Friday, August 29, 2008

HURRICANE GUSTAV

I should be anywhere else but here right now, but whatcha gonna do? My truck has been down for almost a month and it is no better off. I can't believe that I am still sitting here with a blown transmission, noisy differential, and out of patience! I was patient when they towed the truck. I was patient when they said they would rebuild my transmission. I was patient when they installed a bad clutch. I was patient when they installed another transmission with the bad clutch. I was patient when they finally settled rebuilding my transmission and then saying that the front differential was making noise. I was patient when they replaced the front differential and then said that the rear differential was making noise. I was patient when after all of this the transmission, differentials, and driveline were still harboring a noise.

I am out of patience. The truck has been down for 22 days and still sounds like crap. Noises like grinding metal when you drive and gear grinding noises from 8th through tenth gears. I have never had this much trouble with a truck. Ever! From transmission to both differentials to the entire driveshaft, we have hit the trifecta. I am stuck here in Louisiana while tropical storms and hurricanes are pummeling the coastline. People are actually evacuating this place and here I sit. In 12 years I have never seen anything like this. I actually called around and asked the other drivers that I know if they had ever heard of anything like that and they said no. These are guys with over 30 years experience and they said no. It is unbelieveable that this truck is still down. The possibility exists that a hurricane will come through here flooding the area which will mean that my truck will sit most likely underwater.

Hurricane Gustav is transitioning from a tropical storm to a hurricane and back again all the while moving along towards southern Louisiana where I am sitting on my tail doing nothing. Perhaps I will be here to help pull people out of the water when the storm hits or maybe I will be here to photograph the storm up close. There is nothing like being in a truck that is underwater. I guess the earth does take care of itself.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Notebook and other soppy stories

So we love The Notebook. A movie about an elderly couple who have Alsheimer's disease complications and the story of their lives. It is a nice story and touching. James Garner is a good actor. It is a little hard to believe that James Garner is Ryan Gosseling, but whatever. Amy Adams is beautiful and well casted in this movie. I can't blog about trucking everyday so this is what fills my non trucking thinking hours. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

REAR DIFFERENTIAL NOW

Today the shop is replacing the rear differential. After removing it and inspecting it, the gears looked ok, but there were metal shavings on the internal magnets in the axle casing. This is caused by deteriorating bearings and/or gears. The gears themselves looked good, but there was looseness or play in the gear mesh. This was causing noise in the differential which moved through the driveline producing a loud backlash of gears sound in the cab. Unnerving to say the least.

After today I should have a new driveline from the back of the engine to the back of the truck. Hopefully this will get the truck to the end of the year and beyond without issue. Everything on the truck is new within the past two years and this is basically a new truck. I can't wait to get back to work and start working again. Sitting around is ok, but it can get excessive and annoying. I hear the Willie Nelson song "On the Road Again". I hear ya Willie!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DRIVESHAFT PROBLEMS NOW

Yesterday I took my truck to have the suspension checked out and found that I have an issue with the driveshaft. It turns out that it is defective. That has uncovered a new flaw in the driveline and it was unexpected. The problems I am having today are unusual. My truck has run for 2 straight years and 300,000 miles without any issues.

These trucks of today can run up to a million miles on one engine and all on standard monthly maintenance. Diesel is better than gasoline in this aspect. The compression of the sparks created in a diesel combustion engine are more lubricated than a gasoline engine and the maintenance is usually less.

Monday, August 25, 2008

TRUCK MAINTENANCE 101

So I have a few transmission issues that have been quite a real dilemma. The problem always is to locate the real problem and fix it immediately. However sometimes the problems don't sort themselves out immediately. In fact the old saying "Don't fix It till Its broke" is usually the only way to go with such things as vibrations and mysterious problems. I don't know how to really describe what happended to my truck exactly, but I do know that it involved the breaking of shaft and the stripping of a few pins in one of the differentials.

The first thing to do when your truck is down is find a competent mechanic to work on your truck. If he or she (Almost always a he) doesn't accept credit cards, that is not always a good sign because perhaps they didn't do their job right the first time and the customer refused to pay or disputed the charge on the credit card. You can get a general feel for the people though and see that they are hard working and care about their job. In the end though, it is the performance of the vehicle that will tell the story.

