Saturday, January 31, 2009
Have you ever done anything that made you feel like a total idiot? Of course you have -- we all have, at one time or the other, if we're honest about it. Nobody, however, does things that have them feeling like prize boobs more often than truckers. And the cause of these feelings of stupidity usually center around weather. Crappy, nasty, distasteful weather to be exact. I mean, who else but a truck driver would deliberately head into areas where there are hurricanes, tornadoes, 70 mph gusting winds, snow, freezing rain, sleet, and ice, when every single instinct in their bodies are loudly urging them to about-face quickly and run hard in the opposite direction? At least that's what my instincts tell me in those situations.
But when you drive a truck, operating in any and every kind of weather is a job requirement. The customers in those afflicted areas need their stuff and they're paying you, directly or indirectly, to get it to them, weather conditions be damned. So, you load up and head up the road, where the storm clouds lurk on the horizon, feeling like you need your head examined for ever taking a job that forces you to do such idiotic things. This is even more evidence to support my long-held contention that you don't have to be crazy to drive a truck for a living -- but it sure does help!
I loaded out on Tuesday, after sitting out Monday night. My load picked up in Greeneville, TN and once again I would head to Joliet, IL, where I had oh so recently survived a frozen-up truck in arctic-like temperatures. Well, at least the weather was a little warmer up there as of last week, but they were predicting freezing rain and sleet in Kentucky, which would begin almost as soon as I hit the state line, or so they said. Needless to say, I was NOT looking forward to those prospects at all! Would I even GET where I was supposed to go? I didn't know, but in order to earn my next paycheck, I had to try. And it didn't help in the least that my load, which was scheduled to be ready at 1 P.M., CST, wasn't loaded in my trailer till almost 6, delaying me another five hours and giving the icy rain that much more time to coincide with MY schedule! Finally, I was loaded and headed back to K-Town, and I-75, to begin my northward trek.
Well, they were wrong about the state line part of the forecast, I soon found out. It was mild, in the 40's, all the way up to London, Kentucky, where I took a five-hour nap before moving on again. It was the only chance I'd get, knowing that the nastier the weather got, the less likely it was that I'd find any space to stop later on, since many truckers who don't have next-day deliveries pull off the road and take up all the space in rest areas and truck stops, cramming their trucks into the facilities like sardines in a can. But I had a dual strategy, part one being the needed nap and part two being that my stopping *might* just buy time enough for the salt crews to get out and begin treating the roads before I moved on, thus giving me a safer surface to travel on. And it worked, up to a point.
When I resumed my journey, me and most of the other trucks cruised up the Big Road at a nice pace between 55 and 60 most of the time. The salt shakers were out and there was just water on the road surface, for the most part. One indicator that it's starting to ice is when you see a lack of spray kicked up by the tires of trucks that pass you, or are in front of you. You can also look in your mirror and see your own "rooster tail" behind you in well-lighted areas. That spray means that it's pretty much just water and isn't any more slippery than a heavy rain. It's when you don't see the spray, or rooster tails, that you have potential problems brewing. Of course, by then you can usually feel the greasy-like slipperiness of ice in the seat of your pants as well. You know the quivery, loose-as-a-goose feeling if you've ever driven on it before. You ease out of the throttle gently and don't dare touch the brake pedal until you're over the icy patch. Hold it straight in the road and if you just have to turn the wheel, you do so very slowly and carefully. But I didn't have that feeling once, all the way into Lexington, through Frankfort and on out past Shelbyville.
I stopped to fuel in Simpsonville and the lot was solid ice. Obviously the state salt crews weren't bothering with truckstop parking lots on that early Wednesday morning. That was the most "fun" I've had fueling in years. It was all I could do to stand up at all. I managed to get a death grip around the card reader machine in order to stand steady long enough to run my fuel card and Pilot Driver Payback card. Then I had to let go and half-walk, half-skate back the the cab door, to get my work gloves. I managed that, and managed to get behind the sleeper and get the fuel cap off. Now for the hose. The motion of pulling the pump nozzle from the pump sent me sliding backward. I banged up against the side of the sleeper. I slid my way back around to the tank, stuck the nozzle into the tank's bung, squeezed the "fill" lever -- and discovered that some dumbass driver had forgotten to turn the pump on! Clicked the lever into the "fast fill" position and began my journey back to the pump again. It was like climbing Mount Everest, but I finally made it and slapped the pump's handle to the "on" position.
