd named her Muffin because of her particular affection for the blueberry muffins that Crank ate for breakfast all the time. She would roll over, jump up and down and beg for a bite whenever he broke open the cellophane wrapper on one of them. He ended up giving her nearly half of every one he ate.

After picking up his load, Crank drove another three hours before pulling into a truckstop for his DOT break. He lifted Muffin from the truck, hooked up her leash, then took her over to a grassy area where she slowly walked and did her business in the accustomed routine manner. After he'd put her back in the truck and locked it, Crank went inside to shower and eat supper. He brought a doggie bag with scraps back out with him -- another regular routine -- then filled Muffin's water bowl and put the scraps in her dish, leaving her to eat, while he sat on his bunk and watched a show or two on his TV set.

Growing drowsy after an hour or two, Crank went back up front, to tend to Muffin's dishes. He saw that she had hardly eaten at all. She nosed at the food, but wouldn't eat it. Strange, he thought, and totally unlike her at all. She had always been an enthusiastic eater. Oh, well, maybe she just wasn't hungry. He tossed the scraps away and emptied the water bowl, then picked Muffin up and put her down at the foot of his bunk, where she always slept. He turned off the TV, stripped to his skivvies, turned out the sleeper lights and turned in. He was asleep in minutes.

Next morning, he knew something was seriously wrong with Muffin. She just lay listlessly on the bunk, while he put on clean clothes, not bothering to lick him and play with his socks, as she'd always done. He petted her head, and she looked up at him. There was recognition in her eyes, as always, but she wasn't smiling. And there was something else in those familiar canine eyes; something like a plea for help. Muffin was sick, Crank knew. Just how sick he didn't know, but he did know that he needed to get her to a vet as soon as he could. Of course that would have to be after he delivered his load, and he still had to drive four hours to that customer.

"Just hang in there, girl! I'll get you to see a doc just as soon as I get this load off and let dispatch know! I promise."

On the drive to the customer, Muffin groaned and moaned many times, even when the road was smooth, as if the truck's vibration was hurting her. He kept driving, telling her to hang in there. It seemed like days before he drove onto the customer's lot, but he finally did. Fortunately, they got him unloaded quickly. He got his signed bills, pulled over to a corner of the lot and called his dispatcher, telling him about Muffin's condition. Dispatchers being dispatchers, of course, he wanted him to pick up another load first, almost a hundred miles away. Crank, who was usually very cooperative, rebelled.

"No, not this time! My dog comes first. Hell, she's like family to me! They gave me the number of a vet in town here and told me I could drop my trailer while I take Muffin over there. I don't know where any doctor is in that other town. Heck, it's so small they might not have a vet around there! I gotta get Muffin looked at right away! Hell, haven't you ever had a sick pet??!! For God's sake, man! I usually do anything you want, but this is different. My dog's suffering!!"

Crank's dispatcher finally agreed, realizing that Crank wasn't going to budge this time. He dropped his trailer where it sat, called the vet's office, and was told to come on in, since it was an emergency. The receptionist gave him good directions and told him where he needed to park his tractor. Crank fired up the diesel and wasted no time driving over to the office. He picked Muffin up tenderly, causing her to moan and yelp a time or two and noting that she had vomited on the floorboards. Yellowish fluid. Sick dog vomit. Being as gentle as he could possibly be, Crank carried her into the office.

He was called back into the exam room in less than thirty minutes. He shook hands with the veterinarian and told him about Muffin's painful spells, her lack of eating the night before, and how she'd acted this morning. The doctor had him put her on his examining table and asked him to stay while he did the exam.

"Sometimes it's much easier for them if their owner is around to comfort them," he explained. "You can pet her and talk to her while I examine her." Crank agreed.

While the doc took her temperature, then prodded and poked here and there on Muffin's anatomy, Crank kept up a steady chatter with her, trying to soothe her as best he could. He stroked her back and head. One spot the vet pressed on Muffin's stomach brought a yelp of pain from her. He pressed again, with the same results. He shook his head.

"What's wrong? Is it bad?" Crank wanted to know.

"It's -- not good," the doctor confirmed. "Not good at all, if it's what I suspect it is, and I'm pretty sure. Just give me time to finish up."

He wrapped up the exam, then told Crank to leave Muffin where she was and come back to his office. He indicated a chair and Crank sat down, while he went into another room, to study an x-ray he'd made of Muffin's stomach region. His face looked grim when he returned and Crank knew that the news wouldn't be good at all.

The vet's voice was gentle as he broke the news to Crank. "Muffin has a tumor in her stomach. Quite a large one. Looks like it's been growing for some time now. It's cancer and it's in an advanced stage. Her pains, the anorexia she had last night -- those are all symptoms."

The news went through Crank like a bolt of lightning. "Is -- is there anything that can be done? Anything at all?"

The vet shook his head sadly. "No. I'm afraid not."

"How long does she have?"

The vet took a deep breath. "Not long, probably. A few weeks at best. But she'll keep suffering and it'll get worse every day. You'll be distracted with worry out there on the road. You won't be as safe as you need to be with her on your mind." He looked at Crank, his eyes sad, but knowing. "The best thing you can do for her now is let me put her down. End her suffering."

Crank was stunned. "I -- I -- I just don't know if I can, doc!! That dog -- she's like family to me. I love her so much!! I just -- I -- I don't know!!"

The doctor's voice was sympathetic and soothing. "You'll be doing her the greatest favor you can ever do her. I know it's hard. I realize that -- believe me --I do. But it's for the best, for her sake. Look, think about it a little while. Just sit down and think about it. She's never going to get better and she's in pain. Think of how hard it is on her! What's hardest to do? Putting her out of her pain, or watching her suffer and slowly die? I'll be back in a few minutes. Think it over." Before Crank could say anything else, he walked out of the room.

Crank walked over to the table where Muffin still lay and stroked her tenderly. She looked up at him in response, but she was listless -- not herself at all. And never would be again, he knew. She couldn't talk, of course, was unable to tell him what was wrong, or how she felt, but it was obvious that she was very, very sick. "Poor baby," he said, over and over, as he stroked her. He closed his eyes. He knew that this day would come, eventually, and now it was here. He had to make a decision and the doctor was right; worrying about her would affect his performance on the job. And it would bring him almost as much pain as she was in, watching her suffer and knowing that there was nothing he could do to help her. Finally, Crank took three long, deep breaths and straightened up. He'd made his decision; the only logical one he could make.

"Go ahead, doctor," he told the vet, when he returned. "Put her down. You're absolutely right; it's the best thing I can do for her."

"All right." He drew out a syringe from a drawer and took a glass vial from a wall cabinet, then busied himself preparing the massive, fatal overdose of drug. "You can wait in my office, if you don't want to watch it," he offered.