Usually you want to find a shop that specializes in whatever problem you are having. If you are having engine problems, then you want a shop that has certifications from the manufacturer of your engine and that will warranty their work. A nationwide warranty from a truck manufacturer is important. Sometimes the "little guy" can provide good service and at a price that will substantially be lower than the big shops. You have to weigh it out.

In this instance I had a transmission failure and a differential failure. Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Since vibrations can ruin any truck quickly, I made sure that this repair was complete and that all infected parts were taken care off. The shop I went with worked swiftly and at a modest price that was competitive with all of the local area shops. They also got me in quickly and began working immediately. I have had luck with this in the past because the shop was hungry for my business and wanted to keep me as a customer.

This shop towed my truck and had the transmission out in one day and that is no small task. After installing a failed clutch that recieved a factory warranty after being removed, they installed everything and still heard a noise. This noise was found in the front differential and it was then replaced as well. Still a noise was present and the truck was placed in the shop again. Finding noises in drivelines is only for the mechanics out there that have the stamina to stay on top of it. The shop found that one of the leaf springs was one inch lower to the ground than the other ones on the drive axles. This is next on the list to be fixed, but they don't specialize in suspensions so they didn't accept the job of fixing it and after calling the shop that did install the springs, I was told to bring it back and they would take care of it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

STUCK IN A HOTEL

Well I have been all but stranded in a hotel now for about 2 and a half weeks. My truck's transmission, U-Joints, and front drive differential failed because of a problem that stemmed from one suspension spring that was not like the other ones. This suspension spring caused one of the air bags to be out of adjustment resulting in a misaligned frame causing driveline failure.

The plus side is that I get to accomplish paperwork that has been accumulating. The minus side is that I am not working. So I have caught up on old movies that I haven't seen and done banking that I haven't had a chance to do. Being an owner operator requires me to be up on all of my paperwork and being responsible for my taxes and my obligations. When you drive a truck for a company most of your paperwork and business responsibilities are taken care of for you.

The thing that I have recently caught on to when it comes to staying in hotels is that you should get a loyalty card from the hotel so you can earn points towards free hotels. You should also pay for everything with credit cards that earn points, but the trick is to pay the balances off every month.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

LOUISIANA MARSH


This is a Red Eared Slider poking his or her head up for some air and maybe a bite of a tasty insect. This photo was taken in a marsh in the backwoods around Slidell, LA as was the Southeastern Lubber Grasshopper shown below. There were about 30 visible turtles in this marsh just below the bridge I was standing on
















Friday, August 22, 2008

TRUCKING, THE UNIVERSE, AND EVERYTHING

The oldest truck is called the Thornycroft Steamer and was built in 1896. That was the same year that Utah became a state and we had the 45 star US flag made. William McKinley won the Presidential Election as the Republican in the race. Bicycles were the thing to have to get around town. There were over 150 bicycle factories in the US that made over 1000 kinds of bicycles. This was the year of the world's first hot air balloon race between Professor Deering and Miss Hazel Keyes of Sioux City, IA. Wilhelm Rontgen discovered x-rays.

Fanny Farmer published her first cookbook. The Tootsie Roll was invented. Detroit had its first automobile called the "Horseless Carriage". Gold was found in the Yukon. Modern Olympics began in Greece. Premier of motion pictures occurs. First movie theater opens. First car accident occurs where a motorist hit a bicycle. The first US marathon. Yosemite becomes a National Park. Sherlock Holmes is written. Football huddle created. "Stars and Stripes Forever" is written by John Philip Sousa.

Here we are in 2008 approaching 2009 and our trucks have over 600 hp, full computer systems that can record everything we do and satellites hovering overhead that keep us all connected. Who knows where we will be in 2096 only two hundred short years after the invention of the first truck. We are already developing trucks that run on water and that are operated by robots. This is a new horizon for trucking and even though gas prices are causing turmoil in the price wars that are going on now, stability too is on the horizon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Walking a fine line

Once you are an operator of a large vehicle, you must be very careful in how you operate it. Many times the people on the road are not safety oriented and must be watched closely. Since your life and livelyhood are on the line, you are solely responsible and you must operate the equipment safely. You are the trained operator and not the average traveler in their car on their way to the mall or home. When in the vicinity of a major city, most motorists are simply on the interstate for a few short miles and so they tend to be in a hurry.

