HELL WEEK, 2008
That subtitle above is an apt description, to be sure! I didn't have to wait long for the crap to come flying my way, either; it started on Sunday, when I left out, right off the bat. I hooked my trailer up early that morning, bound for a customer in southern Pennsylvania, where I was scheduled to deliver that same night. Do-able in 11 hours, barely. I put my truck in gear, headed for the exit, pulled out into the road, and all hell broke loose.
Suddenly, my speedometer just rolled over and died. Kaput. Non-functional. Etc. At the same time, my engine rolled over and died as well, at around 1300 rpm. Not nearly as much as I usually push it, winding through the gears. It got up to that point and just went "BLURP!" Nothing. Nada. Like it had hit the rev limiter (governor) WAY early! This resulted in a truck that wouldn't pull a greasy string out of a cat's behind, to say the least.
I was crawling down the road at 18 mph, shifting and trying to get some speed up. Frustrated cars blasted by me, with the drivers giving me some very hostile looks. I was wondering aloud, musing things like, "WHAT THE F***???!!!!!" and other assorted thoughts. I limped it onto the interstate entry ramp and drifted onto the shoulder, to let the frustrated cars go on by. I stopped, shut down the engine, counted off twenty seconds, then fired it back up. Let's try rebooting this electronically-controlled wonder! Garbage in equals garbage out.
It idled just fine, revved up normally, too. In neutral. Put it back in gear, put my signal on and eased the clutch out. BRMMMMMM--- BLURRRRRRP! "CRAP! DOGGIE-POOP!!" Etc. "Well, what the hell?? Cure it, or kill it!! Here we go!!" I stumbled and sputtered my way out onto I-40, giving it all it had (relatively speaking) in every gear, shifting as soon as it crapped out, and finally coaxed it up to 50 mph, in high gear. Once there, it slowly built speed until -- as suddenly as it had happened -- the truck gave a slight lurch and shudder, then picked up speed normally and went on as if nothing at all was wrong. Speedometer worked again, and everything! Hmmmmm! Some electronic glitch?? Working okay again now, so who knows?? Maybe it had the electronic equivalent of a "senior moment." God knows, it's got enough miles on it to get a little, uh, "forgetful" at times. It had been raining and maybe something got a little moisture on it inside that brain box on the side of the engine. But I wasn't going to worry about it, as long as it kept running as sweetly as it was right then.
It kept running normally, all the way to the customer. almost 600 miles away. I wasn't running normally myself, though. I had an upset stomach that had started the night before, resulting in a nice case of "Montezuma's Revenge" which had me running to the toilet all night and getting little sleep at all. Obviously, I had disagreed with something that ate me. God only knows what. So, I had dosed up with Immodium, laced with Pepto-Bismol, then hit the road. Truck drivers aren't allowed to get sick, in case you didn't know. That's a violation of DOT Code 1754.388, Paragraph C, Subpart 19D, of the federal regulations, I think. The only way you're getting out from under that load is to die, or be confined to a hospital, and I wasn't quite that bad off right then.
The OTC medication helped, but I still had to stop three times on the way up there. My GI tract was screaming for a bathroom when I arrived, but we were out in the driveway, a LONG way from the building. I would explode long before I got there, I knew. Finally, after pulling up three spaces and contacting the guard shack, he was kind enough to let me use the toilet in there. I'll be forever grateful to him for that, believe me.
I was out of hours anyway, so the wait didn't bother me at all. While in the guard shack, he'd told me that I could park and sleep at the driveway curb up top after I was unloaded. That finally happened after midnight. No load right then, just as I'd expected, so I settled down and finally got some sleep. My stomach had stopped cramping and I'd taken two more Pepto tablets for insurance on that deal. I adjusted the heat in the sleeper and went beddy-bye.
I woke up on my own the next morning. No Qualcomm nagging me to get my lazy butt up and grab another load as yet and I hadn't felt like dealing with my "Screaming Meanie" sleep timer the night before. I didn't need a heart attack on top of my upset tummy when that beast went off. So, I had some breakfast and went into "load waiting mode." It was early afternoon before they found me anything and it didn't pick up until the next day, in upstate New York, about 200 miles from where I was. So, I headed back to Harrisburg, to the closest truck stop, for the night.