"No, I'll stay in here, right beside her, and pet her one last time."

"Very well." They stood on opposite sides of the table, Crank's hand on Muffin's shoulder, as the doctor took one of her paws in his hand and held the syringe close to a spot on her leg, where a major vein lay just under her skin. Muffin twitched once as the needle went in. The vet began to push the syringe's plunger, injecting the drug into her vein.

"Goodbye, my little friend. Sure gonna miss you," Crank intoned quietly, as the plunger went down all the way. Responding one last time to his voice, Muffin looked up  at him, making eye contact for a long moment. Then her eyes slowly closed. Forever.

Crank felt hot tears welling up in his eyes, then broke completely down for the first time in years, crying as he hugged Muffin's still form on the table and kissing the top of her head. Finally, he gathered his composure and apologized for his uncharacteristic and unmanly behavior.

"It's perfectly all right to cry," the vet told him. "You loved her. I understand that. Anyone would. It's the same as losing a family member, or any loved one. Don't be a bit ashamed of that. I know how much it hurts. But you did the right thing. That's what really matters the most."

"Thanks, doc. But the look in her eyes -- that's what got to me. You didn't see that because she was looking at me. Doctor, she was thanking me. She really was. There's no mistaking her last expression. I know now what I did was right. She told me herself. Still hurts like hell, though. Take some time to get over it."

"I know, but you will. And hey, I know it's too early to talk about this, really, but there's other dogs out there that need adopting. Get you another traveling companion."

"Oh, I probably will, soon as I get over Muffin a little."


That afternoon, Crank buried Muffin under a tree near the bank of a little stream. It was a place where they had romped and played several times in the past and Muffin had always enjoyed the trips here. It was a fitting final resting place for her. He straightened up after he'd covered her grave over.

"Goodbye, Muffin. If there's a doggie heaven,  I know that's where you are now. Maybe we'll see each other again. Someday."

Slowly, his heart still heavy as lead, Crank walked back to his truck, started it up, put it in gear and drove away. He'd miss Muffin forever, but she was better off now, he knew. Wiping away tears again, he headed up the road, toward another destination and another delivery.


Saturday, December 15, 2007


Christmas mood music. You MUST CLICK for the song to play.


Got some good news for a change this week when I passed through our terminal in Illinois:  According to a bulletin posted by our Safety Department, the FMCSA came to our rescue, as I was hoping they would, and the 11-hour rule and the 34-hour reset of our 70 weekly hours will not expire on the 27th of this month after all. I think all us drivers are breathing a little easier now and thanking FMCSA for the "Christmas present" they've given us. Thank God! I was sweating that out, dreading when that day would come, as were most other OTR drivers out there.

The federal appellate court had actually smacked FMCSA down on a legal technicality, as I reported in an earlier entry. The two rules were overturned because the truck regulatory agency hadn't allowed an adequate comment period before passing their Final Rule, thus attempting to slam-dunk the Teamster's Union and several driver fatigue-happy activist groups. The new regs had already been delayed three years and they were weary of safety being held hostage for so long. So, earlier this month, FMCSA instituted an Interim Final Rule (IFR), which will keep all the current HOS regulations as-is temporarily and allow a new comment period before they issue another Final Rule.

So now they can argue back and forth for another two years, probably, and we'll just have to see what happens in the end. FMCSA is fighting to make it permanent, citing dozens of studies which have shown that the 11th drive hour decidedly HAS NOT resulted in more fatigue among drivers and an increase in major truck accidents. In fact, in that first year of 2004, there was only one (1) major car/truck accident and it was found that fatigue wasn't a factor in that one at all. Car/truck accidents have actually steadily declined since the new regs went into effect. Studies have also shown that the 34-hour reset has made things better as well, providing drivers with the weekly hours they need and eliminating the former less-than-safe tendency to run like a bat out of hell near the end of a workweek in order to get loads delivered and picked up, get home, etc., before a driver's 70 hours run out.

Something needs to be done about that ridiculous, unstoppable 14-hour clock. which counts every hour we spend waiting against us, unless  it's 8 hours long, and means that we can't stop and take a 2-hour nap without running the risk of it robbing us of the precious drive hours we need to get a load delivered on time. So, we just have to make ourselves keep going, sleepy as hell at 3 A.M., and try to stay alert. How much is that helping with safety??!!! Yet the crashes have declined in spite of that misguided rule.

I'm not holding my breath on that one, since the activist-types like that part of the HOS rules. They like anything that points us toward the bunk and keeps us back there for as long as possible, instead of being on the road, doing the job we're paid for. That bunch of overzealous do-gooders wants to rest us to death! Is this just a clever dodge they're using to keep trucks off the road because they hate trucks??!!! Sure sounds like it to me! And sure smells like it too. You know what they say about an animal that looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and smells like a duck -- hmmmmm??

PATT & Co. won't quit until we're driving an 8-hour day, then parking till the next morning. The fact that such an hourly scheme won't work, especially with the OTR sector I work in, doesn't impress those people in the least. Their attitude seems to be, "that's your problem; YOU deal with it!" Uncaring and infinitely unknowing, focused single-mindedly on their far over-hyped agenda, ignoring every fact that's thrown at them. Don't confuse us with the facts. Right. I'm nowhere near being a big fan of the government, but I do pity FMCSA, having to deal with this bunch! I wouldn't want Director John Hill's job, that's for sure. But they are trying to save a part of the HOS which actually does drivers a favor, so I'm on Uncle Sam's side in this one, all the way.

I'll keep y'all posted on things, as they happen, as usual.


Monday, December 10, 2007



Oct. 17, 1938 -- Nov. 30, 2007


An American legend passed away a little over a week ago. Motorcycle daredevil Robert Craig "Evel" Kneivel, who once described himself as "the toughest SOB that God ever made," finally lost a 3-year battle with an incurable lung disease. He was 69.

Born on the wrong side of the tracks in Butte, Montana, Kneivel was abandoned by both his parents at an early age and left in the care of grandparents. In high school, he played ice hockey and competed on a ski-jumping team, winning a medal in the latter. Around that time, he also became a motorcycle enthusiast and began jumping his machine over ditches and fences for his own amusement.

In and out of trouble with the law several times in his youth, Kneivel began his thrill show career almost by accident, when a friend convinced him that people would pay money to watch him perform the spectacular motorcycle jumping stunts that he had originated over the years. Always a flambouyant self-promoter, Kneivel quickly learned that his friend was right and his legendary career was launched. Looking for a memorable name to call himself, he came up with Evel Kneivel, often reminding people who mispelled it that he was "Evel, not Evil."

