By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 224
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

I picked up my load of toilet paper, Pampers, and the like from Kimberly Clark's facility in Fullerton, California, without incident.

That's because I'd been here before. The address of the place is on Orangethorpe, but the truck entrance is a block further north. The directions actually are correct; but the first time I came here, I didn't trust them, and wound up coming to the wrong side of the building. Now, I know better. I know where the empty trailers are put, and where to look for the loaded trailer I am to pick up. I also know not to smoke, not that I would; but this is a highly flammable facility, due to the paper dust flying around and the security guard once told me they have at least one spontaneous fire a day. That's why I have to give them my license and sign in and out of the facility; if there's a serious fire, they need to be able to account for all the bodies.

I'm actually more concerned with the paper dust. Having picked up loads at paper mills, I am aware of the chemical warnings posted there. Paper isn't just made of wood; there are a lot of chemicals, some of them nasty, involved in its manufacture, as well. Add to that the chemicals that make Pampers absorbent, Wet Naps wet, and Charmin charming, and you have an aerosol soup that can't be a treat for the lungs.

So I tend to hold my breath the whole time I drop off the empty and pick up the loaded trailer.

This time, when I got the loaded trailer, I noted with dismay that it was missing its registration paper.

These are normally kept under a metal flap on the front of the trailer, protected from the weather by a layer of plastic. The metal flap was present, but I always check beneath it, just in case; and in this case, it was missing.

Fullerton is located midway between Schneider's Los Angeles Operating Point and the Fontana Operating Center. My best bet for getting a copy of the registration faxed to me would be one or the other. So I had to decide which.

If I went to the L.A. Operating Point, I would be in line to drive up I-5 to my destination, Puyallup, Washington. The L.A. Operating Point is just a couple of miles from I-5. On the other hand, I would have to wait for the fax to arrive; and there is usually no parking available at the L.A. facility. If there was no parking available today, I wouldn't be able to wait; I would have to backtrack and head for the Fontana facility anyway.

If I went to Fontana, I would be able to get dinner and even spend the night, with parking virtually guaranteed. Although out of the way for I-5, I could take I-15 and US 395 to Oregon. This route was slightly shorter, involved less traffic, and was much prettier. In fact, it was spectacularly beautiful. And I had just traveled down I-5 into the L.A. area.

So, Fontana it was.

I sent a message via Qualcomm to request the missing permit, and asking for it to be faxed to Fontana's fuel desk. I had dinner. I had a shower. The faxed had not yet arrived. Finally, I went to bed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

I hadn't set the alarm, so was surprised to find I had slept until after 11 am. Obviously, I had needed the sleep. I dressed and checked with Brandon at the fuel desk. The registration had arrived, Brandon told me, just minutes before. I accepted it with thanks, returned to the truck, and set out on my way.

This would be a ten-hour drive day. I programmed ten hours of music on my laptop and set off. The timing was good. Traffic on I-15 was moving nicely. The load was due at 11 pm in Washington, 1100 miles away, tomorrow. I would have to hustle but should be able to make it…if nothing went wrong. I sent a MAC 29 on the Qualcomm with my estimated time of arrival, pointing out that if any other delays arose, I would be late. I pointed out that it would reduce stress, if the consignee would consent to it, to simply reschedule the delivery to the next morning. As I expected, I got no reply. Schneider seems to prefer to manage by crisis, rather than by avoiding crisis.

As an example, I was having trouble with my high beams. It was an intermittent problem, which I understand is difficult to trace. It only happened on the road, not in the repair shop. Still, the symptoms indicated that it was the high-beam switch, which is part of the turn signal assembly, rather than the headlight. While I was waiting at Fontana, yesterday evening, I dropped into the Express Repair Bay and asked them to look at it. Did they replace or repair the switch? Replace the headlight? No. They did nothing. "Wait until it fails completely, then bring it in," the repair guy told me.

"And what if it fails at night, and I can't see the road even well enough to pull over?"

