By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/24/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 836
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Friday, January 24, 2003

The Des Moines Operating Center is the nicest one I've been to, so far. Especially the parking area: It's big and roomy, with clearly designated sections for loaded trailers, empty trailers, bobtail tractors and even a special area for tractor/trailer rigs whose drivers will only visiting a short while—to take a shower, for example.

I wasn't here for a short while. I arrived yesterday morning for a PM (planned maintenance) on my tractor; originally it was to be completed by 6 pm; then 10 pm. They actually finished about 1 am. I didn't mind. I was spending the night in a motel by 9, knowing from experience that the work on my truck would take longer than expected.

But they did a good job, as near as I can tell. They even gave me a CB antenna, installed. And they figured out the problem I'd been having with my driver's side door, which has been getting harder and harder to open. It seems the pressure of my permit book, a binder that they told us to keep in the driver's side door pocket, was actually pushing against the door mechanism, preventing it from working properly. They moved my permit book to the dashboard, and voila! The door now works perfectly.

When I started the engine, it still took quite a while and nearly drained the four new batteries they'd given me—but the temperature in this God-forsaken part of the world had dropped to -17 when the wind chill was factored in. It's a wonder it started at all.

And then I found a new message on the Qualcomm from my STL, Larry, asking me to call ASAP. I left the engine idling and went inside to call, figuring it would take awhile and I didn't want to use up my cell phone minutes.

Larry recognized my voice right away and told me he had two pieces of good news. The first was in regards to my weigh station ticket of $905 dollars: Schneider agreed that the ticket was due to a shifting of the cargo in the trailer and would pay it. The second piece of news was that, at long last, I was to be transferred to a Western Region STL. Larry was only supposed to have been my STL for 90 days, but the Western Region had lost a couple of STLs and couldn't take on any more drivers until they were back at full strength. Now they were. Larry wanted to introduce me to Jay, my new STL; but Jay was away from his desk. Larry asked me to call back about one o'clock California time.

Before I could leave Des Moines, though, I had to go through the Express Bay for additional repairs. Not on my tractor—they had done that last night—but I had noticed two tires on my trailer would not pass a DOT inspection. I asked Andy, the very competent young man at the fuel desk, if I shouldn't just tow the trailer like it was. He pointed out that, in the unlikely event I did experience a DOT inspection, they probably would shut me down on the spot, requiring someone to bring me a tire and change it there. This, Andy said, would cost Schneider far more than they might save by my going a few hundred miles more on bad tires. This made sense to me; so I had 'em replaced. It only took about an hour, anyway.

I was nearly in Kansas City by the time my telephone appointment came up. I pulled into a rest area and called. Larry put me on hold for 15 minutes; Jay still wasn't available. Larry finally connected me with Jay's boss, Noel. He welcomed me to the Western Region and asked if I had any questions.

"Yeah, I do," I asserted. "First one: Does this mean I get a newer truck?" That was the carrot that had been dangled in front of us from our first day of training. Once we were through our first 90 days of driving, we would be eligible to drive newer trucks than the heaps they reserve for the untested newbies.

"Not until you start Phase II," was the reply.

"I thought I was now in Phase II," I said.

"No, Phase II begins after your first year of driving. You started driving September 2nd, so next September you may get a new truck—if, in the meantime, you've had no accidents and your idle ratio is low enough."

"Okay, here's another one. Larry told me that, after six months as an employee, I would be able to take passengers, after okaying it with you guys, filling out the insurance forms, and so on. Is that true? I became an employee August 2nd, so that would mean I could take a passenger next week."

"It's not six months as an employee; it's six months as a driver. That started September 2nd, as I said; so you're eligible March 2nd."

"Okay, so I don't get a new truck and I can't take passengers yet. What does moving into the Western Region group mean?"

There was a crackle on the phone as if Noel were shuffling papers. "It means you now know the ropes, so you won't be calling so often with questions or needing help as you were three months ago."

I thought back to three months. I was calling for help constantly and being ignored more often than not. So I wasn't actually going to get less help than before; I was just expected to ask less often.

No new truck. No passengers. Less support. Apparently I've just passed a milestone, but it doesn't seem to be one that benefits me in any discernable way. Unlike, say, passing a kidney stone.

Oh, well. I did get one useful piece of information from Noel. Reading my computer records, he observed that I was planning to take my next assignment, after my Phoenix delivery and spending a couple of nights at home, at 9 in the morning.

"Actually," I corrected, "I put down noon." It usually takes me that long to get my stuff together and get Michael to drive me to the truck.

"I changed it to nine," Noel explained casually. "All the good assignments are gone by then. In fact, the best assignments usually go out at five or six. You should put that down as your ready time."

Now, they tell me.


At Kansas City, I turned onto I-70 heading west. It was my intention to switch to I-335 at Topeka, and drive through Oklahoma on I-40 all the way to Flagstaff. However, I hadn't noticed that this stretch of I-70 was a toll road; and all of I-335 was. When I received the ticket, I checked out the fee schedule. To go the whole route would cost me almost $22. I only had about $15 in my wallet. Schneider would reimburse me; but that didn't help me now. I simply didn't have it.

So I changed my plans, got off the turnpike in Topeka, and will continue on I-70 to Denver (actually take a short cut to Colorado Springs), then go south to I-40 on I-25. Not a big deal, and only a few more miles.

But at least I didn't have to call for help.