A Career and a Lifestyle

Not too long ago, we were faced with a decision to either continue to pursue our dream of trucking North America together or throw in the towel.  We had sustained personal injuries,  loss of our business,  and faced certain financial catastrophe.  

We chose to fight our way through and continue to pursue our dream.  

Thanks to the good folks at Landstar for standing by us while we picked ourselves back up and got back on the horse.

The challenges in trucking are still as difficult and we are still enjoying the pride that comes with navigating this great nation while making our customers happy.  

After 3 million miles spent either driving, sleeping, or sitting in a semi truck over the last 25 years,  I'm personally ready for another 25. I wouldn't have it any other way.   

Hopefully we will make the right choices,  find the right path,  and continue working in trucking to help keep the supply chain moving.  

As I've stated in a previous post, about the importance of maximizing your time spent on the road by making sure you make enough money to not only run your business,  but have a life outside of the truck and most importantly,  at home, it is very important. 

We have been graced with friends and family who have also stepped up to lend us a hand.  You know who you are.  And you know that we would do the same for you.  

Thanks to everyone who has helped us through these times.  We are no where near being out of the woods.  We may never be.  But the journey has been worth it. 

Rattles And Pops

Paying your equipment off is a great feeling that lasts about as long as it takes for you to start hearing rattles coming from the engine compartment.  There is a great cost breakdown comparison of maintenance costs versus a new truck payment and that comparison doesn't take into account the diligent owner/operator that faithfully completes maintenance on a regular basis. 

In fact, if you take care of your equipment from the time you buy it, it will outlast any prediction that a new truck beats a used truck.  Sure maintenance costs will go up once the truck is paid off, but those maintenance costs are deductible just like the truck payment was, although not really as likely to depreciate as a piece of equipment will, but there are tax strategies allowed by the government to help you run a business without having to buy new equipment.

Once the truck passes the 700,000 mile mark, things start to rattle.  The steering column, the transmission mounts, the U-Joints, etc. and your obligation to yourself once you venture past 700,000 miles is to be vigilant about maintenance.  Every little wobble, rattle, or pop, needs to be found and fixed as soon as possible.  Nothing should be left up to the procrastination Gods. It will cost you more money to let something go, than to fix it, even though constantly chasing rattles isn't as fun as it sounds, you will thank yourself once you find them.

I liken chasing maintenance problems with Whack-A-Mole.  The trick is that if you let too many things start to fail, they will get out of hand.  There is an old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and that adage can work, and it can get you in trouble.  With age, comes experience, and my experience is that sometimes you have to let a problem become worse until the source shows itself.  Sometimes the problem isn't easy to find and can be a frustrating waste of time.  It becomes a skill to know what to address immediately and what to let slide.

Another strategy is to "throw parts" at a problem.  Many times I will go to a shop and just tell them to skip the diagnosis and replace a series of parts that I believe are failing.  I start with the cheapest solution first and work my way up.  Lets say for example that you suspect some overheating in the engine.  The first thing I would do, if it hasn't been done in awhile is change the thermostats.  At $20 each this is cheap.  While I'm having the thermostats changed, I'm looking at the coolant.  Maybe it's time to change that as well.  If the engine continues to overheat, perhaps I'm looking at a head gasket for $50.  The last straw would be a cracked head.  But before I threw $10,000 at a head replacement, I want to go through all of the cheaper solutions first. I say cheaper, I mean less expensive, not less quality.

Air Bags

I recently hit about 900,000 miles on the truck so I started to chase air leaks that pop up around the air system.  One of the prime candidates for air leaks are the air bags. My air bags are original and although they look good during an inspection and don't show signs of leakage, I thought a little preventative maintenance here would go a long way.  As you can see from this picture, the air bag is starting to fail near the bottom of the pedestal.  The rubber is starting to crack.  This type of failure can leak air out slowly and cause the truck's air compressor to work harder than it was designed to.

Windshield Time

There are numerous things that happen to a driver who stays out on the road for weeks at a time.  Being lonely, having no one to talk to, staring at a line on the ground for hours, days, and weeks, can really play mind games with some people.  Some types of people really aren't cut out for driving Over-The-Road.

I've met people who simply have mental breakdowns after weeks on the road.  They think they can drive from one town to another, so it must be an easy job right?  Sure, driving a hundred miles in a day is easy, but try driving a thousand miles in a day and then doing it every other day for 3 straight weeks.  Now start adding those weeks together and make them into months and years.