Now for the passenger side. It was equally fun, but I managed to get the satellite pump going just as the nozzle on the driver's side clicked off. It could -- and did -- wait until I finished up on the passenger side. Check the oil?? Ha-ha-ha!! That was a JOKE! Let's just hope it wasn't critically low -- I wasn't about to push my luck that far! I managed to get the nozzle hung back up and started back around to the driver's side, to finish up over there. I did, finally, then looked toward the building and contemplated the vast ice field I'd have to cross in order to go in there and buy some munchies. It was all of 25 yards to the building, but with all that ice, it might as well have been a mile. Forget it. I was ahead on points thus far, so I climbed back in the cab and fired the truck back up. Put it in gear, let the clutch out, and went nowhere. Just spun on the ice. I locked the axles up and tried again. Nada. But it did move in reverse a little bit, so I rocked it backward a few feet, then put it back in first and went forward, out of the fuel island, onto the lot. I slid my way around the lot, dodging a creative flatbed who'd managed to park as much in the damned way as he possibly could, then made the salted road out front once again. A little greasy on the ramp, but I kept it reasonably straight and was back on I-64 in a few seconds.
I got my first dose of the heebie-jeebies in Louisville, on that infamous I-64/I-65 North interchange ramp, which leads one onto the Kennedy Bridge which crosses the Ohio River into Jeffersonville, Indiana. This ramp is the rough equivalent of the locally infamous "widowmaker" ramp in Knoxville, which takes southbound traffic on I-75 onto I-640 East. The only difference is that the Louisville ramp is (A.) narrower and enclosed by concrete walls (B.) has compound curves in it and (C.) is all uphill, elevated above the ground. This means that there's no ground beneath it to insulate it from the cold and that it will get very icy, very quickly. And it was just that on Wednesday morning. You absolutely can not stop on that ramp in those conditions. To do so would mean getting very stuck in a very precarious position, and/or sliding backward down the ramp, which would be decidedlly hazardous to your own health and that of anyone unlucky enough to be behind you on the ramp. Brakes are worthless on ice. Momentum is all you have and you gotta keep it going, no matter how slick it is. I narrowly avoided sliding into the concrete walls of the ramp twice, as I slithered and spun my way up onto the bridge. That bridge, like all bridges, was also hanging in thin air, with no ground insulation beneath it, but crews from both states had been at work and it was just very wet. Once I straightened up again on the bridge, I made my way on into the Hoosier State without incident. "Hey! How about a little salt on that ramp?" I hollered at a salt shaker on the opposite side, although he never heard me at all.
The Indiana suburbs of Louisville were pretty much like the state I'd just left -- wet. But things would change quickly enough. Just twenty miles or so north of Derbytown I started seeing white all around me and in just a few miles distance, the sleet had turned to a wet snow. And they hadn't had time to plow one bit. Well, snow is better than ice, in that you can get traction on it, but the slushy wet crap we had there was as slippery as greased glass and my truck's steering began to get squirrely as all get-out. I eased off the throttle as the "pucker factor" began to set in once again. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Pucker Factor is when you start getting as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. The cheeks of your behind constrict so tightly that you couldn't slide a greased needle between them, even if you utilized a piledriver. Finally, the truck slows to a speed which stabilizes the steering and the worst of it fades away. As the snow got thicker, all of us were averaging somewhere around 35-45 mph. Any faster and you started puckering up again. I resigned myself to a slow trip northward, until I eventually reached the point at which the plows had had time to remove some of the white crap from the road. But how many miles ahead was that point? I didn't know and neither did anyone else.
Seymour, Columbus, and Indianapolis all came and went with no relief in sight. By the time I moved on north of Indy, I was having another problem -- clear vision. The salt crud that had inevitably gotten slung on my windshield earlier was now mixed with snow, which built up into an icy mess on the glass. The wipers did only so much good before they just started smearing it all over the place and it had gotten cold enough by then that my washer nozzles were completely frozen up. Just as well, really, because any attempt to wash the crap off would only result in it freezing instantly and making things even worse. I turned the air conditioner on, to dehumidify things, cranked the heat control up, turned the function knob to partial defrost mode and cranked the blower onto a higher speed. It was too cold to turn it on full defrost and I wasn't about to freeze myself half to death for the sake of a windshield which needed a thorough bath anyway. Somewhere in the control settings there had to be a compromise and I played around until I found it, more or less. I could at least half-ass see what was happening on the road before me.
