Sunday, January 16, 2011

We Need A Federal Smoking Ban

Even though we've still been stuck in the northeast, we've had a few great days. Last night culminated with our Packers beating the Atlanta Falcons 48 to 21 in the playoffs! It was absolutely marvelous, especially considering we almost went back out to the truck after the first three plays, we were so certain the Pack was going to go down in flames. The ONLY drawback to the whole evening was that we were in Kentucky, where they do not yet (and maybe never will) have a statewide smoking ban, so we had to sit in the Truckers Lounge at the truckstop, surrounded by people smoking!!!!! I was about ready to puke by the time the game was over. And to make matters worse, some of them were even Atlanta fans!!!!

The night before last we camped out at a WalMart supercenter and they had one of those RedBox DVD rental thingies, so we used that for the first time and watched a movie on our IMac laptop. I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the whole RedBox thing. How do they do it? For only $1.00 a night. How does that big metal box get the communication of which movie you want and how does it select it and get it to you? I decided they have trained monkeys living inside the thing. And they pay them in bananas, so they have low overhead.

Yesterday morning we got a shower, which always makes for a good day, although after sitting in the smoke-filled lounge, frankly, we need another one.

So here's one of the things that sucks about being a trucker: On Friday we picked up a load in Brockport, NY (which is a really cute little town). We got loaded at right about 5:00 p.m. The paperwork said that the weight of the load was 40,000 lbs. This is always a very crucial piece of information for Mr. Trucker because the DOT law says that you are illegal at anything over 80,000 lbs gross. When you factor in the weight of the tractor and the trailer, we almost always run into trouble anytime the weight of the load itself is anything over 43,000 lbs. Mr. Trucker can monkey around with sliding the axles on the trailer, and, depending on HOW the cargo is loaded, this can sometimes change the weight from illegal to legal (don't ask me how that works, I think it's something to do with smoke and mirrors). Then add to that the fact that the trailers are equipped with something called air scales, which is supposed to give you a "general" idea of your weight (again with the smoke and mirrors thing), but the air scales are OFTEN inaccurate. The only way to know for sure exactly whether you are going to exceed the 80,000 legal weight is to scale the load on a CAT (certified) scale at a truck stop. Sometimes the shippers have scales, but that's pretty rare.

Also, many times the shippers falsify (or just plain guess) the load weight on the paperwork. Because they don't care! If a trucker gets dinged at a DOT scale, it's the trucker who pays the fine and gets in trouble. The shipper just wants to get as much product as will fit in the trailer out the door. Mr. Trucker was trained by his company to trust the shipper's paperwork and to trust the air scales. This is all well and good as far as it goes, but when we were coming out of Florida after Christmas, he got dinged on a DOT scale and got a $33.00 fine for being over 80,000 lbs, when the air scales and the shipper's paperwork seemed to indicate he was fine. His company was going to make HIM pay the fine, because they say it is the driver's responsibility to know their weight. It took him five or six phone calls of protest before they would agree to pay it. The problem is that it is often a long way to the nearest CAT scale and sometimes it is in the opposite direction from where you are taking the load. Add to that the fact that you have to make sure there are no DOT scales between the shipper and the CAT scale, because the fact that you haven't had a chance to weight it yet is no excuse in the eyes of the law.

Once you find a CAT scale and drive there and weigh the load, if it IS overweight, you really only have two choices: You can run the load anyway and plan your route to try to avoid all DOT scales, which complicates your route and adds time. We also don't like this choice because it involves running ILLEGAL, which is something you shouldn't do. The other choice is to return to the shipper and have them rework the load (ie: remove some product or rearrange it so that it is distributed differently). This choice sucks because it drastically adds to the time it takes to deliver the load (it often causes it to get there late) and guess what? You don't get paid for the time or the miles involved in driving to the scale and then back to the shipper.

So when we see (like we did Friday night) paperwork which shows the load weight to be EXACTLY 40,000 lbs even, we are always suspicious. Unfortunately, Mr. Trucker ran out of driving hours while he was being loaded and the nearest CAT scale was 45 minutes away. That was the night we camped out at WalMart. He used some of his limited "off duty" driving time to drive the five minutes to WalMart, but then we were forced to take a 10 hour break before he could drive again. We got up at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday and drove the 45 minutes to the CAT scale, only to find out that we were nearly 2,000 lbs overweight. When that happens, Mr. Trucker has to send a message on his Qualcomm and wait for the dispatcher to instruct him what to do. Because it was 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, he had to contend with weekend dispatchers, who basically just waste the truckers time all weekend long until the regular dispatchers come back in Monday morning. When Mr. T. sent the message that he was overweight, it's the weekend dispatcher's job to ask you stupid questions (after forcing you to wait nearly 30 minutes) like: Are you sure you weighed it correctly? Did you have your brakes set on the scale? How much fuel do you have? (even if you have a lot of fuel, what are you supposed to do? siphon it out all over the parking lot to lighten your weight? And even if you have completely full tanks, that's not going to account for nearly 2000 extra pounds). After nearly an hour of this going back and forth, they said we would have to return to the shipper, but did they call the shipper to make sure they were even open that early on a Saturday? Or call them to let them know we were returning? Of course not!!!

When the dispatcher was done wasting all this time, it was 8:00 a.m. by the time we returned to the shipper. In the meantime, we figured out that what they had done was this: they had loaded 40,000 one pound bags of frozen vegetables, so they just called it 40,000 lbs on the paperwork, without accounting for the weight of the packaging, the shipping crates, or the pallets. Mr. Trucker figured that with all this added in, the load was easily over 44,000 lbs, possibly even as high as 45,000. If he had known this at the loading dock, he would have told them THEN to take some off, because he KNOWS 44,000 is too much. When we got there, the guy in shipping and receiving was irritated (they often are, they just want you to run the load illegally) and tried to argue with Mr. Trucker, then he told us we might have to wait till Monday morning to get reworked. Now here's the part I don't understand: Wouldn't you think that the shipper would have a vested interest in the product getting to the customer ON TIME?? All this overloading and monkeying around nearly always causes us to be late with the delivery. You would think that the shipper would WANT a legal load getting to the receiver on time. The only answer to this question that I've been able to figure out is that once they consign the load to a transportation/logistics company (ie: Mr. Trucker's employer), all the logistical issues now become the responsibility of the transportation company. Therefore, if the load is late, it is now the transportation company's (and ultimately the driver's) fault, regardless of whether the shipper themselves CAUSED it to be late through their shoddy handling. The same goes for detaining trucks at the docks way past their loading appointment times.

Anyway, the bottom line was that they DID remove two pallets Saturday morning, in fairly short order, and we drove back to the CAT scale to be sure it was legal, and then FINALLY, after wasting three hours of precious driving time, were able to head to Arkansas. Only now we are severely limited on breaks, meals and showers on the way there, trying to make it on time.

We saw a lot of pretty (but hazardous) snow in upper New York

Buffalo area, where it is ALWAYS snowing
But now we are in sunny, snowless Tennessee.

It's not looking good for our making it to Portland this month. After we drop off in Arkansas, they have us heading back to Kentucky, which, last time I looked was in the wrong direction. 

Today's Silly Sounding Place Name: Quakake, Pennsylvania


  1. Go Pack Go! Bring on da Bears! This should be exciting. Sorry to hear about your truck weight woes. Sounds no fun. This Sat is another class in Mukwonago. Hope the weather cooperates.

  2. I guess no job is perfect. The strange thing is, despite all the lies, delays and problems I'm still having the time of my life. And the best part is, I have a wonderful wife to enjoy it with.

    Mr. T