Monday, March 26, 2012

Tandems, and Fifth Wheels, and Heavy Loads. Oh My!

We picked up our truck from our company's Duncan, SC terminal yesterday, where it had been for its routine maintenance. I got up at four AM and confirmed our load was ready, Willow got up and into bed in the truck, and we were at the shipper by 6 am.  When we got our load's paperwork I was surprised to see that its weight was 45,661. Normally our loads are between 42,000 and 44,500 pounds.  44,800 is about the max we can carry without some adjustments in the amount of fuel we carry and or the 5th wheel of our truck.  I knew that more than likely getting 45,661 pounds to weigh legally would involve some combination of moving the 5th wheel and not filling up on fuel completely.

For those not in trucking, the maximum legal weight of Tractor and Trailer without additional permits is 80,000 pounds. On interstates generally you can have 34000 pounds on each of your double axles known as tandems ( the drive tandem is the 2 sets of wheels on the truck and the trailer tandem is the 2 sets of wheels on the trailer). On interstates you may have a maximum of 20,000 pounds on a single axle, like your steer axle (those at the front of your truck), but most states limit this to 12,000 pounds on state roads and highways. Truckers can manipulate how the weight is distributed on these 3 sets of wheels by manipulating the sliding trailer tandem or the sliding 5th wheel.  If you are unable to get your weight legal, it is back to the shipper for them to redistribute the load or take some of the load off the truck. Going back to the shipper always delays you, sometimes hours and even days in some horror stories I have heard.

The trailer tandem is the easiest to set; it involves setting the trailer breaks, unlatching the pins that hold it in place, and moving the trailer while attached to the truck backwards and forwards. Moving the truck and trailer backwards move the trailer tandem forwards which removes weight from the front of the trailer and the truck that it rests on, mostly from the drive tandem set. This movement puts that weight on the trailer tandem..  Moving the trailer forwards moves the trailer tandem back and moves the weight off of the trailer tandem and on to the truck drive tandem. Moving the trailer tandem affects the weight on your steer tire axel as well , but it is a much smaller amount compared to how this movement affects your drive and the trailer tandem weights. Each hole on the trailer tandem slide is generally about 200 to 250 pounds on most van style trailers, depending on the weight and how the load is distributed.

The fifth wheel attaches the trailer to the truck, on many trucks it also slides. This involves activating a switch inside the truck (for those lucky enough to have an air activated 5th wheel slide) to unlock the 5th wheel slide, setting the trailer brakes, putting the trailer landing gear down to remove the weight off the truck and moving the truck forward or backwards  while still attached to the trailer. Moving the truck backwards moves the 5th wheel forwards towards the cab and takes weight  off the drive tandems and puts it on the steers. Moving the truck forwards moves the 5th wheel backwards putting more weight on the drives and taking it off the steers.  This movement can also affect your weight on the trailer tandems but too a much lesser degree.  Its a bit more involved than setting the trailer tandems, so mostly truckers get the 5th wheel set and try to move it as little as possible.

The final factor is fuel, fuel added to the truck will increase the weight on the steers and drive tandems.  On our truck the way the fuel tanks are place generally puts just a but more weight on  our steers compared to the weight added to the drives. For simplicity I figure half the weight will be added to both. This weight comes off as you drive and burn fuel.

This morning I weighed before fueling and we were at 79180 pounds. This gave me only a mere 820 pounds for fuel.  With only a quarter of a tank of fuel in a 200 gallon tank, I figured the most I could fuel was 110 gallons based on a fuel weight around 7 pounds per gallon.  That would bring us right up to the legal limit.  I was around 11,300 on the steers, 34500 on my drives and 34300 on my trailer tandem, I knew it would be "fun" balancing out the trailer tandem position and our 5th wheel to be legal. So I fueled a 110 gallons worth. Moved my trailer tandems two positions forwards to move weight off the drives and on to the trailer, and then the 5th wheel 2 positions forward to move more weight onto the steers and off the drives. After re-weighing I was at 12120 on the steers, 34020 on my drives, and 33820 on my trailer. Our total weight was 79960. YES!!! 40 pounds to spare. We were a bit over on the steers and slightly over on the drives, but all of our driving from that point on was on interstates and we would burn off the extra weight.  Experience with our consistently heavy loads and previous advice from our trainers and other drivers led me to think I would not have any trouble at the weight stations we were passing through.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Oh Solo Meo

