15 September 2015


This ice-less cooler runs off my truck battery with a 12 volt plug. It is 40 quarts in volume and keeps things very cold. The radishes, strawberries, plums and peach were grown at Rossi Farms in Oregon, family operated since 1880. Beneath are cheeses, cold cuts, milk, hummus, yogurt and water.

Ketchup, Ammonia, Lizards and Oranges

I. Ketchup

It was 4 am when the light turned from red to green beside the door. The lumpers were finished offloading the trailer. I went to shipping and receiving for my paperwork. The old woman pushed a yellow paper across the counter.

"There was cargo damaged that you'll need to sign for. Two cases of ketchup."

I pulled the truck forward from the door and walked back and looked inside the trailer. There were two cardboard boxes. One was crushed. The other was stained and wet and stunk of ketchup. I thought to throw them in the trash and drive to my next stop, but I remembered it was necessary to report cargo claims to the high command.

The woman at high command in Green Bay, Wisconsin told me to put the two cases in my cab and I would be instructed later on what to do with them.

I wrapped the wet case in paper towel and lifted it out. It weighed at least forty pounds. I put it on the floor on the passenger side. I set the crushed case on top of it.

II. Ammonia

The cab stunk of ketchup. The damaged boxes contained thousands of Burger King ketchup packets.

I pulled in to some sort of chemical plant for my pickup. There were large silver tanks with steel hoses and the air was thick with ammonia. I got out and went inside shipping and receiving for instructions.

I was to wear at all times a hard hat, a respirator, goggles and thick leather gloves. Even when I was driving.

Despite the protection the ammonia stung at my eyes and throat. I drove to the back of the plant where a man said he would spot for me on a blind back around a building and into a warehouse. There was limited room to swing the cab around. No driver had tried it yet with a big sleeper cab, he said.

Wearing the hardhat and gloves and goggles and the respirator made for a very awkward back but after a few pullups I put it into the warehouse. They loaded the trailer with 43,000 lbs of urea on wrapped pallets.

III. Lizards

Vanco was the nearest Cat Scale. It was still early. The sun had just come up. 

Stockton, California is a nasty town and the Vanco truck stop is the nastiest of nasty truck stops. I pulled onto the scale and pressed the call button. Before the attendant answered a pair of lot lizards, a black and a white one, came up to my door.

"You looking for company, daddy?"

"Naw, momma. I just saw my old lady. I just got back on the road."

IV. Oranges

I followed the computer navigation past where I should have turned. In my mirror behind me I saw the trucks parked at a building. Then the pavement narrowed to a single track and went up a steep hill through the orchards. I was looking for anywhere to turn around. The pavement crumbled and turned to dirt. At the top of the hill the dirt road ended at a chainlink fence.

What to do now, I thought.

This dirt area at the hilltop was wider than the road I had come up on, but it was not wide enough. Perhaps I could drive into the orchard down through one of the rows of trees and deep enough that I can back the trailer out and cutting it hard, swing the cab around.

I turned slowly into the orchard between the trees. The truck tore oranges from the trees on both sides and the branches scraped down the trailer. This had to be done, I told myself. There is no other way.

I pulled the entire truck into the orchard and stopped and in reverse started to slightly angle the trailer back out, tearing oranges from the trees and driving over them. I had the windows down and it now smelled wonderfully of citrus. The citrus smell overpowered the smell of the ketchup.

I made many pullups and was able to slowly angle the trailer back onto the dirt road so I could swing the cab around. I left deep tire ruts in the row of trees and crushed oranges and branches. It took me a half hour but I got out of the orchard.

V. Ketchup (Redux)

I dropped the empty in Sacramento and picked up the relay. It was 29,045 lbs. according to the truck computer. Anything under 30,000 lbs we were told it is not necessary to scale.

But after I coupled up and pulled away the load felt heavy.

There was a non-certified scale on site and I ran over it and wrote down the weights on each of the axles. I didn't trust the scale but the load scaled out legal. Still, something didn't feel right.

Sixty miles later I passed the first weigh station on I-5 and it was closed. I thought of the axle weight numbers I had written down. I realized they added up to over 76,000 lbs. I was pulling a lot more than 29,000 lbs. I pulled the paperwork out and saw there was a second page I hadn't looked at. An additional 11,000 lbs had been added to the trailer.

The load was over 42,000 lbs. I needed to scale this thing immediately before I hit another weigh station.

My navigation said the nearest Cat Scale was 40 miles away. Fortunately, the nearest weigh station was 20 miles after that. Still, if the load could not be made legal I was over 100 miles from where I picked it up. High command would not be pleased.

I scaled it at the truck stop and went in for the ticket.

There was 34,000 lbs exactly on the drive axles. I knew the law stated it had to be under 34,000 but I couldn't remember if it was legal at exactly that number. Nobody at the truck stop seemed to know either.

The tandems were already all the way forward so the only way to move weight off the drive axles was by pushing the fifth wheel the one remaining notch forward. But this would have the effect of moving 350 lbs off the drive axles and putting me about 50 lbs over the steer axle 12,000 lbs limit.

