By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/11/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 432
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Wednesday, October 3, 2002

I am starting to fall into a routine with this job, and suspect that daily entries won't be necessary any more. Certainly, I am going to the same places again.

For example, today I went to BNSF to pick up a load. I'd been there before, a huge railroad yard. I hope the strike hadn't affected them, but saw no sign it had; there were no picket lines or anything like that to cross.

On the other hand, I couldn't find the trailer I was assigned to pick up. The man at the "information kiosk" didn't have much to share, and even less interest in sharing what he did have. There was a computer terminal on which I looked the trailer up, and which reported it was in Lot 3. But I check every single trailer in Lot 3, and Lots 1 and 2 as well, and couldn't find it.

As usual, I tried sending a Qualcomm message; as usual after 4 pm, it wasn't answered; so I called. After the required fifteen minutes of listening to music (they had switched to the 60s from the 80s; I didn't realize there had been that many Soft Hits of the 60s), I finally spoke with a woman who put me on hold so she could call the customer. She was actually quite helpful, but what we discovered was that BNSF had lost our trailer, and were going to look for it.

I was to wait in my truck outside the information kiosk, and the man would come out and get me when they found the trailer.

The man who was originally there didn't smile or acknowledge me when I paraded myself in front of him so he'd know I was there. And then, after a couple of hours passed, he left and a kid took his place. I got out of the truck, introduced myself to the kid, and told him what I was waiting for.

More hours passed.

A roach coach pulled up and I thought, at least I can get something to eat. I started to get out of the truck, when the kid exited the building. I thought he was going to talk to me, but he approached a Coke machine and began seriously studying its choices.

I got out and ordered something to eat at the coach, a steak-and-egg burrito. As I returned to my truck, I heard a can emit from the Coke machine—it had taken the kid five minutes to decide?—and the kid called me. "Oh, they found your trailer," he said. "Lot 5."

"Lot 5?" I asked. "Where's that?"

"It's the other place," he said. "You have to leave, drive around the block, and go in the back." He gave me detailed directions, and I finished my burrito and finally, after a wait of five hours, got my trailer.

That's five hours of not driving, not getting paid, by the way. This is time I am encouraged to log as "Off Duty", though I certainly was not "free to pursue my own interests."

Doing so just makes it appear that I am not being as underpaid as I am. The encouragement is in the form of the 70-hour rule, which says I can only be On Duty for a maximum of 70 hours every eight days. If I log time like this as On Duty, I might run out of hours to run later in the week, and not be able to make that driving money. So, most drivers lie on their logs, and maintain the fiction that we are better paid than we are.

Or, if they don't lie, they rationalize. One driver told me, "I am free to pursue my own interests. My interest is in saving hours so I can make the mileage and get paid for it."

The load itself, now that I had it, had to be in Oxnard, CA that night. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen. Customer Service called the client and made new arrangements for a morning delivery. That meant, instead of sleeping that night—and I needed sleep, after the vigil in the BNSF yard—I would, again, be driving up the Grapevine at night.

This would be the second time; I've still never seen it in the daylight.

Friday, October 4, 2002

I got sent home, though I had to pick up a load while there. The load came from Reckitt Benckiser, the same company that had supplied the very first load I picked up on my own. So, I knew where it was. I had to slide the tandems to the fifth hole as per California law. But, once attached to the truck and legal, I pulled the trailer to the Phoenix drop yard, parked it, and went home with Michael.

I had little time there. A top priority was to take my grandson, Zachary, swimming. Another was to do laundry. I looked at the small mountain of mail on my desk and decided, another time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Repairs shouldn't be routine, but they are rapidly becoming so.

I kissed Michael goodbye, then pulled out of the Phoenix drop yard; turned two corners (perfectly!), and sat waiting for the final stop light between me and the highway to change, when there was a crash! from behind that shook the truck. My God, I thought, some idiot has crashed into the back of a stopped truck! I put on my emergency flashers, jumped out, and ran to the back of the trailer. There was a car there, but it was undamaged and the driver was looking at me as if to say, "What's wrong with you? Get in! The light is green!"

It was very strange. My teeth had rattled from the impact, yet no one around seemed to take any heed and there was no sign of a problem.

If it was an hallucination, it was a very realistic one.

I got back in, put the truck in gear, and eased out onto the Interstate. The truck rolled smoothly, no problems.

