Sunday, March 30, 2008


I paid a terrible price to get home this week. I had to get my load at a place in Pennsylvania that I had never been to before and which features a trucker's nightmare -- a blindside dock. Was I paying penance for something I did wrong? I'm sorry, God! I'll never do it again -- I promise (whatever it was I did)!! But I HAD to get that load, so my fate was sealed.

For those of you out there who are scratching their heads at the terminology I'm using, I will explain. The right (passenger) side of a truck is commonly referred to as the "blind side." This is for rather obvious reasons, namely that the driver has many blind spots on that side, where he can't see at all. The worst place is right smack beside the passenger door and front fender area. A car hiding there is twice as likely to get smacked by a truck which might wander slightly off-course on an uneven road surface than they otherwise might. So, there's a hint for all of you -- stay away from that area of a truck, as much as you can!! You have been warned!!

If you ever chance to watch a truck back into a dock, you'll see that drivers commonly do whatever they can to get the driver's side of the truck facing the dock. This includes making U-turns, or even going around the block and changing directions, if necessary. That's because it's easy for the driver to see on their own side of the truck. You can see everything in that position, while you're backing in.

However, because of the location of some docks, it's impossible to get that side next to the dock and that makes things MUCH more difficult! This is the type of dock arrangement I encountered Friday, in a little burg south of Allentown, PA. Backing into a blindsider, once you start turning the trailer, all the driver can see out the passenger window is the side of the caboose.This involves trying to get positioned just so, when you begin backing, cutting at the precise time, getting back under the trailer at the proper time, so as not to oversteer it, and making lots of GOALs (Get Out And Look).

Well, I don't always climb out, really. I learned early-on that you can just roll down the passenger window, stop, set the brakes, then lean over there and look back at the ass-end of the trailer, in order to see where  you're going. But it's necessary to stop and do this any number of times, depending on how difficult the situation is. And this one was quite a challenge.

First, I had to make a U-turn in front of the dock, in order to get my rear end facing it. Barely room, but do-able, dodging parked 4-wheelers on the lot. Then pull out, almost straight, but leaving my trailer angled slightly toward the dock. This set me up for the attempt and that part went well. Then take a deep breath, put 'er in reverse and slowly start creeping backward. At this point, I can see clearly in my right mirror.

What made things interesting here was the fact that I had to first back up past two huge dumpsters, then cut it around a steel support beam and concrete pillar, jack it into the dock's "driveway," cut it enough to miss slamming into the pillar and support beam on the other side, dodge a concrete buttress back there somewhere and also not slam into several 55-gallon drums lying around, or run over a stack of steel pipes on my left side.  I also couldn't open my trailer doors until I was back beyond the support beams. One misjudgment and you could kiss a trailer door goodbye. Don't take much to snap those aluminum hinges off. I wanted to get loaded and head home, not spend several hours in the nearest trailer repair shop, thank you!! I had already figured all that out beforehand, because I'm smart, see? I had gotten out and surveyed the situation well before I put the tranny in reverse.

Ahead on points, at that point, I rolled on backward until I cleared the dumpsters and could see the support and pillar. Then I began to cut the trailer to the right, slowly. The side of my box filled the mirror and I used the power button to "pan" it out as much as I could, so I could see the back end for as long as possible. Soon enough, the mirror was panned out and I stopped, rolled down the window on the other side, set the brakes and crawled over there for a look-see. Looked good, so far. I seemed to be missing the pillar handily. Pull up a little bit and start cutting the opposite way, I thought.

I did so, rolled back and BANG! Looked again and I had hit the concrete pillar. Crap!! So, pull up, shift my position a bit, then start back again. BANG!! I'd hit the damned thing again!! Third try and another BANG!! Hell, was that pillar from hell jumping out in front of me??!!!  No, but it sure seemed like it. This time, I climbed out and did another survey -- a complete GOAL, if you will. Hmmmmmm.

I only had about four feet of "pull-up" space in front of me, before I would hit a ditch and a chain-link fence that had been trashed by several trucks in the past, by the look of it. I used every inch of it and then some. Even went into the grass a little. Knocked a 55-gallon drum into the fence. I didn't care at that point. I just wanted to get the thing in the dock and be done with this ordeal. Slowly, inch-by-inch, I crept backward, stopping three more times to GOAL. Finally, I was between the supports, headed into the dock. I opened the doors, then backed it and jacked it a little more, to get the rear of the trailer square to the dock, so they could get the dock plate down and load me. Tractor was cockeyed to the trailer. Who the hell cares?? Not me. I had worked my butt off just getting it in there and I wasn't worried about it being crooked. I wasn't seeking perfection, just functionality, in that case. I rested while they loaded me. Didn't really care if they got in a hurry or not. I wasn't.

Glad that one's over, I'll tell you. I always dread the thought of ever going back to places like that again, but I might be back there in two weeks, for all I know. However, having done it once, it'll be a little easier next time, because now I know what I did wrong and how to avoid mistakes in the future. In trucking you never stop learning, no matter how experienced you are!