I settled in on the back door of another truck and told the driver on my CB: "I hope you can see where you're going, cause if you hit that ditch, I'm gonna be following your ass into it very shortly." He laughed, admitting that he was having as hard a time as I was. Misery loves company and we yakked back and forth as we slowly moved northward. Eventually, he exited and I was alone again, with nobody running with me. I was managing around 40 mph and passed two trucks who thought 25 mph was the safest speed, I guess. Passing was LOTS of fun, as the left lane is always worse than the right one and snow had completely covered the guide lines in the road. You had to guess at where that left shoulder was, or hope you would feel the vibration of the rumble strip when your tires hit it. The problem is that snow packs down in the ridges of that warning strip and you can't hear or feel anything, if the accumulation is heavy enough. It wasn't long after I'd passed the two slowpokes that disaster almost struck me.
I could see the first light of daybreak in the east, but the sun wasn't nearly up yet. A truck came down a ramp to enter the highway and I checked my mirrors and eased over, to make room for him to come out. I was trying to run as far left as I dared, to give him ample room, when I felt my left steer wheel sink into soft snow. I had run off the pavement. Normally, that's no big deal -- you just carefully steer it back onto the road. But something was wrong; the wheel didn't want to respond and turn to the right. I don't know if I'd hit a rut in the soft ground, or what, but I felt a lurch and saw that my trailer tandem had also ran off and was sliding slowly to the left, toward the median. At that point, pure instinct took over and all my experience was called into play instantly. I seesawed the steering wheel until my left tire broke free from whatever was trapping it and cut it shallowly to the right. Not too sharply, for fear that I would tip the trailer over onto its side. Fortunately, my drive wheels had remained on the pavement and they began to pull the rig back onto the road. I had caught it before the trailer wheels got too far into the snow and they came back up, also. But I was now sliding wildly. I countersteered just as wildly, turning into the slide, then back the other way, to compensate for over-correction. For maybe eight seconds, my trailer was all over that roadway. I had lifted completely off the throttle instantly and as the snow slowed the rig more and more, the sliding became more manageable until I finally had it going straight again. I fished for the right gear, found it, and proceeded on. Ten minutes later, my heart began to beat normally again and I let out a sigh and silently thanked the Guy Up Above for helping me out when I needed Him. Comments from other drivers who had witnessed my near miss ranged from congratulating me on a good save to questioning my mental aptitude. I ignored the latter, as there's always at least one asshole in every crowd. That's life.
About twenty miles further north of that incident, the going got much better. I could see two black strips of pavement in the right lane and a little further on, the whole lane was black asphalt. I had reached the point where the plows were at work. It continued to improve and by the time I hit Crown Point, both lanes were black again. When I got onto 80/94 westbound in Gary, the road was clear; plows, combined with the perpetually heavy traffic in that area had kept it completely clear. Now there's one example of how heavy traffic can be a blessing (although it's probably the only one). I had made better time than I thought I was going to, also. I pulled into my first customer's lot just 45 minutes late; not bad, considering what I went through to get their freight to them. Dispatch never said a word about my tardiness. They'd BETTER not!!! No telling what they might have heard from me. Certainly not printable in a family blog like this one.
Two hours later, I drove out to the closest rest area and collapsed into my bunk, totally shot. The rest of the week was uneventful and routine. I encountered a little more snow in Michigan, but nothing like what I went through on Wednesday morning!
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Got home yesterday and found that the check from the insurance company had arrived while I was stuck out on the road (I had cashed out an old insurance policy a week or two ago, in order to help pay off my debts.) I quickly deposited it through the ATM at my bank. That will allow me to pay off my auto loan early and have enough money left over to catch up with everything I'm behind on at present. That will eliminate completely the biggest single payment I had to make each month and give me considerable financial "breathing room." That was the best news I've had in months.
The extra money also gave me the cash I needed to give my bike, Miss Velvet, her initial 1,000 mile servicing. This has to be done by the Harley dealer the first time, in order to keep my warranty active. It was a beautiful, sunny day Saturday, so I rode Velvet over to the dealership to take care of that chore. The temperature was a bit chilly, in the mid-forties, but I bundled up and had no problems riding, except that my legs got cold. I got too lazy to put on my leather chaps and paid for it in that manner. Next time, maybe. . .
I was there about two hours, while they changed the engine and transmission oil, checked, tightened and adjusted her drive belt (no chain), her cables, and all the critical bolts and nuts. She ran like a top when they finished, with her throttle, clutch, and gearshift working like the thoroughbred machine that she is. The wind had gotten friskier, with random nasty gusts blowing me all over the map, so I rode her straight back home, then got into my soon-to-be-paid-for Chevy and drove over to my favorite "adult daycare center," Coyote Joe's, for an early supper and some brews. I was still quite road-weary, so it didn't take but three beers to almost knock me out completely. I said my goodbyes, drove home and went to bed early. Another day in my life in the books.
