Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Lonesome Dove Xpress!! Terry and I want to wish everyone who reads this blog a very good Christmas and New Year!

It is Christmas eve as I write this entry. We are going east on I-70 in Colorado on our way to Dallas with what may well be our last real load as a team. We will spend Christmas morning driving to Dallas to drop this load, and then we are going to the Dallas OC (Operating Center). From there, Terry's leaving to enjoy a few well-deserved days off.

I'm putting the truck in the shop for some maintenance. We are trying to get the truck ready for the next team that gets it so they won't have to waste time having Schneider fix some things that are wrong (e.g., the passenger seat won't adjust properly, one of the dome lights in the back blows a fuse whenever you turn it on, etc.).

I'll be on the road by myself until around January 2, when Terry comes back. Depending on what's happening then, we will either be put in our solo trucks or we will continue teaming until the middle of January.

If the middle of January comes and goes and we still don't have trucks from Schneider, Terry and I both will face some difficult choices. For my part, I will simply accelerate an alternate plan I am considering pursuing eventually anyway, and will go to Springfield, Missouri, and check out the possibility of driving with Prime doing their “walk-away” lease program. I will go into more detail about that if it becomes obvious that is the path I'm going to be taking. I'm still doing research at the moment.

Since last time. The last time I wrote, we were on our way up to Naperville, Illinois (a suburb west of Chicago), for a live unload. That was the last day I saw blue skies and sunshine until this morning. We've been in some kind of winter weather since we got to Arizona on that trip to Naperville.

The load in Naperville was a live unload, something we don't see too much of as a team. Usually we just drop a trailer and then hook up to another one (that's why it's called “drop and hook”). But this was a live unload – and the most unpleasant experience I've had at a customer of Schneider in a long time. I'll describe my day there.

We got there a couple of hours early. Get to the gate, talk to security, tell them our appointment is at 1:00 pm and we are told to come back at 1:00 pm. Not before. Can't park here, and there is no place close by to park – no truck stop or anything like a Walmart where we can park our big truck. So, for the next couple of hours, we just parked on the side of the street in front of the warehouse (even though there were “No Parking” signs), and I messed with my laptop. Terry was asleep (lucky him).

1:00 o'clock (well a little before then). Pull back to the gate. Talk to the lady in security again (don't ever see anyone – just talk to them through a speaker that looks like the speaker on the drive-through at McDonald's or somewhere). “Come on in. Park your truck in the staging area and go through the little door to receiving. They will assign you a door to back into.”

No problem. Do what she says. Find the door that says “Shipping & Receiving”. I enter this long hallway that is separated by huge chainlink fence and covered with sheets of tin so no one can see inside the warehouse (it's a computer distribution center, so I guess they think what they are doing is so important and top-secret, they can't let anyone see what they are doing). As you walk down this long corridor, at the end, on the left, there is a door that leads into a small area with a restroom, and a table with a soda and snack machine.

In the middle of the passageway, mounted on the left wall there is a phone and a list of extensions. To the right, across from the phone, there is a wooden box mounted inside the fence and it has a door that opens up (like the peephole on the gate to the Emerald City in Oz). It was closed and pasted inside the door is a handwritten sign that says “Receiving” and below that “Extension 4128”.

I guessed that you picked up the phone, called the extension, and let them know you were there so they could assign you a door and start unloading you.

My guess proved horribly incorrect.

I picked up the phone and went right away into a voicemail. I tried other extensions listed on the wall next to the phone (I almost ended up calling the “For a good time call . . .” number out of frustration before it was over) with the same result. I heard activity through the wall, but could not find a way to even let them know someone was standing at the little window.

I ended up calling security and asking them to page someone to let them know I was there.

15 minutes go by. Another call to security. 30 minutes. 45 minutes. Multiple calls to security. And trying the extension listed on the window's door. Nothing.

Finally, someone actually opens the door, and seems surprised to find anyone there. I guess they hope if they wait long enough, whoever was stupid enough to think they could talk to someone would just go away. But I had nowhere to go.

Gave the young lady (who would have been cute if I hadn't been so annoyed) my paperwork. “Back into door 19.” I told her I had a seal that needed to be broken so I could open the trailer doors (a seal is something they usually put on a loaded trailer so they can see if it's been tampered with; they are usually easy to take off -- “break” -- but sometimes on high value loads like electronics they put on a seal that has to be taken off with bolt cutters; the seal on our trailer was like that). She sort of looked at me like I had spoken Swahili and then just nodded her head.

I pulled in front of door 19 ready to back in when they broke the seal. The guy in door 18 told me had been there 2 hours and they still hadn't broken his seal. So I just sat back and prepared to wait some more.

Finally, I just got fed up, and went back inside to where the phone was and called the security office again (since I knew I could get a live person there). I told them that I and the guy in door 18 had been waiting a long time to have someone come break our seals so we could open our doors and get backed up to the dock.

By the time I got back to my truck, they had broken both our seal and the guy's in door 18 next to us.

Back into the door. Wait while they start unloading. The actual unloading didn't take too long once it was started.

They finish unloading the trailer. I've got to go back to get a copy of the paperwork so that I can turn it in to Schneider.

I go back to the place with the little window. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. 15, 30, 45 minutes.

Call the extension 4128 and someone actually answers. Tell the lady (not the same one who came to the window earlier) that there are several drivers standing out here waiting – all they have to do is sign it and bring it over, is that too hard to do?

30 seconds. The window opens, and all the paperwork is shoved through the window.

