Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Halloween Again

Halloween is a great time to enjoy costumes, haunted houses, candy, and friends.  My truck stays parked on the night of the 31st.  It's also a great time to get hit with a pumpkin off an overpass while driving.  All over the country semi trucks get hit with pumpkins.  Kids throw them off overpasses and do tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage or more.  Sometimes they even kill people.  Kids!  Gotta love those kids!  

When a pumpkin or large object hits a windshield, it sprays glass all over the person sitting in the cab.  If you're lucky enough to avoid getting glass in your eyes, you'll then have to regain control of your truck as fast as you can, while looking around to see if anyone else on the road was hit.  
Once you've determined that everything's ok, you've got a couple of seconds to decide where to pull over and call the police.  Assuming you're under a load, you have to get the truck fixed as fast as possible.  Depending on which truck you drive, you might have to call the customer and reschedule:  My old 1997 Freightliner FLD120 had a pop out windshield that could be replaced in 15 minutes, but the new Freightliner Coronado's glass takes a couple of hours to fix.  It takes special tools and liquid weatherstripping that's hard to find.  If this were to happen to me today, it would most likely put me out of service for a few hours to a day.

The best practice is to stay off the road on Halloween night.  You can park the truck and start driving again early in the next morning, but usually between dusk and midnight is the worst time to be driving.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Close Call

Late one night in Arkansas, Salena was driving and we were almost trapped between two semi trucks on I-40.  Salena did the right thing by slowing down and preparing to move over, but she was faced with a choice of either going left, right, or straight ahead.  She chose to slow down and go straight ahead.  Thankfully, the truck driver on the ramp looked in his or her mirror and moved back over in time.
video

One of the biggest threats to us drivers on the road are the other drivers.  In this case, the driver was most likely tired and trying to find a place to stop to get some sleep.  As he or she pulled off the road into a closed truck weigh scale/rest area, they noticed it was completely closed off to all traffic.  Their next impulse was to get back on the road.  Instead of accurately gauging the surrounding environment, they decided to pull back out onto the highway too soon. 

Add to that the other truck which passed on the left, who saw Salena hitting her brakes but still decided to maintain the maximum speed they were traveling, creating a recipe for disaster.  By paying close attention to the situation, Salena slowed down enough so she could have come to a complete stop.  I knew the load was secured to the trailer properly and would have easily stayed secure in the event of a sudden stop.

I will rack this up to another good decision by Salena and another reason why I can sleep while she is driving.  I know that she will do the right thing in the dangerous situations.  It takes mutual trust to drive together as a team.  In Salena's case, I knew after a couple of months of living together in my small truck, that she'd be able to handle anything that was thrown at her.  In the end, the only thing that matters is safety.  We do our best to service our customers and make on-time deliveries, but if the safest route involves a late delivery, then that's how it has to be. 

No load is worth your life.  And no customer is worth a bad driving record.  The loads come and go, but your driving record is there for years to come.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rain And Truck Drivers

Raincoats don't fit truck drivers.  If you have ever been to a truckstop when it's raining, you'll see truckers walking across the parking lot in their normal jeans and t-shirts without an umbrella or a raincoat.  You will also see this on loading docks and on fuel islands.


Truck drivers don't normally use raincoats for many reasons.  One of the reasons is that they have to dry out the raincoat and there are limited places to dry your rain coats out in the truck.  Usually it will be hung from a hook in the truck and drip dry all over the floor leaving a wet puddle mess.

We carry umbrellas and we will let them dry out in the shower, but hardly any trucks have showers, so umbrellas are also not used much.  Truckers usually will just go out into the rain and do whatever they have to do because they will just end up getting back into their trucks and taking their wet clothes off to dry on a hook. 

I am a fan of the cheap plastic poncho:
In your mind's eye, picture a group of people walking around Saint Augustine, Florida's streets at night wearing these white plastic hooded ponchos.  If you go to the ghost tour there, you will get to be a part of a historic tour of old Saint Augustine and eventually realize that you are wearing a white hooded suit.  You don't want to wander off the tour.  White hoods in the South don't have the best reputation.

As I was saying, truckers can use these cheap $1 ponchos and then throw them away.  This is the preferred rain protection of most truckers, but rarely does anyone use them.  Another reason for this is that many times you can simply decide to wait out the rain and work outside when it's dry.  It's usually safer that way.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Air Dog Fuel Preporator II Fuel Pump Install

The diesel fuel that I use comes from different truckstops all over the USA and it's hard to know if the fuel you are getting is clean.  This is where the fuel filter comes in.  All vehicles that run fuel have them and with a big rig, the amount of fuel that is flowing through the filter is thousands of gallons per year.