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Ahhhhhhh! Spring is nearing, and a (more or less) young man's fancy turns to . . . his new motorcycle!!! The time for polishing and working on Miss Velvet is coming to an end, and over the next few weeks, it'll be time to ride her again!  So, in anticipation of that, I'm offering this timely entry, filled with some Harley-Davidson lore, history, and trivia. Even if you're not personally into motorcycles, it is my hope that you'll find my efforts interesting and entertaining anyway. And, so -- away we go!!


Harley-Davidson is the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.

This is true, in terms of continuous production, which has never ceased in 105 years. Although motorized bicycles had been put together in the past, it wasn't until William Harley and Arthur Davidson put their heads together in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1903, that the concept became more than a novelty item. Harley was the engineer/mechanic who designed the machine and Arthur Davidson was the salesman who saw a solid marketing gold mine. It wasn't long before Walter Davidson joined them, along with another brother, and the Motor Company was born.

Design innovations followed rapidly. William Harley's designs were different from the past and then-current machines, mainly because he designed a brand-new custom frame for his early creations, instead of just bolting a small engine into a standard bicycle frame. Harley-Davidson, in fact, was the first manufacturer to begin calling their machines "motorcycles." Soon enough, the bicycle pedals had completely disappeared, replaced by the kickstarter which Harley had invented and the machines took on a true motorcycle appearance, radically different from a bicycle. Involved in racing almost from the beginning, there was a need for a more powerful engine and before 1920, the first of the now-legendary V-Twins appeared and soon were standard in all of Harley's street machines. And that unique Harley-Davidson sound was born, albeit not as thunderous as the rumble of the larger displacement engines that would appear in later years.

The company didn't produce or sell many bikes in those early days, becausethey were all laboriously hand-made and only the more affluent people could afford them, but it wasn't too many years before Henry Ford turned the industrial world on its ear and his assembly line process was adapted to other kinds of manufacturing almost overnight. Harley-Davidson, which had already established its early network of dealerships (a first for motorcycle makers), took off from there. Just as it was with Ford, now the common man could buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and sales began to soar. The rest, as they say, is history.


Harley-Davidson's innovation stopped around the WWII era and they haven't progressed much since then.

False. It might seem to be that way, because Harley's advancement has come slowly, a bit at a time, seemingly, but modern Harley-Davidson bikes are just as technologically up-to-date as any others. Harley-Davidson has always had a different philosophy than other motorcycle manufacturers; instead of rapid and radical advances, Harleys have steadily evolved over the years, into the modern machines of today.

The V-Twin engines of today are still based on the same tried, true, tested, and proven design of the earlier days, in that they still retain the 45-degree angle between the cylinders and the two connecting rods still share a common crankshaft pin, but indeed that is the heart and soul of a Harley engine. It's where that sound comes from, after all -- from that configuration. You don't mess with something that works and Harley hasn't. They know, as do millions of owners worldwide, that it wouldn't be a Harley if it didn't sound like a Harley!  Internally, though, the cylinder head designs, hydraulic roller tappets, modern camshafts, etc., have all evolved into the latest technology. Harley-Davidson is even one leg up on their Japanese competition, in that all modern Harleys are now fuel-injected, while the similar rice-burner cruiser-class  bikes are still carbureted.

And the rest of the machine is state-of-the-art as well. The suspension and steering, transmissions, brakes, Kevlar belt final drive (insteadof a chain that slings oil all over you), self-canceling turn signals, electronic ignition, solid-state charging systems and other components are thoroughly modern.

Don't let Harley's styling fool you into thinking that all the bikes are technological throwbacks. Thanks to Willie G. Davidson, the head styling guru at the Motor Company (and great-grandson of one of the founders), Harleys have retained the classic styling that the owners and buyers want, while utilizing the most modern and up-to-date components throughout the product. The massive front fenders and teardrop gas tanks have been retained, giving a modern bike the retro look that Harley owners crave.

Other bikes are faster and more powerful, but a Harley is a Harley is a Harley, like they say. It is what it is. You either like it, or you don't. If you're a techno-geeky speed demon (and enjoy long rides crouched in a position that resembles doing push-ups), then get a "crotch rocket." If you want a classy, 100% American-made legend, then buy a Harley. Depends on your appetite.  


Harley-Davidsons have a bad reputation because they're the motorcycle of choice for biker gangs and hoodlums.Most of the people who ride them are loud, uncivilized outlaw types who cause trouble everywhere they go.

True and False. Some outlaw types have ridden Harleys in the past and a few still do today. It's true that gangs like the infamous Hell's Angels almost all rode wildly customized Harley-Davidsons, most with loud straight pipes (which all too many -- even the certified non-hoodlums -- still favor today, unfortunately). But in reality, historically, it was lousy, tabloid-type journalism, combined with too many people jumping to unfair conclusions that drove those types to become outlaws in the first place. They were made into what they became.

It all started in Holllister, California, in 1947, when a motorcycle club, made up of World War Two veterans, rode into the little town and decided to spend the night there. They had bought their predominately Harley-Davidson motorcycles after they returned home and had stripped them down to bare-bones machines, tossing things like saddlebags, extra lighting, sheet metal parts they could do without, and so forth. They partied and most got drunk and loud, but aside from a few minor disturbances and some of them who ended up in the local drunk tank and jail cells, due to blasting around on their bikes and making a lot of noise. not much really happened. Nuisance level at best and the local bar and tavern owners were happy because the bikers spent quite a bit of money while they were there. They really didn't cause a lot of trouble. Local townspeople who still live there today will tell you as much.