Willow was sick and I was out solo  for the first half of last week and part of the week before.  She had not been feeling well all week and Thursday before last she woke up and told me she needed to see the doctor.  Rather than have her struggle with driving on top of not feeling well, we opted to have me run alone and deliver one of our 2 loads for that half of the week. I called our Fleet Manager, who was able to get the other run covered.

Time management is always important on the truck, but even more important when running by yourself. You have no one to take up your slack if you start running behind, and you have to make your appointment times.  The later it gets in the evening and on until early morning  parking spaces become a premium as the rest and truck stops fill up and stay full until drivers begin to wake up and head out.  I mixed up parking at rest stops and truck stops this week. The truck stops offer additional services like TV, restaurants, and showers.  While rest stops tend to fill up later, offer a quieter environment, and offer less temptations in the form of junk food.

I really missed Willow on these solo trips.  There are definitely benefits to being solo, I got to sleep with the truck not moving, I could mess up the truck and clean it at my leisure.  I blasted heavy metal, rap, Sonic Youth, and Tom Waits with all the truck speakers on and at extreme volume, rolling down the road during the wee hours in ecstatic sonic overload. But I was lonely, and her absence made me realize even more the benefits of having a partner to share the journey with and to help "carry the load" of long hours out on the road. So in absence of human contact I cozied up to AFLAC Duck ( a stuffed duck  acquired from my friend Charles from my last job that when shaken emits the famous catch phrase) and Valentine Dog, the cheesy rose-in-the-mouth stuffed dog I got for Willow on Valentine's day. They were a poor substitute for my wife and I worried about her home sick and mostly alone.

I had some additional adventures during this solo time.  On Friday after I passed through northbound, Tennessee Department of Transportation closed southbound Interstate 75 due to an earlier landslide that undermined both lanes of the highway south of the Kentucky state line. On my way back home from Chicago I had to consider dealing with the detour around it, down two lane windy US 25 W, or finding another route.  After talking to several other truckers I decided to take an alternate route on US 25 E, a 4 lane road that passes through  a tunnel at the Cumberland Gap. I had to run in at night as I was finishing up the week and running out of my allotted hours.  While the detour was actually 30 miles shorter, it took about a half hour longer as it passed through several towns and wound around, up, and down the mountains of southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee. There was not a lot to see at night, but I looked forward to driving it again during the day.

 I want to thank the WalMart driver at the Loves truck stop in Corbin, Kentucky,  who offered to let me follow him through the detour. Though I declined because I needed to get on the road before he was ready in order to get home and not impact my hours the next week, it made me feel good that there was some of that old tucker code of helping each other left out in the modern world.

I was able to get 2 round trips in the 6 days that we can do 4 round trips as a time, while Willow made the rounds to traditional and alternative health care providers. On my second trip I ran through the 25 E detour during the day. There was more traffic, but I actually got to see what I was driving through and it was very rewarding The scenery is fantastic with deep river gorges and rugged mountains. About halfway through the trip 25 E turns off  to the right to go around a town and a bridge that is off limits to trucks.  The previous run at night I had no problem following the route as it diverged from the roadway at a traffic light. During the day I got confused and made the right turn one light too soon, about 100 yards from the actual turn.

As soon as I made the turn I knew I was in for some fun. The road was tiny and immediately curved down into a tight hollow. "Oh boy", I said to AFLAC Duck, " I just made a major wrong turn".  The GPS urged me to turn left, into an even smaller road and a tiny neighborhood.  "No way I am going to get turned around down there.". AFLAC duck  offered no sympathy.