Three drivers who were wondering why they drove a truck at all were much happier.

By the time we finished our long unloading ordeal, we had our next load. Pick up over in McCook, Illinois (a place we've picked up at before), a load going to Auburn, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. We were able to pick the load up early, so we had plenty of time on the clock to get there.

Which is a good thing. We drove in winter weather all the way through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

The worst part of this trip was when we got ready to go over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 just east of Seattle. The weather in the pass was so bad that they were requiring chains on all vehicles except all wheel drives (which, of course, doesn't include our Big Orange Truck).

So we start toward the pass after changing shifts in Ellensburg (at the Pilot at exit 106). Terry is driving. I've been up since 2:30 that morning, but no way can I sleep during all this, especially if we have to chain up.

We have had to use the chains once before when we went over Vail Pass on I-70 in Colorado.

Every year Schneider has winter training for their drivers. Part of the winter training is to show us (remind us?) how to put on tire chains if we ever have to use them. This year, we took winter training in Dallas in September, when it was still 1 million degrees. There was a tire sitting out there with the chains already on it. The instructor said: “We can spend 15 minutes out in this heat taking the chain off and putting it back on if you want to, but you can look at it there how it's on the tire. Just do it like that.”

Now we have to figure out (again) how to put on chains. We pulled off the side of the interstate in one of the areas designated for putting on chains, along with hundreds of other cars and trucks. It is bitterly cold, snowing, messy and slushy. We are both tired and a little cranky. Putting chains on Lorie (what we call our truck in case you have forgotten, shame on you) was the last thing we wanted to be doing.

One tire at a time – one on each side of the rear and one drag chain on each side of the trailer tires. Four chains. Ugh.

We draped one chain over the first tire as best we could. Then one of us has to get in the truck and pull forward to roll the chain around so we can hook it and then tighten it so it stays on the tire while we are driving through this mess. We don't have a clue what we are doing. The tire with the chain already neatly applied in the September heat of the Dallas afternoon is a distant memory that could not be retrieved if a date with Heidi were the prize for doing so.

Thirty minutes and some amount of cursing later, and we are making progress. One hour later, and we have all the chains on (of course, we are still sitting there, so we don't know if they will stay on once we start rolling again).

We are still friends. Which may be as amazing as us getting the chains on.

We get in the truck and start rolling slowly. There is a lot of traffic and these people are driving crazy.

Later we find out that by the time we had gotten our chains on, they had lifted the requirement because the storm had passed. We were not laughing.

Once over the pass, we stopped to take the chains off. They came off much easier than they went on.

We are still friends.

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!

Okay, so we roll into Seattle. We deliver our load. No problem. We get our next load just down the road in Kent. It's about 9:00 pm local time when we get there. Trailer is ready. Hook up and go. No problem.

You know there was a problem.

We finally get all the paperwork the security guard wanted signed (he asked for one thing at a time instead of asking for everything he needed, so it was quite maddening). We hook up to the trailer. It weighs 45,000 pounds – the most we can legally carry behind our big rig.

Terry backs under and we hook up to the trailer. I'm raising the landing gear, and normally, you can feel about how heavy it is. It feels empty.

Terry pulls out so we can close the doors. I joke with Terry and ask him if it feels like he's pulling 45,000 pounds. He laughs and says no.

I get the lock and go back to close the doors. The trailer is empty. No wonder it felt empty.

Our first thought is that they haven't loaded the trailer and there is a huge problem.

Then I check the trailer number. We hooked up to the wrong trailer.

The correct trailer was two spots down. So now we have to back it into the spot again, unhook, and hook up to the right trailer.

Now we have to go scale it to make sure it is not overweight. There is a little truck stop down the street where we can do this. It takes three times adjusting the tandems (you can slide the trailer axles forward or backward to adjust the weight on each axle and balance it with the weight on the truck axles.

Finally, at almost midnight, after being up 22 hours, I lay down. Terry gets us out of Seattle and stops somewhere down on I-82 in Washington. The weather improved, but not enough. I was so exhausted I slept until about 8:30 Sunday morning before I started rolling.

We drove through more winter weather all the way through Oregon and Idaho, and things cleared up a bit in Utah and Wyoming.

One thing about driving through Utah and Wyoming last night and early this morning that Terry and I both noticed and enjoyed: even though there was cloud cover, the moon was full, and the brightness of its light just made everything visible with sort of an ambient light effect. This morning as I was driving east on I-80 in Wyoming, especially between Rock Springs and Rawlins, it was just magical seeing all the mountains and snow everywhere in that wonderful, nocturnal, romantic glow.

The roads still had patches of ice on them, and at one point between Rawlins and Laramie, snow was blowing in 60 mph winds and it was so thick at times that my visibility was near zero. Thankfully it only lasted a little while each time. Driving in winter weather is fatiguing though.

When we got to Cheyenne this afternoon, I saw the sun for the first time since we left California last week. It was glorious. We are in Colorado, the signs of winter weather are lesser and we can still see the sun.

We'll get into Dallas early in the morning. Merry Christmas!

I'll post some pictures I took later on from when we stopped at a rest area in Montana just before we went over Lookout Pass into Idaho on I-90 the other day. Very beautiful. I'll update this post when I do that.

Guess that's enough for now. I'm sure my Mama will enjoy this entry more than some of my more “ personal” posts because I talk more about the trucking side of things. Those are the entries she enjoys most (so, Merry Christmas, Mama!).

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin'. . . hopefully without chains . . .


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