The stunts grew bigger and more spectacular and his fame began to grow, but it was an even more spectacular failure that would bring him national attention and turn him into an American icon forever. In 1968, he attempted to jump over the high water fountains on the grounds of the Caesar's Palace hotel and resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kneivel always built his own takeoff and landing ramps and painstakingly calculated how long and high they would have to be, and the speed he would need to obtain in order to complete the jump successfully. On that famous jump, his ramp specifications were off somewhat. The landing ramp wasn't long enough and when you are on your way down, well, that's the wrong time to discover a mistake. He landed short, lost control of the bike, and suffered one of his most brutal crashes.

On film, you can see his body being propelled over the handlebars in a high-side spill -- the worst nightmare of all motorcyclists. You can almost feel the impact as his body hit the ramp very hard, then tumbled to the ground, narrowly avoiding being run over by the flipping and cartwheeling Triumph he rode in those days. He had a broken back, ribs, legs and one arm, as well as a major concussion and was in a coma for nearly a month. After he recovered from the coma, Kneivel said that he was lucky that he hadn't missed the ramp altogether and landed right in the fountain's pool below.

But he was noticed by the national media. After recovering, he never attempted the fountain jump a second time, but made two or three other successful jumps which were equally spectacular and got the attention of ABC Sports. The third jump was featured on that network's Wide World of Sports telecast and Evel Kneivel became a regular fixture from that point on. Through the 1970's almost every major jump he attempted was televised nationally. That was the era in which Kneivel's feats became legendary and iconic. Men admired him, little boys wanted to be like him, and women? Well, they just wanted him, he once told an interviewer. According to him, several of them also got their wish.

Endlessly creative, Kneivel jumped over everything from a huge cage filled with live rattlesnakes, to a tank full of live sharks, to 12 Mack trucks, and 14 Greyhound buses at one time or another. But it was another failure that people would remember the most -- the ill-fated Snake River Canyon jump, which took place in Idaho, in 1974. For this, Kneivel didn't use a conventional motorcycle, but the famous "Sky Cycle" which he had helped design. It was propelled by a steam-powered rocket motor, which had been designed by an associate.

It worked well, blasting Kneivel up the launch ramp and over the canyon, high above the river. He actually cleared the canyon, but then the parachute, which was supposed to ease him down to a gentle landing on the opposite side, deployed too early because of a mistake made by one of Kneivel's crew members. The wind caught the chute and blew him back into the canyon, where he landed on the riverbank far below, almost going into the water. Kneivel was uninjured, but was very angry, refusing all post-jump interviews and retreating into seclusion for several weeks. Like the Caesar's Palace jump earlier, Kneivel never attempted to jump the canyon again.

The Evel Kneivel craze began then and all sorts of toys and collectibles began to appear; there was even an Evel Kneivel comic book published. Actor George Hamilton portrayed him in one movie and Kneivel portrayed himself in another one, entitled, Viva Kneivel. Throughout his career, scores of kids built their own ramps and tried to jump their bicycles and little Honda motorbikes over them in imitation, resulting in thousands of cuts, bruises and broken arms and legs among the young copycats. Scale models of Kneivel's trademark Harley-Davidson and the Sky Cycle still bring hundreds of dollars from memorabilia collectors. And Evel Kneivel held on to his licensing empire for his entire life.

Kneivel formally retired in 1981, his body ravaged by the injuries he'd suffered in his many crashes. His spine was broken seven times, was fused together, and became arthritic with advancing age. He was in pain almost constantly, but he rarely showed it, living up to the toughness he boasted about. Bouts of heavy drinking also took their toll over the years, resulting in a liver transplant. Kneivel was in poor and declining health for years before his death, but he still managed to promote the career of his youngest son, Robbie, who re-attempted the Caesar's Palace fountain jump in the 1990's and completed it successfully, dedicating it to his father. A few years later, they had a falling out and didn't speak to one another for a few more years after that. But they put their differences aside and reunited a year or so before Kneivel passed away.

Evel Kneivel was one of a kind; a daredevil who came out of nowhere and became a legend in his own time. In life, he was larger-than-life, living up to the spectacular feats he promised and giving his fans all the thrills they could ever ask for. But he missed the mark badly when he predicted, years ago, that his death would be just as spectacular. He would probably have never dreamed then that he would slip away so quietly in a hospital room, a shadow of his former self, with his body almost totally used up.

But then, maybe that's the way it should be, after all. Maybe if you don't use it up, you don't really live. Evel Kneivel lived, that's for sure.


Monday, December 3, 2007


I don't know if it warmed up at home or not, but it sure hasn't done so where I am. I'm stuck in Iowa, having delivered a rare Sunday load, instead of going to the house. And all because I told my dispatcher the other day that I needed the miles and the money. I got them, all right! Never said that I didn't want to go home this weekend, but I guess he took me at my word. Two long runs to this state, back-to-back and about back where I started out last week.

Actually, when I told him I needed the miles, I was referring to one specific load; the one I pulled from here down to Valdosta, Georgia last week. There was a question in my mind about whether that load would require me to assist in unloading it. That customer has a driver unload policy, which is another way of saying that they're too cheap to hire enough help to do it themselves. The good ol' American way. I don't do driver unload or driver assist. Got a bad shoulder. Got a doctor's note. So I can't run those loads. I inquired about it to dispatch. He said he didn't know. Then I pulled up the directions and the place appeared to be in an industrial park. That company doesn't build their stores in industrial parks, so it looked to be an RDC (Regional Distribution Center), where they would unload me, or I would drop the trailer, most likely. I told dispatch what I thought and that I was going to risk it, as I needed the money. And that's where this whole thing began.

I drove those 1100 + miles, dropping and hooking to an empty box, just as I thought I would. I was hoping to come on home, but when they sent me the info on my new load, I knew that he had taken my comment about needing miles and money very seriously, because my next load picked up in Macon on Friday and would take me right back to Iowa, right in the same area where the Georgia load had come from. And it delivered -- Sunday?? Had to ask and make sure they hadn't gotten the date wrong, as few loads ever deliver on weekends. But it did, he said, and it almost didn't as well. But, as Paul Harvey would say, that's the rest of the story!

Enroute back to the Hawkeye State, I was hearing reports of nasty-ass weather up that way. A glance at a local forecast for that area on my phone confirmed that things were going to be far from pleasant where I was headed. Snow, freezing rain, sleet, ice -- you name it. Any crap that could fall out of the sky and freeze was predicted up there. Those of you who are regular readers know well that I'm far from fond of that sort of stuff. Winter sucks. That's my motto and I'm a big fan of global warming in those months. Bring it on!!! The more, the merrier!

It hit Saturday, just as they'd predicted and it was national news. A pre-winter winter storm; a little "tune-up" for Mom Nature. Did'ya ever notice that when weather forecasters screw up that it's always on good weather forecasts?? Predict sunny and it rains. Predict warm temperatures and a cold front hits out of nowhere. But when they predict nasty, miserable, completely sucky weather, they're never wrong!!  That's when they're always 110 percent accurate, right on the money every time. You can set your watch by it. And so they were this past weekend, as the mostly ice storm moved through the midwest. And a lot of it was hitting right where I was headed.

