Blogging And Me

Writing a blog is work.  Salena knows all about it.  She creates content every day.  It is work to write something interesting, take interesting pictures, and edit everything to create a post.  Salena has certainly put in the time and effort.  On her blog she mostly talks about anything she chooses.  I've thus far reserved this blog to strictly trucking related topics, but rest assured that I too have my own opinions about life and the people in it.  Writing about trucking is laborious in that there's repetitive topics discussed to no end.

Trucking publications have paid writers who will cover the same material week after week.  This information is important to the life of the magazine or newspaper.  To me, however, writing about trucking is just me writing what I consider to be common sense.  My post about being careful when driving around back alleys where wooden pallets are strewn about so as not to blow a tire on a nail for instance.  This is an example of what I consider to be common sense, yet many publications would routinely run this type of article over and over again, week after week.

I don't know who they are talking to with their repetitive articles except new people to trucking.  And there are a lot of new people that come into the trucking industry.  In fact the turnover rate did hover around 100% for many years.  These people most likely wouldn't know that the magazine about trucking they were reading had the same material in it from 2 months ago.  The fact is that trucking is simplistic in its end goals, yet complicated in its regulations for so many reasons.  Most of those reasons have to do with money.

To move to the topic of money, this blog doesn't make any money.  It exists for two purposes.  One is that it may educate people who are considering coming into the industry or are already in the industry.  The other reason is simply entertainment for myself.  Some people see that Salena and I drive for a carrier.  The idea that I write this blog to advertise for the carrier is false.  I have driven for several companies and I am simply not working with them at this time.  Had there been blogs around when I was working for those companies, I would have had one.

This is a post about me to some extent and it really has little to do with trucking.  I could easily make it about trucking.  I could go into a rant about the lack of professionalism that exists in the industry today.  I don't see the point in that though.  I don't see the industry ever changing to favor those who have the highest of ideals.  It will continue to spiral downward in regards to the quality of the training of truckers.  The numbers of experienced operators will continue to decline thanks to electronic on board recorders and oppressive regulations.

But thanks for reading my blog!  Keep on coming back. I'm not going anywhere. 

Oh Yeah!!!!!!!

780,000 Miles

The turbo on our engine started leaking oil into the air filter.  As the turbo started leaking, the ECM computer on the engine was displaying codes on the dash in the cab that referred to the turbo.  Each time the engine was revved to 1400 and above RPMs, the oil seal in the turbo would fail allowing oil to seep into the air filter. 

I think that 780,000 miles is a good run for an original part from the manufacturer.  This turbo was made in 2006 and lived to the ripe old age of 10 years old.  It had a good life.  Let's all have a moment of silence for our recently deceased turbo.  But wait!  Since I turned the turbo in as a core, it will be rebuilt and live again! 

Now we're using a rebuilt turbo and hopefully we'll get years and years of trouble free service out of it.  The new turbo has really improved the throttle response of the engine.  In addition to the turbo, I had the engine brake rebuilt and a valve adjustment.  The truck is running like new and it just recently passed a DOT inspection with flying colors. 

The Maintenance Game

Keeping an older truck on the road is vital to a small business with few trucks in its fleet.  To do this, you need to know what is failing on the truck as soon as it fails or before.  Sometimes this is impossible, but most of the time it's as simple as keeping good records and following a maintenance schedule.

All trucks have a maintenance manual.  In this manual is a schedule of what is to be repaired and when.  Usually this is based on how many miles are on the truck or by how much time the truck has been in use.

Just about all of the parts on the truck wear out in unison, but there are some parts that wear out faster than others.  Because most of the truck's components rely on each other to work properly, when one used part is replaced with a new one, this action may cause the related parts to fail soon afterwards if they are not replaced at the same time as the failed part. 

So, for example, if a hood has two hinges and one of them fails, it's best to replace both of the hinges.  The components of the truck that rely on each other and work together should be replaced together.  The truck as a whole has its own lifespan.  This lifespan is dictated by the life of each of the truck's components.  This is more plainly stated as the truck's "life". 

The truck's life is spelled out in the manufacturer's warranty.  Usually the warranty periods for each component can give you an indication of just how long that truck will "live".  For example, if the transmission has a 750,000 mile warranty, at about the time the transmission reaches 750,000 miles, you should be even more vigilant about the maintenance because the warranty implies the end of  that component's life.  Once the component's life is near the end, it's time to start thinking about rebuilding or replacing the component. 

This is when the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" becomes relevant.  It's important to stick to the maintenance schedule and monitor all of the truck's components for any signs of early failure. The earlier the failing component is spotted, the better.