And, speaking of Harleys -- I've got some more Harley-Davidson lore that I'm going to share with y'all in this edition of the Dawg's Life. As a chronicler of All Things Harley-Davidson, I'll be presenting these tidbits of information from time to time, as I have in the past. Look for more in the future. This issue concerns Miss Velvet's heritage and ancestry, the Harley Sportster. Enjoy!
In the 60's the Japanese motorcycle invasion hit the shores of the U.S., with such brands as Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha offering up mainly smaller displacement motorbikes which were ideal beginner's machines and put a goodly portion of American youth up on two wheels. I owned a couple of those little putt-putts years ago, as did so many other adolescents of that era. Before the Asian invasion, though, there was another invasion, which reached our shores in the late 40's and 50's. This was the British/European invasion, which introduced makes such as Triumph, BSA, Norton, BMW, Ducati, and many others. The three top British manufacturers led the pack with their medium displacement machines, which ranged from 500 to 750 cc's in general. Light, fast, and completely unique, the Brit bikes caught on quickly with Americans, who found them much easier to deal with than an 800 pound Harley Big Twin-powered "hog." The Milwaukee Motor Company started losing sales to the Brits and it rapidly became obvious that they had to do something in order to compete.
The engineering and syling gurus at Harley rolled up their sleeves and got to work. In 1957 they introduced their own medium displacement machine which they named the Sportster. Today the Sportster family of Harleys are the oldest continuously-produced bikes that they make -- 52 years old and still going strong. The original Sportser, like its British counterparts, was a lighter machine, weighing in at a little over 500 pounds. It had clean, trimmed-down lines and looked lean and mean. Power-wise, it boasted an even bigger displacement engine than any of the Brit makes -- an 883 cc engine in the standard Harley V-Twin form, of course. You'd expect no less from the Motor Company, after all. That engine was nicknamed the "Ironhead," due to its cast iron cylinder heads and cylinder "jugs," and it was billed as a "900 cubic centimeter" engine, instead of its true 883 measurement. But what's a measly 17 cc's between friends, huh? The Ironhead Sportster engine remained the standard powerplant for the bikes from 1957 through 1985 -- another longevity record at Harley. In 1986, the Ironhead was replaced by a special Sportster version of the Evolution (EVO) engine and that's what powers my Miss Velvet and all her present-day cousins. But there are quite a few of the older Ironheads still around and kicking, believe me.
One thing that bike enthusiasts found out quickly when the Sportster was born; they were decidedly fast! They blew by most of the Brit bikes and flat-out embarrassed more than a few riders of Harley Big Twins. That "little Harley" engine put out a ton of low-end torque and accelerated like a guided missle on two wheels. The Sportster caught on almost overnight and Harley knew they had scored, bigtime. It wasn't long before Cycle World magazine, the industry's top rag at the time, declared the Sportster to be the first-ever Superbike. It held on to that designation until the late 60's, when Honda came out with their first four-cylinder, 750 cc "crotch rockets." That became the hot bike to have, but the Sportsters were still revered by their owners and sales stayed steady. It was the only smaller bike Harley made and was the ideal "first Harley" for many buyers who would later upgrade to one of the Big Twin models. And then are those riders, like myself, who just love the clean, racy lines of the Sportster better than all the others and prefer to ride a lighter bike that can still hold its own with many of the bigger ones, power-wise. Yeah, many a modern Sporty has surprised riders of the Big Twins , just as their ancestors did, back in the day. They can still earn the respect of the Big Bike crowd quite often.
The Sportster was named the "XL" model by Harley and has retained that same designation up through the present day. It originally stood for Experimental Lightweight, although today it is only a model/bike family designation. Miss Velvet's official factory name is XL1200L, which translates, in Harley language, to: Sportster model, 1200 cubic centimeter engine, and Lowered chassis. There have been many other Sportster designations over the years, such as XLH, the semi-racing XLCH (the latter two letters standing for "Competition Hot"), XLR, XL1000, XL1100, XL1200N, and so on.The Sporty family has offered several optional, larger displacement engines also, such as the 1000 cc, the 1100 cc, and Miss Velvet's 1200 cc/74 c.i. motor, which for years on end was Harley's Big Twin engine, until the large displacement boom began in the early 1980's. Now, with the advent of the Twin Cam 96 engine in 2007, the Big Twin has been upgraded to 96 c.i. at almost 1600 cc's. My venerable Milwaukee 1200/74 incher is now considered a medium displacement engine. How times change!