The hoodlum image got started when a reporter from the newspaper in a nearby larger town, went over there to see what all the hubbub was about. Evidently, this reporter was a prudish type and what he saw must have shocked him out of his gourd, for according to the way he described things in his story, one would think that all the demons from hell had descended on Hollister and were looting, raping and pillaging at will, like the Viking raiders of bygone days. He sensationalized it, whether deliberately, or out of pure shock, and the story was picked up by many larger newspapers.

The gross over-hyping had its effect on millions of readers and before very long, those early biker clubs found that they were unwelcome almost everywhere they tried to go on their two wheels. Police lined up at the town limts, to make sure that they just rode on through, not welcome to stop and quench their thirst anywhere. They could have just hung it up and broke up their clubs, but they were incensed by the unfair image that the reporter had given them. These were former combat soldiers and pilots, who had risked their lives fighting for their country and now that country was treating them like dirt, over a few beer brawls and impromptu drag races. They were fighters and they grew determined to fight back, so they began to live up to the image they had been stuck with.

If you've never seen the old movie, The Wild One, which starred Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, rent it and give it a look. It's based on the Hollister incident, although the film's director  was not allowed to portray the incident accurately, as he wanted to do. He was forced to portray the biker characters as outlaws and hoodlums by the Film Decency Board of that day, which had drank the Kool-Aid put out by the press. That film made it even more uncomfortable for the bikers, as a result. By the 50's and 60's, the biker clubs had indeed become outlaws, in reaction to the way they had been treated in the aftermath of Hollister.

Nowadays, of course, times have changed and most of the biker clubs around, like H.O.G., or Harley Owners Group, are just honest, hard-working people who travel around on their machines in their leisure time and cause few, if any, problems at all. The Hells Angels still exist, but, except for a few isolated incidents, are no longer seen as a threat to society at all. They have, in fact, volunteered, as part of the Rolling Thunder Brigade, to provide security for the families of slain soldiers, when groups of nutball anti-war protestors try to interrupt the funeral ceremonies. I, for one, say more power to them, in that endeavour!

Society has changed, Sonny Barger (Hell's Angels leader in the 60's) died, and the younger generation has taken over the clubs. Few of them are into violence and mayhem anymore. They're just looking to ride, enjoy the scenery, and stop in for a cold one at the end of a long riding day. Lots of them are tattooed and look weird sometimes, but they are good people, for the most part.

There's no point in being afraid of bikers anymore.


Sunday, March 16, 2008


Blogger's Note:  On first glance, it might seem that the subject of this entry would make it more fitting material for my political blog, but I have decided to post it here instead, because of the impact on my profession -- trucking.    L.J.W.


It was warmer everywhere I went this past week and it looks like, finally, spring is beginning, after a particularly harsh winter. With the warmer weather, of course, will come the annual blooming of orange construction barrels all over the place -- the surest sign to truckers and motorists that the seasons have changed. And, as we move toward summer and the annual travel season's beginning, we can all look forward to the grim prospect of higher gas prices, which will, without a doubt, soar to more than $4.00 per gallon in no time at all.

Diesel fuel, which Big Trucks run on, has already reached that level in some states, as I observed this week. Pennsylvania and Illinois are two examples of states that are already over the $4.00 diesel price. Most trucking companies don't pay the pump price, of course; they get sizable fleet discounts from the major fuel suppliers. But it still hits them in their wallets, just as it does everyone who purchases fuel. The owner/operators are hurting the most, because in spite of the fact that many get some kind of discount from the company they lease out to, fuel is still largely an out-of-pocket expense for them. Fully independent truckers, who are few and far between these days to begin with, will grow even scarcer in the course of the coming year, as fuel costs prompt them to hang it up, sell off their trucks, and find another occupation to provide them with an income.

The "blame game" has already started, but it will hit high gear a couple of months from now when gasoline prices reach the same level as diesel fuel already has. That long summer vacation trip don't look quite as hot when you're paying $80 a pop to fill your SUV's gas tank, does it? The finger-pointing will begin in earnest and, as always, the primary target will be the oil companies -- those "evil," greedy companies, with their humongous profits who produce the product that everyone who drives any vehicle with an internal combustion engine absolutely needs. The media will drive this anti-oil company fervor by ranting endlessly about the size of those profits and elected officials in Washington, especially those on our political left, will point their fingers and threaten to tax the profits, or cap the price of the fuels they produce. And now, with Democrats in control of Congress, they may just do it.

Big mistake, if we consumers allow them to do that, because history will repeat itself and the result won't be pretty at all. Anyone out there old enough to remember the oil crises of the 1970's? Remember sitting in line for hours, to get a few gallons of gas in your car? Remember gas stations being closed altogether because they had run out of fuel? Remember the alternate fuel-purchasing days (a form of rationing) that occurred in some places? Remember then-President Jimmy Carter's "Windfall Profits Tax?" And, if you think back really hard, maybe you'll recall that those gas lines, closed stations, rationing, and the other miseries didn't begin until Carter signed that tax and other oil price controls into law!  You might also recall, if you think long and hard enough, that the misery went on unchecked until 1981, when President Ronald Reagan, with one stroke of his pen, repealed that tax and all the price controls, so that the market could again work as it was supposed to. The gas lines disappeared overnight, the supplies flowed again and the misery of the '70s was over at last.