The inside of the engine is especially difficult to monitor for failure.  One way to try to catch internal failures in the engine early, is through sampling the oil and sending it to a lab for analysis.  Sampling the oil is useful, but not always perfect.  The lab will look for contaminants in the oil which indicate which internal component is failing based on the level of the contaminant.  There are bypass oil systems that utilize extra filtration which filter contaminants out of the oil beyond what the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) designed but it is still a good idea to change the oil a couple of times a year in my opinion, because when oil degrades, this causes failure. 

Internal engine component failure is systemic as it causes multiple components to fail. Once the internal parts start to wear out, it's near impossible to catch them before they fail completely. You can tear down your engine regularly but that's really unheard of by most truckers as the practice is cost prohibitive.

Historically, oil changes occur every 15,000 miles.  At that time the oil filters and fuel filters are also changed, in addition to the chassis being greased.  Normally at this time, in addition to the anti-freeze, the quality of the fluids in the transmission and both differentials are checked for quality as well. 

Modern day engines with better oils and filtration are scheduled for this typical service every 50,000 miles.  And many of the components that require grease, have become greaseless utilizing new technology. 

Even if you are driving older technology, you can install automatic greasing systems and bypass oil filtration to stretch out service intervals.  However, regardless of which type of truck you have, you must be proactive in catching failures early.  I cannot stress this enough.

The bottom line here is, when the truck is nearing the end of its lifespan, its important to stay on top of maintenance.  This practice can allow the return on investment to grow as opposed to having to buy a new truck.  It's important to put in the time to know the truck's lifespan and focus on maintenance as a daily practice. 

So if you have an older truck, keep it new, and it will last for years and years without payments or a substantial repair bill.

Be Careful Where You Drive

Although there aren't nearly enough truck stops and parking lots, there are many places a semi-truck can park, but you have to be careful where you drive.  Often you'll find yourself waiting on a load in a nearby parking lot, or sitting at a customer's facility awaiting further instruction. 
The most common high traffic areas for trucks are where they load and unload.  It's also where you'll find pallets stored or garbage dumpsters. For that reason, these areas are often prone to loose nails, shards of metal, debris, and other things which can damage tires.  

If you pull a flatbed trailer, you will most likely go to construction yards and places where building materials are kept.  These places have more nails and screws in their parking lots and driveways than the normal roadway.  But just because there may be nails and screws in the lot, doesn’t mean it’s off limits. 

Once you’ve pulled into one of these places and scoped out the area for objects that can punch holes in tires, stop the truck out of the way of traffic.  Put your flashers on, get out, and walk around the lot looking for anything that might damage your tires. 

The most disappointing areas I find these tire destroyers in are customer parking lots where machinery is assembled and staged for loading.  What I usually do in this situation is tell the customer they need to clean their lot or find a more suitable place to load trucks.  I then tell whoever I got the load from that they might be liable for damages to my truck if their customer doesn’t fix the problem. 

Having tire-damaging debris in parking lots is a real problem.  Tires are expensive.  A small hole from a nail can be hard to spot.   I have tire pressure monitors which catch these air leaks quickly, but there have been times when I’ve picked up a nail that has been pushed into the tire where it couldn't be seen. 

Getting out of the truck and picking up metal in the parking lot is good for you and everyone else that comes into the lot.  Awareness is important.  And whoever is managing the parking lot should also be made aware that there is a problem, and why it's a problem. 

No One Should Live In A Truck

The trucking business began when someone needed a large amount of products delivered.  It actually started in the farms and fields out of a necessity.  The farmers needed to get their produce from the field to the market.  These old trucks had barely any comforts.  Many of them were equipped with a milk crate for a seat.  These were not the kinds of trucks that people wanted to spend much time in.  If the driver wanted to take a break and catch some shut-eye, he (hardly any women were doing this work at this time) would carry a hammock and string it under the trailer or the bed of the truck.

Fast forward to 2015.  Today's trucks are equipped with air suspension, Bose-Ride seats that absorb practically all vibrations from the road, air conditioning, televisions, refrigerators, power steering, automatic transmissions, and soon: auto-pilot for those long boring stretches of highway.  The progress that has been made in transporting freight is very remarkable.

That said, although these trucker comforts are nice, they're no replacement for a home.  As nice as these trucks are, they are still trucks.  Truck manufacturers are consistently behind the times as compared to the 4-wheel vehicle market.  The main focus in truck manufacturing is to make a reliable vehicle that will simply make deliveries possible, every time, without failure.  Driver comfort has never been a priority.  As time passes, finding a driver for that seat has become more difficult to satisfy.

In the nineties, truck manufacturers started focusing on driver comfort as a way to bring more drivers into the industry and to help minimize fatigue.  Driver comfort also became important to the drivers themselves because the available labor pool was mostly older people who were retired from various industries, who just wanted to see the country and make a little money in the process.