Forecast looked like the storm would pass through before I got there, so maybe the roads would be clear anyway. But would the customer I was headed to be open? Would the storm keep them from getting to work, or knock their power out? I called. No answer. Phone was evidently in some office somewhere and they were out for the weekend. I tried again Sunday morning, as I made my way up I-35, toward my destination, but still no answer. Nobody in dispatch till noon on Sunday, either. What to do? Risk it, or put it off till Monday?? But I'd look pretty silly and probably get yelled at if I chose to wait, then found out that they were there, expecting me. I decided to go up there and check it out. If they weren't there, then my butt was covered; I had tried, at least, to deliver.

The road into the place was a country two-laner, icy in spots, but passable. It was the county roads into the places that I was worried about. Those are often neglected, especially on weekends. Spied the first group of buildings, where my first stop went and the road didn't look that bad. No sign on the building to indicate which plant it was and sure enough, it turned out to be the wrong one. One I wanted was a mile up the road. So, I skated back to my truck on the icy driveway and slid my way back out to the road. Got to the right place, backed into the dock and was told, of course, that it was the wrong dock. Go around back. Slid back there and skated my trailer into the dock door.

When I was unloaded, I made my way to the second place, which was further up the main road, on a town street. This road was a total mess. Solid ice. I somehow kept the truck going in a more or less straight line, then found that I couldn't get into the driveway at all. Another truck was occupying it, and somebody's damned 4-wheeled van was parked smack in the middle of the strip that's built so we'll have the space to turn our trailers around and get them aimed toward the dock doors. He couldn't get in for the van, the van couldn't get out because he was blocking the driveway, and I was sitting in the road out front, watching this Mexican standoff play out. I gingerly manuevered as far over on the shoulder as I dared, to give any other vehicles room to get by me.

It was almost 45 minutes before I got in there. First, the van moved over, so the truck could roll down and turn into the strip he was sitting on. Then, the van left. The other truck then got stuck on the ice and sat there spinning his wheels hopelessly. Employees arrived with bags of salt and he backed partway into the dock, then headed out the driveway, where he became stuck again. It turned out that he had gone to the wrong building, just as I'd done earlier, and was trying to get back out of there. More salt was applied and he finally made it back onto the road. I backed up, giving him the space he needed to get by me.

Finally, it was my turn, and I had no problem. The drive was well-salted by now, so it was smooth sailing all the way, going in or getting out. Except by then the sun had come out and was hitting the icy road and it was even more treacherous this time. But I made it to the main road and made it over here to this truckstop in Webster City, Iowa, where I pick up a load today that will take me to sunny Alabama on Wednesday. Or rainy. Or anything but icy!!


Saturday, November 24, 2007


About two weeks ago, I thought I was going to suffocate in my sleep. My CPAP machine, which I depend on to keep my airway open and prevent my sleep apnea from occurring, rolled over and died. It was sudden, with no warning at all. The familiar rush of pressurized air ceased and I couldn't breathe. Sat up and ripped my mask off, with my slumber on hold. "What's wrong with this freakin' thing??!!" I wondered aloud. No answer came, so I investigated.

Is the inverter working? Yep. Green "on" light is glowing. Plugged into the inverter all the way? Yep. Plugged into the CPAP all the way? Yep. Pressed the "go" button on the machine. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Well, shit!! Looked at the status panel and saw an ominous error message:  ERROR -- E03. Pressed the "go" button half a dozen times. No change. Message stayed as-is. At that point, I pronounced the patient officially dead, unplugged it and put it back into its carrying bag, then stowed it away. So much for that. No CPAP for you!!! Hello, Mr. OSA! We meet again!!

And so we did. My old enemy, my sleep apnea, returned with a vengeance. It seemed like I was waking up every ten minutes or so. Doze off, wake back up, doze off again, wake back up -- an endless cycle. I was made quickly and acutely aware of just how much I depended on that machine to help me get a decent night's sleep and it decidedly sucked without the thing's aid and support! I knew that the earliest I'd be able to take the thing in to the hospital outlet that provides and services them would be Monday. Four nearly sleepless nights to look forward to!! Gee, whiz -- what a thrill! Next morning, tired and groggy, I called in and left a message on my dispatcher's voice mail, since he was busy and unavailable in person, as is usually the case. Told him I had to take Monday morning off, to see about getting it fixed, as I couldn't take many breaks without the thing. Emergency! Gotta have it!

He found me a more or less suitable load and I headed home on Friday, tired as hell from lack of sleep, but able to drive safely in spite of it, because driving when you're dead-tired is something all truckers learn to deal with on frequent occasions. I didn't sleep any better at home -- worse, in fact, because I'm much more used to sleeping in my truck's bunk than I am my own bed. So, as you might imagine, I was glad when Monday dawned at last. I had been so pooped over the weekend that I didn't even have the energy to ride Velvet. She stayed parked all weekend. Not about to risk getting out on her so tired and maybe crashing her and hurting myself. No way, Jose!

I was lurking like a vulture in the parking lot of the hospital equipment outlet, waiting for them to open up. I pointed to the CPAP bag I carried. "It died. Fix it, please!!" Or something to that effect, anyway. I had to leave it and go back home until their technician could perform an autopsy on it. They called after about three hours and the news wasn't good. Motor was burned up and the tech said it was due to neglect; I hadn't changed the filters often enough. I argued mightily. I DID wash out the foam one at least every two weeks or so, and always had done so! I can't get in town every month to get a new inner filter, as I'm on the road all the time! It's very hard for a trucker to do anything like that, when everything's closed on the weekends when I am at home! Told them that I suspected that the thing may have ended up too close to the sleeper curtain in my truck and that was what probably blocked the air flow. I couldn't put it up on a shelf, because the cord wouldn't reach to the plug in my cab and also the risk of pulling it off the shelf and having it conk me in the head! Not safe, so I had to put it on the floor. Our trucks aren't equipped with the desks that others have. Nowhere else to put it. I tried to keep it away from the curtain, but sometimes, in spite of all your efforts. . . .

My company had just gone on a new insurance plan and although I didn't have a claim on it as yet, the outlet was required to write a letter, explaining why the thing died at such a young age. Insurance will only replace them every five years, normally. Mine didn't last quite two years. When the insurance company got the letter, they'd likely deny the claim and the whole thing would come out of my pocket, instead of just the $500 deductible. No way could I afford that; the five hundred bucks is going to strain me enough, but I might come up with enough in my Comdata "credit union" account to cover most of that. But NOT the whole enchilada!!

