By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 269
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

The load of laundry detergent I had picked up in Laredo got a break, yesterday, as Larry had planned enough time, he said, for me to spend a few hours at home. So, I did; I get to sleep there for the night, and to go swimming with Michael and our grandson, Zachary. Zachary, I am told, thinks I have the best job in the world. He misses me when I'm gone (as I miss him!) but, every big rig he sees, he says, "Papa truck bigger."

As usual when I get home, I left about two hours later than I planned. This time it was because I had forgotten the sheets Michael had just washed for me. So I drove to the Flying J truckstop, which is closer to my home than the Schneider drop lot, while Michael drove home to get the missing items. He then met me there, and we kissed goodbye again, and I started on my way.

With five minutes, I realized I had also forgotten my ditty bag, with my toothbrush, hairbrush, extra contact lenses, and so on. But I decided I had to get moving, anyway, and decided I would replace the articles first chance.

I don't know with what. I had just received my second paycheck for driving, and it was pretty skimpy—about $150. Since I had only gotten $54 the week before, it was hurting. These low amounts were due to all the time I had spent waiting for repairs on the truck, so they really weren't my fault.

My destination was in L.A.; I didn't bother stopping in Fontana, but drove straight there. Even so, I had underestimated the amount of time it would take to get there—L.A. traffic, again—and showed up a little late. Fortunately, there was no guard gate to check me in and immortalize the exact time.

My instructions warned I would have to unload. Now, this is something that Schneider tells us happens on only 1-3 loads out of a hundred. I had no idea what to do, and told the guy so at the dock. It turned out, though, that the load was already on wooden pallets, and already shrink-wrapped; so all I had to do was watch while he ran in and out of the truck on his forklift, pulling out pallets one at a time and putting them somewhere in the bowels of the warehouse.

When he was done, I said goodbye and proceeded to the Schneider facility in L.A., about 23 miles away, where I was supposed to drop the now-empty trailer. Once there, I had to wait for further instructions. And, in fact, I was due for my DOT break, having driven all night. So, I heated a can of Franco-American Spaghetti and Meatballs, ate, and retired amidst the hustle of Los Angeles traffic in my nice, cool (with the engine idling) tractor.

When I awoke, there was my next load identified on the Qualcomm: I was to pick it up and deliver it that evening, both in Fontana. But that delivery was only the first of three stops; the same trailer was then going to Woodland, CA and then Albany, OR.

The catch was that I had a class scheduled in Fontana the next day.

Still, the evening's delivery shouldn't take long. So, off I went to Fontana to pick it up.

It was a "high-value" load, meaning it was probably electronics of some sort. (It turned out to be vacuum cleaners.) When I found the trailer on Schneider's lot, it had a kingpin lock on it. The kingpin is the thingie that attaches to the tractor's fifth wheel so the trailer can trail. A kingpin lock fits over it so a tractor cannot make the connection. That hasn't stopped some drivers from trying, damaging the kingpin lock, the kingpin, and even their own fifth wheel in the process. So, it was fortunate that I remembered to look.

I got the key from the fuel desk, coupled to the trailer, returned the key, and left the lot. The delivery point, at a distribution center for a major discount department store chain I'll call Cheap Mart, was literally 3.5 miles from the OC. But, when I got there at the scheduled time of 10 pm, I found I was expected to manually unload the thing.

This time, it was not written in my instructions.

The guy at the dock was named Jose, and he drove the forklift that moved the pallets. But, this load was not already palletized. It was hundreds and hundreds of separate boxes, and I had to lift them and place them on the pallets, before Jose could move them away.

I arrived at 10 pm; it was 1:30 am before I was done, and 3 am before I was back in the Fontana OC, with an aching back and utter exhaustion, and the knowledge that I was scheduled for a class at 7 am.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Class started on time. I was a wreck, but rapidly improving under the influence of free cups of coffee I was downing like liquid M & Ms. The morning's class was called "Safe Track" and was just a refresher on safe driving techniques we had already been taught. It included another road test, to be sure we hadn't forgotten all the good habits we were supposed to have started out with. My road instructor was Gennipher, who had performed the same function for my SQT (Skills Qualification Test) at the conclusion of my OTR (Over-The-Road) training. She remembered me, and so we had a pleasant drive sharing all our water moccasin stories.

She told me she had been dropping a load in South Carolina after a heavy rain. The unpaved drop yard was partially covered in an inch or so of water. A man there, who Gennipher assumed was another driver, tapped on her window and offered to uncouple her trailer for her. She was immediately incensed, thinking that he thought that, because she was a woman, she needed help with this simple job; so she declined. He insisted, and she declined again, thinking that, because she's blond, he thought she really needed the help. Finally, he explained that "the water moccasins are out". With that, she acquiesced, and allowed the man, whom she now realized was wearing metal-reinforced wading boots, to do the job they paid him to do: couple and uncouple trailers in the snake-infested drop yard after rains.

When our drive was over, Gennipher handed me evaluation sheets marked, "Drives safely: No coaching required" and "Stops appropriate distance from obstacles: No coaching required" and so on. The only room for improvement she saw, was that I didn't keep my turn signals on for the proper amount of time.

Now, this is an item of contention for me. Every instructor I've had with me while I drove, has found fault with how long I keep my signals on. Either it's too short a time, or too long. Gennipher says I keep them on until both the tractor and trailer are fully in the lane. The previous person said, only the tractor.

After Safe Track, I had Winter Training. Larry had scheduled both the same day to save time. This consisted of a video on how awful it is to wreck in the winter, a short survival class ("Be sure and pack a three-inch candle with you; it can mean the difference between surviving and freezing to death"). They also recommended food to bring, in case I find myself trapped for days in the cab of my truck.

This is a tricky subject with me. If I get trapped in my cab for days, while I don't want to starve completely, I would like to lose some weight. I would hate it if I had plenty of food but froze to death anyway. I can picture my body being dug out of a snow bank by rescue workers: "Christ, he's huge!"

"Yeah, too bad he only had a two-inch candle."

Because I had to unload the trailer the night before, I didn't have time for my eight-hour DOT break before class; so, even though I knew it would make me late for the next stop, I had to try to sleep through the afternoon, at which I didn't have a lot of luck, because I kept thinking about my schedule and how it wasn't going to work out. I had warned Larry, but he insisted on not changing the appointment time. "Cheap Mart delivery times are being watched," he said. "When you get to the top of Grapevine, tell Second Shift it took you longer than you expected, and let them reschedule."

Which is what I did. They did, indeed, move the appointment in Woodland from 8 am to 4 pm. That made it a much easier schedule, and I was able to take a break on an entrance ramp along the way, somewhere in the Central Valley.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Arriving in Woodland, I found this Cheap Mart distribution center to be much like the other one. However, the dock worker assigned to me was not as knowledgeable as Jose had been, and I had to to help her keep the various items of inventory straight. Interestingly, the physical work of moving the boxes didn't bother me as much. Either the first time had gotten me in shape for this time, or I was simply less tired.

The next leg of the journey was to Albany, OR, a little more than a ten-hour drive, according to the computer. I still had a few hours' driving available, so I drove for a couple and finally pulled into a TA Travel Center in Corning, CA. I could have gone a little farther, but I have always wanted to see Mt. Shasta and didn't want to risk passing it in the dark. I got a well-needed shower, dinner, and hit the sack. Even though I had a reefer (refrigerator trailer, very noisy because the motor runs all night) next to me, I slept with the motor off and the windows open, because I love the air temperature in Northern California, especially for sleeping.