Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Banana Bread & Trailer Dust

Crazy this life, crazy.  We have had two complete runs to Chicago and back that worked out the way they were supposed to.  When we arrived back in Black Mountain this evening, we called Baxter plant and they did not have our next load ready for us yet because we are EARLY!!!!!  Yay! We are EARLY!!! We arrived here about 7pm and they said to check back with them after 1030pm.  That's 3.5 hours at home!!!

We parked the truck at a local grocery store parking lot and walked home.  Zygote showered and I drove him back to the truck in my car so he could go ahead and get his sleeping hours in peace.  Then I came back home, showered, cooked myself a spaghetti dinner (Zy had already eaten his meal in the truck), and (get this!!) baked banana bread!!!!  In the middle of the work week!  at home!  I'm so excited about this you just cannot believe.  I get to be a trucker and bake banana bread and shower at home.  It's cheating, I know.  At a truck stop a few days ago, a man was talking to Zy and when he saw me, he told Zy that he was cheating as a trucker because he has his wife with him.  I keep telling Zy that I'm not a real trucker; I'm sure those folks out there that don't see home for 6 weeks at a time would agree that we are definitely cheating. 

The minor 5th wheel difficulty turned out to be that the air line to the air powered release mechanism had come loose.  Zygote found it miraculously in the dark and fixed it.

I took some pictures of the eerie corn plant where we pick up to try to show you how spooky and creepy it is.  We are there more often at night than during the day.  They didn't come out very clearly because of the dim light at night but you can get the idea.  There are loud screeching sounds that come from that tower all the time that sound like pigs being slaughtered.  I was told it is a system that they use for keeping the birds from nesting in the machinery.


  And poor Zygote sweeping out the trailer in a cloud of dust.  YUCK!!!

The New Leaf

 We have completed one run to Chicago and back to NC.  We are in Chicago now after dropping off our first load.  Impossible to type in a moving truck.  minor difficulties with fifth wheel release sticking but all is well.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back in Business

We completed one run for the week.  We did not have enough hours to finish the second load, only because if we had used our hours to do that last trip, then once home, we would not have had a full 34 hours to "reset" before Monday morning.  And we need to have all 70 hours available to us in order to complete all 4 runs for this coming week.

We made it home at 5am Saturday morning.  Monday we leave at 2am.  Fingers crossed.  We need one full week of work desperately, as we've not had a full paycheck in 3 weeks.

Next Sunday starts our vacation week!  I leave for Massachusetts and Zygote leaves for Reno!!  Hard to believe it's already been almost 6 weeks since we left OTR.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Truck 22700

Zygote says this will be our Lucky Truck because of the number.  I'm going to hold him to that idea.  So far things have not panned out that way. 

We spent a terrible night Wednesday night waiting in the terminal for the shop to wire our inverter and CB into the new truck, and they had to fix the driver side door latch (broken even tho the truck is new with only 370 miles on it).  Zygote slept in the terminal in a chair, and I went to my car, opened the back seat thru to the trunk and laid with my feet in the trunk and my head in the back seat.  Needless to say, neither one of us got much sleep.  The shop released the truck at 4am.  We didn't get cleared from the facility and on our way until 530am.

We drove home, loaded our food into the truck and picked up our load from Marion.  Less than one mile from the plant, the tire tread separated from the tire on one of the trailer tires.  We ended up waiting for 7 hours for that be fixed before we could leave.  Already our chance for two runs this week is gone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Truck!

This morning, the driver liason that I talked to on Tuesday evening called to let me know that they were issuing us a new truck!  We packed up our things and headed over to the terminal from the motel room by about 930am.   We were able to meet the driver liason, as his desk was right beside the equipment manager's desk, the very man that had told Zygote "no" the day before when he asked for a new truck.  The liason asked us to come back to see the equipment manager at 1115. 

Zy wanted to sit in the terminal and play his infernal video games for the 5th day in a row and sulk, but I refused to allow him to do this anymore.  I shuffled him off into the car and drove him to the Railroad Tunnel museum to get his mind off everything.  Because we only had about 30 minutes to spend in the museum before we had to head back, the curator allowed us to go in for free.  There was much history packed into the small museum and you could tell that there are many local folks that take alot of pride in the history of their town.  Many had donated or loaned family artifacts to the museum for display.  I learned that Highway 41 used to be known as Peacock Alley for the chenille that the women of the area made by hand (namely a woman called Catherine Evans) and this was the beginnings of the carpet industry, which is how Dalton, GA became the "carpet capital of the world".  Here is a webpage I found that outlines this history briefly.