As the price of freight dropped, the trucking business was having trouble finding people to do the work for what they were willing to pay.  The industry is actually its own worst enemy in this respect because as each freight carrier undercuts the other, the rates drop.  This is simple capitalist market competition.  When the price drops too low, there's barely enough money to be made for a person to run a business.

These are only a few factors that have contributed to the design of the modern semi-truck.  Truck comfort has replaced a paycheck.  Company controlled drivers are now looking at having a new truck with all the amenities as though it were some kind of compensation for their time.  If you provide a comfortable environment for the driver, he or she will not need as much money to be happy.  I disagree with this completely.  I do appreciate a comfortable environment, but it doesn't mean I will take less money.  I'd rather drive a 1950s truck with a milk crate for a seat, no air conditioning, and no power steering, while making top dollar, than deal with a shiny new truck and make a mediocre salary.

The best situation is to have all the comforts AND make top dollar for your time.  This is usually only an option for the owner/operator.  It seems as if one of the by-products of truck manufacturers producing trucks to satisfy the lacking company driver supply problem is that now, owner/operators are driving those very same comfortable trucks.

The goal of any truck driver should be to make as much money in one week of work to satisfy one month of expenses.  Regardless of how many La-Z-Boys a truck manufacturer tries to cram into the sleeper of a truck, it's not your home.  It's still a truck and the goal is to make a living so you can go back to your actual home and enjoy it.  So if you are looking to work at a trucking company, try to see past all the amenities the truck offers and look at how much money you are keeping when the day is done.

If you aren't making enough money to walk away from the truck and live your life, in my opinion, you are not only screwing yourself, but everyone in the trucking business.  Therefore, you are the problem with trucking, and you alone.  Unfortunately, the entire industry is so big that it sort of takes on a life of its own.  And with drivers who won't organize to turn this industry in the direction that it could and should be going, things will just stay the same.   

No one should be living in a truck.  It is bordering on inhumane, regardless of how nice the truck is.  Typically all trucks do not have bathrooms, sinks, showers, or a water supply.  They are not living environments.  They are simply a more comfortable way to exist in a parking lot until the freight is delivered.  It's not a safe environment, and offers very little protection from outside forces such as vehicle accidents, theft, bodily harm, and even death.

It seems as if the trucking industry doesn't want people to focus on the making-a-living part when they're trying to woo more people to sit behind the wheel.  They want you to be so dazzled by the truck you're getting that you forget they're not paying you enough to make a living.  The reality is, if you're driving one of these 80,000 lb. plus vehicles at 65 MPH within inches of other traffic on the nation's highways, it really doesn't matter if you're in the most brilliant truck that ever came off the assembly line, you are still in a truck. 

Make sure your time is being valued.  If it isn't, walk away.  Do it for yourself and everyone else in the business today, and in the future.  Do it for the truckers. 

Vacation Season

Many owner/operators take January and February off.  Not all of us, but many choose to not drive this time of the year because factories, production, and construction slows down.  The weather plays a large role in the slow down.  The weather is also a large reason not to venture out on the roads.  This time of the year, it can be deadly out there.  With icy roads, snowy towns, and closed highways, trucking is difficult this time of the year.

Most of the southern routes are even getting hit hard this year. The southern routes are even more dangerous than the northern routes when they are covered in ice.  Most of the southern states are not equipped as well as their northern counterparts to handle the ice and snow because it is such a seldom occurrence.

Not all owner/operators are able to take the winter months off due to various reasons.  I've worked my share of winter months including working several years in the northern mid-west through all of the ice and snow.  While it does present a few challenges, most of them can be overcome with good preparations.  Snow and ice are completely different when it comes to how your vehicle handles on them.

Snow pack is actually better for vehicle handling than a summer road after a rain shower.  The worst condition to drive in is one with low visibility.  If you can't see, you can't drive.  It doesn't matter what the road conditions are if there is poor visibility, however poor visibility combined with snow covered roads is very bad.

Poor visibility combined with icy roads is about as deadly as it gets.  On icy roads, you can't stop, control your vehicle, and you especially can't safely drive anywhere.  Most of the time if there is a pile up of vehicles on the highway, it is because of a combination of poor road conditions and poor visibility.

Most people take their vacations in the summer or fall.  Truckers tend to take their vacations right after Christmas up until March.  One way the powers that be have tried to control truckers taking this time off is to require that you drive in ice and snow in order to maintain your insurance.  This is almost impossible for an insurance company to mandate as they can't know if you've driven in ice or snow, but technically, if you are driving somewhere and the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, there's some ice nearby and you've driven in it.