My truck is equipped with a water separator which removes water from the diesel fuel and keeps it out of the engine's fuel injectors.  Water can ruin fuel injectors.  In addition to the factory installed Davco brand water separator fuel filter, I have installed an AirDog II Fuel Preporator.

This device has a water separator and a 2 micron fuel filter.  Microns are used as a measurement for the size of the particles that the filter will allow through.  Most factory fuel filters are about 12 microns, so the Air Dog II is 6 times better than the standard fuel filter.

In addition to the filtration that the Air Dog II offers, the system also pulls any air that is in the fuel and send this air in the form of foam back to the fuel tanks.  The system practically guarantees that your fuel will be clean and free of contaminants.  It has a fuel pressure gauge on it that will measure fuel flow restriction and alert you with a light to so that you know when to change the filter.

Only time will tell if this system is doing what it claims.  So far, so good and I don't worry about bad fuel anymore.  If the fuel pump fails, the system reverts back to just being a fuel filter.  I installed this fuel system last year and the pump lasted about that long.  When it failed they sent me a new pump under warranty for free and this is the detailed step by step procedure for replacing the fuel pump.

1. Here is the Air Dog II without the water separator filter ready for the pump to be removed.


2.First unplug the pump and then remove the water separator filter, then remove these 4 bolts.


3.  After the pump is unbolted, just lift the pump off and keep the check ball area clean.


4. The new pump is slightly longer than the older pump.


5. This is the new pump with the new O-Rings.


6.  When installing the new O-Rings, I had no problems keeping the O-Rings in place, but a small amount of grease can be used to hold them in place if they don't stay put.  Everything must be clean.  It is important to keep the O-Rings in position because you don't want to have a pinched O-Ring.  A pinched O-Ring won't provide a good seal.  This went very easily.


7. Here is the pump placed on the dowels and lined up for bolting in.


8. Secure the bolts into the pump and torque them down to at least 20 lbs.  This is easily done without a torque wrench.  You are almost done.


9.  All that is left to do is screw the water separator on, plug the unit back in and run it.

video


And this completes the pump replacement of an Air Dog II Fuel Preporator.  It took about 15 minutes from start to finish and now the pump is quieter than before. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Never Get Outta The Boat

 
 
video

This is a clip from Apocalypse Now.  Chef is the name of the guy screaming "Goodbye Tiger!".  This can be you if you don't heed the following information. 

Like these two GI's leaving the riverboat to explore the shoreline, leaving the interstate to explore unfamiliar areas in your semi truck is just as dangerous.  It is just like driving into a jungle. 

When I started driving, and for every day prior to when I started driving, we had payphones and CB's.  No cellphones.  No GPS.  No Internet.  No Laptops.  No EZPASS.

It was simple.  Unless you had directions to where you were going, you didn't go there.  It was as plain as that.  If you couldn't get directions, the load didn't get delivered or picked up.  Or you will end up in worse condition than Chef did in the video clip.  I had many a load that didn't get service because the shipper or reciever didn't give an accurate phone number so I couldn't get in touch with them.  The delivery or pick up time would come and go and I would call the dispatch office and say, "No one ever called me back and I can't get directions, so the load isn't going to make it on time.  Call me back at this payphone when you hear anything or I will call you back if I don't hear from you."

Getting directions is very important because you must rely on actual information from people who know the area.  Many times truck drivers who are new and don't understand the roads around the United States and Canada will rely on modern day GPS systems to guide their path.  I still have a general rule that if you are going to exit the highway and you aren't familiar with the area, you should be able to see the place that you are going to park the truck before you exit.  Not only should you be able to see it, you should see how to get there.  As a new truck driver who doesn't know the roads like the back of their hand, you should stay on the main highways unless you have clear instructions to exit the highway.  In other words "Never get outta the boat".

There are too many "professional" truck operators hitting bridges with their trucks and trailers.  These drivers regularly blame the GPS for their grievances.  How can a person do this?  The GPS is merely a tool.  It is NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

Let me repeat that.

THE GPS IS NEVER EVER EVER EVER TO BE TRUSTED


The governor of New York is working to learn why so many people have been hitting bridges in New York lately.  Marlaina has done an excellent story about this on her blog.

As you may see, Marlaina is a pro and this post is worthy of some serious praise.  It also comes at a very opportune time as is reported in the post. 

Many times, Salena and I will exit the interstate and find ourselves in a place that's very difficult to navigate.  Thing is, that I know where I am going.  I have either been there many times or know someone who has been there and has given me directions  If I don't know, I don't go.