In Reagan, we had a president who understood Basic Economics 101 and pulled us out of the mess we were in. He understood the Law of Supply Versus Demand, and how that simple law is the very foundation of our economic system. Reagan knew that when the government interferes with the natural order of things in the economy, it will always result in a shortage on the supply side, as the suppliers cut production in order to hold onto their bottom line. Reagan also fully understood that such government control always results in a dramatic increase in price, as the commodity that's in short supply becomes more valuable. So, Reagan had the wisdom to remove the artificial controls and let supply and demand work in the natural way that it's supposed to.

That crisis ended with Reagan's actions. But now another crisisis looming and many in the government want to do the very same thing Carter did, which will have the exact same results, and millions of unsuspecting Americans, hurt by the high cost of fuel, actually favor their doing so. Some are too young to remember the crunch of the '70s, and many older people have simply forgotten about it. Times have changed, since the Carter/Reagan eras, to be sure, but Economics 101 is still the same as always and a profits tax, or other artificial government price-fixing, is most definitely not the answer. As always, when the government tries to "fix" something, it only succeeds in making things much worse. Until people finally learn that truth, history, I'm afraid, will continue to repeat itself, as it is poised to do right now.

If you want to see the full result of government price controls, you need look no further than Europe, where fuel prices have hit the average equivalent of $9.00 per gallon. We can all take some comfort in the fact that it's still not nearly that expensive here. In most, if not all, of the EU countries, the oil industry is nationalized, which means that the government has taken over complete control of it altogether. Five dollars difference in the price, when the government takes full charge. Don't want that to happen here, do you? Then by all means, don't let the government ever, ever, get control of it, because Europe is your example of what happens, pricewise, when it does so. Things go from bad to worse, just like I told you.

When the government takes control, they can shift the price up or down at will and the direction will definitely be upward. This increase, in America, will be to appease the environmental lobby, which really wants us to stop driving completely. These lobbies are rolling in money, which means that they have great influence in Washington and can get laws and regulations passed which impose their will on all of us, who have next to no influence at all. Our government isn't one of "By The People" anymore; it's become one of "By The Special Interests Who Have Lots More Money Than You And Me." And our public officials, of both  political parties, are the best money can buy, let me tell you that! If you believe otherwise, then you are hopelessly naive.

So, you're probably  wondering now that if I'm right, and government intervention is not the answer, then what is the solution? To get to that answer, it is of primary importance to understand why the price is so high to begin with. And it isn't just oil company greed. Forget that.

One factor is OPEC, or the Organization of Price-Extorting Criminals, as I prefer to call them. If anyone involved in the fuel price game is to be labeled as greedy and evil, this collection of oil barons deserves the title richly. Composed of representatives from all the nations who export crude oil to the refineries around the world, many of whom are most definitely not friends of the United States, this organization can, and does, on the slightest whim, raise or lower their production. This, in turn, moves the going rate for crude oil to higher or lower levels, as the case may be and as it suits OPEC's interests. Lately, they've been tapering off on production, driving the price-per-barrel up to record levels. The sheiks and other oil fatcats must want newer model Rolls-Royces than they already have, or some more golden commodes, or indoor ski resorts.

We're stuck buying about forty percent of our oil from OPEC nations. Although most of our imported oil comes from Mexico and Canada, their prices are set by OPEC agreement and our oil companies have to pay the going rate for it, which may change on an almost daily basis. They get no price break on it and thus must pass the cost on to the consumers -- us, otherwords. That much is just simple business economics, virtually the same as trucking companies passing their fuel costs on to the customer in the form of surcharges. There's not a lot we can do about OPEC; it's their oil. If we want it, we pay their price, or do without.

But as if OPEC's not enough to drive the price upward all alone, here comes our own federal government. and their obsession with regulations and taxation. The oil companies don't make their money at the pump. They never have and never will. Their profits are made at the refineries, where the crude oil is converted into gasoline, diesel fuel, and other products. Oil companies only average about eight cents ($.08) in profit per every gallon of fuel they sell. The federal government, alone, takes eighteen cents ($.18) on  every gallon -- a full ten cents more than the oil companies are making. You tell me who's doing the gouging here?? And some in our government want to raise that tax take even higher??!! Give me a break!!!

Oh, I know -- the government spends the tax money on roads, and so forth, blah, blah, blah. Heard it all before, but it won't hold a lot of water. Roads are built and maintained by the states and municipalities. Show me one road that the federal government has ever built or maintained. Go ahead -- show me one! You can't, because the federal government doesn't build our highways. Yet they add their eighteen cents worth to every gallon of fuel that's sold. Who should one logically be the maddest at? The oil companies, making their eight cents and giving you a product that you need? Or the federal government, taking eighteen cents so they can blow it on studying the effects of cow farts on global warming, or some other worthless foolishness?