Down the road at the bottom of the hill I saw a gravel lot with old trucks and trailers. I might have been able to manage to use the lot for a turn, but it would have been tight and a kid was riding a four wheeler in it. Just as I was about to try it, down the other side of the hollow came an 18 wheeler hauling a rock load. I knew he had to come from somewhere and likely I could turn there. I headed the way he had come. Shortly I came across a quarry with an easy turn around and made it back to the main road.  Safe. I gave AFLAC duck a relieved shake, he replied "Aflac.....Aflac........AAAAAFFFLLLLAAAACCCC" as we drove away.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

43 thousand pounds of food gone awry

This guy was having a bad day!  Story was that he felt the trailer start to break when he was driving.  He pulled into the rest area and parked.  He said that the break had gotten worse while he was there. The rest area personnel had placed the cones around his truck to keep others from parking too closely-preparation for the disaster to unfold.  When you think you're having a bad day, just think of this!!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Zygote Solo

Our next run to Chicago and back also took longer than usual.  No breakdown's, but we did have to wait for a live load, which is not usually the case.  This coupled with the 12-13 hour delay from the first load and we did not arrive back in NC until Thursday afternoon, when we are usually there on Wednesday night. 

I've not been feeling well for over a week, so when we came through our hometown on Thursday, I got off the truck at our house so I could go to the doctor.  Zygote took the second load on down the mountain for delivery and picked up our 3rd load on his own.  He'll have enough hours left this week to finish the third run solo; he's super excited to finally be running by himself.  I'm sure he'll have lots of stories to tell!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Our week has been filled with delay after delay. We spent all day Monday sitting at the truck stop across the street from the shipper waiting for various asundry reasons. First our load was not ready, which is rare. Then, when it was ready, the trailer had no brakes. All four trailer brakes were bad, some cracked, some worn completely away. Breakdown sent someone out to assess the situation but did not authorize him to replace all four. The repair man tried to reach them, couldn't get through; we tried to reach them, couldn't get through, so the repairman left. When we finally did reach breakdown, they wanted pictures. I don't know what a driver with no computer or internet on his truck would have done. Zygote took pictures and emailed them. Breakdown wanted us to drive the trailer to the repair shop. This was after Zygote had repeatedly told them that the trailer was completely unsafe to drive. So, they simply gave up and told him to talk to his FM.

Our FM, who had been up on the situation the whole time, totally took care of us. He had us bring the loaded trailer back to the plant to be unloaded. They put our load into a different trailer. We again, waited across the street. By this time, Zy's shift was over. He'd spent his whole shift driving 30 miles to get to the shipper and then dealing with the breakdown the rest of the time. I took over.

I called to see if the load was ready; it was. I picked up the trailer and looked it over. Missing marker light, on the top right corner. Tandems operated by air pressure button and they were stuck. I fiddled with it some but had never moved tandems on one with an air pressure button, so I had to get Zygote to help me. We both worked on the tandems for another 30 minutes. Finally we got the pins to retract.

The secret (in case anyone ever needs to know this) was to bleed all the air out of the air lines and then let them fill completely back up again. When I had hooked up, because the trailer had super singles, the air pressure had mostly gone to the tires and did not have enough pressure in the lines to retract the tandem pins all the way.

We headed across the street and weighed. Tandems adjusted, we should have been on our way but...I was not feeling it with the marker light missing. They way our luck has been going lately, this missing marker light could cost me points against my CDL. I called breakdown again while I started out for the truck stop where we were authorized to fuel. They arranged for the same guy to come meet me there. I figured by the time I made the drive there, waited in line, fueled, pulled up, etc that he would be there. Was he? No. Then I had to go through the hassle of parking at a full truckstop, which I managed by parking on top of a NO PARKING HERE sign painted on the pavement. Clever, huh? While I waited, two other trucks parked with me on top of that same sign. I went and talked to one of the guys in a gorgeous Peterbilt. He said he was not moving from that spot for the rest of the night, no parking sign or not. LOL.

