By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/21/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 766
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Since my new Team Operations Manager has made it clear I shouldn't expect a newer truck before September, I've decided I may as well settle into the one I've got. I had sort of been keeping it emotionally at arms length, avoiding getting attached to it since I thought I would be leaving it soon.

Not that I'm the kind of guy who gets attached to mechanical devices. I never fell in love with a computer; I never named my cars—although I did really like my very first car, a 1966 Plymouth Valiant, and refused to get rid of it until I began to worry that my baby girls would fall through the holes in the floor of the back seat while we were speeding down the highway.

When straight guys name their vehicles, they give them female names. The reasons they give is that the vehicle is difficult to understand, prone to erratic behavior, and rewards expensive gifts like mufflers and new tires with increased performance.

Well, my vehicle seems to have a bad sense of direction, and a stubborn streak. It's also very strong. So I decided to give it a masculine name. And, given the amount of time I've had to idle the engine to avoid starting problems, Eric Idle seemed the mostly likely choice.

So, Eric Idle it is.

I know that, before I got Eric, I was very curious as to what these trucks actually look like inside. We didn't drive the same kind of vehicles in training. Eric is a Freightliner Century Class, probably a 1998 model thought there is some question about that. It says on the door frame that it is a 1998. However, one of the mechanics who worked on it a few months ago said it was "a lot older", though he would elaborate. It has a Detroit engine. That doesn't mean the engine is from Detroit; it means it comes from that company, one of the three that make diesel engines for big trucks (the other two are Cummins and Caterpillar). I know very little about engines, but this one is fairly clean and uncluttered. It does look like it means business—nothing fancy about it at all, which is another reason to give it a man's name.

The cab is actually pretty comfortable. The seats are "air ride", which means that they are adjustable via compressed air in four ways. There are three inflatable pads in the back and one in the seat, allowing a pretty thorough amount of customization. You can also adjust it easily; if you get tired of sitting one way, you can push a button and rearrange the cushions, in effect.

In front of the drivers seat is an instrument cluster, These aren't just for show; you really have to pay attention to these dials.

Starting at the upper left is the oil temperature. Okay, that one I don't look at much. To its right, though, is the water temperature and that one is important, especially when one is climbing a steep grade. If the water temperature rises above 220 the engine will simply stop. Apparently, someone thought this was a good idea. I assume he or she later went on to work for Microsoft.

Below the water temperature is the voltage meter. As in a car, it will warn if the alternator stops working.

The tachometer is the large dial to the right, and the speedometer is to the right of that. Together, the tachometer and speedometer let you know when to shift, and into what gear. The speed, RPMs, and gears have to be memorized during training.

Above the tachometer and speedometer is an on-dash computer display. This presents the odometer reading, the idle time, and other information that differs depending on whether the truck is rolling or not.

The two small dials on the upper right display the air pressure in the primary and secondary air tanks. This is crucial information, as the brakes are controlled by air pressure. Every time you step on the brake, it uses a little bit of air, which the compressor replaces. It is possible to use air faster than it can be replaced, however, which is why we are encouraged during training to slow down by means other than the brake (like downshifting).

And below the air pressure gauges is the fuel gauge, which works just as the one in a car does, even though the tractor has two fuel tanks.

To the right of the instrument cluster is a control cluster consisting of a row of three toggle switches, a row of four, and a row of buttons. These control headlights, dome light, and so on. The buttons control the computer display and the information it manages. For example, one of the buttons controls a trip odometer. There is even a "leg" odometer, to measure sub-trip mileages.

The large red knob on the right is the trailer brake release; the yellow knob below it is the tractor brake release. These are analogous to the emergency brakes on a car, except there are a separate set for the tractor and the trailer. They are usually used together, except for special purposes. For example, when sliding the tandem wheels on the trailer, the trailer brakes are set while the tractor brakes are released.

On the dashboard I have secured a home dual cassette deck, with a small amplifier next to it. In the in-dash radio, I have a $12 "cassette converter" that is plugged into the amplifier. All this is needed because the in-dash cassette player sucks. The converter works fine, though. So I can put books-on-tape in the dual deck and play them through the truck speakers and actually hear them. Alternatively, I can plug the converter into my laptop for listening to music or books-on-CD.

The TV alcove is located behind the passenger seat. I don't have a TV, but I keep my laptop there when I'm not actually typing on it. There's also a cigarette-lighter socket in there, which a 12-volt TV could use but I have my power inverter plugged into. The inverter keeps the laptop charged and also powers the dual cassette player and amplifier.

Below the TV alcove is a cabinet suitable for clothes; it has a rod for hangers. I also keep my laundry bag in the bottom of it. Above the TV alcove are a couple of shelves; I use them for T-shirts, socks, and handkerchiefs.

Across from this stand, behind the driver's seat, is another closet. Mine did not come with shelves but I measured it and had some Masonite cut to fit. I keep canned goods on the bottom shelf, folded jeans on the middle shelf and a bathing suit and towel on the top shelf. There is also a rod for clothes hangers in this closet, but I don't use it.

Beneath this closet is a pull-out desk, very cool. The desk itself has a fold-up top revealing a roomy drawer beneath. This is where I keep my prescription medicine, my log book, bills of lading, and so on. As you can see from the photo, my laptop fits perfectly when I want to type something (like this essay).

Below the desk is another closet. It's really intended for a refrigerator, but I don't have one; so I use it for odds and ends: bottled water, empty plastic grocery bags for trash, my sandals.

Behind both closets are the bunks. The mattress on the lower bunk is a standard single mattress; the upper bunk is a little narrower. I sleep on the lower bunk, as I'm sure every solo driver does. Climbing into the upper bunk can be a mite challenging. I do have the upper bunk in position, however, as I use it for a shelf.

On my bunk, I have a quilted mattress cover, a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, a cotton blanket, a comforter, all topped with am opened, summer-weight, sleeping bag. I also have two king-sized pillows. The folded blanket on top of the sleeping bag is a very soft and fuzzy throw I use as a "head blanket".

Above the bunk is another control panel. There's a small reading light, controls for the bunk heater, a volume control for the rear radio speakers, and another switch for the dome light. There's also a cigarette-lighter 12-volt socket for an electric blanket or bunk warmer or other device. In newer tractors than mine, there is a similar panel for the upper bunk.

I have to say that the bunk is very comfortable. In fact, it is more comfortable to me than the rather expensive mattress on my bed at home—except, of course, that in the bunk I sleep alone. (One reason why I have two king-sized pillows. I can pretend one is Michael or, for variety, Tom Cruise.)

Finally, completing the decor, I have my rainbow sticker on the driver's side vent window.

I am continuing to improve things as the weeks go by. I try this, I try that. It's important to be comfortable because this is home. I spend many times more hours in this truck than I do at my house. And, because the space is so limited, it's really important that it be utilized for maximum convenience.

There are a few things I would do if I owned the truck. For example, I would carpet the floor and walls to absorb sound—the truck is very noisy when running. I would also mount the CB radio above the dashboard. But I've spent years renting apartments, and I know there's no point in going to any expense with something you don't own. So I make whatever arrangements I can for free, and live with the rest.