And what about those humongous profit margins that the "evil" oil companies are making? The profits that the media and politicians rant and rave about so much, trying to turn all the blame on the oil companies? That profit margin wouldn't be nearly as high, if the oil companies reinvested some of it in things like new refineries, and exploration/drilling in the ANWAR in Alaska, and other domestic oil sites, such as in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida.

Virtually all companies reinvest part of their profits in their own businesses; that's how they get much of the capital they need to build new plants, new stores, and to expand. But the oil companies aren't allowed to reinvest theirs, as the federal government has forbidden them to build any new refineries, or explore and drill domestically, all at the behest of the environmental movements, with their cash and political clout.

The fact is, the federal government is responsible for those profit margins being so high, in the first place!  And then, of course, the leftist politicians and the media can then find plenty of ammunition they can use to demonize the oil industry with. They simply "forget" to mention that their own regulations help drive those profits up  to such record levels. Because they don't want us to realize that. They want to make us hate the oil companies, and with all too many people, they are succeeding grandly. 

I've often wondered how high the price will climb before people finally catch on, tell the "greenies" to shut up and sit down, and demand that we build new refineries and drill domestically? Five dollars a gallon? Six? New exploration and drilling, and new refineries are the solution to lower prices and end much of our dependence on imported oil for years to come. Let OPEC see that we are going to do this and watch how fast their crude oil prices drop! It will amaze you! When we no longer need their oil, they will be willing to make us a deal. You can bet on it.

Our own oil industry can bring about lower prices, if we let them; it's just a matter of educating enough people about the truth. Oil companies aren't evil; they are just businesses like all others, producing a product that is vital to us all. Maybe now some of you readers won't jump to conclusions when the media starts bashing them again. Maybe some of you will ask your elected officials why we are letting Cuba and China drill off our coast, and we're not out there claiming our share of that oil. Just the truth and something to think about.


Sunday, March 9, 2008


Everybody sing along with me:

I'm dreaming of a white Easter, just like the ones I've never known.

Where Al Gore is whining about Global Warming, while sleigh bells tinkle in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Easter; springtime still seems so far away.

For the green grass I'm yearning oh so much -- as my tires keep spinning in the slush!

That's what I've been singing all week, as Mom Nature had a winter flashback and they stuck my butt back in the snow both at the start of the week and (as if that weren't enough) again at the end of it!! Somebody at my company evidently thinks I'm Nanook Of The North, but they've definitely got the wrong guy! I am decidedly a Warm Weather Person. Don't like snow. Hate the white frozen crap with a passion. Wouldn't even play in it when I was a kid. Only reason I liked it then was because it got me out of going to school for a day or two, that's all! I was born and raised in the south, where it don't snow much, and I'll stay in the south forever! I know when I'm well-off, thank you!

First off was a little jaunt up to Minnersoda, or Minnesota, I mean -- up in the Frozen North, where it's still very much winter, and will be till sometime in May, I think. The earth has to tilt WAY over on its axis before it warms up in those upper latitudes, so spring is longer getting there. I drove through near white-out "snow showers," driven by a very annoying gusting wind, as I neared my destination. I drive a single trailer, not the doubles some unfortunate LTL drivers are stuck with, but with those gusts out of nowhere, I was rocking all over the road, doing my very best simulation of those wiggle-wagons. Unnerving? That would be an understatement. But after ten years of braving blizzards, hurricanes, tropical storms, "baby" tornadoes, and almost everything else Mom Nature can throw my way, I'm pretty tough, if I do say so myself. Either that, or I'm insane. Haven't figured that out yet. Anyway, I persevered and rolled into the customer, right on time.

I dumped my loaded box in a dock door, tromped the slushy ground beside the trailer to dig out a clear spot, and planted my heels firmly in the slippery slush, so I could crank the dollies down and pull the fifth wheel release without losing traction and falling on my rear. Then I spun my way out from under the loaded box, fishtailed around to the back lot, taking the corners like a really BIG snowmobile and almost spinning a donut in the empty lot. Finally, I spun and slid my way under an empty that was sitting all alone back there. I went through the foot-planting ritual again to get hooked up to it.

I was dispatched quickly for a change, to a little town, barely in Iowa, only fifteen miles south of where I was, in Albert Lea, MN. Not knowing the condition of the backroads and not looking for any extra challenges other than the ones life throws at you normally, I took I-35 down to that exit, went east seven miles, found the place, checked in, then proceeded to wait on the load for four hours. It was late afternoon by the time I set sail again and I had about two hours left, to get a few miles behind me before I hit my break period. I meant that part above about "setting sail" quite literally, because during the time I spent waiting, the weather gods had decided to curse me with a particularly nasty crosswind!

That big windbag was blowing from west to east and came equipped with gusts which felt like at least 60 mph in strength. It felt like a giant fist was hitting the side of my trailer, and I could hear a distinct 'bang' when the gusts slammed into my box. To make things worse, my entire load weighed a wimpy 1,400 pounds!! It was almost the same as pulling a deadhead empty box. Not good. Where is a heavier load when you need one?