I would need to cut at least 50lbs of weight from the cab. The only thing to do would be to jettison the ketchup. That would bring my steer axle weight back below 12,000. The ketchup would have to go. The high command would have to understand. 

I lifted out each of the boxes and set them beside a dumpster.

I pulled back onto the scale for the re-weigh and went inside for the ticket. 

It was a success. By jettisoning the ketchup I was now legal by 40 lbs. on the steer axle.

07 September 2015

Backing Up

You can always tell a new driver when he starts to back up. He'll often get the set up wrong. He'll not get the trailer angled enough to get it into the space. Or he won't pull forward enough to give himself room to jerk the trailer around. Then when he starts the back he'll not help himself out by making good pull-ups and cutting down his angle. Every time he pulls up and turns the wheel he finds himself back in the same problem with the trailer too far to one side or the other. Then he'll get frustrated and start turning the wheel the wrong way. That's about the time the new guy goes and hits something. But if he's smart he'll stop and get out and look at his situation and try to relax a little. Maybe walk around the truck once. Accidents happen when you get the truck moving without a plan. 

Nobody was born knowing how to back 53 foot trailers, but at the truck stops you'll sometimes see experienced drivers who gather to watch and snicker at the new guy. The spaces between trucks and trailers can be very tight, much tighter than anything they put you through in trucking school. Most guys at truck stops are just watching to make sure their truck doesn't get hit. My instructor at school told me he was once awakened in the night by a naked fat man running through the truck stop yelling. The naked fat man had been asleep in his cab and was awakened when the truck beside him pulled out, cut the turn too hard, and dragged off the front bumper of his tractor. 

At CDL school and the Schneider Training Academy they had you back up between lines of orange cones or between trailers set far apart. They taught you tricks to make the backs easy. Markings to look for on the trailer that would mean you were lined up or to follow the tire tracks in the dirt. None of these tricks work outside the practice yard. I have mostly learned to back on my own and by watching others.

I observed a very interesting back a few nights ago. I was in my cab waiting on the lumpers to finish unloading my trailer when a very clean white truck pulled past me and set up to back into one of the doors. The cab window rolled down and I saw an Arab wearing a white kufi. The Arab opened the cab door and stepped out onto the top step. The Arab wore white linen trousers and a white linen tunic and had on white slippers. He stood on the step and looked back behind him at the trailer and the space he was to back into. On a headset he wore over his kufi he was jabbering so loudly in Arabic that I heard him over the roar of the idling trucks. His entire outfit was a dazzling white and, impressively, without a spot of dirt.

The Arab held onto the opened cab door with one hand and with one foot on the step, the other foot on the clutch, his hand back behind him on the wheel, he stood in the opened cab doorway and began to back the trailer towards the spot, all while continuing to yell in Arabic. I had once seen a guy back with the driver's door open which I figured gave more of a sight line of the trailer than simply using the mirror or looking out the window, but I had never seen anyone back while hanging halfway out of the cab. 

The Arab didn't make the back on his first attempt. But he didn't get back inside the cab to shift into first and do his pullup either. He pulled forward while still standing halfway outside the cab. It took him a couple of pullups and then the Arab got it in. Though I didn't learn anything from this demonstration of backing, it was most entertaining to watch.

02 September 2015


Truck stop exit 106 on I-10 Cabazon, CA

The creation of the Cabazon dinosaurs began in the 1960s by Knott's Berry Farm sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell (1897–1988) to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Cafe, which opened in 1958 and is now closed. Dinny, the first of the Cabazon dinosaurs, was started in 1964 and created over a span of eleven years. Bell created Dinny out of spare material salvaged from the construction of nearby Interstate 10 at a cost of $300,000. The biomorphic building that was to become Dinny was first erected as steel framework over which an expanded metal grid was formed in the shape of a dinosaur. All of it was then covered with coats of shotcrete (spray concrete). Bell was quoted in 1970 as saying the 45-foot (14 m) high, 150-foot (46 m) long Dinny was "the first dinosaur in history, so far as I know, to be used as a building." His original vision for Dinny was for the dinosaur's eyes to glow and mouth to spit fire at night, predicting, "It'll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass." These two features, however, were not added. With the help of ironworker Gerald Hufstetler, Bell worked on the project independently; no construction companies or contractors were involved in the fabrication. The task of painting Dinny was completed by a friend of Bell's in exchange for one dollar and a case of Dr Pepper. A second dinosaur, Mr. Rex, was constructed near Dinny in 1981. Originally, a giant slide was installed in Rex's tail; it was later filled in with concrete making the slide unusable. A third woolly mammoth sculpture and a prehistoric garden were drafted, but never completed due to Bell's death in 1988. (Wikipedia)


T. Rex

Wheel Inn Restaurant, closed

A shame to have missed out on visiting this national treasure when it was open.

 The truck stop with Claude's passing is now very much abandoned.

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