Saturday, February 23, 2008


Morton, Illinois

Not home this weekend, but that's turned out to be to my benefit, for once. The newer truck I got a little over a week ago got sick and they put me in an even newer one today. This time I could "hang around" (try, like, all weekend) because my load delivers right here in Morton Monday morning. Actually, truck 3402 got sick, got better for a day or so, then had a relapse this morning. I'll be happy to explain. Glad you asked!!

It started Wednesday, while I was enroute from some little burg in Pennsylvania, to my delivery in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with an eta set for Thursday morning. It sounded at first like a dog when you take its dinner bowl away from it -- a growling noise, otherwords, from the engine, which up to that time had purred like the Kitty-Cat it is. But not now. That growl soon enough turned into a dead miss. It felt exactly like a car with a bad spark plug wire and a dead cylinder. The "Check Engine" idiot light was on and blinking a bit now and then and my steed was losing power. Wouldn't hold 65 if there was even the slightest uphill grade and would take nearly forever to get up to speed from a stop.

Since diesel engines don't have spark plugs, or plug wires, the first thought that hit my head was "injector going bad." That's about the only thing that'll kill a cylinder in a diesel -- that, or a dropped valve, which is even worse news. So, I went into that famous "OH, SHIT" mode immediately. But I remembered then that I'd had a similar problem with an earlier truck and it turned out that the fuel filters had gotten waterlogged. I had them changed and everything was fine again. So, I made plans to stop at a truckstop where we're authorized to have repairs done and try that out, if our shop was agreeable.

They were, and I pulled it into the Northern Kentucky truckstop shop in short order. I was thinking that if I was lucky, I'd maybe just gotten some lousy fuel the previous day. That 80/20 fuel/water mix doesn't run too well in any engine, to be sure. So, they changed them both and I signed the tab and took the rest of my break. Next morning, I went across the street to the Pilot, where we fuel all the time, and topped it off. It held a  little over a hundred gallons,which is a half-tank, by Big Truck standards. Now we'd see about things!!

I headed toward Louisville, and I-65, and Bowling Green, eventually. The idiot light came back on and my rig did what is best described as a "slump" momentarily. It felt like I had one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake, at the same time, only I didn't, of course. Hmmmmmm. Not fixed?? The shop had told me to get it back to Morton if the filters didn't fix it. However, the idiot light was acting like what it's named for -- a total idiot! It would blink, stay steady a minute or two, go out for a few seconds, then blink again, like it was signaling some kind of insane Morse Code. Finally, after maybe a half-hour, the thing went out for good, the engine smoothed out and purred again, and I was saying, "Ahhhhhhhhh!" Had to run long enough to get the new, fresh fuel circulating, I reasoned.

And it stayed that way, purring along, all the way to my destination. Purred while I sat for over an hour in traffic that was stopped because there was freezing [expletive deleted] rain on the road and, naturally, a truck and car had collided and blocked the entire road. Purred when I finally got to the delivery, an hour and fifteen minutes late. Purred all night at a little mom 'n pop truckstop in the local area. And purred all the next day, when I picked up the load I brought up here and headed north and west with it. Fixed, I thought!! Ah-ha!!! I LOVE it when I'm right!!

And then, of course, the damned thing made a fool out of me this morning. Without warning, the light came on again and the slump was back, this time with a much heavier load. Now, there aren't any terribly steep hills in Illinois -- not like Kentucky, or Tennessee, for sure. But what high spots in the road there are made for a slower trip. Felt like I was going backward, half the time. But I persevered and I made it in here.

Talked to the shop foreman and he got a guy from a local Cat dealer to hook up his diagnostic laptop to the truck's ECM. He came back shaking his head. He wasn't whistling "Taps," but he didn't have to; I knew the news wasn't good. "Ya hear that 'tick' in the engine?" he asked. I listened intently and heard the sound he mentioned. "The engine's about to drop a valve, I think. You're lucky you got it up here." I agreed wholeheartedly. It would have to go to Peterbilt for several days, to fix the bad valve. Without that truck, I ain't got no bed, and I let them know. I also mentioned (just in passing, you understand) that 3402 wasn't the truck I was supposed to have gotten a week ago, anyway. My philosophy is that if you don't toot your own horn, don't expect anyone else to toot it for you! So I let out an air-horn-like blast, figuratively speaking.