How odd.

I did find, however, that the air conditioner was no longer working.

Fortunately, the night was a pleasant enough temperature and I didn't really need it right then. But it gets mighty hot in Arizona even in the Fall; I didn't have any idea where I was going after Fontana, but Fontana would be my last chance to get the air conditioning fixed. And so, I would be spending another day in the repair bay.

But the air conditioning going out couldn't have caused the crash I felt.

Suddenly, I realized what it must be. One of the tires had blown! Of course, it wouldn't impact the driving of a light load. I could get it fixed at Fontana, quickly, probably before dropping the trailer at the consignee's.

Realizing I had to go to the bathroom, I pulled into the Pilot at Quartzsite. It was pretty crowded, as it usually is at that hour; but I found a slot and attempted to back into it.

The trailer wouldn't go.

I mean, it moved; but it wouldn't move where I wanted it to. I found myself having actually made a 360 turn without getting the thing in the hole; finally, a driver called over to me, "You're never going to back that thing in with the tandems slid all the way to the back."

I looked. Sure enough, the tandems were all the way to the back. Fortunately, I hadn't yet cross the border into California, where that position would be illegal.

But I had put them in the right location—I was sure of it!

As I stooped, inspecting the tandems, another driver approached. "Need some he'p?" he offered.

"Uh—yeah!" I replied with gratitude.

After a few moments, he said, "Well, here's yer trouble…the hydraulic <something> is busted." I couldn't quite make out what he said, having had my attention riveted to the word "busted". There was a thing under the trailer that looked exactly like the hydraulic arm on a screen door on any back porch. Except, it was covered in greased, and connected to a device that had little knobs on it that looked like they could be pushed, but couldn't.

"I kin fix it," he said. "Let me get my hammer."

Lost, as I was, trying to remember which macro to send to Road Repair, and how I would describe this problem, and thanking my stars I was in a truck stop already, and wondering how badly this would impact my on-time delivery, I didn't really realize what the driver had said until I saw him aiming a small sledgehammer at the bottom of my trailer. Wham! "That's almost done it!" he cried. Wham! "Try it now!"

"Try what?" I said, ears ringing.

"Sliding the tandems! Back up yer tractor!"

So I slipped into the driver's seat, released the tractor brakes but not the trailer brakes, and tried backing up while watching my new, best friend in the mirror. He made an odd, vibrating gesture that either meant, "Stop!" or "Keep going!" I had been going, so I stopped. He aimed his hammer again—wham!—then said, "Oops!"


"Well, it's in…but it's in pin six. You ain't goin' to California, are ya?"

"Well, I was…"

"Oh, well, They probably won't notice, anyway."

He left, taking his hammer with him, and I got on the Qualcomm to contact Road Repair. Almost to my surprise, they actually answered, and promptly. Their recommendation: no recommendation. The best place to take the trailer to be fixed was Fontana. It wasn't that far; it was on my route. But they couldn't legally ask me to drive the trailer into California with an illegal pin setting.

I thought the old driver was right, though. Only a detailed inspection would reveal that the pin was one hole off; and I'd been delayed enough. I went to the bathroom (my original reason for stopping, and by now I had to walk to it with my legs crossed), returned to the truck, gritted my teeth, and headed for California.

Customer Service sent a message that delivery had been postponed 'til morning. That was good news, at least.

I held my breath when I reached the first California weigh station, but the old driver and I were right: They were not looking for such a minor deviance and I was not stopped.

Finally, I made Fontana and pulled into the emergency repair bay. I slept in my cab while, behind me, the repairman welded for three hours. When he was done, he pounded on the side of the tractor and I recoupled (he asked me to uncouple, since the electric current from the welder would have fried the Qualcomm unit), then delivered the load to the nearby Target distribution center.

Back at Fontana, I then tried to arrange for the air conditioner to be fixed. They were willing to do it, but there was a wait: "There are nine tractors ahead of you," they told me. So, once more, I wound up sleeping through the day at the Days Inn while my truck got fixed. And, even though they had told me it wouldn't be fixed until morning, it was, in fact, ready when I called at 7 pm; and when I reached it, the Qualcomm already had an assignment that I wanted (a long haul) but would be a tight one to make since I hadn't left when the tractor was still in the shop.

Routine. My limited experience suggests it's always like this.