I started the truck up, put it in gear and started out. BRRRRRRR! Up to 1350 rpm, then BLURRRRRRP! Crapped out again, just like the morning before. Heck, is this truck pregnant? Morning sickness or something?? I got up through the gears as well as I could, but the little ratty two-lane pigpath that led into that place was posted at 45 mph all the way back to the interstate, and the curves were frequent and sharp, so that's about all I could do safely anyway. But not being able to get it in high gear, it blurped and lugged all the way. I wanted to hit the Big Road, get it in high and see if it would revert to normal again, as it had previously, but no way on that road. It was a slow and aggravating 8 miles back to the freeway.
Hit the entry ramp and blurped my way down it, picking up a little more speed downhill, but I was still barely doing 45 when I pulled it onto the interstate. With an empty box I should have been hitting 60, normally. Flashers on till I got up to speed. Seemed to take forever, but it finally got to its limit of 65 mph. It cruised along well enough empty, but every little hill and it fell on its face. I was downshifting when I normally shouldn't be at all. This sucked, bigtime. And it didn't go away this time around, either. Blurp, blurp, blurp I went. Stopped at a rest area and called our shop. Told then what it was doing. They said to get the fuel filter changed. I knew it wasn't a waterlogged filter, but I also knew that drivers can't win arguments with the shop, ever, so I headed to a truckstop chain where we're allowed to have service work done on the road and had them change the filters. What the heck? It's their money, so let 'em waste it, I say!
Next morning, I topped off the fuel and headed north. Sure enough, it was still blurping, just like it had done before. I was sure something was wrong electronically, in the engine control system somewhere.It appeared to me that the speed control/rev limiter was all screwed up in some manner, but there was nothing I could do but press on and try. With an empty trailer it was bad enough, but I knew that with the heavy-ass load I'd be picking up, it would be a nightmare to deal with.
And on the trip up there, a new wrinkle appeared, as well. At one point, out of the blue, the temperature gauge shot all the way to full "hot" and idiot lights came on, as well as the warning beeper. It only stayed that way for a second or two, then went back to normal. Now, friends, I used to work on cars for a living. Twelve years of my life was spent in that occupation. I darn well know how a temperature gauge acts normally and that thing sure wasn't normal at all. False indication, I knew. Wasn't really overheating at all. Likely something in the electronic jungle under the hood setting it off in error. Computers can do bizarre things, believe me when I tell you that. Something was putting garbage into one end and it was spitting garbage back out. Typical of any computer control system. It would do that little stunt two more times that same day, as it turned out.
I got to the place, to get my load, and they promptly rejected my trailer. It had three holes in the roof that couldn't be seen from the ground at all, and I'd never been on a dock when they were loading me. I'd never known they were there. Until then. So, after consulting with our shop, consulting with the female guard, and making a few phone calls, I finally found a place about ten miles away that could patch it well enough to load. I drove over there and he had the work done in no time flat. Paid with a Comcheck and went back to get my load. Sat in line again, finally got docked and this time they loaded me up with the 45,000 pounds of salt I'd come to get.
I pulled out of the dock, closed my doors, and couldn't slide the trailer tandem a bit! It was an older rustbucket and the emphasis belongs on the word "rust." The slider was jammed full forward and rusted up good, plus I was on a slight uphill grade. Worn-out, I gave up and left. Drove to the first rest area I saw, got out and saturated the slider and rail with penetrating oil, then got back in and hit the bunk. Let it soak overnight. In the morning, with the brakes cold, it'll probably slide like greased glass on ice.
At this point in my tale, I want to impart to you my secret for getting the New York State DOT to weigh you for free. First, you must park in a rest area that's designated as a portable weigh station, like I did. Then, you get up the next morning and discover them in there, doing their duty, which is weighing trucks. Start up your truck and let it warm up, while you climb out and pull the tandem release rod out. Lock the funky thing in place with vise-grips. Then slide the tandem to the desired hole you want it in, while a DOT bear watches you. Fiddle with it a little, then release the rod. Rock the truck until it locks. Walk over to the officer casually, greeting him in a friendly manner and asking if he can weigh you before you head out, to make sure your weight is okay and while you're in a good place to adjust it as needed. When he says okay, back your truck out of the parking slot, straighten it out, then run it across the portable scale. He gives you the "thumbs up" signal and you thank him, then go on your merry way. He's probably still scratching his head, wondering about that Tennessee hillbilly driver who actually requested to be weighed, when he could have gotten a Free Pass because he was already parked when they set up their scales! Will wonders never cease?? Ah, but I saved myself $8.50 with that little brainstorm, so there is a method to my madness!!