After another 45 minutes, the repariman showed up, put his ladder against the trailer and within 15 minutes was done.

Finally, I was on the road. It was now 1030pm and our day had started at 6am.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mushroom & Clam Pasta

1 Small can of chopped clams

1 package sun dried tomatoes, sliced thin

3 to 4 small cloves of garlic, 2 to 3 large cloves.

2 tbs Butter

16 oz Mushrooms, sliced

2 tbs Olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup non alcoholic Sparkling grape juice or wine if not in the truck (optional).

1 package of fresh pasta-(found in the refrigerator section of the grocery)--we use linguini shape usually, but recipe is also good with angelhair

In a sauce pan or electric skillet, at medium heat, add chopped garlic butter and olive oil cook until garlic aroma fills the truck, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, cook until mushrooms are tender, usually 5 to 10 minutes.

Add clams with juice, for optional additional flavor add sparkling grape juice or wine (if you are not in a truck). Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer.

A tip for cooking fresh pasta without a pot. Use a steam kettle to bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. Place your pasta in a bowl, pour water over pasta, covering it. Put a lid on the bowl. You can then place the bowl in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes for thicker pasta or just leave the noodles in the hot water for 3 to 4 minutes for thin pasta like angle hair. This method can be used for dry pasta but you should microwave for up to 10 minutes until the pasta is cooked al dente.

After noodles are done, drain. You can use some of the water to add moisture to your sauce if needed.

Pour sauce over hot noodles and serve.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Coming back from Chicago yesterday we encountered some of the damage in Kentucky caused by Friday's tornadoes  . There were several places where tornadoes crossed the highway. In Critenden, south of Cincinnati; trees had been uprooted and tossed around, a good quarter mile of roadside was strewn with debris, and on the northbound side a truck had been turned over and forced off the road.  My aunt and uncle live a few miles from the highway, I had called them earlier in the day, leaving a message.  My concern for them grew at seeing this damage so close.  My sister and I were talking on the phone as we drove through and I asked her to get Mom to call to make sure they were OK.

An hour or so later while listening to Lexington public radio it was reported there were three deaths in Kenton country near Critenden. I called Mom again. No answer. Turns out she was on the phone with my Uncle. Everyone is fine; but they had windows blown out, had damage to the roof, and all their barns and a detached garage were destroyed. Down the street a brick home was completely destroyed. We are so glad that they were not hurt

We switched out for Willow to drive the last leg of our trip back to North Carolina. As we passed Richmond, where she barely made it past a storm on Friday night, more damage was evident. Trees were down and homes on both sides of the road were destroyed. We figure 10 or 15 minutes later on Friday and we would have been caught in the tornado, it had clearly crossed the highway. A bit further down the road as we began to enter the foothills and mountains of the Cumberland Plateau, there was another tornado crossing and a semi down in a ravine on the northbound side of the interstate. All this was definitely sobering, had we been delayed at all things would have been ..... interesting.

I feel for everyone that was affected by these storms, they are so random and so ferocious. Some homes were untouched or lightly damaged, when next door there was complete destruction. 

A definite credit to Willow's driving skills, I slept like a baby through everything last night. She continues to take the brunt of our weather related drama and has been handling it like she has been driving a big truck for years.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


645pm: I drove north on 75 through Kentucky, Zygote slept. The sun setting through the gathering clouds made for a beautiful scene over the mountains. Strong winds had rocked the trailer all afternoon through Tennessee and now into Kentucky.

