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.