The museum featured this wall hanging but they did not sell them.  I'm still looking for them online; I would really like to have one to frame.

So now we move our things from the old truck to the new truck.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And Again

Now We have been sent to the Freightliner Dealer in Ringgold, GA after waiting 3 days for the terminal shop to figure out they could not our speedometer issue. Fingers crossed that the 5th shop in 3 weeks can fix our truck.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tunnel HIll

Still here in Tunnel Hill, GA. Waiting for the shop here to look at our truck. Hoping that they will get to us this afternoon.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Despite their best efforts, the shop at Loudon was unable to correct the problem.  They referred us to the shop at Tunnel Hill.  We arrived in Tunnel Hill around 8pm and checked in with the shop.   It will be at least two days before they can even look at our truck.   Settling in for a long wait with not much to do.  Contemplating a hike or a visit to the Tunnel.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Round 4? 5?

We are back in the shop again.  This time is Loudon, TN outside of Knoxville. The guys here seem to have an idea about what may be wrong and they made me feel a lot better about getting it fixed. So here we sit again.

I have to say Western North Carolina Freightliner in Asheville, NC should be avoided at all costs. The mechanics there really did not want to handle the issue. It is intermittent and there are no obvious fault codes being thrown, so it is hard to troubleshoot or fix. This shop put forth minimal effort. Repeatedly a mechainic asked me what I expected them to do. DUH! How about fixing the truck! After delay after delay,  3 mechanics passing the buck back and forth, and them refusing to take a test drive with me or view the videos I made of the issue occurring, we took the truck out of the shop after their last feeble attempt at repair.  I test drove the truck 3 times , and the last time the issue did not occur, but deep down we knew as soon as we were back under load the speedometer would be up to its old antics.

This morning proved us right.  I held off calling in the  breakdown until we were past Asheville, to make sure we would avoid going back to WNC Frieghtliner. After we fueled in Dandridge, TN I called the company breakdown department , told them our saga, and they sent us to the shop in Loudon. First thing when describing the issue, the shop managers started suggesting possible causes and assuring me they would keep at it until fixed. It was so refreshing to have someone that actually seemed invested in getting us fixed.  We are hopeful that this will finally get resolved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Plum Jam

Plum harvest is in.  Jam is made.

Our truck has been in the shop all week.  Freightliner says they "fixed" the problem, but we will not know for sure until we drive the tractor with a load on it.  Zygote brought the tractor to the house today, and we will leave out of here at 2am.  With any luck we'll be able to get two out of our 4 loads in this week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Still Home

We have been home all week.  We stopped at the Freightliner shop on the way out of Asheville on our first run last Monday morning.  The speedometer was wildly fluctuating from 20 to 75mph regardless of what speed we were actually doing.  The On Guard system (a radar on the front of the truck) was cutting in and out randomly and turning off the cruise control repeatedly.   Same issues we'd been having since the week before.  No one had actually fixed the problem in Duncan.  The issue seems to only happen when the tractor is under load.  It had not displayed the problem when we bobtailed it home from Duncan.  We asked the guys at the Freightliner shop to come for a ride in it while it was under load, right then, so they could see the problem, but no one was available to do that.  We sat in the driver's lounge from about 9am to 5pm that day when they closed.  

We ordered food from Pineapple Jacks delivered by the Westside Munchie Machine.  That was pretty cool. 

Our friend Lone Wolf came and picked us up from Freightliner at 6pm.  We've been home ever since.  No one was able to look at the truck until Thursday and then they were unable to reproduce the issue without pulling a load. (We had given the loaded trailer to a solo driver on Monday for repower.)  The usual corporate knee jerk reaction to Friday afternoon at 3pm happened yesterday and suddenly getting our truck fixed was top priority on everyone's list, after we'd already sat and lost the whole week.  A flurry of phone calls happened and it was determined that the best course of action, lo and behold, would be for a Freightliner tech to ride with us under load.  LOL.  You have to laugh or you will pop veins or worse its such infuriating circular logic.

So...we were told to go pick up our Monday load on Monday and come by the same Freightliner shop on our way out of town.  All this could have been done last Monday had they just listened to Zygote the first time we came through.  