Monday, August 18, 2008

THE GREATNESS OF TRUCKING

I travel the country with my girlfriend who has a CDL also. We drive to every state in the US each year and up into Canada all the way to Alaska. Since I own my own truck and keep a very spotless record, I have more freedom than many of the other drivers out there. Being leased to a major carrier who has thousands of trucks, I can maintain worry free operations as far as the customers are concerned because if I am available to haul a load there are thousands of other drivers out there to help out.

This is drastically different from an owner operator who goes it alone as they must constantly cater to every one of their customers in that they only have one or two trucks and don't have access to an entire fleet. This is where being leased to a major carrier is a plus over having your own authority and going it alone. The benefit to being an owner operator over a company driver is access to load rates and access to the total line haul as well as control over your equipment and control over your complete operation.

The ins and outs of team operations

Operating as a team is a great way to specialize your truckiing business. You can deliver loads in half the time of a solo operation when traveling cross country. Most people have a difficult time spending as much time together as a team must spend. You are living in a small space 24 hours a day. There are many teams that are husband and wife, wife and wife, husband and husband, whatever, but it helps when you have a small amount of overhead and can manage your expenses. Two people who operate on the same income will do better than two people who need to two separate incomes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

TRUCKING SCHOOL

In trucking school you are expected to learn about how to safely maneuver your vehicle in traffic on the highway during rush hour and in inclement weather. You cannot possibly learn this though. 2 weeks is not enough time. The plan is to satisfy the insurance companies.

Basically, the way it works is that if you don't have a million dollars to be self insured, which is everybody, then you have to shell out $5000.00 for the school and then go to work for a company that has insurance for students. Once you have worked for them for 2 years then insurance companies will take a look at you. The catch is that if you leave trucking for 3 years, you lose all of your driving experience as far as the insurance companies are concerned and you have to start all over again with the school and driving for a company for 2 years.

This is a round about way that the trucking companies and the government have to insure that truckers are good people and that they maintain their professional demeanor. If you are a jerk and can't do your job properly you can be launched out and forced to start all over again regardless of your experience level unless you have a million dollars to get insurance.

The way it works worded differently is like this:
Insurance companies require 2 years experience in order to insure you. You can't get 2 years experience without insurance so you are forced to go to trucking school and then work for one of these companies that hire students and have horrendous turnover rates and accident frequencies such as rear end collisions and roll overs. The trainers that will train you sometimes only have as little as 6 months experience themselves and their emphasis is on making money, not training you.

This is a system which needs serious refining. The trucking schools should educate the drivers extensively for at least a year on every situation imaginable. At the end of that year, you should be eligible to be insured and able to buy a truck and hit the road on your own if you wish. The trucking schools should incorporate fatigue exercises for when a company keeps you out on the road for too long or when you are kept on a dock for too long and then expected to drive all night long or be late. You must make the right decision here and you should well trained as to what it is.

Trucking schools............a lot to be desired..........................

Friday, August 15, 2008

FIRST DAY OF TRUCKING SCHOOL

I attended trucking school in West Memphis, Arkansas for a trucking company which was the fifth largest trucking company in the country at the time. Just 2 short years later the company was bought out. That is another post.

Trucking school took place at the Greyhound Dog Racing park and all of the students who didn't live locally stayed at the local hotels which were very near the truckstops and the race park. I was in the Marine Reserves at the time and was a straight arrow. I ran everyday and did aerobics. My roommate was a pimp in the west memphis area. His name was actually "Pimp" and his girls came to the room once to give him some money. He was a little uncomfortable with me around, because as far as he was concerned I might as well have been a policeman.

One of the characters that I liked the most had just been released from prison for forgery and told me about how to use stamps over and over again by washing the ink off of them with shampoo. I have not used this information to this day so I don't even know if this is true, but having these people around made trucking school all the more fun.

The school was 2 weeks long and it was literally a crash course. We drove the trucks around the area and through a course on the Greyhound Racetrack grounds. The school comprised of backing through a serpentine and backing around blind corners. We did this all day everyday and for lunch some of the guys would go to the track and bet on the dogs. It was more like a party than a school. The trainers called me a natural and I was always comfortable behind the wheel.

When we went to take the test to get our CDL's one of the students couldn't speak English, so another student coached him through the test by basically answering his questions for him. All but a couple of people made it through the school the first time. Trucking school hasn't changed much from the days when I went and since it seems to be getting more and more difficult to be qualified, things are going to be harder.