Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I cut off my last entry with my arrival to Palm Springs on Sunday night. And now, the continuation;

Every night when you finish driving you are supposed to send in a vehicle inspection report on the qualcomm (satellite communication system.) On Sunday night I felt it was prudent to tell them that a check engine light was on and the splitter button on my shifter was leaking air. For those of you not familiar with big trucks, I have a 13 speed transmission and 2 different air actuated switches on the shift lever that you need to select the correct gear. Whenever you use one of those switches you will hear a quick burst of air as the switch does it's job. The splitter switch was letting out a steady stream of air until I wiggled it enough to make it seal. This is of particular concern since the brakes on the truck are operated by air and if you have enough of an air leak to cause loss of pressure, your brakes will lock up on you. Obviously, the brakes locking up when you're not wanting them to can be detrimental to the life and health of yourself and people around you.

When I heard back from breakdown, they wanted to know if the truck was movable. I told them yes and that I would like to make my delivery in Gila Bend the next day and then they could route me to service. That was agreed upon by all parties as a workable plan.

And so, I woke up early the next morning and made my way out to Gila Bend. Starting out before sunrise and heading east was awesome as the sun started to rise behind the mountains in the distance. As the the sun started to get a little brighter I was suddenly aware of all the little bugs that had committed suicide on my window the previous day. As it got more and more difficult to see, I made the huge mistake of smearing them around with the windshield wipers and washer fluid, now I was almost driving blind into a glaring, yet beautiful sunrise. As luck would have it, I came across a gas station with truck parking next to it. I washed my window there and also waited about 20 mintues for the sun to get just a higher in the sky so as not to be shinning directly into my eyes.

I arrived in Gila Bend ahead of schedule. Passing through the small town you felt like you just stepped way back in time. I was almost expecting a covered wagon to pass by or maybe see Wyatt Earp shoot it out with some bandits. I made my way through town and made it to the mill I was delivering at. As I was leaving the mill, I had to stop and take a picture of an old run down building that I thought was a photographic gem. I also had to take a picture of my truck. After this, I was on my way to Phoenix for service.

I made it to the Peterbilt dealer at about 2:30 Monday afternoon. After a couple of hours, they finally told my that they would not be able to look at my truck that day. I called my driver manger and told her this and she told me to stay there in my truck. Now, bear in mind that this is in the middle of an industrial area. Once they close the shop at night, there are no bathrooms, showers, laundry, food....anything! And, they close the gates with rolled barbed wire on top so you can't even get in or out. But, they told me I was welcome to spend the night in their parking lot. I asked the service writer what I was supposed to do if I got up in the middle of the night and had to pee, was I just supposed to pee in the middle of your parking lot? He just looked at me with a blank stare and shrugged. I contacted my driver manager again and she told that I could take the truck to a truck stop and stay there.

The next morning, I arrived at the shop at about 7:15. Once again, not knowing where I was or where I was supposed to go to get food. I ended up walking about a mile up the road and found a Junk in the Box and got some chicken strips and iced tea. There was also a Circle K right next to the shop where I could get some water, but I refused to eat anything in there. Feeling somewhat abandoned and completely lacking any control over my situation, I came to the end of my rope. I don't like the feeling of being trapped somewhere and lacking the ability to make basic decision for my self. I felt as though I was at the mercy of somebody that was making decision for me while sitting in an comfortable office a thousand miles away. Along with many other highly stressful factors that play into being an over the road trucker, I decided that I was in a career that I wasn't prepared to handle. I called up my driver manager at about 2 that afternoon and asked her to route me home when the truck got out of service, I needed to move on. She tried to talk me out of it and told that not every day would be a breakdown. I told that there were just way too many factors that I didn't calculate into this job and I just didn't think I was cut out for it. I then called my wife and told her what I just done. She was very supportive and told that we'll just have to see what happens next.

After I spent 11 hours hanging out in a parking lot at the service center, I decided to take matters into my own hands and called a shuttle to take me to a motel for the night. At least I had the comfort of knowing that I was in an environment that was designed to provide basic necessities.

It is now Wednesday morning and I will once again call the service center and see if my truck is done. I really feel the need to be home right now.

I don't know what's going to happen next for me, I'm not really sure if I just made the best or worst decision of my life. I will continue to do the best I can to make life wonderful for me and my family. I've had to reassess what I really feel is important many times in the last year since I was laid off from the Federal Reserve Bank. Once again, I am reassessing and will try to make the best decisions for my future.

I'll keep you updated.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The right stuff, Do I have it?