When laptops first became available I went out and bought one.  It was 1998 and it was a Compaq Laptop Pentium I with 128 MB of hard drive space and a dial-up 56K modem.  It was $3500.00 back then.  Currently it functions as a door stop at one of Salena's friend's houses.  I plugged in a GPS module and loaded a DeLorme United States mapping program into it.  It did give your accurate location, speed, and elevation, but the maps were created by Etak.  Etak GPS was the first GPS created back in the 80's and you've probably never heard of it before.

These maps were old.  When I first started using this system, I would call whoever was in charge of using the old maps that Etak created, and let them know that one of the streets listed on their software wasn't correct.  Some of these streets were renamed decades ago and still had the old street names displayed by Etak.  Etak supplied these maps to everyone.  It didn't matter which program you bought, the maps were Etak.  Etak's maps are seldomly being used anymore thanks to modern technology, but believe it or not, you may find on your mapping software a little note at the bottom which says, "Maps by Etak".  Some of these maps are 30 years old.

Just for fun one day, I took a trip to Staten Island and followed the GPS on the laptop with the DeLorme (Etak) maps.  I followed the road, and was supposed to keep following the road, but if I had done that, I would have wound up in the ocean.  The road deadended at a seawall, and I sat there looking out of my bug covered windshield, over my dusty green hood, at the Atlantic ocean.  This is where the Delorme software was faulty and did not have accurate information. 

Modern technology is flawed.  It will be excellent one day, but for now, it is never to be trusted.

Before you read this next story, know that this is the kind of truck driver who will probably not be able to drive a semi truck again.  He very foolishly thought he could trust his GPS and when confronted with a sign saying 12-1/2 feet in bridge height, he still proceeded to drive through the covered bridge.


Truck heavily damages NE Indiana covered bridge

SPENCERVILLE, IN -

Northern Indiana police say a tractor-trailer that drove across a historic covered bridge heavily damaged the nearly 140-year-old span by shattering many of its roof trusses.The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department says the tractor-trailer rig inflicted about $100,000 in damage to the Spencerville Covered Bridge when it rumbled across the 1873 bridge on Wednesday afternoon.Truck driver Gerard Hudson of Waukegan, Ill., was arrested on a felony criminal mischief charge. He remained jailed Thursday at the DeKalb County Jail in lieu of $1,500 bail.Police say Hudson admitted driving through the bridge that's marked with a clearance of 12 1/2 feet.
Nearby resident Lisa Vetter tells the Journal Gazette the damage to the bridge about 20 miles northeast of Fort Wayne "is a huge travesty for the community."The sheriff’s department said that Hudson acknowledged driving across the bridge that spans the St. Joseph River near Spencerville about 20 miles northeast of Fort Wayne and told deputies that his rig’s GPS device had directed him to cross the bridge.The Journal Gazette reported Thursday that county highway Superintendent Eric Patton closed the red-and-white bridge Wednesday to traffic.While the department initially estimated the damage at about $100,000, Patton said Thursday that the final damage assessment would be far higher. He joined members of an Indianapolis engineering firm on the bridge Thursday who were assessing the damage.
Patton said the tractor-trailer traveled the entire length of the bridge — the county’s only covered bridge — shattering trusses as it traveled.“He started on the west end and actually took the east end with him,” Patton said.He said the bridge is clearly marked that it has a clearance of 12 feet, 6 inches and also has signs to that effect posted at each end of the span.According to the Indiana Historical Bureau’s website, the bridge has been in use since it was built in 1873. It underwent an extensive restoration in 1981 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the same year.Lisa Vetter, who lives about one mile from the bridge, said Thursday that she and other local residents are stunned by the incident that heavily damaged the span.“I think everybody is pretty dumbfounded and not able to comprehend how anyone in their right mind could drive a semi through a 140-year-old covered bridge. It just boggles the mind. I just don’t get it,” she said.


You don't want to be this poor guy who has thrown his career away trying to find out if his truck will fit under a 140 year old bridge.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Being A Truck Driver And Being A Truck Driver

There are many kinds of truckers out here, just as there are many kinds of people.

Truckers are from all walks of life.  Today you can watch YouTube videos depicting the lives of all kinds of drivers.  Of course, Salena started blogging over 7 years ago, and she's always supplied a steady stream of her take of life on the road.  She started her blog to keep in touch with family and friends, and now she gives people all over the planet, a different perspective on the trucking world.  She doesn't have a negative defeatist attitude that is so easily found on most of the other trucker sites you may come across.

The reason I'm bringing Salena into this is because I wouldn't even be doing this blog if it weren't for her.  And I am going to point out that she's one of the many personalities found on the road.  She's not a "trucker" as you would think of one, the way the media portrays them in movies and on TV, as big-bellied, foul-mouthed braggarts, or loners, or serial killers, or a tough son-of-a-gun.  I guess that's what sells movies and TV shows, but the reality is a little different.