I hit the road again and the truck was worse than ever. Zero to 65 mph in 30 minutes, or thereabouts. I drove a few miles, headed toward I-90, where I would proceed west, through Erie, PA and on into Ohio. The load was bound for Georgia, set to deliver the next afternoon. Dispatch was getting me close to home with that load, so I could start my vacation, and I had every hope of being home Friday sometime. However, that didn't happen at all.
I'd made about 20 miles or so of progress when I hit a gentle, but long uphill stretch of road. About halfway up the grade, the temperature gauge did its thing again. Shot all the way to hot, with lights blinking and the warning beeper giving me a 21-gun salute. This time it didn't go away after two seconds, as it had before. I headed for the shoulder, knowing what would come next, and barely made it off the road before the computer killed the engine entirely. Dead. No power steering, etc. I tugged on the wheel, straightening it out, flipped on my flashers, and braked to a stop.
Got out, watching for the inevitable cars that don't know enough to change lanes when they see someone on the shoulder like that, and opened up the hood. No steam coming from any cooling system component. Hoses were normal temperature and the coolant tank was also normal. No signs of anything overheating at all, just as I'd figured. It looked like my truck had just gotten lazy and decided it didn't want to pull that hill. I threw a half-gallon of coolant in the tank, just to be on the safe side, closed the hood and got back in. Called the shop. Told them the fuel filters weren't the problem and I was taking it to the Peterbilt dealer in Erie, if I could get there at all. They said okay. Engine fired back up readily enough and I got back underway. I made it to Erie.
I spent the rest of that day at that Pete dealership. There was much talk about ECM calibration and other technical things that I won't bore you with. The bottom line is that the engine control system was all screwed up, just as I'd thought. By afternoon I was calling dispatch and letting them know that I was going to be, uh, a little delayed, to say the least. They took me off the load and assigned another truck to pick it up and bring me an empty trailer. I waited, txt messaging a pal, reading and watching sillly TV shows in the driver lounge upstairs. Closing time came at midnight. They still hadn't figured it out. I backed the truck outside and went to sleep.
The other driver woke me up at 4:30 A.M., wanting the bills on the load. I gave them to him and he told me I'd be taking a wrecked trailer back to Morton. Whaaaaat??? I dressed and climbed out to eyeball the situation. He wasn't lying. The entire top of that empty trailer was caved in, on the right side, with the front part of the roof almost torn off. That side was caved in as well. It had obviously been rolled over by some unknown driver. I got on the Qualcomm and night dispatch confirmed that I'd be bringing it back home, where the shop would decide whether to fix it or junk it. Looked like junk to me, but it's not my call to make, so leave it up to them. So, now instead of ending up close to home, I was in the Dawg Trashed-Up Trailer Rescue business!
I didn't bother trying to go back to sleep. They'd be open in an hour, so I had some breakfast and waited. When the time came, I pulled itback inside, then resumed my reading upstairs, taking up where I'd left off with the car magazine the night before. I went down to have a smoke (outside, of course) and noticed that they were out road-testing my truck again. While I was puffing, they brought the truck back and parked it outside. Fixed?? Yep, they confirmed. The mechanic said that they'd reset some of the parameters in the ECM (brain box) and that it was fine now. Hooray!!!! About an hour later, I pulled out of there and headed for Star Central. It was running normally again, finally.
Got to Morton the next morning, gave the shop the readout that the Pete dealer had sent, grabbed a few supplies, then got dispatched. Was told to pick the load up and head to St. Louis, where I would relay it to another truck. We met at a truck stop outside that city and I hooked up to a trailer that was bound for Greeneville, TN, 70 miles from home. They wanted me to drop it off Saturday morning and told me to bobtail home if there weren't any empties around on a weekend. There wasn't and I did, so here I am, finally, and Hell Week is over!!
A whole week off, dying to ride Velvet and wouldn't you know it?? Now we have a winter flashback the first weekend I'm off!!! I just can't WIN!!!