The phrase "the right stuff" is something generally used to describe Naval Aviators. It makes reference to the pilots that fly the combats jets and land them on aircraft carriers. In order to do that job, you must have "the right stuff." In my humble opinion, a long haul truck driver must also have "the right stuff."

I usually save my main point for the end of my blog but today I'm going to come right out and say it in the beginning, I lack the right stuff and quit my job today. As of this writing, I'm held up in Phoenix and will be routed home.

That being said, I'm glad I titled my blog "red's midlife crisis" and not "red's truck driving adventures." And so it seems, that I may really be heading into more of a mid life crisis than I originally bargained for. I do plan on keeping up this blog updated as I think it will only get more and more interesting as time passes. I don't know how else to say it except that I'm scared as hell right now and I don't know what's going to happen next.

That part out of the way, allow me to shift gears and share my latest adventures.........

I was dispatched from Salem Oregon on Friday to go to a mill in Halsey and drop off an empty trailer and then pick up a loaded trailer and take it to Gila Bend, Arizona. I arrived at the mill at around 2 in the afternoon convinced that this would be a way easy trip with time to spare since my load wasn't scheduled to deliver until 1pm on Monday. Once I got rid of my empty, I went to get the loaded and was told that I couldn't pick that up until 11 that night. My original plan was to get about 5 hours down the road Friday. Now, keep in mind that I am middle aged and do like to try and keep a regular sleeping schedule. I knew I would start getting very tired at about 9 or so and was not looking forward to picking up at 11. I went back to a truck stop on I5 and decided to hang out there for a while. Because of a facebook update, my Mom decided to come up and bring my daughter to me to visit with before I hit the road. Bekah (my daughter) was staying with Grandma and Grandpa for spring break and they were only about 40 miles away. This was a well needed moral boost!!!

Later that night, I went back to the mill and picked up my trailer and made it back to I5 and decided to try and head south. I quickly realized I was too tired and stopped at a rest stop just south of Halsey at just after midnight.

Since you have to log 10 hours in the sleeper before you can start driving again, I knew I couldn't start before 10:15 in the morning. My plan was to start driving right at 10:15 and stop no later than 10 that night so I could start at 8 the next morning, stop by 8 that night and start my last day at 6am, giving me 7 hours of leeway before I had to make my appointment. You are only allowed to drive for 11 hours a day but you have 14 hours in which to do it, to account for breaks and such.

I started out at 10:15 on Saturday morning and about mid day I tackled the Syskious, that great mountain divide between Oregon and California. I then made it to Sacramento at about 8 that night and decided to bed down in a truck stop. On Sunday I got back on the South bound 5 and headed for the Grapevine. The Grapevine is the well known mountain pass right before you hit LA. I stopped at a rest stop about an hour from the Grapevine and took a few moments to eat a sandwich and gather my nerve. I also decided that it was a good place to brush my teeth since being a trucker is all about taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. I set out for Grapevine but had no idea that I would not get the chance to stop again until I hit Palm Spring, a 4 1/2 stint. About the time you hit the base of the Grapevine you are also greeted with the worlds worse roads. These poor roads continued all the way over the mountain and East until about SanBernardino. 100 miles and 2 1/2 solid hours of  of having
your kidneys abused and fearing that all the noise you were hearing was the truck crumbling underneath you. I fully expected the truck to disintegrate and I would be left standing in the middle of the freeway holding a steering wheel.

Alas, I Did make it to Palm Springs........and then things got a little interesting.

Well, it's late and I'm going to bed, I'll fill you in when I get the chance.


Friday, March 25, 2011

understanding the costs

As I decided to pursue a new career it was easy to tell myself that I understood the costs or hardships of being a long haul trucker. Even when I was in truck driving school and once I started training with May Trucking I was home every night. I knew the time would come real soon when I would have to hit the road and I convinced myself that I was totally prepared to deal with it. Turns out, I was wrong.

The trip that I did this last weekend was just a truck recovery. They sent me to Idaho to pick up a truck that was there and bring it back to Salem Oregon. I knew it was going to be a quick trip and I would be back home very soon. I then waited at home anxiously awaiting them to get a truck assigned to me. I pretended to have the desire to hit the road as soon as possible but I don't think I was fooling anybody, including myself. When I got the call on Thursday that they had a truck for me, I was both excited and scared.

I got a dispatch this morning telling me that I would be hauling a load to Gila Bend Arizona, just southeast of Phoenix. Then, it hit me! My 11 year old daughter has been at Grandma and Grandpa's house since Friday for Spring Break. I haven't seen her in a week, which in and of itself, isn't that big of a deal. Ever since she was little she would go to the G-parents place for a week or two at a time. But now, about the time she is supposed to be retuning, I am leaving and will probably be gone for 3 weeks (give or take). Now, I'm really starting to struggle.