Usually in a day, the average person interacts with other people at work, in their family, or their circle of friends. Truckers, on the other hand, can go 2 or 3 days between social interactions and then it can be as limited as simply signing for a trailer load of freight.  Trucking is a solitary enterprise.  Successful truckers should be able to exist and pay attention to their surroundings without all of the modern devices that are available.

Modern day truckers have cell phones and computers to keep their minds occupied on the road, but the freedom to use these devices is being threatened by lawsuits and accidents. The fact is that there is still only one way to be a safe Over-The-Road truck driver.  It involves not using any modern devices.

It involves paying attention every second of the day that you are anywhere near the truck.  No distractions.  One wrong distraction can cost lives.  That isn't something you want to be responsible for.  Driving a semi-truck is NOTHING like driving a car.  The only similarity is that there is a steering wheel and pedals.  Outside of that it is impossible to compare the two.  The mental games that truckers have to deal with in the course of their day can range from lying support personnel in the form of a dispatcher who needs to get the driver to do something for the company to false information from the shipper or receiver regarding anything to do with a load.

If a driver lets anything cloud their judgement on the road, it isn't going to end well.  I know a retired driver who spent just about every evening reading the regulations pertaining to his trucking business.  He knew the regulations so well, that he would teach the Department Of Transportation officers how to do their jobs better in his spare time.  He spent his life knowing his truck, his environment, his customers, and the law.

When I started this line of work, there were none of these distractions in the form of technology.  They are nothing short of a modern day menace.  The cell phone rings, and you take your eyes off the road.  You stop the truck for the night and stare at a computer screen for a few hours instead of sleeping or going for a walk to get some exercise.  Smart phones show facebook updates at all hours of the day and night.

I prefer to turn the phone, the computer, and even the radio off when working with a semi-truck.  As tempting as it is to have all of them available, they take attention away from the road.  In my opinion, if you can't stand paying 100% attention to your surroundings while operating a semi-truck, you have no business behind the wheel.  I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to playing with the new technology as it hits the market, but not while operating a semi-truck.  There is a time and a place to entertain yourself, and it certainly not when you are driving 40 tons down the highway.

A Letter To The NHTSA

To Whom It May Concern,
I am a veteran truck driver of over 20 years. I recently noticed the beer delivery run that OTTO performed and I have a number of concerns.  First off, how will this technology compare to the experienced driver that can (using years of experience) actively predict future events in traffic such as a vehicle with a tire that is about to blow out, debris that is going to fall from a vehicle, or a failing vehicle that is an clear threat to the roadway?

I have had numerous such incidents in the 20+ years I have operated an eighteen wheeler.  During such incidents, it was paramount that action be taken the instant the threat was made clear.  How is OTTO’s system going to perform this action?  How can a computer ever be able to predict the behavior of the surrounding traffic?

What will OTTO’s technology do better than a trained, experienced, proven driver on the long stretches of highway that they are planning to use their technology on?  There are lives at stake and to date, the only proven method for having a safe highway is to have well paid professional drivers who pay attention at all times and stay alert to potential hazards.

Radar, cameras, GPS, and environmental mapping cannot save lives as opposed to an experienced operator.  I'm interested to understand why this technology isn't being tested on nonpublic roadways in all of the various scenarios that arise in the real world.  There are dangerous loads being hauled on the highway on any given day.  In the event of a serious incident, OTTO’s system has no proven results that could prevent accidents or death in a potential chain reaction event where their truck is unable to react to a clear event that is unfolding in front of it.

While I am excited about this technology, I can't see where they are anywhere near a point where operating their equipment on a public roadway around families and fellow drivers of all types is possible.  While the video of the beer truck was interesting and exciting, if something that I have already described above had occurred, the driver who was in the sleeper berth, could not have reacted in time as an active person sitting behind the wheel could have.

In over 2 million miles of operating a semi-truck on just about every one of the nation's highways, I can say that there is very little training or experience needed to just keep the truck in between the lines and under the speed limit.  The training and experience comes in handy when unforeseen circumstances become hazards to a safe environment.  The technology cannot and will not be able to spot these active hazards in the split second time that is required to act. For this reason, I respectfully request that OTTO spend time testing this technology out of the public's eye until real data is collected on all of the various circumstances that can occur when people's lives are at stake.

Still Here

Well our clutch finally gave out after 830,000 miles.  It was the original clutch. Interesting thing is that there was another truck exactly like ours and made at the same time. This truck that I'm referring to had a clutch installed from the factory which failed before 100 miles. 

Ours lasted to 830,000 miles.  I was going for 1 million,  but 830,000 is good enough.

We are still using the original EGR cooler and EGR valve.  I wonder how long they will go.

Still aiming for a million.