I was countersteering my tractor straight between the lines, in the center of my lane and when I glanced in my mirror, I could see that the wind was so strong that it was pushing the box clear over next to the lane divider line. Cars crept cautiously past me, unsure of whether I'd end up on top of them when the next gust came. Actually, if those 4-wheel drivers had realized it, the best thing they could have done would be to tromp the accelerator and get around me as fast as possible, not linger over there like they were doing!! I tried to wave them past with arm motions: "Go on!! Scat!! Get away from me!" I urged them, hoping they could read my lips. A few did and boogied on out of  there, but most of them just crept by, staring at me untrustingly, putting themselves in harm's way out of seeming fascination and/or ignorance! But eventually they all went by unscathed and the road was empty again.

The wind had, of course, blown dry powdery snow from the shoulder and the nearby fields out onto the road surface in places. Normally, this isn't a problem for a heavy truck, but in that wind, it was murderous. I hit a deeper drift at the exact same time that I was blasted with another powerful gust and it literally skated my whole rig sideways across the snowdrift, halfway into the left lane! Now you can understand why I was motioning the cars to speed up and get around me earlier; if there had been a 4-wheeler over there at that moment, I'd have creamed it! Luckily, there wasn't anything over there, and I got it straightened back up and back in my lane quickly.

That was enough for me, on this nasty weather day. I determined that I would stop early, at the closest place I could find, take my break, and hope that the wind would die down that night, by the time I had to roll again. I came to a rest area a few miles further on, and I pulled into it and parked. Got up in the wee hours, found that the wind had indeed died off to nothing, and then rolled on south, through the Mason City area (Hi, Merry!) and on down to U.S. 20, where I drove east, to Waterloo, then south on 380, to Iowa City and I-80. Onward east to I-74, then on to Bartonville, near our yard.

I got rid of that load the next morning, then picked up a loaded trailer at the same place and began another long journey to North Carolina, due there the following day, Friday. It was on that journey that the state of Indiana bestowed a little award on me. I received a Fast Driving Award in the city of Indianapolis, issued by an Indiana state trooper. A "Fast Driving Award" is a speeding ticket, in case you haven't figured that out by now. 65 in a 55, no contest. I was guilty as all hell and admit it. But the circumstances were almost comical and I was chuckling to myself afterward.

I was cruising down I-465, "The Circle," as it's known to truckers, because it's a beltway that circles  the entire city. Right lane full of slowpokes, as usual; middle lane, where I was, full of faster vehicles, and the far left lane almost deserted, except for passing cars. You'll notice I didn't mention trucks and that's because we're banned from the far left lane, as we are in most major cities.

I have taken issue with those bans, but that does no good, of course, because the politicians have to do something to make their constituents think they're doing the job they were elected to do and that something usually involves making it harder on trucks, in some manner. This has become the natural order of things, seemingly. Pamper the cars, then poop on the trucks. That's the thanks we get for keeping the shelves full at your favorite stores. But, I digress.

I was doing fine, humming along at nearly 60, until I ran upon a little 6-wheeled local-yokel delivery truck that was poking along in the middle lane at 45 mph, ten miles per hour under the 55 limit. I tried to "push" him along a little faster, but he wasn't gong to be pushed, nor take the hint and move into the Granny Lane where he belonged. Nope, this yokel was going to keep right on puttering along, ignoring the traffic behind him that would prefer to, uh, go a little faster than construction zone speeds.

Check right lane. Bumper-to-bumper, going about the same speed as the creeping lane hog in front of me. Look to the left. Deserted. Hmmmmmmm. Well, what choice did I have? I could stay behind that clown and take the rest of the day to get through Indy, or I could "bend" the law a little bit, dart into the left lane, pass him quickly, dash back over and slow back down to a tolerable speed again. I headed left, sped up a bit, and put him in my mirror. It was that "getting back over" part that didn't work out as planned, however.

Cars had moved from the right lane into the middle lane in front of the offending slowpoke and had neatly taken up all the real estate I needed in order to get back into the center lane. I put on my signal and held my position momentarily, hoping they would make room for me. But, as usual, they only cared about themselves and not a tractor-trailer, which was now trapped in the left lane, which he wasn't supposed to be in at all! So much for a quick bending of the law. I was now breaking the damned thing outright. I had to get back over, before some cop spotted me out there.

The cars were in a conga line, nose-to-tail, with about eight or ten of them in line. They weren't going to make room for me, so the ony thing I could do was speed up, pass all of them, then move back over where I belonged and slow back down to my reasonable speed again. So, I proceeded to do just that, picking them off one by one. Until I passed a big, gas-gulper SUV and discovered that the car in front of him was an unmarked police car. I had already come up beside him before I realized who and what he was. Okay, cop -- you want me, you got me! I couldn't break into the conga line behind him and was kind of obvious right beside him, so I just said to hell with it, went on past him, then rolled back into the center lane, just as he turned on his red and blue disco lights. BUM-BA-BUM-BUM! Busted. Caught red-handed in a restricted lane, speeding. Oh, SHIT!!!

I made my way into the right lane (NOW they let me over!), found a safe place on the shoulder, pulled over and popped the parking brake knob. He wrote up the speeding rap, but let me off with a warning on the lane violation, after I explained what my original intention had been. He realized, I think, that I was trapped out there and had no other choice. I don't even know yet, how much I'll have to pay for the privilege of fast driving, nor how many points I'll earn for it. But it's only my second speeding ticket in ten years, so my record is still pretty good, I think. I have also long believed that unmarked police cars should be unconstitutional, as driving them amounts to cheating by the cops, but since the Powers That Be don't see it my way, I guess it's a chance we'll always have to take. Except in Ohio, where unmarkeds are unconstitutional!