I was told to go over to dispatch and tell Ish (a dispatcher whom I've known for almost as long as I've been with Star) to see what trucks they had available. I had all day to get moved over and that one would go to the Pete dealer Monday. Ish told me to take 3550. I got the keys and another check-out sheet from the shop, right before they closed and a few hours later, here I am, all moved into my new ride. This one's an early '07 model, a year newer than the other one. Same engine and tranny, and looks the same, but it's got a CD player in the dash, instead of a cassette, so I'll grab a few favorites when I get home again, and take them along with me. It seems to do well and be strong as an ox, but I won't hit the open road again until first of the week.

Let's just hope 3550 don't have terminal valve problems!


Sunday, February 17, 2008


I got a Qualcomm message this week that came totally out of the blue and was completely unexpected. I was headed to Bartonville, IL, 12 miles from our terminal, with a load and was maybe 175 miles away when the message came in and the thing started beeping, nagging me to answer it. I'm blocked from doing so while the truck is moving, so as soon as I stopped for a bathroom break, I clicked the "Next Message" key.

"Would you like to move into truck 36**?" it read.

Well -- duh!! Does it get dark at night? Does a bear sleep in the woods? Is our current president's last name Bush? Is the Pope a Catholic? HELL, yes!!! I'd been in that old relic I had way TOO long, as it was.

"You betcha!"  I sent back, then waited exactly eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds for the response to arrive.

"Okay. I'll have truck 36** ready for you in the A.M."

"That'll work out good," I replied. "Gonna use almost all my hours up on this trip anyway, so I'll be due a break."

It took about 3 more hours to get to Bartonville, working my way through Peoria-area afternoon rush hour traffic, and dump my loaded trailer in a door at the Caterpillar crossdock I delivered to. I quickly found an empty and sent my "Unloaded, Ready-To-Roll, Dispatch Me" message in. I was pre-planned, and the load didn't pick up till the next morning, at the same place where I was sitting. I didn't need an empty trailer to pick up a load at that crossdock, so I unhooked and bobtailed over to our yard in Morton. I cruised around the tractor lot, noting that the truck I was supposed to move into wasn't there yet, so I got something to eat, schmoozed awhile, to let my meal digest a little, then hit the bunk for a night's sleep.

The next morning, my new ride still wasn't on the lot, or in our shop, so I listened to the radio and waited. And waited. And waited. A little after ten, they sent me the loaded trailer number and suggested I go over and get the load. This dispatcher was the formal type, who called me "sir," so I knew it wasn't my own dispatcher at work. Hmmmmmm. Does this other guy even know about the newer truck I'm supposed to move into?? Dispatchers are notorious for not putting messages up for the other shifts, so that everyone will know what's going on. They like to keep drivers in the dark and apparently like to keep each other in the dark as well. Mushrooms. Human mushrooms. That's what we are in this business, seems like.

I told him that I was supposed to get a newer truck that morning, told him the number, and asked him if he knew when it would be ready for me to move into. Told him I had all my belongings and assorted junk packed up and ready to transfer. All but my satellite radio, that is, which I was still listening to. That would be the last item to be moved. He hadn't been told, just as I'd predicted.

I went into the dispatch kiosk and talked to him in person a few minutes. He found out from the shop foreman that the truck I was supposed to get was tied up at the local Peterbilt dealer and it had a bad turbocharger, which had been ordered and wouldn't be in until the following day. This was Thursday, the day that orientation lets out and the new drivers are assigned their trucks and first loads. If he took me off the load I was on, which went to Georgia, close to home for me, it was likely I wouldn't get another load going that way at all, so I couldn't wait a day. The replacement dispatcher told me to wait a minute, while he called my dispatcher, to see what he wanted to do about the situation.

I waited while he made the call, then talked to another guy in dispatch. When he came back to the window, he informed me that my dispatcher wanted me to stay on that load, as planned, and that they had truck 3402 available. The driver had quit his job just that morning and it was a lot newer than the one I had. They prefer to put the new drivers in the older trucks, so they wanted my relic for that.

What could I say?? It was quite a bit newer and I couldn't hang around, if I wanted to get home. Okay, I'll take it. I went to the shop, got the keys to it, and a check-out sheet, then went back to my old truck and began cruising around, looking for it. I found it after a five minute search, parked next to it, and climbed in to look things over. After letting a ton of air out of the seat and sliding it back so that I could get in the thing, I looked around at a disaster area.

