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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

A Smooth Operation

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/22/2024
Occurred: 1/13/2003
Page Views: 355
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
You gotta wonder what they do with the log pages I send them.

Monday, January 13, 2003

I was hired to drive the Eleven Western States. So what am I doing in Illinois?

Well, in fairness, I did tell my STL, Larry, that I was willing to drive in the eastern states. I told him that months ago, hoping it would mean I might get some longer trips and, therefore, a little more money. I picked up this load of Cookie Crisp breakfast cereal from Albuquerque and was assigned to drive it 1100 miles to Galesburg, IL.

That's from General Mills, to General Mills. I'm not sure why each local branch doesn't make their own Cookie Crisp; but I suppose they have their reasons.

The trip was uneventful. I played a book-on-tape and, almost without realizing it, found myself in Illinois. Amazingly, there was no snow on the ground anywhere along the way, although it was bitterly cold outside. I was worried about the lack of precipitation—wouldn't this impact the crops? But locals weren't worried. Apparently, they haven't had much snow in the winter in years, but get a lot of springtime rain to make up for it. Only the older folks remember snowy winters. And some still say the climate isn't changing!

Before I arrived at the Galesburg division of General Mills, I had received my next work assignment. This is going smoothly, I thought. The new assignment would take me to Georgia, and began with my picking up an empty trailer at General Mills.

Except, of course, there were no empty trailers at General Mills. Not one. Well, not one that belonged to Schneider. I sent in a MAC 31, the Qualcomm message that announces I am unable to pick up the empty trailer I was instructed to get.

There's always at least a half hour delay before getting an answer. Today, though, it was an hour before I was instructed to drive to the SNI Drop Lot in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for an empty. That's a distance of 123 miles from my present location, and in the opposite direction of Georgia. And I only had three more hours to drive before I ran out of legal hours for the day.

I did it. Found the SNI drop yard, and found the trailer I was assigned to take. That's a relief, I thought. This could have been a lot worse. Oops! Some day I will stop jinxing things by talking to myself. The assigned trailer already had a seal on it, and a padlock. It had been assigned to someone else.

Now, as a computer guy, I have to say there is no excuse for this. How can Schneider not know where their trailers are? In any case, I searched the lot and found just one trailer that was actually empty. I sent another MAC 31, specifying the number of the trailer I had found; and went ahead and coupled to it.

Within a half hour, I received a message telling me that the empty I had found was listed in the computer as a leaker. I inspected the trailer, and saw no signs of water damage, though there was slight damage to the roof. I reported this and waited. Soon I received orders to take that trailer. I heaved a sigh of relief and thought, Thank Hermes. Now I can get on the road!

I had no sooner pulled out on the highway when another message arrived. There may not be any empties when you get to Wal-Mart, it said. If not, just wait for one.

Wal-Mart? I had no instructions to head for Wal-Mart. The only way I had to communicate with the woman, Deb, who sent me this message was to send another MAC 31; all the other macros go to other departments. A MAC 31 only has room for about 20 characters. I sent my phone number and the words, CALL ME! She didn't. I sent another message: NOT GOING TO WALMART. I hoped she would hear this as a correction and not a refusal. Especially when, minutes later, the message came in telling me to pick up an empty at Wal-Mart in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, eighty miles from Cedar Rapids.

Was I supposed to pick up both? Was this in place of the first message? Nothing told me to ignore the first message. Again, I sent a message asking Deb to call me on my cell phone, and again she didn't. I tried calling Second Shift Support. The guy who answered was friendly enough but also had no way of contacting Deb. By now I was out of hours, so I told him I was parking at the drop yard and we would work it out in the morning. This meant, however, that I couldn't possibly get to Georgia at the appointed delivery time. I sent a MAC 29 with a revised schedule and went to sleep.

Or tried to. I had purchased, earlier in the day, an electric throw which appeared to be a small electric blanket that would plug into a cigarette lighter socket. It was on sale for $25, half price, which should have alerted me. The package said it would warm to 80° to 131° and, while I couldn't imagine anyone wanting a blanket to go to 131° unless they wanted to cook lobsters in it, I figured I would just set the thermostat to something more reasonable. The package also said Low 5 amp draw! which isn't really that low, but within range for something that would run all night in the truck. According to the Winter Survival Guide we were handed, there are 40 amps available through the night (and 5 amps times 8 hours equals 40 amps). I'd be okay as long as I didn't try to run anything else.

When I opened the package, the directions, which had been cleverly hidden behind the advertising material, warned, Do NOT Fall Asleep While Using This Product! What the hell did they think I would want it for, then? Moreover, it did not include a thermostat. Apparently, it wavers between 80° and 131° by whim. I saved the packaging to return the thing, but figured I would try it for one night. I couldn't imagine that I would sleep so soundly I wouldn't notice if my blanket reached 131°.

I did notice. I quickly unplugged the thing and jumped out of bed, almost instantly shivering in the sub-freezing air of the cab. I pulled the electric throw from the rest of my covers, started up the engine, and got back in bed. Now I had to contend with the smell of diesel, which still enters my cab sometimes when it's idling; but at least I would neither freeze nor burn to death.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I was awakened by the sun shining into my face. My clock said 6:10 AM, but the local time was 8:10 and the sun was up. I got dressed and inspected the trailer. Sure enough, daylight shown through the damaged roof. It was a good thing I hadn't taken it.