I got back home yesterday afternoon, after I had to run 100 miles west of Knoxville, to the town of Cookeville, TN, to swap loads with another driver, so I can keep my doctor appointment tomorrow. And it was snowing again, although the roads were snow-free and the wind was tempered a lot by the trees and hills around these parts. Nothing like that wind in Iowa on Wednesday! There's no snow here at all, as it all went north of the valley Knoxville sits in, but it's cold as whiz.

It's supposed to warm up by Tuesday. Let's hope it does, and stays that way!!


Sunday, March 2, 2008


You MUST CLICK for the song to play.


Made another Ironman run home this weekend; almost 800 miles from Joplin, Missouri, at the Kansas/Oklahoma line, to the Dawg House, beginning on Friday night and ending up late yesterday afternoon. This ain't Kansas anymore, Dorothy. That much is true, but I had been in Kansas on Friday, which I wouldn't have been at all if I hadn't blown a relay that was set up for me by opening my big, fat mouth at the wrong time!! I would happily kick my own butt, with all of you as witnesses, if my danged leg were long enough to reach it!!

This latest sordid affair began on Monday, after spending the weekend in Morton, when I delivered the load I had dragged up there from Kentucky and was promptly assigned a load heading me south, to Florida. To Jacksonville, specifically, and the railyards there, where I would drop the loaded trailer so they could load it on a flatcar and piggyback it to Miami. The railroad has their own cartage operation and they hook up the trailer to one of their trucks in Miami, take it to the customer, haul an empty box back to the railyard, then ship it north, back to Jacksonville.

That's cheaper than having us drive all the way down there and then have to deadhead us 300 miles back up north, to pick up a backhaul load. There's nothing much going north out of Miami and that was a big problem for us in the past. They'd get us down there, then have trouble getting us back out of there, without deadheading us all over the place. And deadhead miles are a loser for trucking companies; they have to pay us for those miles, while they make nothing for hauling an empty trailer around. Now the railroad has solved it and, with the exception of a few of our drivers who live in Florida and run shuttles in and out of Miami, we don't go down there at all. The Orlando/Tampa area is about as far south as I've gone in over four years or so.

However, there's another problem in Florida, at least in the winter months -- a lack of any freight. It dries up down there in the winter, for some reason, andhas done so for years, making for some long waits to be dispatched on another load. But the heck with that, I thought at the time; if you're gonna get stuck in a loadless condition, there are far worse places than Florida to do so, and at least you're out  of the cold, snow and ice that's still around in the more northerly climes. So, I happily made my merry way southward from Star Central.

I got to Jacksonville a couple of hours ahead of schedule, dropped my loaded box, snatched an empty one, and then got just what I was expecting -- a "no load" message from dispatch. I found a spot on the shoulder in a jam-packed rest area and slept as well as I could, with the truck tilted downhill, which wasn't very well at all. I moved to a truckstop the next morning, napped some more, and got dispatched more quickly than I expected. Load picked up in South Georgia and went to a town in Kansas, just over the Missouri line, near Joplin. It was set to deliver Friday morning, more than 800 miles from home, after I'd already been held out the previous weekend. The past weekend had played to my advantage, in getting a newer truck assigned to me, but this weekend it would be a decided hardship on me, if I couldn't get home. And the prospects didn't look too hot, from so far away.

A "discussion" with dispatch ensued. I pled my case relentlessly; I had to get home in order to get my prescriptions refilled. I would run out of my medications if I didn't. Was it possible they could set up a relay somewhere? "Get the load and we'll see about it" was the response I got. So, I headed for Georgia, to a little burg 30 miles east of Valdosta.

I got there, was told the load wasn't ready yet (as usual), was instructed on where to drop the empty and where to park and wait. Drove around the plant, dumped my empty in a sandlot out back, parked behind another Star-mobile and waited. Meanwhile, the lack of sleep from the night before was catching up with me and I nodded out at the wheel. BEEP! "Message Waiting," said the Qualcomm. I rubbed my eyes and jabbed the key that opens the messages for viewing. They had a relay set up in Nashville and the driver would be there waiting on me. Great!! But that also meant an all-night drive, with little to no sleep, which I needed badly.

Guess I'd better nap while I can, I thought, so I hunkered back down and headed to dreamland again. KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! I opened my eyes, jumped up and looked out the window at a spotter. Load's ready, I was informed. Go get your bills and you're outta here, sleepyhead! I grinned at him as I climbed down from the cab. "You would wake me up NOW," I told the guy. "Hell, I was just getting to the part where I almost had her clothes off!!" He laughed and I went to the office and signed my bills.

I had to drive back the way I'd come, to the front of the building, to get my loaded caboose, and the "driveway" was a narrow sandy path. On the far, or east, side of the building, I encountered a spottermobile headed my way and I moved as far to my right as I could, to make room for us to pass each other. In so doing, my mirror on the passenger side was whacked by some shrubbery branches that stuck out along the fenceline. It didn't hurt the mirror, but the little antenna for my satelllite radio was stuck to the top of it and when the branches slapped it, my satellite unit went dead. Nothing but static on the FM frequency the satellite operates on.