The Sportster has stood the test of time and is still one of Harley's best-selling bikes. As long as there's a market for a lighter bike that doesn't skimp on power one bit, they'll remain in the Motor Company's lineup. They're versatile enough for local city bar-hopping and, with the addition of saddlebags and a luggage rack, can be turned into shorter distance tourers as well, suitable for overnight or day trips almost anywhere you want to go. They have enough power to conquer any terrain and they can still turn heads at traffic lights. I certainly know Miss Velvet has, more than once.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Wanted: a tee shirt, with the slogan -- "I SURVIVED THE WINTER OF '09!"
I went to hell this past week. Not the Biblical hell, of course, but a hell on earth all the same. And unlike the real hell, I returned from the trip. And I can now report from first-hand experience, that hell IS NOT hot. Not at all. Hell is cold. Very, very cold. Location-wise, I was in the Chicago suburb of Joliet, IL, just in time for the Alberta Clipper weather system that brought a big blast of arctic air into the region. And I spent nearly 24 hours up there, with a frozen-up truck. Let's start at the beginning of this saga.
I went up there from Greeneville, Tennesse, where I finally picked up a load of tractor cabs, after a 30+ hour loadless layover a little south of that small city. I was a little less than 40 miles from home in Morristown, but I schmoozed in a truckstop and didn't go home. I can't draw layover pay if I'm at home and if I'm gonna sit and spin my wheels, I'm getting all the extra pay I can! Sure enough, I drew it.
Loaded and on my way north Wednesday afternoon, they were predicting single-digit temperatures locally in the next couple of days. As unpleasant as that was, I knew then that the temps would be down a lot lower where I was going. Just how much worse it would be, I didn't realize. On the way back to K-Town my truck lost its fan belt and started overheating. There was a slight delay while I went to a shop in the west end of town to get it fixed. It didn't take that long to fix it and I resumed my journey. But I had now lost so much time that I knew I'd have to run straight up there, nonstop. No time for a short nap or anything else. Mileage was do-able in 11 hours, so I headed out again.
The thermometer in my driver's side mirror was reading zero by the time I hit Indianapolis. As I moved north, the meter kept running in reverse. It was showing minus 6 by the time I made Merillville, IN, the outskirts of the Chicagoland area. By the time I hit Joliet and pulled into the customer's parking lot, it was reading 8 below. I was early, so I parked until time to deliver and napped as much as I could. The radio was saying ten below when I got out to take my bills inside and see where they wanted me to dock. When I stepped onto the ground, the frigid air literally took my breath away. It was like breathing in icicles. I zipped up, put on gloves and my knit cap. I half-walked, half-skated to the door, got inside, then paused, to catch my breath again. One worker grinned and asked if it was cold enough. I didn't bother answering him. They assigned me a dock and my face fell at the prospect of having to go back out in that. But I did and put the truck in the dock.
My load was delivered. Now please, dispatch, get me another load heading SOUTH and get me outta this winter hell-hole, ASAP. They did, and it went back to Tennessee. Great!!! I didn't smile for long, though, because as soon as I pulled out and hit the driveway, my truck began to sputter. SPUT! COUGH! SPUT! BLURP! It died. What the hell? I thought for an instant. Then, Oh, no!! I started it again. It idled strong and revved up okay. Put in gear and pulled out. Out the driveway, turned halfway into the street, totally blocking it and -- BLURP! Died again. Oh shit!! Fuel is gelling up -- while it's running???!!! Started again. Put in gear, let out clutch. BLURP! I finally managed to nurse it out of the driveway and got it parked out of the way up against the curb. It would idle but wouldn't pull a greasy string out of a cat's behind.
Called our shop and told them what it was doing and what I suspected. My fuel was gelling up, which is to say that it was freezing up. Diesel fuel has a peculiarity to it in which it will turn to Jello in cold weather. Technically, it has to do with the additives in it, but practically it means that the damned truck won't run on a solid fuel. It has to be a liquid and not much of my fuel was right then. The long wait while I napped had done it. Although the engine's fuel return system generates heat while it's running, in the kind of supercold weather I was experiencing, if you're not moving, the reduced flow through the fuel lines will allow it to begin to gel up. That's where it starts and then it spreads from there. It idled okay for then, so I still had heat, but knowing what I did, I wondered how much longer it would continue to idle. The shop put me in touch with a repair service and told me not to expect fast response. There were stranded, frozen-up semis all over the map up there that day. I called, got an answering machine and left a message.
It idled on maybe another hour before it began to sputter. The whole truck shook as the engine gasped for "breath." BLURP!! No idle. No heater. Very COLD cab. I restarted it and it ran for maybe ten minutes before it died again. Kept doing that as needed. Called the service's number again and got the same taped greeting. Shit!! Would they even bother checking their voice mail today at all?? Doubtful, I decided. Called our shop again and got connected to another service. I live human female answered. Told her my story. "I'm sure you've heard these tales all day," I quipped. Uh-huh. She got my location, phone number, and told me she'd get somebody out there as soon as she could.