I named this blog "red's mid life crisis" because I knew I was getting ready to face some HUGE challenges in the coming months. However, I didn't count on it being such an emotional struggle so early in the game. It doesn't take kids long to grow up and you can never get that time back. My daughter is way too precious to me to take any moment for granted.

I have to stick with this for now because I have no other way to pay the bills. When I started this job I was telling everybody that I was going to commit to it for a year. Right now, I'm reassessing that commitment.

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I continue to work my way through this. Right now, I feel like I need a strength that I don't currently have.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trial by Fire

I finally found a ride to Idaho to pick up the tractor in Payette. As usual, nothing went as planned. The driver picked me up at a truck stop about 5 miles from my house on Friday morning at 6am. He asked if I would mind driving. I was happy to oblige since I have not yet had the benefit of any mountain driving experience and I was more than happy to have somebody that's done it before in the passenger seat for my trial run. I think his main motive for wanting me to drive was so he could save on log hours and continue driving once we reached Payette. Just as well, the situation still worked in my favor since I was able to get just a little more free training out of it.

The drive to Payette was uneventful but yet informative. The guy I was with was also a company trainer and very friendly. He talked me through all the mountain driving and our 6 hour trip seemed to pass almost too quickly.

When I arrived and located the truck I was supposed to pick up, I realized that it was one of the older trucks that they wanted back at the main office so they could sell it off. Whoever this truck was assigned to last was a nasty slob! All I can say, glad that's not the truck they're assigning to me. Turns out, the bunk heater didn't even work (that's what keeps you warm in the middle of the night).

About the time I climbed in the truck I received a dispatch. I was to pick up a trailer full of beer and head back to Portland. Yes, I know! Sounds like a dream come true to have 43k lbs of beer behind you. But, alas, the doors are sealed and I'm not allowed in. I immedeatly started to hunt for my keg party on wheels and it was nowhere to be found. I called my driver manager and she told me that the trailer was about 7 hours out. Bearing in mind that I had not yet exhausted all available driving hours, I was hoping to leave Payette that night and try to get about 4 hours down the road.

Accepting my fate and knowing that I wouldn't be leaving till the next day, I decided to bed down in the nasty and cold truck for the night. Fortuitous as it was that I had the foresight to bring plenty of blankets, this offered no help to me when I actually had to get out of bed in the morning. I can describe it in 2 words brrrrrr rrrrrrr!!!

I was not at all surprised when I got up the next morning and found that my trailer still hasn't arrived. I kinda figured this guy would run short of hours and stop for the night. I sat in the drivers lounge (it has a heater) and watched with optimism and intent as ever truck pulled into the yard. Finally, at about 10am, I saw trailer 1166 go past the window. Hurray, now the fun can begin.

Heading west on hwy 84 from Idaho you encounter several climbs and drops. But the grandaddy, just before you reach Pendleton, is Cabbage Hill. Bear in mind that the westward journey is steeper than the eastward route we tackled the previous day. I was also 20k heavier and I was going down instead of up.

Right after you start on the downside of the pass, you come around corner and you see a long stretch of road that dips down like a scary carnival ride and almost disappears underneath you.Off in the distance, you can get side view of where you'll soon be should you survive the hairpin turn. The side view was equally intimidating because it appeared to be at the same angle as all those teeter totters that you see people fall off of in America's Funniest Videos. I didn't want my truck to fall off this teeter totter. I selected a low gear and turned on the jake and let that engine whine like a kid in a doctors office on shot day. 22 tons of beer at my back pushing with all it's might was not enough to overcome the mighty Peterbilt. We held steady at 30mph down in the entire 6% grade and I never even touched the brakes.

All said and done, I'm just glad I didn't spill any beer!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

1st real job as a trucker

I finally got the call from May. Well, sorta. They don't have a truck for me yet but they want me to go to Idaho and pick up a truck for somebody else and bring it back to Oregon. I was curious as to why the the person that was getting this truck was not sent after it. But, what the hey, it's money in my pocket. The trip is worth about 125.00, that's better than waiting at home making nothing. I was told that they hope to have a truck for me by the time I get back from Idaho.

As far as I know, this is my itinerary;
Thursday - I will go to the May yard in Salem Oregon and hitch a ride with another driver to the Payette Idaho yard.

Friday - Drive back to Oregon.

After that - I hope they have a truck available for me so I can start making the big bucks.