The guy shrugged. "I can't fix it if it doesn't fail in the shop."

So, as evening fell and I turned on my headlights, and sure-enough-they-failed, I found myself having to drive slowly because, on the twisty, narrow, mountainous US 395, the high beams were essential and I didn't have any. Fortunately, the low beams continued to work. But then the snow started. Someone needed to tell Willard Scott it was April. My average speed slowed to about 45 mph, and each hour I got further and further behind schedule.

Finally, exhausted, I got to the end of my ten hours—but not to where I hoped to be by then. I still wanted to make on-time delivery, if possible. So, I kept driving, keeping a wary eye out for blue Volvo trucks…as well as I could with only low-beams to illuminate them. It's bad enough being an overtired driver, without encountering another one.

Eventually, I reached a spot that seemed a compromise between reaching my intended halfway point, and having an accident. I pulled over and shut down for the night, first sending a MAC 29 with a revised estimated arrival time. For "reason", I explained about the snow and the bad headlight.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

I was awakened around 7 in the morning by the beep of a message coming in on the Qualcomm. I sighed, picked up the unit and read the message. "SEND MAC 29 WITH ETD," it said. "ETD" stands for "estimated time of delivery". I replied, "LAST NITE'S MAC 29 STILL CORRECT."

But then I couldn't get back to sleep. I had been shut down only about five hours, but if I couldn't sleep, what was the point of staying where I was? Yes, I know, DOT regulations require an eight-hour break. But, I repeat, if I couldn't sleep, lying there another three hours would make me more tired, not more rested. While I applaud the DOT's attempting to keep sleepy drivers off the road, I don't think you can regulate such a thing with success. If drivers were simply paid enough to pay their bills on the proceeds from a reasonable-length work day, I think most drivers would willingly get as much sleep as they, as individuals, needed.

That not being the case, I couldn't sleep primarily because I wanted, needed, to get that load delivered on time. I needed to do that so I could get another load. This one was going to be a problem, anyway, because it estimated a six and a half hour unload time. Too short to count as my DOT break, it was simply going to be a time-waster and I was annoyed by that. But I still wanted to make on-time delivery.

So I got dressed, started the motor, and began to drive. Almost immediately, I got one of those automatic messages on the Qualcomm: "You have exceeded your daily work limit. Please find a safe place to stop…" Greg, the driver of the blue Volvo truck, had told me the daily work limit timer resets after four hours of being shut down. Maybe in his truck; mine was obviously more diligent.

Shortly I received another message asking me to call Debbie, my dispatcher, as soon as possible. I tried immediately and got Soft Hits of the 70s. I hung up and tried again. On the third try, I got through.

Did she ask why I had only stopped five hours? No. Did she ask if I was all right after driving in the snow? No. What she said was, "Why are you on US 395? Customer Service is going to want to know."

"I had to get a registration for the trailer," I explained. She was the one who had sent the request to Permits for it to be faxed; I hoped I was only reminding her but I had the feeling she had no memory of the day before, like a re-booted computer.

Debbie's voice was replaced by another. "It's Mary," the new voice said. "I sit on the other side of the wall from Debbie."

"Oh, yeah," I said. "How are you?"

"Why did you stop yesterday in…" she mentioned a town in northern California. I didn't recognize the name. "And also in…" and she mentioned another town, also strange to me.

"I stopped a couple of times to go to the bathroom," I said.

"It's essential Kimberly Clark loads arrive on time," she said.

"I'm sure they wouldn't want their toilet paper pre-used," I pointed out, wryly. "Besides, I've been sending ongoing messages about the delays. Doesn't anyone read them?"

"And why aren't you on the I-5 corridor?" she demanded. "I've got to set up a relay for this load, and I have no drivers on US 395."

"I'll be in Klamath Falls in an hour and a half," I said. "There's usually lots of Schneider trucks on US 97. And, if not, I'll be on I-5 at Eugene, Oregon two hours later."