Meanwhile, while I sat there, I'd been trading text messages with another trucker friend of mine. I'll just call him "Bob" (not his real name). He knows who he is, when he reads this. Bob lives in the Chicago metro area, although NOT in Chicago itself, as he is quick to point out. He happened to be home that day and he came to try and help me out. He brought some stuff called Diesel 911, which is designed to liquify gelled-up fuel and we poured it in both tanks, then tried to get it to circulate in the system. It was the day before payday, so I was flat broke, as usual, with a half-pack of cigarettes and no money to buy more until my paycheck hit the bank on Friday. But smoking was the least of my worries right then. We had no tools to get the filters off and that's probably where the heart of the problem lay. The gelled fuel will stop up the filters in no time and then you're stuck, unless you can change them, or pour the liquifier in them and thaw them out. Before he left, Bob went to a local Arby's and bought us both some lunch. I'm forever grateful to him for being such a great friend, when I really needed one badly. I won't forget, Bob, and it's my treat, the next time our paths cross again!
I climbed back in my now-cold cab and tried to run it again. It only ran about two minutes now before shutting off and it wasn't much longer before it refused to start at all. I guess I weakened my batteries by trying too long, but I felt like I had to do all I could to help myself. Finally, I got out and walked to a Kenworth truck dealer, located in the front of the building where I'd delivered that morning. In case some of you might wonder why I couldn't just get them to help me out, it's because my shop has to authorize the outfits that service our trucks and I imagine that a dealer's labor rate is too expensive for them. They won't even allow us to go to a Pete dealer, except for major service. It was warm in the dealership, so I was out of that bitter cold at least. The walk in there was agony because the cold, dry air was playing hell with my allergies, making it hard to even breathe at all. You quickly learn to breathe through your nose in subzero weather. The hairs in your nostrils help to slightly warm the air you take in. If you breathe through your mouth, it's like breathing in icicles, as I described earlier. It is actually painful.
I was puffing and gasping after that short walk. My nose had started running, my eyes watering, and the mucus was so thick with the cold that I was unable to spit, or blow my nose. It was frozen on my face after that short walk into the place. That's how it is at 11 below zero, with a -30 wind chill. Fortunately, that wind was pretty calm, at 10 mph, and wasn't the usual steady, sustained prairie wind that's so common up there. It was coming in weaker gusts. I could barely see through my frozen tears by the time I reached the door, but I made it inside and plopped down in the closest chair I could find. Out of breath, thawing and recovering.
"You the one stalled in the street out there?" a guy asked me. I gasped out an affirmative response. "Surprised you didn't come in here before now," he told me. "You trying out for a polar bear contest out there?" "Not on your life," I told him. 'Just trying to get it to run." "If it was gonna run, you'd have been gone a long time ago. Got somebody coming? Want us to look at it?" I told him someone had been called and they would be there -- sometime. "May be in the morning," he told me, "but you can stay here till we close at midnight. Can you get a motel?" I nodded. "Company'll pay for it, if I'm broke down and I definitely am." "If you're here when we close, we'll get someone to take you to the closest place." "Okay. Thanks. Hope they'll get me going today. Got a bathroom I can use?" He pointed down the hall and I went that way.
I was in there another three hours before the lady from the road service place called my cell and told me they were on their way to me. It was a little before 6 P.M. by then. No way I was going to make the eta on my load now, I knew. They'd probably take me off the load, then what?? I certainly didn't want to go any further north, where it was even colder!! I wanted that southern run in the worst way. But I put that out of my mind when the service guy drove up. I got in and he went back to the truck and got to work. I won't go into all the details of the next five hours, but we both worked on it, my helping him when he needed me. The first filter he pulled off of it was frozen solid. He said he'd never seen one that bad and was suprised it had started or run at all. To make a long story short, he put two gallons of fuel thaw stuff in the tanks and changed the filters four more times, before all that jello worked its way out of my fuel system and the treated fuel started flowing through the lines. And we had to sit a half-hour every time he added the anti-gel, to give it time to work. For my part, I sat in the icy cab, cranked it over while he sprayed ether in it, then held the throttle all the way to the floorboard when it started, to get it flowing strong enough to get that crap out of there. Finally, it ran for fifteen minutes without stalling. I played with the throttle another ten minutes, making sure, and finally satisfied myself that I was good to go.