Finally, it was decided that since I didn't have an insurance claim as yet, they would refer me to another outlet in town and I could get a new machine from them. That way, I was a first-time buyer, with no previous machine that had died on me. No letter would be written and my insurance would pay their part of it. So, that's what happened. Went over there and the hospital outlet had faxed my sleep study and all the other pertinent information to them. I walked out of there with a new CPAP. A different brand; smaller, and made different, so that there's no risk of it getting too close to that curtain again. And they'll mail me new filters each month, along with mask cushions and a new mask at certain intervals. Everything worked out for the best in the end and by my next break period, I was sleeping like a baby again. Ahhhh -- sweet relief!!

That relief would be short-lived, though, because this past week was a holidaze weekend. Thanksgiving, specifically. The busiest travel day of the year and the exhorbitant gas prices weren't stopping them this year. Holidays present even greater challenges to truckers. Plants and warehouses tend to close early before a holiday and don't open up until the long weekend is over, so it means you're in a mad rush to deliver and pick up your loads before quitting time rolls around.

Such was the case with me on Wednesday of last week. I had a long run down to North Carolina from the area around our yard in Illinois. Started Tuesday, but didn't get far before my hours ran out. I drove over them a bit, in fact, making it into Indiana before I shut down, then logging myself further down the road than I actually was. This was so that the time when I fueled would coincide with my logbook and I wouldn't drive too long getting to the truckstop. If you don't understand all that, trust me. I know what I'm doing when I cheat. I had to save all the hours I could for the marathon I'd be running the next day.

Wednesday, I started out an hour and a half before my log says I did, fueled in Kentucky, then drove all the way to Sanford, North Carolina, non-stop. I was scheduled to deliver at 3 P.M., CST, but I wanted to get there as early as I could, both to beat the brunt of the traffic nightmare I knew would be coming, and to get my load delivered and skedaddle to my next pickup, which would presumably take me home for the holiday. Show up after  they close, and you ain't going home, Jack! You'll sit out the holiday right there!

Stopped twice for bathroom breaks and that was it. Pulled into the customer at Sanford at 1 -- two hours early. I think the forklift was on the truck before I bumped the dock. They want to get 'er done and go home, too!! By that time, I was actually almost three hours over my drive hours in reality, but due to my clever logging, I had an hour and a half left on paper. Amazing what one can do with a little creative arithmetic! That wasn't enough, though, in spite of my creativity. I got my next load pronto -- dispatch was even in a hurry to get the heck out of Dodge. Yep, they sent me to South Carolina to load again, almost a tradition when I'm in Sanford. To a paper mill, which, according to the load info, would be open at least until midnight. Over 150 miles, by HHG reckoning, and pretty accurate this time, because the back roads ARE the quickest way to get down there from where I was. That happens occasionally. But I required more than ninety minutes in order to cover that distance and not show my 65 mph truck running 85, or something like that, which would be unacceptable and would get me written up for a violation.

To hell with the log for now! I gotta get that load picked up WAY before they can close and the later it gets, the worse traffic will be, heading out to grandma's, or wherever. So, I once again went on the old tried, true and well-tested "Drive Now -- Log It Later" strategy. No scales out in the woods anyway and most of the interstate scales would be closing early, as they pulled the DOT bears off the trucks and put them on the roads for extra traffic patrols. Truckers get a free pass often on holiday weekends. The bears have too many 4-wheelers to worry about. So, chances of getting caught for HOS violations are slimmer.

I got to the paper mill about 6, after fighting increasingly heavy traffic all the way down there. I figured up my hours after I had dropped my empty caboose and hooked up to my loaded one and found that at that point I was only 7 1/2 hours over the 11 hours I'm legally permitted to drive. Eighteen and a half hours on the road, straight. Call me Iron Man!!! I wasn't tired -- much. Just nearing a total collapse, as you might imagine. New CPAP wasn't doing me any good at all ifI couldn't get INTO the bunk in the first place. But it was necessary, if I was to have any holiday at all. My marathon over at last, I made my way to the nearest truckstop, found a space at the curb, ate a Subway pizza, then went to sleep.

I got up later than I meant to Thanksgiving morning and made my way home, again through fairly heavy traffic, but feeling much better after the rest I'd gotten. finally. It was after 2 P.M. before I arrived home. Caught up my logbook, showing a break in North Carolina that I actually drove through, mostly, then another shorter break in South Carolina, so that once again my fuel time would coincide accurately. Crossed all the "T's," dotted all the "I's," and went to the house. Took my mom out for dinner. I hadn't eaten much all day and I pigged out on fried chicken.

And now it's too blamed cold to ride Velvet, dang it!! I thought about it until I stepped outside and could see my breath in the air. I went back inside and Velvet's still parked in the garage, sound asleep. I ain't no polar bear. Supposed to warm up again next week. We'll see.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


When I got in my truck last Monday night, preparing to leave out, I got a Qualcomm message which indicated that my trailer, which I had dropped at a local truckstop, as usual, had been under scrutiny by one of our company cops. These individuals also go by other names, such as "snitches," or "apple polishers," or "brown-nosers," to name a few. They are, in fact, other drivers from my company who have appointed themselves as remote enforcers of company policies. If they find that you're not doing something that you're supposed to be doing, or they think you're not, they'll call up the head honchos at our yard and rat you out to the company brass. Then you'll get the ominous message on your QC as evidence that you've been caught!

"Why was your trailer dropped at the [name of truckstop] without being locked up?" That was what this particular company official wanted to know. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell him right at that time, as it was too late to call him. He would have already left the office by then. The company had another trailer and load stolen about two weeks earlier and in a fleet message, they were threatening 3-day suspensions if trailers dropped for the weekend weren't turned into rolling bank vaults by being locked up in every imaginable way known to man. A routine reaction to such thefts. Seen it before, been there, done that.

Not that it isn't a serious thing. It is, and to that end, I'll always have locks on my dropped trailer when I'm at home. However. last week I came home with an empty box, my load not ready to pick up until Monday evening, so I saw no point in turning an empty trailer into Fort Knox. I slapped my trusty glad hand lock on it and headed to the house. The snitching do-gooder brown-noser who ratted on me evidently didn't see that lock at all and never bothered to look in the damn thing, so he could see that it was empty. No load. Nothing to steal. And it was locked, at least somewhat, sucker! Joke's on you, this time! I called the official who had sent the message the next morning and left word on his voice mail, attesting to those facts. That was all I could do; the company brass can be next to impossible to reach on a phone in person. The snitches must have a direct hotline to them, or something, evidently.