Two hours later, I got to the Mt. Pleasant Wal-Mart Distribution Center. Sure enough, there were no empties there, either. I sent another MAC 31 to that effect and waited for a reply. One came in just as I spotted the yard dog taking an empty Schneider trailer to the row where they normally go. Wanting to beat any other lurking SNI guys to it, I quickly started my engine and drove to it; coupled and sent the message saying that I had it. Finally.

Now that I had the empty, I had to drive to the chocolate milk manufacturer in Jacksonville, IL, that was supposed to get it and trade for the loaded trailer going to Georgia. I also had to do all this in less than five hours, all I had left.

Under the 70 Hour Rule, a trucker can work 70 hours in a week. This includes driving and non-driving work, such as coupling trailers, fueling, and so on. This rule works with the 10 Hour rule (a trucker can only drive 10 hours before taking an 8 consecutive hour break) and the 15 Hour Rule (a trucker can only perform 15 hours of work, driving or not, before taking an 8 consecutive hour break). Because of the vagaries of the past week, today I had only five hours in which to work.

While driving, I received a frantic message on the Qualcomm from my STL. WE ARE MISSING YOUR LOGS FROM 10/19 - 10/22 AND 10/24 - 10/28, YOU WILL BE SHUT DOWN IF WE DO NOT RECEIVER THESE BY TOMORROW, LARRY.

The logs we keep, are kept on sheets of paper in a logbook. Each page is done in duplicate, and the original is put into a special envelope and sent to Schneider headquarters about twice a week. This was the second time I had been notified that some of my log pages had been lost. Except, the implication isn't that they've been lost; it's that I never sent them. Moreover, the pages missing are almost three months old. They hadn't noticed they were missing until now? Then, what's the urgency in demanding them with less than 24 hours notice?

Moreover, I am required by law to retain my copies in my possession just thirty days. As it happens, I have all my log books in the truck; but I'm not required to. What would I have done if I didn't have them with me? And what the heck happened to the originals I had sent them, anyway?

Ten minutes later, I got two more messages. P, YOU ARE MISSING LOGS FROM 10/19/02 TO 10/22. PLZ FAX TO 909 574 2139 OR TRN INTO STL NO LATER THAN 1/15 1500 OR WILL BE SHUT DOWN, THX. The next message was identical except for the dates.

I had barely enough hours to pick up my shipment, and now had this other matter to contend with. The log pages go into the same courier boxes as our bills of lading after we've delivered a load. That's how we get paid. The fact that SNI had twice lost my log sheets didn't build any confidence on the delivery of the bills of lading.

The chocolate milk folks were located on the outskirts of their town. The factory was very quiet, perhaps because the bitter wind whistled outside it in such a way that no one would want to be there if they could avoid it. I took the first entrance into the facility and parked my rig; then tried to find an open door. There were none I could see on the south side of the building, so I walked around to the front. A young woman at the reception desk told me to continue on to the north side of the building, which I did. Another guy in a bobtail was parked there, motor running, which I took to be a good sign. I found an open door, and another interior door labeled, Drivers. In there, there was a window. I stood by it and waved until I got someone's attention. You need to go to the south side, he said. At my expression, he added, There really is a door there and a driver's area just like this one. I promise!

I left and walked around the back of the building, figuring I might as well make a complete circuit. I did find the south side door, which had been hidden behind some trailers, and entered. I found the drivers' cage, too; but there was no one behind the window in this one. There was a phone, and I was about to pick it up, when the outside door opened and the bobtail driver I had seen entered. If I'd known you were going here, I'd have given you a ride, he said. He then proceeded to show me where the bills of lading were located. This is a completely self-service shipping department. I find my own bill of lading, sign it, tear off the company's copy and put it in a receptacle for it, then locate the appropriate trailer and leave with it. The amazing thing, to me, is that there isn't one word of explanation for this: No signs, no notes, no instructions, nothing. If the driver hadn't shown me, I'd have been buried there waiting for someone to show up.

So, I got the paperwork done, found the loaded trailer, and began inspecting it. It was missing a registration, making it illegal to tow. I sent a message and, again, waited.

Now, remember, I was only allowed to work five hours and had already driven for more than four. I had spent Hermes knows how long waiting for responses to messages and, obviously, had to be alert for them to come in—an activity most people would think of as work. Still, it is to my advantage to pretend that time is not spent working, so I can drive a little more. The law, supposed to keep sleepy drivers off the roads, is being used by the industry to guarantee sleepy drivers are on the roads. If we were paid enough to live on, we could say, Screw it! I'm out of hours. But my rent has to be paid, and so I fudge wherever I can, just like every other driver I've talked to.

And what I'm doing is considered legal.

Finally, in my Truckstops book, I found that there is a truck stop right in Jacksonville, right on my route. I decided I would be safe enough to make a run for the place. That would give me access to a FAX machine, which I needed both to send my log sheets and to receive a registration for the trailer. I sent the log sheets and waited; but after a couple of hours decided I would just get the registration in the morning.

Like I always say, there's nothing like a smoothly-run operation.

And Schneider is nothing like a smoothly-run operation.