After he left, I sat there with defroster blasting on full, to thaw my iced-up windows out, so I could see where I was going. They finally cleared and I could get some HEAT in that cab. I left it on the "Furnace" setting and it gradually got cozy in there again. After another twenty minutes, I could actually feel my legs and feet again. Yep, they were still there. I'd wondered about that for the past two hours. Dispatch told me to go get the load, and they'd reschedule the appointment the next day. I went. Truck ran good, but made some weird noises. The brakes made a little squeal every time I applied them, but they stopped me okay. Well, mechanical things can do some weird things in cold weather, I knew, and it was decidedly cold that night. I knew I likely wouldn't make it home this weekend, but I didn't care at that point. I just wanted SOUTH. Anywhere south, away from Antarctic America. I headed for the shipper.
Got there and had to get out in that cold AGAIN, this time, to drop and hook to a loaded trailer. Would this never end?? I bundled up again, and this time I protected my bare face with by putting a pair of my clean underwear shorts over my head. Nobody around at that hour and I wouldn't have given a single damn how I looked anyway. They filtered the cold air a lot and helped me with my allergy/breathing issue this time. Utilizing them allowed me to actually breathe through my mouth, without feeling like someone was stabbing my lungs with a needle when I inhaled.
It had dropped to 18 below by midnight and the wind chill was a balmy, tropical-like minus 34 degrees. And the wind was steady now, blowing at 15 mph. I couldn't stand it out there longer than about five minutes, then I had to climb back in and thaw out. Repeat as needed. It took me more than 30 minutes to perform a simple 10 minute drop and hook. Finally, it was done and I headed out of there! One more arctic excursion awaited, though. I had to fuel. I got to the nearest Pilot truckstop, where we fuel, close to "Bob's" house and fueled the truck. None of the other drivers said a word about my improvised face mask; if the truth's known, most of them may have been wishing they had thought of that. I skated across the icy lot into the truckstop, bought a gallon of anti-gel, which my company forbids us to use normally. Screw 'em! This wasn't normal conditions. I tricked the company into paying for it by getting the clerk to ring it up on the "additives" key. That's an old trick that still works. The company can't tell it from oil, etc., when it's rung up that way. I dumped a half-gallon in each tank and headed south at last. I got as far as Effingham when, since I was drowsy enough to start weaving all over the road like a drunk driver, I pulled into a rest area, was lucky enough to find an empty space, and hit the bunk before I collapsed. I had forgotten in all the stress of the previous day that I hadn't slept for something like 32 hours.
My dispatcher rescheduled my load and it now didn't deliver until Sunday night. I went back to bed and slept until 3 A.M. this morning (Saturday), then drove here to Paducah, where I'll hang until early tomorrow night, when I leave for my delivery in Humboldt, Tennessee. It's in the upper forties right now and feels like a heat wave, after the past 48 hours. Thank God that ordeal is over, but I survived it. I only "quit my job" about 50 times the past two days. Might have mentally quit it a hundred times if I hadn't been so occupied with other things, like surviving and getting that thing running again.
And oh yeah -- the eagle finally crapped while I was beddy-bye and I bought me some more smokes this morning, after cold-turkeying over 24 hours. So, it looks like it's back to normal again for now, at least. I've got some good ideas about surviving that kind of temperature again in the future, but I really just hope that's the worst I'll see this winter.
Spring can't get here fast enough for me!!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I guess I was conspicuous by my absence online last weekend, at least to some of my closer friends and readers. Well, now there's a reason for that and the reason was that I was absent -- from home that is. Yep, forced to stay on the road for two straight weeks again -- a prisoner to the whims of my trucking company. And also a victim of that Mad Irishman, Murphy, and his crummy Law once again.
That law states that, if it can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible time, to boot. And so it did. Actually, I benefitted some from being held out, but there were equal drawbacks, as always. I really needed to be home, ASAP, to take care of a pressing personal financial matter. I also had a doctor appointment which had been lurking in dispatch's computer files for a month. Both got blown out of the water last Friday, when I was dispatched some 350 miles northwest, back to the area around my company's terminal, to pick up a load.
Huh??!! I was incredulous, wondering just what in the exact hell was going on in that dispatch room! Had they lost their minds?? I was in Western Kentucky, near Fort Campbell, only some 50 miles from Nashville, plus or minus, and that made it less than 300 miles to my house from there. Good grief (to put it mildly)!! Message to dispatch followed swiftly: If you can deadhead me 350 miles to East Peoria, why can't you deadhead me less than 300 miles to the house and let me pick up a load on Monday?? The answer came twenty minutes later: Short on trucks at the yard. We need these loads picked up and delivered and you're one of the closest trucks. In spite of my aggravation, I had to laugh. I started to reply by pointing out that the tractor yard at Star Central was sitting chock full of trucks the last time I was by there -- whatta you mean, "short on trucks?" However, being an adult, I resisted the urge to act like an adolescent smartass and sent no return comment at all. Figured they've already got enough immature younger drivers who give them those kinds of observations.