In the interest of wanting to share photo's with all of my blog followers but not wanting to lug camera gear all over the country, I decided to compromise my principals today and purchased a point n shoot camera. It is very difficult to make the switch to a camera that does all the thinking for me and takes the creative decisions out of my hands. On the other hand, I really didn't want to pack one of the DSLR's just yet.

First road trip in the works and camera in hand. Hopefully, great photo's and stories are right around the corner.


Friday, March 11, 2011

my status has changed

The time had arrived, on Tuesday I was called into the office and asked to perform a series of test. My objective; to prove to my employer that I could be trusted with 80,000 lbs rolling down a public highway without a scared, screaming trainer sitting in passenger seat digging his fingernails into the dash. Their objective; to locate drivers that don't force their trainers (or anybody else) to take advantage of life insurance benefits at an early age.

The guy I was training with decided to stay out on the road for the day and make money. In most cases, the truck that you train in is the truck that is used to test the trainee. This provides an added benefit to the trainee because all trucks are a little different and it's nice to test in something that you're familiar with.  There was another trainer at the terminal that day and his trainee was also scheduled to test so he graciously agreed to let me use his truck to take my test in. The major difference, he had a brand new Kenworth with only 37,000 miles on. In truck speak, that's not even broke in yet. The truck that I was training on, a 4 year old Peterbilt with over 500k and scheduled to be traded off for a new truck. As I was touring around the Kenworth, I was told that the big difference is the shift pattern is much tighter. In the sloppy ole' Pete, I had to swing my right arm from here to Texas to navigate the shift lever from one gear to the next. Again, I was nervous about trying to get used to a new truck while I was being graded on my ability.

Once we go started on the road test, I soon realized that getting used to a newer truck was a lot like trying to adjust to a more comfy chair. It was in fact much easier than I thought and the transmission seemed to be much smoother. No coffee grinding with this trans, just smooth as butter shifts from one gear to the next. A quick trip up the freeway and then played around on a few side streets and back at the terminal without a problem. I drove the truck to the back of the yard where the tester kicked me out and then complimented me on my test.

Now, at the back of the yard I was faced with yet one more task. I now had to prove that I had the skills to safely negotiate a truck into a loading dock without ripping open trailers like a can of spam. The area is set up with lots of traffic cones to simulate the conditions that you might encounter in a customers yard. I felt somewhat confident about this part of the test because I did this course before I started training. We would have to perform a straight back, a 45 degree and a 90 degree alley dock. There was also a small go-cart track that I had to go around but I got to do that one forward. This course also had it's own equipment, a worn out ole' Pete. About the time I got started I soon realized there was one very significant difference from the first time I did this course. A stray cone was placed right smack in the middle of the backing lane for my straight and 45 degree. Now, they were both serpentine ~ backs.

That annoying and ill placed cone certainly put my backing skills to the test. I was able to handle it without too much trouble but that 45 degree caused me to sprout one or two more gray hairs. After I was done, I approached the examiner and he told me :congratulations, your status has changed, you're now solo."

After that, I talked to my driver manager and she told me that it would take about a week to a week an a half to find an available truck. So, I'm back at home and waiting for a truck and then I will be on my way.

Almost there!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Please, drive safe!

I usually make every attempt to be funny or somehow amusing when I write. I don't like to make myself a billboard for public service announcements but, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. On Friday, March 4th, I saw something that greatly disturbed me.

We (my trainer and myself) were headed east on HWY 30 in between Scappoose and Portland when we came across the scene of an accident. The vehicles involved were a Dodge Neon and a Dump Truck. The only reason that I know it was a Dodge Neon is because I found a news story on the incident. There was not enough left of the car to identify it after the accident. The damage on the dump truck was all underneath. The front axle was severely damaged and the fuel and air tanks that are right under the drivers cab were bent towards the rear of the truck. It was obvious to me that the dump truck went completely over the top of this small car. There was a large yellow blanket that was placed over the top of what one might perceive to be the drivers compartment of the car. The disturbing part, there were 4 or 5 of these blankets placed at random stops on the road. My guess; they weren't there to cover up car parts.

From what I could gather from news accounts, it seems the driver of the car may have suffered a medical condition that led to the accident.

I have been with my trainer for about 3 weeks now. On Tuesday, I will go back to the office to do a solo out test. If I am able to meet their requirements, they hand me the keys to a truck and send me on my way. What I saw on HWY 30 on Friday, just prior to my solo out test, is a grim reminder that our public highways can be a very dangerous place. I know I have several RV'ers that follow this blog and you spend a lot of time out there. But, be it for the purpose of recreating, making a living or just getting to work, the message is the same; PLEASE, DRIVE SAFE!

Hope to see you on the highway!