I'm not inclined to snitch on other drivers; I consider whatever they do -- or don't do -- as none of my business. Only if someone were driving their truck in an unsafe manner and endangering others would I report anyone to the company, and even in that case I would attempt to talk to the driver myself before I did so. If another driver is negligent and their load gets stolen, then that's between them and the company, because there's no way that a driver can NOT report a missing trailer! That's a little too, uh, obvious, don't you think?? No, it's not my job to police truckstop parking lots and check out any of our trailers that have been dropped there. Every driver is supposed to know the policy on locking them up and it's their ass if they don't and the load disappears.

I don't know if the snitch who called in on me will get a shiny new truck out of the deal or not, although that's the sort of thing that motivates most of them. If he does, it would surely be poetic justice if the asshole totaled it the first week he had it!! And that's how I feel about that.


While we're on the subject of self-appointed "cops," the members of what I call the Fatigue Police have scored yet another victory in their ongoing efforts to rest us truckers to death. The Fatigue Police are the several outsider coalitions who have stuck their noses into the FMCSA's rulemaking process and turned the Hours Of Service rules into a game of musical regulations in recent years. They include groups such as Public Citizen, Parents Against Tired Truckers, and several others, and they are totally obsessed with the issue of driver fatigue. Like most of these crusader organizations, they have a one-track mind and don't even know when to quit. Enough is never enough, in their effort to impose their will on an industry that none of them have ever worked in and know little about in any practical sense.

Those groups, along with the Teamster's Union, sued the FMCSA over things they didn't like in the current HOS regs and evidently got the judges on their side, because the federal court vacated (overturned) parts of the HOS rules recently. FMCSA managed to obtain a stay until Dec. 27 of this year and on that date, unless they come up with something new, get another stay, or congress acts in our favor, we will lose the 11-hour drive rule and the 34-hour reset of our 70 weekly hours that we needed so badly for years. It will revert back to 10 hours drive time, without a reset at all, just like it was before the HOS was changed in 2005. That sucks, and especially the reset part. The 70-hour rule was always the biggest pain in the ass of all the regs that drivers had to comply with, and one that led to widespread falsification of logbooks that was almost legendary. So, here we go again, unless Lady Fortune should smile on us before Christmas.

The problem is that the FMCSA has to try to please everyone and all too often, when you do that, you end up pleasing no one. The trucking industry is already split up into several competing factions as it is, with union vs non-union, small companies vs big ones, independent O/O drivers vs company drivers, and so on. Add to that the grassroots coalitions who want to keep us in our bunks 75% of the time and it's a recipe for disaster, as far as any sensible regulations are concerned. The union is self-serving, as all unions are -- concerned only with what's good for the union and not giving a rat's behind about anyone else. And the coalitions push their single-minded agenda for all it's worth, conveniently ignoring the fact that driver fatigue was cited as a causal factor in less than 10% of the accidents studied, where the truck was deemed to be at fault. And those are official U.S. Government studies, too! There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

So, there we are. The FMCSA giveth and the courts taketh away. Back to square one and back to the drawing board. And where are the drivers in all of this furor? Where are the ones who have to live with this crap?? Out there doing our jobs, hoping for the best, the majority of us having been convinced that nothing we can say matters, because no one is listening to us anyway. We have representation, but it looks like the union and the coalitions have better lawyers. And that's what it takes to get your voice heard, in this day and age.

I'll keep y'all posted on this as things develop (or don't develop).


Thursday, November 8, 2007


As I write this, I'm not at home. It's Thursday and I'm in southern Kentucky, just north of the Tennessee state line, headed for a delivery in an Atlanta suburb tomorrow morning. From there I hope to be dispatched homeward, after this load is delivered. I'm going to try a little experiment tomorrow, when I send in my "empty at destination" message. It has occurred to me that there has to be a way that I can manipulate the fuel solution I wrote about last week.

I believe that by under-reporting my remaining fuel, which is required information in the empty message, I might be able to generate a "Use Fuel Book" non-solution from the computer at the terminal. That would free me to fuel anywhere, along any route I choose, and avoid any routing conflicts, arguments with dispatch (which drivers most often lose), and other hassles.

That number, from 1 to 8, that I send in is what triggers the "solution" that the computer sends me. An '8' equals nearly full tanks, whereas a '1' would equal "Get me to a truckstop ASAP!! I'm running on fumes!!" In the latter case, the computer would either direct me to the closest fuel stop in my area, or spit out the "Use Fuel Book" mentioned earlier. Hypothetically, I could also over-report the fuel level in my tanks and acheive the same result, although that is riskier and could lead to nearly running me out of fuel. It would all depend on my actual gauge reading when I send the message in.

What I don't know, of course, is how much input a dispatcher has on the fuel solution/routing. The solution is computer-generated, but does a dispatcher select the route?? Hmmmmmmmm. Only one way to find out -- experiment a little. If dispatch chooses my route, then I'm screwed royally, because they would necessarily go by our computerized GPS system, which calculates everything in a straight line and is based on the old Household Movers Guide (HHG) of yesteryear, which companies still stubbornly cling to today.

The HHG is a dinosaur. A living fossil that refuses to be buried. Compiled way back in the 1950's, it calculates the absolute shortest route between points 'A' and 'B' all over the country. This was great for drivers back then, because it saved them lots of time in planning theirtrips. However, in today's world it's obsolete and nearly worthless, mainly because it has almost never been updated in all those years. In the 50's, the Interstate Highway System so common today was in its infancy. Many of today's modern interstates simply didn't exist back then and the byways and backroads were the only way a driver had to get anywhere. The HHG utilizes mainly these backwoods routes, with a little interstate travel thrown in here and there. Hop on the Big Road for a few miles, then back out in the woods again for miles on end. As close to a straight line to a destination as possible, since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Sounds reasonable on the surface, don't it? It's far from it, though.

Since the HHG has only undergone only a couple of minor upgrades in the years since its inception, and has never had the major overhaul it needs, there are many things that it doesn't take into consideration; things that impact a driver directly. Like all those little backwater towns on the backroads. Those burgs all have traffic lights, stop signs, lowered speed limits, etc., all of which slow you down. Add to that modern-day traffic congestion. There are easily five times the number of vehicles on the roads today than there were in the 1950's. Congestion in those little towns is incredible at certain hours of the day and there aren't as many alternate routes through them as in the larger cities; one main drag and that's about it. And trucks have to stick to that main drag, or a designated truck route in about all of them, so any alternate routes are useless to a trucker anyway. Some have built bypasses, but the vast majority haven't bothered. The interstates passed them by and the local economy won't allow it.