"Ah-ha!! Got caught with your panties down, didn't you?" I was thinking. The company had laid off some 200+ drivers a short time ago and now it looked like that executive decision was backfiring on them. Apparently one of our biggest customer's subsidiary outfits was having a load explosion and my company was totally unprepared for it. This was confirmed when I got to the shipper some six hours later and found their lot filled with our loaded trailers. Me and two other trucks there at that time and at least ten loaded boxes left over. Well, hell -- now the new year's looking better already, ain't it? Or did I dare think such a thing at all?? This might just be a fluke, so I refused to let myself get too excited about it right then. All I knew was that, adding in the deadhead miles I had already run on the trip up there, this load was going to net me a little over 900 much-needed miles and $$$$! That was the beneficial part of the deal. I dumped my empty box, hooked up to the loaded one and headed for Morgantown, West Virginia.
But ol' Mr. Murphy was tapping me on the shoulder -- "Hi! Remember me??" he said. Yep, there was still the blown doctor appointment and weighing even heavier than that on my mind was the financial matter; something I desperately needed to take care of ASAP, lest they come to take away my nice Chevy pickup truck that I've paid on for more than five years and have about fifteen grand of my hard-earned money invested in already. Two payments behind that I can't make up, because of too many other bills and lowered pay, due to lowered mileage I'd been running the past three months or so, all due to an economy that's in the toilet. My only salvation would be to cash out an old insurance policy, take that money and pay the loan off early. But, I have to be home on a weekday, in order to go to the insurance company's local office and surrender the policy. The doctor's appointment would have put me in town on a Monday. But, thanks to Murphy, it was not to be, last week anyway. Call the lending bank and plead with them to hold off repo-ing my ride for two or three weeks; that's all I could do. I'm a victim of circumstances beyond my control. Could/would they understand that? Golly, I was sure hoping!
I got into Ohio the next day before I stopped to take my 34-hour reset and then it dawned on me that I'd left my laptop computer at home, sitting on my dining room table. Oh, great!! Now I couldn't pay any other of my bills, either!! Wonderful!! I had been just so sure that I'd be back home for New Year's and the doc appointment that I hadn't bothered to bring it along. Now I couldn't even get online to blog, or read my e-mail!! I wanted to kick myself in the butt, but my leg won't bend that much anymore, in my middle age, so I just called myself various names the rest of the day.
And that's why I got stuck out last week -- because I'd left that laptop at home. Ain't that always the way things work out, after all? How many weeks have gone by when that thing just sat on its shelf in my sleeper, collecting dust, while I was at home? Most of the time. So now, of course, when I don't have it along I get stuck out and it's 550 miles away! Might as well be on the moon, for all the good it did me! Yep, that sure had Murphy written all over it.
My God, what a BORING weekend I had to endure!! Absolutely nothing to do, but sit, read, and play the radio. I did watch a little TV in the truckstop driver's lounge, until some knuckleheads changed the channel to some crap I don't like. Three of them and one of me -- I'm outvoted, so I left. I told myself that laptop, by God, was going to go back in my truck the minute I got back home!! I never want to suffer another weekend on the road that dull again.
I got to the customer, got unloaded, found that there were no backhaul loads until the next day and predicted to the dock foreman that I'd be assigned one of them. Another moment of clairvoyance for this Dawg, because that turned out to be exactly what happened. Sat overnight, then loaded the next day and went back to the Morton area again. Got there, dropped the trailer at the customer, then sat at our yard till the next morning before they assigned me a load to South Carolina. I'd told them I had a crucial dental appointment Monday for a root canal (again) and I HAD to make this one, due to the tooth being abcessed AND I also had vitally important financial matters to attend to. So, at last I was headed south, toward home.
I got a load in Carolina that delivers in nearby Morristown, Tennessee Monday afternoon. I no sooner got in the door this morning and set my things down before I had my laptop packed up and tucked in my truck on the passenger seat. I AIN'T leaving it at home this week -- not on your life! So, that explains why there hasn't been an entry or e-mail from me for almost two weeks. No computer = no internet. Do the math. But I'm back again, finally.
Now, if I can just get the dental appointment over with Monday and get that policy turned in to the insurance company, I might even get through this economic sewer with my sanity intact!! At least some of it.