"Impossible," she said flatly. "Klamath Falls is 200 miles from your current location." I assumed she had read my location from the onboard tracking device; but 200 miles seemed a lot farther from Klamath Falls than I thought. Driving, I couldn't check my laptop to verify or dispute the distance.

"And you haven't taken your eight-hour DOT break," she scolded. "You've got to pull over right now."

"Your Qualcomm message woke me up," I explained. "And I'm not tired. And my log is legal." My log showed me to have pulled over earlier than I actually did; I had "logged miles, not hours" as most drivers seem to do.

"Send me a message when you get to Klamath Falls," she commanded. "I'll try and find a driver there. Otherwise, Eugene." She hung up in apparent disgust.

A minute later I passed a sign declaring Klamath Falls to be 80 miles away. I had to wonder what kind of map the dispatchers were using to determine distances. I could guarantee, though, that if I had been assigned a load from my current position to Klamath Falls, I would only be paid about 70 miles for it.

I also wondered about the fascination with my bathroom stops. I decided that, next time one of these conversations occurred, I would ask their question with one of my own: "How many times did you go to the bathroom yesterday? And how would you like it if I challenged you to justify each one of them?"

Even though the snow continued sporadically, it didn't stick; and, being daytime, my faulty hi-beams were not a hindrance. I made it to Klamath Falls in less than an hour and a half, and sent the requested message.

I got this reply: "Load rescheduled for Sunday night."

Well. All that fuss over nothing. Why couldn't they have done this when I first pointed out it would be a good idea?

It added, "Stop for DOT break ASAP."

I now had an eon to get to Washington. But I had a plan. I would spend the night at the hot springs on Oregon State Road 58. Then, tomorrow, I would stop at the Portland Operating Center, where the mechanics are more helpful (or, perhaps, simply less overworked) to get the hi-beams fixed, then get to Puyallup by 11 pm Saturday. That way, they'd either have to relay the load and give me another one (getting me out of having to sit for a 6 1/2 hour unload), or pay me $80 layover.

After 30 minutes, I got another message from Debbie. "I need you to stop for DOT break now."

I replied, "My log is legal. I am rested. The nearest SAFE PLACE to stop is another hour from here."

"Okay. I need you to be safe," she responded.

And so, an hour later, I pulled into the large parking area that I have learned is the remains of a lodge that used to be located at the hot springs, until a flood in the late 60s destroyed it. After soaking and relaxing by myself in the hot water, surrounded by a blanketing fog that was probably keeping away other soakers, I was ready for a good rest.

Friday, April 25, 2003

In the morning, I found more messages on the Qualcomm—this time, they hadn't awakened me. The load was to be relayed at the SNI drop yard in Auburn, Washington. This was terrific news. Auburn is slightly further than Puyallup; I would get more miles than originally offered—and I wouldn't have to be involved in a 6 1/2 hour unload. Moreover, I would be immediately available for another load.

And I had gotten in a relaxed stay at the hot springs.

All I had to do was let go of the lingering annoyance in the way Schneider dispatchers seem to handle these problems. Every time, it seems to come as a surprise to them that the driver's prediction of a delay actually occurs. In years past, when I worked as an employee for someone else's company, I found myself stressing out over what seemed to me to be stupid company policies. I was always right; the policies were stupid and were eventually either changed, or the company went out of business. But that's not the point. I had been hired to carry out those policies, not formulate or change them. Because I couldn't help but see the big picture, and saw how these policies were preventing the company from reaching its stated goals, I felt frustration.

In Schneider's case, though, these "stupid" policies serve a purpose: They frustrate drivers enough that, after a year, they quit—making room for a new batch of underpaid trainees. That's why Schneider's turnover rate, as I have recently learned, is the highest in the entire trucking industry—an industry in which the turnover rate is already high. So, really, I just need to relax about these little incidents.

I think I'll call Mary Monday and ask her how many times she's gone to the bathroom.