Then there's the two-lane configuration of many of the backroads. Great on a motorcycle, and what I prefer on that mode of transportation, but not so great in a truck, when you have an appointment load to deliver. So many are narrow, no shoulders, nowhere to go if anything should happen. Just a ditch, where you'll roll your rig over a couple of times. Inherently dangerous and totally obsolete for truck transportation, with the exception of local delivery drivers, who have to run them, and for access to rural shippers and receivers. If that's not enough, then you have the inevitable "local yokels" in their cars. Ma and Pa, out for a cruise up the road, tootling along at 35, and completely unmindful of the line of traffic backed up behind them, cursing them fluently. You drive a 70-foot-long tractor-trailer that accelerates like a snail and you'll never get around them, unless you're very lucky, or you like to take crazy chances with your life and the lives of others.

The lack of truck facilities on the backwoods routes are another problem. The interstates took most of the commercial traffic off of them, so there are very few truckstops out in the woods these days. What does a driver do if he/she runs out of hours on those routes? There's nowhere to park, forcing you to use your creativity (and hope you don't get ticketed by some small town cop). Even stopping to use the bathroom is a challenge; half the time it's impossible to find a spot to even pull over and use an "emergency bottle," which most drivers have around, out of necessity. All the amenities are out on the interstate, miles from the routes dictated by the HHG. Those were the main roads back when it was written, but not anymore.

Most OTR drivers nowadays stay on the interstate most of the time. It's faster, with higher speed limits and no stop signs or traffic lights to contend with. That is, of course, the whole idea behind them, the reason they exist in the first place -- safe, high-speed transportation all over the country. Taking an interstate route may be a little longer, but it's quicker and with today's Just-In-Time Freight strategies, "hot" loads, and tight etas, it's almost mandatory. The shortest route has become the slowest one all too often in modern times. There are some drivers, mainly old-timers and a few tightwads, who don't want to give the companies any free miles, and who still take the backwoods approach to driving, but the interstate is the preferred way to travel. So much so that a few companies have abandoned the HHG altogether and now pay drivers what is called "practical miles," based primarily on the interstate routes that most are using.

Far too many companies, though, still base their dispatched mileage on that old dinosaur. The reason?? It makes perfect economic sense for them to do so. They only pay drivers for the dispatched miles, not for actual miles driven. By utilizing the HHG, they keep the dispatched miles as short as possible, and thus don't have to pay out as much to the drivers, all the time fully aware that the majority of their drivers will take the interstate, for the sake of faster delivery and fewer hassles. From a driver's point of view, they are actually screwing us out of the more practical miles we are actually driving, and out of the monetary compensation for running those miles. In the minds of the companies, though, we are screwing ourselves, by taking the longer, though quicker route. We can take the shorter route and not give them those free miles. And risk being late with the loads because it's often so much slower on the backroads. It creates a real dilemma for drivers. Many of them have quit over this and it remains one of the reasons for high driver turnover and the shortage of drivers, many of whom get fed up and pursue other career paths.

Now I hope you see my dilemma with this fuel solution nonsense, and why I'm so opposed to it. That computer is programmed to always put me on the shortest route to my destination, and not the fastest, or most practical one. That's what has given me all the grief, especially when I'm heading home for the weekend. Computers only do what they're programmed to do; they're not "smart." They are electronic imbeciles, in fact. Quite stupid, compared to human intelligence. So, the only solution is better programming; practical miles, instead of HHG miles.

The Household Guide should be scrapped, and ALL companies required, by law, to pay practical miles to their drivers, in my opinion. If the majority of us are running on the interstates, then PAY us for doing so. It's only fair! If not, before long, most of the more experienced ones like myself are going to hang it up and leave our highways filled with 60-day-wonders driving 80,000 pound trucks. Is that what America wants, or needs?

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Well, got home for the third week in a row and I believe I know now why I've been held out on the road so much this year. I've been punished for defying the "fuel solution" I receive along with the load information when I'm dispatched on a new load. The last three weeks, I've followed it and I've gotten home. I thought back to when this whole crazy scheme first started, put two and two together, and came to my conclusion. There is a definite pattern to my defiance and my being held out on the road a week later.

The root of the problem is really in dispatch and my own dispatcher in particular. It's also partly due to my own stubbornness. For those of you who are unenlightened about the trucking world, dispatchers control a driver's life on the road. They manage drivers; my company calls them "driver managers," officially, in fact. They come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. like all human beings, and they can be your best friend in some instances and your worst nightmare of an enemy in others. They can make your life on the road go smoothly, or they can make it a living hell and whichever mode it is is usually up to the driver him or herself -- how well they get along, cooperate, and do their job. That makes all the difference, in most cases.

I've always tried my best to get along with dispatch and strive to be cooperative. I'm quite competent at what I do, after almost ten years, so doing my job correctly is a no-brainer. Usually, that is. However, I have two quirks to my personality. I can be extremely stubborn, especially when I'm forced to do something I strongly disagree with, and I'm not inclined to suffer people and schemes that I think are foolish and idiotic very gently at all. That's especially true when I'm on the receiving end of the foolishness. The so-called "fuel solution" that my company has come up with this year is a prime example of that.

This newest program (scheme) began at the first of this year, or the end of last year -- I can't remember exactly when. We are allowed to fuel at only one truckstop chain, having an exclusive fleet contract with that company. Prior to the start of the new scheme, we were free to fuel at any of their locations. Then, with no explanation at all (typical of a trucking company), we started getting a fuel solution when we were assigned every load. This dictates a particular location where we are supposed to fuel and even dictates how much we can put in our tanks. It's all computer-generated. Gee, ain't those electronic brains smart!! They know now where I need to fuel, when, and how much I'll need!!! Some machine knows that better than the poor moron who drives the damned truck!! Ain't that something?? Will wonders never cease?? Well, you get the idea -- it has a tendency to make a driver feel worthless, like we don't have enough sense to know when we need fuel, how much we need, and where the hell to get it! After some of us have been doing it for nearly a decade.

And some of the "solutions" were/are idiotic. Y'see, in deciding where you have to fuel, that electronic genius at the yard also dictates the route you have to take, and it has about as much sense of geography as the average public high school student. It had me driving 48 miles out of route in the Nashville area once, just to fuel at a certan truckstop. And it would often put me on the wrong route home (and still does sometimes). I laughed at first; the things my company will do to save a few pennies per gallon is incredible!

So, at first I fueled where I wanted to, when I disagreed with the routing. Screw this, I thought. If they can't afford the fuel, maybe they should re-think the business they're in, where fuel costs are a cost of doing that business! With as many trucks out there that blow our slow-ass doors off on the highway and run rings around us, they must know something my company don't, in order to run those higher speeds. You gotta know they're burning more fuel than we are, eating their dust.

I found out a little later that the fuel solution was also a tax dodge. Fuel taxes for trucks in all the states that they operate in is a VERY complicated thing indeed. I don't pretend to know very much about it, as I'm not an accountant, or a lawyer, but it's very complex. Somebody apparently discovered that by fueling in certain locations in a state, companies can end up paying less fuel tax to that state at the end of each year and save themselves a little dough. Well, I'm not opposed to that at all, having run a business in my lifetime. Cutting costs equals greater profits in any business. That I know, and you can't blame companies for doing what they can to cut their overhead. But, uh, when they do it at my expense, that's when I tend to get rebellious.