I knew that since the other driver had just quit, that our shop wouldn't have had the time to clean it up as yet, so I was expecting it to be somewhat dirty, but my God -- nothing like what I encountered!! It was littered everywhere and looked like a rolling garbage dump!! Cardboard boxes, plastic bags, coffee cups, old logbooks, clothing items -- you name it, and every nook and cranny I looked in was filled with the previous driver's garbage. Food cans and packages were all over the place. Apparently he'd rigged up a microwave and left the shadetree "wiring harness" for it in place in the storage space below the bunk, right in my way, so that I didn't have room for my tools and other supplies I keep down there. My God in Heaven!! Was this unknown former driver a packrat, or what??!! I don't think he ever threw a thing away, the entire time he had the truck!!! My work was cut out for me.

It was obvious that I'd have to clean up his clutter before I could even move my own stuff in, so I cranked the engine and drove it around to the front of the shop, where our dumpster is, and went to work. I worked hard and fast, too, because I had to get moved in, go get the load, then head out and put some distance behind me before I hit my break. And I would have to stop, too. The distance was too great to log in just 11 hours. Plus, I was going to be tired, I knew. I was getting tired just looking at the mess I was working on.

It took me an extra hour and a half, to clean out that packrat's nest, so I could move my own gear onboard. I had the shop get that wire from hell out of my luggage bay and I filled half the dumpster with the former driver's garbage. Filled two boxes with the food he'd left behind and took it in the shop, for anyone to take what they wanted. I didn't have room for it, with my own stuff in place, and I don't cook on the road. I eat sandwiches and get hot meals in truckstop restaurants when I have the time. Have cooler, will travel. That's my motto.

It took me until after 2 P.M. to get my stuff situated onboard, get the checkout sheet done, take it and the permit book to Safety, so they could make sure everything was up to date, then fuel, and leave the yard to get my load. I signed my bills and hooked up to my loaded caboose in record time, then hit the highway southward. There was some minor damage I noted, and the left sleeper extender was totally AWOL, as in missing, not there, etc., but other than that, the truck was solid. The engine purred like the "Kitty-Cat" it is and this is the quietest truck I've ever seen in my entire career. Very little engine clatter and roar, compared to the older ones. You still get the turbo roar when you push it hard in the lower gears, but that's common with all trucks nowadays.

The steering took a little getting used to, as always -- no two trucks are exactly alike; they all have their own little "personalities." The transmission is different and I'm still getting used to it. It has a higher gear ratio. You have to start out in 2nd gear with light and moderate loads, instead of in 3rd, like the old ones. The shift RPM points are different, too, and I'm still getting used to that as well; I still grind a gear now and then, or lug it occasionally, but before the next week is out, I'll have it down to a routine thing again. After all, it's the same old 13-speed tranny; just different internally.

I got that load delivered in Griffin, Georgia, got my homebound load, which picks up Monday and delivers Tuesday in Pennsylvania, and got in here yesterday morning. I had another small problem at the truckstop when I was dropping my trailer for the weekend. The fifth wheel release is totally different on these newer trucks. It's an easy-pulling hand release on the driver's side, as opposed to the old ones, on the opposite side, which liked to stick and jam and required the use of a puller tool, unless you enjoy getting grease all over you while you yank, tug and curse the thing!

The problem is that I like to have never figured out how to get the danged thing to lock in the disengaged position!! Pull out and let go. Bang! It slams back into the engaged position. Pull out. Bang! Pull out. Bang! Curse fluently. There's a trick to it, I surmised. Well, what the hell is the trick, I wondered? Finally, I pulled it out, held it in that position, and stooped under it, to study the nomenclature of the beast. Ah-ha!! I get it now!  Pull it out, hold it toward the front, and ease it back until the notch in the lever engages the front of the slot it slides in. Voila!! Locked in the disengaged position!! Well -- now ain't that special!! So easy it plumb evaded me!! I'll have to remember that trick, from now on.

So now I'll leave out tomorrow in a newer truck, finally. Maybe I'll get an even newer one by next year and not stay stuck in this one forever. That's a real possibility as my company is buying a different model Peterbilt now and will eventually replace the entire fleet with the new 279 models. Then I'll have to get used to a danged narrow cab again, like the old 377's were, when I first started with the company. But that'll likely be 3 years or more in happening, since that's how long the lease cycle is in my company. In the meantime, I'll take the newer 387's as long as they have them and I'll miss all that room when they finally go.

Truck 3402 again, if any of you see me on the road in the near future.


Monday, February 4, 2008


It's very rare for me to talk about sports in this blog, but this time I just can't help myself. So, even if you hate football, please indulge me on this occasion. It is the Super Bowl, after all!