I looked, expecting the antenna to have been knocked off the mirror, but it was still there. Hmmmmm. I went on around, backed under my loaded trailer, then had a look-see when I got out to finish hooking up. The antenna was trashed totally. The branch had snapped the wire from the antenna in two and it was hanging limply from the passenger door, where I had routed it inside. No user-serviceable parts. Not repairable. Shot. So, no satellite radio until I could purchase another antenna. After I got the trailer all hooked up, I tore it from the mirror, unhooked it from the unit, turned it off, tossed the antenna, and scanned around for local FM stations, until I found one with music I liked.

I drove all night long, stopping only for a brief three-hour nap, and sleeping just long enough to get really sleepy, if you know what I mean. About 50 miles out from Nashville, the following morning, the other driver called me and told me he was there. I told him where I was and that I'd be there shortly. Then dispatch called and it was not my dispatcher. He was taking the day off again, it seems. He's been absent a lot lately, but I'm danged if I know what's going on with him, and haven't talked to him enough to find out. The replacement dispatcher wanted to check with me about the timing of the relay that my dispatcher had set up, so I told him what he wanted to know. 

It was then that my Big Mouth went out of control. Blame it on lack of sleep and being half brain-dead as a result. Blame it on driving all night, in a mental fog half the time, with my well-oiled driving instincts taking over, amounting to an "automatic pilot" of sorts, to keep me out of trouble. It's a level regular everyday drivers never acheive at all and it's kept me alive and well for ten years. But in spite of what I may blame on it, the fact remains that I blew my own relay right out of the water!

I HAD to ask Mr. Replacement where the load I was swapping for went and I HAD to ask him when it was set to deliver. Greeneville, Tennesse, was the reply and that part was great! Seventy miles from home and only about 4 1/2 hours away from Music City. It was set to deliver that same afternoon and that wasn't so good, as I was falling-down tired and didn't have the legal hours left to get there. Then I JUST HAD to tell Mr. Replacement about my hour situation. Open mouth, insert foot squarely in mouth!! He asked me when I could be there. I told him I was familiar with the customer and knew well that they'd be closed by the time I took my break and drove there. So, I concluded, the earliest I could be there would be the next morning. He said he'd call them and see if they could wait that long. I drove onward.

The Qualcomm beeped on the outskirts of Nashville, but I was in city traffic and didn't answer it until I got to the truckstop where the relay was to take place. The other truck wasn't there. I backed in and opened the message. "Cancel Relay," it read. Well, dog-poop, I thought!! Looked like that Greeneville customer couldn't wait till the next day, after all. The other truck had obviously been sent on, to make his delivery and I was going to Kansas. Double dog-poop!! When I complained, Mr. Replacement told me he'd get me home from out there. Yeah. Right. For how long?? Fifteen minutes before I have to leave right back out? I left that unsaid and hit the bunk. Enough was enough and I was bone-tired.

I got up and prepared to head west and north of where I was. I never sleep as well during the day, but I got enough rest so that I could drive all night again. And my head was clear enough now to realize I had torpedoed my own relay with my big mouth! If I had been thinking clearly that morning, I'd have kept my stupid mouth shut about my hours, swapped loads, and drove illegally to that customer! The HOS doesn't exist when it comes to getting home! I KNOW that only too well! I'd probably be there by now, or on Friday, at the latest!! Dumbass Dawg! Stupid mutt!! I proceeded to call myself every name in the book at that point, showing myself no mercy at all. A brain fart of monumental proportions; that's what it was. No doubt at all about that. Probably the Greatest Brain Fart Of All Time. A world record. I spent the next hour beating myself up severely. And I deserved it!

So, I was in Kansas on Friday morning, once again weary from the all-nighter and making my way on a detour route when I discovered that the road I was supposed to take was closed, due to [expletive deleted] road construction. I got unloaded, got dispatched quickly, and, as promised, the load would take me home, then on to North Carolina on Monday. I scurried to get it picked up , sleep some more, then head out that night. Had to run all over a little town, to three different places, to get it, but I did, then headed, illegally, back to Joplin for my break. I wasn't making the same mistake this time, by golly!!

I fueled in Joplin and found a new antenna for my Sirius at the truckstop, and a much better one than I'd had before, to boot. Couldn't install it until I got home to my tools and bench vise, though, because it had a gollywhompin' HUGE 1-1/8 inch nut holding it to the bracket it was assembled with and I would need to change the bracket, for another type that came packed with it. Needed a big wrench that I only had at home. So, I laid it on the dashboard, but it lost the signal every time I changed directions because it wasn't outside, where it belonged. So I turned the thing off and made do with local stations along the way.

My trek home began around 10 P.M., Central Time, on Friday night and ended a little past 4 P.M. Eastern Time yesterday. Almost 800 miles, virtually overnight, but I made it and at least I've got today off. I was tired, but still had the energy to swap the brackets out and get the antenna installed, now clamped to the sunshield on the front of the cab's roof. It works fine and I've got my satellite radio again now. And this antenna won't get shredded by shrub branches again!

Now, to catch up to things, when I've been out for two weeks! Talk to all of you later!!