The winter months are also an opportunity for those starting in trucking to grab some really high paying freight because the veterans who have already earned their money won't be so apt to be heading out to haul anything.  This opens the door to higher rates depending on the needs of the customer. 

A Million Miles

What exactly is a million miles?  Well here is an example of what the average person's working day is like compared to mine. How many times have you driven to work?  If you’re an average person, it’s every day since you were 18.  Minus some weekends and some holidays.  Basically you’ve left your home to drive to work or go wherever and return home, approximately 35 miles per day for your entire adult life since you earned your driver’s license.  

Every other day, if you live near a major city, there is an accident along your route.  The accident is from a collision or vehicular failure that happens at random on the highway.  At least once a week on your particular route to and from work, school, or a friend’s house, there is some kind of incident on the road involving a wrecked vehicle or two.  

After dealing with this day in and day out, every day, you get the picture that the road is a dangerous place where you manage to survive and make it to work and back successfully.  It becomes robotic after a while.  You know how long it will take you to get to where you need to be and how long it will take you to get back.  Usually you can plan your morning and evening based on the historical time it has taken you in the past.  

Now consider that instead of arriving at work, you never do.  You just keep going all day and never get there.  (Maybe that’s a good thing depending on your job.  LOL)  Then you do it again and again and again.  Day after day after day, week and after week, month after month.  Driving around 700 miles a day endlessly.  700 miles is 20 times more than your average commute per day.  Right now in your average commute you’ll see one accident every other day.  Consider if you times that by 20.  Consider that we cross country truck drivers see thousands of accidents in our careers.  Many of them happen right before our eyes.  In some cases they happen directly to us.  

We battle fatigue, traffic, weather, our health, our equipment, and the latest legal hurdles thrown in our path to see to it that everyone in the country has stuff.  All truckers are inconvenienced by the laws that don’t allow drivers to park in towns overnight.  Some of us handle it better than others.  Some of us thrive on the lifestyle where some only dabble in it and decide it isn’t for them.  The latter is more common.  

So to get to a million miles you must maintain your composure minute by minute, day after day, so on and so on for about a decade.  If that sounds appealing to you then you shouldn’t wait and go get your CDL so you can start racking up the miles.  The trick is to always focus on safety.  It’s not as easy as some people think and as some people make it look.  

In fact when I started trucking, I didn’t fully realize what the others before me had accomplished.  I understood what they did in that they drove a truck, but once you see that it takes tens of thousands of miles of watching, listening, and reacting before you start to get a handle on exactly what the job entails, well it starts to sink in. 

A million miles can go by and a generation will have passed.  Some drivers out here have over 6 million miles under their belt.  Now that’s a lot of miles!


 Flag of the United States of America

If you are going to wave a flag, know what it means, and how it came to be.  Don't just wave a flag because other people are doing so.  In my life, I've had the misfortune of knowing too many sheep-like people who don't bother to actually look into why they love the USA.  They know that they love their country, but they have nothing to compare it to because US citizens really don't leave the USA much. 

One of the reasons I like to travel outside of the USA is to see first hand what else is going on in the world.  Every time I've left the country, I'm reminded of what a great country the USA is.  In comparison to the rest of the planet, the USA remains a promising melting pot of the people of the world.  If you come to my country, all I ask is that you try to appreciate what all went into the creation of this great nation because too many take that for granted.

So I wanted to do a post about the flag of the USA.  Not because the topic is popular or politically correct, but just because my recent travels have reignited the patriotic spirit that will remain a part of me for life.  One of the great things about this nation is our respect for human life.  As citizens we have rights and certain privileges that other nations simply don't have.  You can come to the USA and pursue any legal course that you can handle.

You can build a successful business and amass wealth, or start a charity and help the people of the world, or become an artist who is celebrated around the globe.  In the USA, one thing still remains true and that is the fact that you can literally achieve ANYTHING.

This freedom wasn't just given to us, the people before us had to fight for it.  Today the struggle continues as it will long after I'm gone.  Regardless of what you believe in, the USA will welcome you in.  Why?  Because as long as you apply yourself, you can succeed.

Excerpt from "The New Colossus" inscribed on the Statue Of Liberty

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-Emma Lazarus

So here is a little reminder of what this great nation means to me and how great it is to see our flag.  For when you leave our shores for distant lands and the USA is no longer under your feet, the very next time you see that flag is a thing of beauty.

Here is a brief description of the American flag from Wikipedia.  These two sentences spell out why the flag looks the way it does and yet this small paragraph cannot even begin to go into all of the lives lost so that it could fly above our heads.  That is a humbling thought on its own.

The national flag of the United States of America, often referred to as the American flag, consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton (referred to specifically as the "union") bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America and the 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the Union.

American Flag

Semper Fidelis