Around Berea a hue of orange and green tinted the very air rather than being a mere color in a pretty sunset, the sign of an approaching tornado. Scanning the clouds for funnels, I noticed two fingers starting down out of one cloud to the east of the highway, undeveloped. I turned on the radio and the ringing sound of emergency broadcast filled the cab. Behind me, I noticed a huge black entity taking over the sky to the southwest, moving fast. On my left was a suburb of Richmond, Kentucky. The emergency broadcast ringing stopped and the announcement stated that a tornado warning was issued just moments before for Richmond, Kentucky and surrounding counties and towns. As the truck passed Richmond, warning sirens blared, the air reverberating with the repeating wail. The wheels of the truck pounded a steady rhythm on the pavement at 65mph; the wind hit the side of the truck like a freight train, rocking the trailer and pushing the tractor to the far east side of the lane; the wall of blackness behind me engulfed entire sky. The repeating tornado warning demanded that everyone seek shelter NOW.

A fading orange sunset lit the sky ahead and to my left; in front of me the sky was blue; behind me the sky was as black as night. As our truck sped out from under the roiling clouds, I felt a sense of dread for the people left behind. My prayers go out to those communities tonight.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Random Tips for Cooking in a Truck

*Butter storage-a butter bell works great for storing butter in a moving truck. If you have the butter out of the fridge for easy spreading, the container of the bell keeps melting butter from getting everywhere.

*Papertowels-a bungee cord strung between the shelf supports in the top of the cubby makes a perfect papertowel rod.

*Spices-magnetic spice containers organize spices on the side of the refrigerator and microwave

*Hanging bags-two cloth bags hang from the ratchetstraps that secure the refrigerator-one for breads and one for fruit. Hanging fruit this way keeps it from bruising from the motion of the truck. Even a banana will turn black in one day if it is laying on a surface in the truck due to the vibration.

*Menu-plan menus one week at a time for shopping and food storage. A magnetic clip on the fridge holds the week's menu for easy reference-six meals.

*Purchase milk in one serving boxes that can be stored outside the refrigerator. Keep one or two in fridge and store the rest in your food bins to save fridge space.

*Easy breakfast items
fruit, yogurt, cereal, instant oatmeal, ham biscuit, frozen waffles, cinnamon raisin bread

*Healthy snack or lunch items
fruit, cheese sticks, yogurt, raw veggies with hummus, peeled-cooked shrimp & cocktail sauce, pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw, tuna salad sandwich, granola bars, trail mix

*Keep a tupperware full of raw veggies for dipping: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, celery. The container can then be brought up front with the driver. Another variation is to divy the veggies out into ziplock bags for the week.

*Purchase head lettuce and shred it for salads and store in a tupperware. Your lettuce will stay fresher longer this way rather than in plastic bags that it comes in from the store. Another option for keeping lettuce fresher longer is to buy the hydroponic heads of buttercrisp with the roots still on them. These keep the longest.

*From my trucking friend, Anne: wrap the microwave glass turntable in a towel to keep it from rattling when you are not using the microwave.

Sample menu

Crock Pot Salsa Roast with Rice
BBQ Sandwiches
Pork Chops and Quinoa with Green Beans
Grilled Cheese sandwiches and Tomato Soup
Clam & Mushroom Pasta

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Refrigerator drama

Two weeks ago when the electrical issue blew our refrigerator, we replaced it with one that was slightly deeper. The freezer was not separate but had a door inside the fridge itself-a separate compartment but you access it through the fridge. This refrigerator lasted one week with us and we ended up exchanging it. I don't recommend these types of refrigerators for the truck. We found that having to open both doors to reach items in the freezer was very inconvenient, as the fridge is located on the top bunk-in our setup. We lost all our frozen food, as the freezer compartment is not cold enough to keep things frozen solid. Soupy ice cream anyone?

Typically, any meat I bring along to cook, I keep frozen until I am ready to use it. Before I go to bed at 3am, after my shift, I set it to thaw in the fridge. Using the freezer space like this not only keeps the food fresher, but maximizes the refrigerator space for fresh veggies, our large salad container and cold drinks.

The refrigerator that we ended up with is the same brand as our old one-Fridgidaire, same size, but has extra storage compartments on the inside of the door-which really helps with things like condiment bottles (and kitkat bars!!) The one drawback to consider about this kind of fridge is that the compressor rattles; the one on the other fridge was very quiet.