Hopefully when you're looking into truckers, you'll keep an open mind.  As I've already said, there are all kinds.  In former posts, I've detailed several different reasons why people drive trucks.  Here, I'm going into what kinds of actual truckers are out here.

1. New student truckers that're learning the ropes.

2. Company drivers who've completed their student obligation and have their first year under their belt.

3. Seasoned drivers who have years of driving.

4. Trainers who are training students behind the wheel.

5. Owner-operators who have their own authority and sometimes own several trucks.

6. Owner-operators who are leased to a carrier (me).

7. Owner-operators who have some how obtained a CDL by passing up all of the regulations, bribing a carrier into verifying their false experience, and then getting insurance without paying IFTA taxes and doing all sorts of other illegal practices. (not me....yet. LOL)

This last trucker is the outlaw, if you haven't figured that one out yet.  They tend to be the ones who steal your fuel in the truckstops, wreck their trucks, steal loads, damage equipment, leave urine bottles in the parking lot, and in general give us all a bad name.  In short they are the fun ones! Ha! 

In these different positions are many different kinds of people.  For instance, the student can be a former trucker or perhaps a heavy equipment operator who is skilled and knowledgable about all things truck related, or they could be completely clueless and a road hazard. 

Company drivers who go through school are given a truck and told many things, but none of those things are ever usually maintenance related.  Maintenance is for the mechanics in the shop according to the carrier.  I have met both owner-operators and company drivers who not only won't change a headlight, they CAN'T!  And forget about explaining the turbo or the EGR/DPF system to them, they don't care and probably never will.  These people either haven't decided whether they are going to stick around trucking, or they know they won't and don't ever plan to do anything but pocket their weekly check, see a few mountains and landmarks, and go back to whatever they were doing before they started driving, or they never intend to be an owner-operator and plan on a long career at a carrier.

Unfortunately, the turnover rate at most major carriers is over 100%.  That means, if you go to a major carrier, you probably won't contribute to a retirement plan, a health plan, or build any seniority.  If you consider there's a driver shortage, you'll probably ask yourself why carriers have a 100% turnover rate when they seem to need drivers so badly.  It's the money!  Major carriers don't want drivers with seniority because the rate they have to pay them per mile goes up, the health insurance liability is greater, a retirement plan is usually needed, etc. 

Most major carriers just want people who will get their loads delivered, don't cost a lot of money, and won't ask questions.  That's the reason there's a high turnover rate - having newbies on the payroll works out well for the carriers.  And once the newbies learn, they leave.  Hence, the turnover.  There are some carriers who will take a driver just out of training, who's been on the road for six months or less, and make them a trainer.  This is why we have so many regulations in trucking.  Where there is a will to deceive, be cheap, and make money, there is a way. 

Just like any other profession,  there are experts who care about the others in the industry.  We know that the better the industry, the better life will be in their chosen career path.  If you want to be a successful trucker, you need to be this person.  You need to be the person who doesn't instigate problems on the road, who tries to see issues and stop them before they occur, and work to have the safest truck out there.  Regardless of whether you become a company driver or an owner-operator, you owe it to yourself to learn about every component on the truck and what it does.  Driving for a major carrier can give you all of the opportunities you need to do this.  You can even hang around the shop, asking questions, and talking to others that drive, to find out more about the mechanics or what their experiences have been with the truck.

The biggest difference between the professional owner-operator and the professional company driver, is the attention to maintenance.  I am not talking about company drivers who know the value of maintaining their truck as there are many, but the company driver doesn't have to pay for repairs.  Owners pay for everything, so the lower their costs are, the more money in their pocket.  And if your truck is in the shop, they simply miss out on freight.  There is a different responsibility that comes along with owning a truck.  Not better or worse, just different.  Many trucking companies have figured out that if they give a fuel bonus, they can keep the speed of their trucks down and save a lot of money while giving the driver a bonus.  Everyone wins.  Then again, there are plenty of owner-operators who run like a bat out of hell, and I can only assume they either don't know what they're doing, have to get home because their wife is pregnant and delivering that night, have a hot date somewhere, or are making so much money on the load, that maintenance and fuel mileage goes by the wayside to the rate they are getting paid.

Regardless of whether or not the driver is a company driver or an owner-operator, there are significant differences between the quality of the driver.  The reasons for these differences are many.  There are "steering wheel holders" and there are "truck drivers".  There's nothing wrong with either, as long as they do a good job.  There is something wrong if they don't.  A "steering wheel holder" typically refers to a company driver who doesn't load, unload, or do any maintenance.  And mostly it's said as a joke.

So if you're called a steering wheel holder, just smile and keep on doing a good job.  That's the most important part of being a good driver.