Here's my beef:  How much money are they saving, really, if I'm forced to take a roundabout route to fuel in a certain place, and by doing so, have to drive an extra 150 miles to get home on the weekend? It seems to me that the extra mileage would eat up any fuel and tax savings that they hope to acheive. That's what seems so utterly idiotic about the whole thing, to me. It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Not to mention that it'll take me extra time to get home and thus have less time to spend when I get here. The problem is that the idiot-savant computer in Illinois will stick me on a route that runs directly from the shipper to the destination, without taking into consideration the fact that I'm going home first and that my best route to the Dawg House may differ greatly from the one it's dictating to me! Don't screw with me, computer! I know well my fastest and most direct routes home, from about anywhere!!

I wasn't the only driver that was ignoring the "solution" at first; I talked to plenty of others who were just as stubborn as myself, especially the more experienced ones, who felt much as I did about it. It was demeaning to an experienced driver, who already knew the best routes to almost any destination. We didn't need it dictated to us by a machine. Then, one day I got a message from my dispatcher -- not a fleet message, but a personal one, sent to all his drivers. It stated that we now had to follow the solution to the letter, all the time. If we had a problem, let him know. "Bullshit," was my first thought, but I tried to cooperate all I could, wanting to get along, as usual. I fueled where it told me to, unless it spit out something ridiculous.

It did do that again, of course, and as I was headed home, as usual. I asked my dispatcher to change it once, when it had me going home through Nashville, from the yard; that would cost me an extra 100 miles and two hours of driving. He refused to change it, stating that he showed it was shorter, going that way. Crap!! I knew better, but I went that way, just to see, and set the trip odometer to measure the miles. Sure enough, it was 92 miles further, taking that route, rather than my  usual one. Told him about it and got no response  at all. He also refused to change it on several other occasions, when I argued with the routing. So, I gave up. What's the use?? Damn training company thinks it has to treat everybody like a rookie who don't know their behind from a hole in the ground!

Four weeks ago, I was in Ohio when I got my homebound load and the solution was screwed up again. It had me taking a route from the shipper, straight to the destination and fueling along the way. That route didn't even run through Tennessee, much less Knoxville. My only logical route was down I-71 to I-75, and then home. Any other route would force me to drive 175-200 miles further. I ignored it, took the sensible route home, and fueled where I wanted to. The next week I was held out again and that weekend the probable reason why started to occur to me. I was being punished for my disobedience, like a misbehaving child.

I set out to prove my theory. I followed it, to the letter, just like I was supposed to do. Luckily, the homebound fuel solutions were sensible for a change, and on the right route, and I got another crazy one changed by second shift this week. I've been home for the past three weekends. Good dog!! Jump through the hoop!! You'll get a treat if you do your trick!!! That's what I feel like. Am I overly sensitive?? Ya think?? My exact thoughts are unprintable and would likely get me kicked off of AOL, so I'll keep them to myself.

I'll jump through their hoops, as long as it's reasonable. One dispatcher told me that they know there's problems with the fuel solution (I'll say!) and they're working on it. We'll see. It does seem a little better now than it did, most of the time. I'll ask to get it changed, if it's unreasonable, and may ask the other shifts, my situation permitting. Some of the other drivers have told me that they don't follow it when it's that ridiculous and they don't get punished for it, so it looks like it depends on the particular dispatcher. Mine is a "Mr. Rulebook," "Mr. Strictly Business" type, so there you go. I'm stuck with it, just like I'm stuck with him. I'm contemplating a major change in my career in the next two years anyway, so I'll tough it out as long as I can. I have bills that have to be paid and I can't do without the money to pay them. That's my bottom line.


Sunday, October 28, 2007


Home again, two weeks in a row. Feels like the good 'ol days. Do I dare hope to make it three next week?? Got my fingers crossed on that.

Went over to the Harley dealer when I got home and bought a windshield for Miss Velvet. I had a cash credit toward a purchase from when I bought her in June, so I cashed it in and it covered roughly half of the cost. Getting cooler out and that wind hitting you in the chest isn't as nice as it was in the warmer months, so I needed something to knock at least some of that off me.

It was just plain cold Saturday morning, so I postponed my excursion until it thawed out a bit in the early afternoon. Looks like my traditional Sunday morning rides are over until next spring and summer, because it was decidedly nippy this morning as well. Rode out to relatives house, ate dinner with them, then rode back in the dark, my first night ride on Velvet since I bought her, believe it or not. That jacket that was so damned hot in the summer that I had to ditch it at times feels good now and as it gets colder, I'll have to add a sweatshirt or something under it. The fingerless half-gloves I love are put up now too. Ever had frozen fingers?? I could barely squeeze the clutch lever after I rode home last night. So, this afternoon I wore my full-fingered ones. Ahhhhhh -- much better!

I've got to buy a ski mask tobbogan cap to wear under my helmet on cooler days. I've got a full-face helmet, which is warmer in cold weather, but it's such a pain in the butt when you wear glasses that I haven't bothered with it yet. You gotta take your glasses off, put the helmet on (which is still new and hasn't conformed to my face and head yet), then wiggle your glasses' earpieces into the helmet, hoping a lens doesn't fall out, and get them more or less around your ears. Then you have to reverse all that when you take it off. Geez!!! I like my open-face, 3/4 helmets, so a ski mask under them would help a lot. I'll save the full-face one for longer, higher speed road trips, when I want maximum protection.

Of course, when the bitter cold crap gets here, Velvet will be resting in my garage, covered up, until it thaws out. I used to ride my bike all the time in the winter when I was a kid, barring a snowstorm, or the really icy-cold days, and I had enough of my shorts icing up a quarter-mile from home back in those days. Now, I don't think I could take it at all. Guess my metabolism has slowed somewhat as I've aged. You see some of these "polar bears" out all winter on their bikes, but not me. Much below 40 degrees and I want my warm 4-wheeler, with its heater. Whipping through 40-degree air on a bike, it feels like about 20, as you create your own wind chill, and if there's a breeze blowing on top of that, it feels even colder. Not for me. I'm decidedly a warm weather person. Winter sucks and I dread it every year. I have to put up with quite enough of it in my Big Truck when dispatch and Backward Bonnie seem to delight in sticking me ass-deep in as much snow as possible.  

I live in the south, so there'll usually be a few warmer days, even in winter, when I can uncover Velvet and exercise her a little bit, but those days are really few in number, once December and January get here. But next year, I've got the whole spring and summer to ride her, and another two-weeks of vacation! 

I can't wait!