I can only Breathe and be thankful for the unexpected (and unearned) week at home.  It's been a wonderful week during which I completed many chores that desperately needed attention.  The weather has been beautiful and the weekend stretches before me promising lots more good times.  The garden production is about played out at 14.5 quarts of tomato sauce, 2.5 gallons of Yukon gold potatoes, 3 1gallon bags of frozen kale, a fridge drawer full of onions and about a quart of dried beans for stews.  Not bad for an absent gardener. Life is good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Repair Madness

First off, I want to apologize to everyone for not posting as much as I should. Poor Willow has been posting away while I have remained silent.  It's taken some effort to adjust to the new dedicated run, and I have not had it in me to post. Finally I have decided to get one in, before Willow has my legs broken.

The first week of the new run we struggled getting our routine down, but made some real progress. We are getting the run down, but this week and last week our struggles have been with repairs.  Willow has been posting our problems so I won't go into the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that 2 trailer repairs, an on the road front tire repair, and our speedometer and collision avoidance system going haywire and sending us to the shop at the end of the week was trying.  We only managed 3 loads of 4 last week. We put the truck in the shop in Duncan, SC outside of Spartanburg, and went home Saturday.

The truck had 36,000 miles on it so the Shop did periodic maintenance as well.  The repairs lasted into Monday. We picked up the truck hoping everything would be resolved. Willow drove it home, and all our issues seemed fixed.

This morning I drove down to the shipper in Marion, NC with Willow in the sleeper.  After we hooked up to our loaded trailer we headed back up the mountain. That is when it all started happening again.  The speedometer fluctuates wildly between the actual speed and 10 miles above to 50 miles below our actual speed. Without our GPS this would have been disastrous, shifting is so dependent on knowing your truck speed and neither of us are experienced enough to shift by feel entirely. As it was it was only moderately annoying and dangerous. Especially driving in rush hour in Chicago Saturday morning. I am pretty sure I aged a year in 2 hours.  On top of this our collision avoidance system, (which controls our cruise control, alerts us when cars are too close, and hits the breaks automatically before we hit something) is shutting off the cruise control, throwing alarms for no reason, and shutting off completely until the truck is restarted.  Generally,lots of things that make driving no fun and not very safe. For some reason, having a freaking out computer that can slam on the breaks at anytime  does not make me comfortable being on the road.

"HAL, please release the parking break"

"I am sorry Karl, but I can't do that"

So now, after consulting with the shop that looked at the issue originally, we found they could not reproduce the issue or find any error codes in the truck diagnostics so they could not do anything. The very nice Mechanic recommended we take it to a Freightliner dealer while the issues were actively occurring. We are sitting at the dealership now with the truck being analyzed now.  Hopefully we can get fixed and back on the road without loosing another load to repairs. I won't be holding my breath waiting though.

Oh and a shout out to the Duncan, SC shop. Not everything was fixed but they were courteous, informative, and helpful.  It was our best shop experience a any company terminal so far.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Trailer Drama

Our second week on the dedicated account was fraught with one trailer disaster after another.  

Our first trip to Chicago for the week started off with our first loaded trailer from Baxter having a marker light out-down for a few hours in KY getting that fixed-behind already, day one; once at Cardinal Health in Waukegan, we were faced with the same trailer that we had reported the previous Friday to breakdown (missing marker light)-no one had come to fix it in that time, and it was our only option as an empty.  We hooked to it and called to let breakdown know that we were moving the trailer.  I was on hold with breakdown for 1.5 hours and no one ever came on the line.  I finally hung up to sweep the trailer out--we'd arrived at Corn Products.  What was supposed to be a loaded trailer turned out to be a live load.  We waited.  Once on the road with the missing marker light and loaded, we stopped at the terminal in Markum, IL to have the light fixed.  5.5 hours later we were finally out of the shop.  They had found that the wheel bearings were about to go and had replaced those as well as the light.  Pulling up to the gate house to pick up our Bills of Lading so we could leave, we were told that we were not showing in the system as being assigned to that trailer and that we could not leave.  I backed up, circled the building, parked and we called the Fleet Manager.  Another 30 minutes of delay while he figured out the issue with the trailer numbers in the system, and finally we were allowed to leave the terminal.  By this time, we were hours late and the week's 4 loads were already slipping out of reach.