From The Sports Desk

You've gotta hand it to those Manning brothers -- they sure know how to create excitement on a football field. Last year, in Super Bowl XLI (that's "41," for those that don't get the Roman numerals), it was brother Peyton's aerial circus in action, methodically dismantling the Chicago Bears. A team of destiny, the Indianapolis Colts, clobbering an upstart, "Cinderella" team, just as they were expected to do. Peyton Manning took his passing artistry to the highest of levels and wowed the crowd on multiple occasions. The better team won that game, hands-down.

This year, in the forty-second Super contest, it was just the opposite scenario. Peyton's younger brother, Eli Manning, was the general in charge of the upstart New York Giants, a wild card team, of all things, who faced the much-touted New England Patriots. The Patriots were coming off an undefeated regular season and playoff series, where they had vanquished every team who stood in their way. 18-0, going into last night's game, and it looked like nobody could stop these Pats from matching the undefeated season of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, so long ago. After all they had Tom Brady at the helm; every bit as skilled and savvy on the field as either of the Mannings are, and perhaps even better, according to some. And Brady had that awesome team at his disposal; a team composed of some of the league's most stellar players. The Patriots had everything going for them all season long. This game was to be the icing on the cake -- a reward for an incredible, so-rarely-seen season. How could they lose?

But lose they did, 17-14, spoiling the perfect season and a fourth Super Bowl ring for the players. In spite of all the Patriots' many weapons and against all the odds, those pesky Giants just refused to go away. Within those sixty minutes on that field the Giants reversed things and they morphed from an upstart and became the real team of destiny on Sunday night.

You might have seen this coming, if you were paying attention to the final game of the regular season, in which these same two teams had met. In that essentially meaningless game, with both teams having secured berths in the playoffs, the Giants gave the Patriots all they could handle before the Pats finally won out. I know what all the prognosticators said -- that it didn't mean anything, that the Patriots were saving their best for the playoffs, and blah, blah, blah. I didn't pay that much attention myself, at that time. But that game was a preview of last night's game, I believe. A forecast of things yet to come. The New York Giants were a team that was peaking at the perfect time. Beware.

Although Eli Manning shined in Super Bowl XLII, he wasn't the key to the Giants' victory. Give that one to New York's defense, which almost entirely shut down the mighty Patriot machine throughout the game, holding them to a mere 14 points; a dismally low score by Patriot standards. With Giants defenders right in his face all night, Brady was knocked totally out of his usual smooth rythym, many of his passes going awry and landing harmlessly on the turf, instead of in the receiver's hands. New York blitzes penetrated seemingly at will, knocking Brady on his bottom, or sacking him on several occasions. And isn't that the simplest rule of good defense? "The quarterback can't pass, if he's flat on his ass!" And so Brady was, many more times than he expected to be.

The Giants also shut down the New England running game well, downing the running backs well short of first-down yardage, and penetrating deep enough to down them behind the line of scrimmage many times. New England had its moments, to be sure. A great team always does. But the Giants 'D' did just what it had to, keeping them out of the end zone and holding down the score. The board stayed locked at 7-3, Patriots, until the fourth quarter, in fact.  

The other key to winning, for the Giants, was their offensive line, which protected Manning and kept him from suffering the same fate as his Patriot counterpart when it mattered the most. Because of them, Eli was able to pass for his first touchdown in the fourth quarter, giving New York the lead for the first time, at 10-7.

That lead would be swapped a total of three times in the fourth quarter, setting a new Super Bowl record. The Patriots answered back, making it 14-10, and eating up most of the clock in doing so. With time growing short, Eli Manning marched his team downfield one last time and tossed a picture-perfect strike to Plaxico Burress in the end zone. Burress, the Giant's leading receiver, had been neutralized all game long by the New England coverage, but he got wide-open for the score that would prove to be the winning one. After a not-so-great night, he was great when he had to be, and when it counted most.

With the score now 17-14, Giants, 29 seconds on the clock and with all three time-outs intact, Brady mounted one last drive, using those time-outs wisely and going with a no-huddle offense. They made it almost to the Giants' 20-yard line, but there the New York defense rose to the occasion once more. Brady couldn't connect on a single pass in four tries and the ball went back to the Giants on downs with one second left on the clock. After a premature celebration on the field was cleared, the lines formed for a last time, Manning went to his knee, and the latest Super Bowl went into the history books. It was over. New York had pulled off the most unlikely of upsets and one of the greatest ones in this writer's memory. And one of the hardest-fought and best Super Bowls I've seen in years.

Lighting has struck twice in a row for the Manning family. Will Archie Manning and his two sons become the greatest family dynasty in NFL history? I don't know what the future holds, but I can say that they're well on their way to becoming just that.