At 2am I pulled into the rest area for us to trade out drivers.  There were no parking spaces left.  I squeezed in front of a pickup truck towing a horse trailer at the exit ramp.  In the process I ran the driver's side steer tire up on the curb slightly while positioning the trailer.  Not satisfied with the parking job I'd done, I moved the truck further down the exit ramp in front of the 5 other semis that were already there.  I brushed my teeth on the side of the highway, gathered my things from the drivers seat area and Zygote replaced me.  We pulled out.  As I settled into the bunk, a loud thumping noise began.  I listened intently to determine where it was coming from.  Zygote pulled off at the very next exit ramp and parked.  He got out and circled the truck while I got dressed again; he came back without finding anything.  I took the flashlight and got out and circled the truck.  That driver's side steer tire tread had separated, probably when I had run it up on the curb, and the shreds of tire tread were hanging off like giant rubber dreads.  Back in the truck, I fell sound asleep to the sound of Zygote calling breakdown, yet again.  I slept through the repair; all I remember hearing was the knocking on the side of the cab when the roadside guy showed up, and the distant whine of the compressor as he unscrewed the lug nuts.  I woke up in North Cove, NC again to help Zy with our drop and hook.  Meanwhile, my "cold" had turned into a sinus infection and my head pounded with the old familiar ache of a sinus headache.

There is a rest stop in Indiana on 65 right next to the wind farm that I had photographed during my training.  I have been stopping there on almost every trip through and have befriended the maintenance man that works there on the northbound side.  He's had MS for 23 years and has outlived 4 of the doctors that diagnosed him.  He's cleaned the rest area for 17 years, everyday, from the confines of his wheelchair.  We talk about the windmills and he swears they make no noise and don't make anyone sick.  He was interested in my story about the protests in OR against the wind farms there.  He told me about another woman trucker that worked for my same company that had played a joke on him once and had rolled his entire rest area; he said it took him months to get the toilet paper off the tops of the stalls.  I promised him I would not roll his rest area.  On another trip through, I asked him about the aurora borealis.  He said that you can see if from Chicago but not from as far south as his rest area.  The next time I saw him, he told me about taking his girlfriend to hear the Beach Boys the weekend before at the fair.  

On our third trip up to IL, as I drove at 65mph, the speedometer needle swung randomly from 25mph to 75mph; the cruise control cut out over and over again, until finally it would not stay on at all.  I drove from KY to IL with no cruise, a bruise forming on the ball of my right foot from the 10lb gas pedal.  I used the GPS screen to regulate my speed since I had no speedometer any longer.

Coming back from IL, we realized we would not have enough hours left to complete another trip.  We discussed with our FM, and he was left with finding a solo driver to cover that last trip of the week.  Our tractor is now due for it's first scheduled Periodic Maintenance, as we've reached 36K miles.  With our new speedometer issues, the air leak and the brake shimmy I am relieved that we now have a good enough reason to be down for the shop.  After dropping the third load in Marion, NC at 1am, we drove home, parked and mercifully slept in a non-moving bed.  Early Saturday  morning, Zy left with the tractor and drove to Duncan, SC to put it in the shop.  I slept 3 more hours and then went down to pick him up.  The mechanics in Duncan have been the nicest of all the shop mechanics we've encountered so far.  It's a small terminal/drop yard and not usually very busy.  I had been there before once with my trainer and remembered how to get there.  

As of this morning, the shop mechanics have said that our tractor will not be ready until at least Monday morning.  That means that we will miss our first load of the week.  ONce again, already we are set up for short week next week.  We emailed the bad news to our Fleet Manager.  Poor guy.  I'm actually quite pleased to be  home, and as far as I'm concerned, they can take as long as they want with our tractor in the shop!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dedicated to something

A few weeks back, when things were particularly "eventful", I received a phone call offering us a new route, a dedicated account that would get us home once a week for every 34 hour reset.  The idea a being home once a week became more and more appealing the longer we were out.  This new account had its pluses and its minuses.  For one, it did not offer as much money as the OTR driving we'd been doing.  We set the offer aside and considered it as an option for sometime in the future.

Time went on, the miles rolled by and we continued to have issues with never being able to reach our fleet manager and we continued to not be paid correctly on any of our paychecks.  Our dissatisfaction grew as did our curiosity about the dedicated account.  I called them back and discussed the possibility further.  The route being offered was Baxter Healthcare in Marion, NC to Waukegan, IL--4 times a week, driving IV bags to Cardinal Health and bringing back corn dextrose used to fill them.  After getting all of our questions answered within only two phone calls, we already saw that working for the smaller account we would be more taken care of than we were under the giant umbrella of OTR.  After a second particularly "eventful" week, we decided we'd had enough of the unpredictable world of OTR for now and that we would seek shelter in the sameness of a dedicated route.  

We were given our three days of home time, for which we got home one day late.  For that we took one extra day of home time to make up the third day.  Our new dedicated fleet manager managed to find a solo driver to take his last load for the week that week and he did not need us to start until the following Monday, so we started off by having Tuesday through Sunday off.  Already this job was better!!! My six days at home were a whirlwind of home activities.  Dr's appointments, visits with friends, grocery shopping, laundry, gardening, canning and revamping the truck organization to match our needs on this new 6 day route.  Knowing we would be home each week meant that we did not have to take everything under the sun with us; we could take only enough clothes for the week and plan to do our laundry at the house, thus saving even more money and time on the road.  We could plan our meals and take only the food we needed for the week, thus again saving more time and money on the road.  Our fleet manager had already approved us to stop at our house any time we needed to as our route passes right by our place.  We could even shower at home if we wanted!!  

Little things that had been minor inconveniences we were slowly finding resolutions for.   There is NO  place to hang anything in the truck; nothing will stick to the vinyl walls or cabinets, so it limits the amount of organizing that can be done.  I hung a bungee cord from netting on one of the top compartments and threaded it through the tube of a paper towel roll; we now have a paper towel dispenser and our windex stored right above it in the compartment--window washing has become an art form.  Another bungee holds a hanging dry erase board--I screwed two teacup holders into the top of the board to hang it from the bungee.  We use the dry erase board to write all of the important numbers that we need on each trip down, so that we can see them at a glance when needed without fumbling for notebooks or papers.  When we were doing the OTR routes still, we also wrote our routes on the board so we could see them easily even when driving.

The garden, as mentioned previously, was wild and bearing.  I picked tomatoes and cooked them down into a sauce spiced with our own homegrown onions, garlic, basil, oregano, and rosemary.  I used my new Himalayan pink salt.  I spread the beans out to dry, as they had grown too large to use as green beans, as they were originally intended.  I will dry and shell them and use them in stews.  Being home once a week will allow me to continue to put up the produce from the garden and the fruit trees.  I will have enough damsons this year to make jelly.  We will have a few grapes, our first year!! but not enough to do anything with besides eat them.  Still no figs.  

When the week was over at home, we started off on our new journey.  Our first week, though uneventful, was slow.  We gained confidence and speed as the week went on, reducing the amount of time it took us to make the trips each time.  By the last trip, we felt we were making serious progress on our times and that we would have a great week next week.   We did manage to make it by the house on Friday evening on our way out of town with our last load up.  We showered quickly, petting the cat and left again.  Even that brief visit though was enough to recharge us for that last bit of driving.  Because everything took us longer our first week, we did not make it home as early on Saturday as we had hoped.  In fact, we did not make it home on Saturday at all.  We got in at 3am Sunday morning.  

Laundry, grocery shopping, tomato canning and cat petting later we again loaded the truck and are back on the road on our first day out of our second week on this route.  It was a crazy few hours at home-our 34 hour resets are staggered since Zygote drives before me; he hits his 34 hours before I do and that is when we leave.  The first 12 hours of his 34 are while I drive us the rest of the way home Saturday night, and the last 12 hours of my 34 hour reset are while he drives us out the next Monday morning.  So really we are only home for about 26-27 hours.  

Both of us were also sick with colds our first week.  Zygote's fever started the night before we left.  I did not catch his cold until 4 days into the week.  The last night coming home my fever was raging but it was my turn to drive.  I came up the Smokies from Kentucky and Tennessee after stopping and eating the chicken noodle soup that Zygote heated up for me and taking an Aleve.  Coming home through the Smokies has been a joy each time.  I'm not sure I could ever tire of seeing home from that perspective.  Even when I'm driving it in the dark, the pitch black of the mountain hollows and the curvy roads that drop off to the Pigeon River below speak volumes to my soul even from behind the glass and the roar of the diesel engine.  The Appalachian Trail crosses there at the Waterville Exit, and each time I pass there, I am reminded of a simpler, quieter time in my life walking the AT.

Our loaded trailer on this first load of the week has a chunk of tread missing on one tire and a missing back marker light.  We are stopped at a repair shop in Corbin, KY waiting for these things to be corrected.   I attempted to eat a Subway avocado & turkey sandwich, but after being spoiled by our own homemade avocado mixtures the browning goo that the woman behind the counter smeared into the bread just didn't cut it.  I drank my coconut juice that I brought from EarthFare, probably a sign of a truly spoiled Ashevillean.