Although they're missing from many trucks today, CB radios can be rather useful when you're out on the road. Truckers try to look out for each other. If there's an accident on the roadway, bad weather rolling in, or an emergency vehicle parked on a shoulder, simply turn on your CB and in less than a minute, someone will fill you in. Something else that you come to realize, thanks to the CB, is that truckers have developed their own vocabulary! When I first started using a CB, I'd hear other drivers using phrases such as "go-go juice", "bear bait", and "flying donut". At first, like many new truckers, I was confused. After a few weeks however, these words and others started making sense to me. "Go-go juice" is another name for the diesel fuel that trucks run on. If a driver is speeding or driving erratically, they are known as "bear bait" and a "flying donut" is a police helicopter.
A trucker might say, "These four-wheelers should stop rubbernecking and stay out of the way of the salt shakers!" That means cars and other small passenger vehicles are holding up traffic by slowing down to look at something on the side of the road (maybe an accident) and the snowplows (salt shakers) are having difficulty navigating around them. It's an interesting aspect in the world of trucking. Phrases that would make non-truckers scratch their heads are easily exchanged and understood among us drivers. Here are just a few of these words that I've encountered so far.
"Smokey" or "bear" is trucker slang for a police officer. If you hear someone warn of a "bear trap", that means to mind your speed, because there's a cop with a radar gun up ahead. If someone is complaining of a "turtle race" the speed limit has dropped below 45 mph. A "cash box" is a toll booth and a "suicide jockey" is a trucker hauling something dangerous like explosives. If someone warns that you're driving an "angry kangaroo", that means you should stop and fix your blown headlight. A "kiddie car" or a "winkin' blinkin' " is a school bus and a "stack of bricks" is a house. Hearing words like these tossed back and forth over the radio makes me smile. I smile because I know it's a community that I'm a part of. A community that'll look out for and help one another. And I smile because some of the phrases sound downright funny!
Two keys to operating a successful trucking company are efficiency and reliability. As a driver, I try to do my part by making my deliveries safely and on time. However, on some days, things simply don't go according to plan. Here's one of those days.
I had picked up 22 huge bags of cattle feed from a small town in Wisconsin and hauled them over 1500 miles away to an even smaller town in Idaho. Winter had finally started to show its colors and my journey west had been slower than usual as I navigated snowy and icy roads. I would be glad to make my delivery and grab my next load which was headed south to warmer temperatures. I had traveled down several small country roads after exiting the Interstate and was now greeted by my Rand McNally navigational system telling me that I was approaching my destination in a half of a mile. I looked around expectantly but saw none of the large, commercial structures that my deliveries were normally meant for.
My Rand McNally spoke again, "You have arrived at your destination." I pulled my truck over onto the road's narrow shoulder and reread the address that my dispatcher had given me. Yes, it matched the road I was on and the building number that I had stopped in front of. Problem was, the building number was etched onto a cute red mailbox and stood in front of a two-story house.
I grinned as I imagined myself backing my 63-foot semi-truck down the small driveway, right up to the one-car garage, and ringing the doorbell. "Hello? I need you to sign for 22 tons of cattle feed, please!" Obviously, this was the wrong location. I left a message for my dispatcher explaining the mix-up and then googled the company that was expecting the freight I had on board. I found that it was a dairy farm which had a facility only 5 miles away. Off I went.
In 10 minutes I had arrived. This was more like it. There were several sprawling buildings surrounded by huge stacks of hay and mounds of a not-so-pleasant-smelling substance There was just one problem: nobody was in sight. After banging on a few locked doors, I wandered over to the hay where I thought I had seen some movement. Sure enough, a man rounded a corner carrying a small hay bale. His eyes widened in surprise upon seeing me, and I quickly explained why I was there. He told me that I was still 25 miles away from the company's second facility, the one that my load was meant for. After informing my dispatcher once more, I set off yet again, hoping that I wasn't on a wild goose chase. But as I approached the new location, my eyes and nose told me that I needn't worry. Cows and calves were everywhere! Some workers were milling around as well. I was directed through a gate and down a winding dirt road right through the midst of the cattle. They looked on interestedly as I maneuvered my big rig carefully around them. A few mooed as if in greeting. One fuzzy little calf followed after my truck for a ways until its mom called it back. I drove down a hill, thinking how glad I was that the ground here was frozen solid. I wouldn't want to be tasked with making deliveries in the springtime when the dirt road would probably be more of a muddy swamp! I rounded a bend and gave a big smile as I pulled up in front of a low building with a sign reading "Deliveries". I had finally arrived!
8 am: I'm at a truck stop in a small town in Ohio. I woke up about an hour ago in my cozy bed tucked away in my big rig, and I have a delivery to make soon. My 53-foot trailer is currently filled with 23 tons of raw honey! And no, thankfully it's not all pooled on the floor. The honey was carefully loaded into my truck in large barrels, 200 gallons each, 600 miles away in New Jersey. After grabbing a quick breakfast of fresh fruit, I set off down the road for the small processing plant that the honey is destined for. I don't have far to go and soon I'm backing up to one of the docks of the facility. After checking my load in, I settle back into my truck to wait.
Before I know it, I hear the dock door open, the dock plate clank down, and I feel my trailer shake as the forklift goes to grab the first of the honey barrels. The shaking continues as the little forklift moves in and out and then... silence. "They can't be done yet!" I think. My curiosity gets the best of me and I go inside the small ware-house where the honey barrels are being stacked. I come in just in time to see the young forklift driver walk out of my truck with a mop. He sees me and says, "Sorry, ma'am, some of the honey spilled. Someone filled a barrel too full." I see his shoes, already sticky, leaving tracks across the floor. I wait and watch as the forklift grabs barrel after barrel from my truck. Then, in goes the mop again. Another barrel had leaked some of its sticky contents. Now the forklift is leaving sticky tracks. By the time my truck is free of barrels, there is a thin coating of honey covering nearly the entire floor of my trailer!
I pull away from the dock and take a good look inside. Along with the honey, there are now nearly 30 honeybees milling around inside! "How am I supposed to grab my next load?" I wonder. It's a shipment of corrugated cardboard and the shipper specifically requested a clean, dry trailer. After contacting my dispatcher, we decide that a trailer wash is in order. First though, I leave my trailer doors open and drive around the small lot several times to lose some of the bees that are already becoming drunk on the spilled honey. It works; now there are only 5 or 6 groggy bees left. I head for the truck wash and request that my trailer floor be cleaned. Four guys with power washers climb inside and spray down EVERYTHING. My trailer is now honey-free, but sopping wet! I grab some large rags and try to soak up as much of the water as I can, then leave the doors open to hopefully air-dry the rest. My pick-up appointment is fast approaching, so I cross my fingers and head on over.
As I reach the guard shack, I see a trailer inspection is in order! I open the doors and bite my tongue as the guard ambles over. At least there's no water visible anymore! Still looks a bit damp, though. But the guard just gives a cursory glance and then looks at me and says, "YOU drive that thing?" Even though it was obviously me hopping out of the driver's seat a few minutes back. I smile, nod, and tell him that not only do I drive "this thing", I ENJOY driving it! He seems flabbergasted but smiles and sends me on my way. I don't completely relax, though, until I feel the familiar shaking - a forklift, going in and out of my truck. Success!
What beauty! I can't get over it! I've been an otr (over the road) semi-truck driver for one month shy of a year now and I've managed to see a great deal of this beautiful country within that time! I've been to many big cities like LA, Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Philadelphia and have enjoyed their hustle and bustle as well as the awesome skylines. I've also enjoyed visiting the small towns with their quaint little buildings and friendly country folks. However, nothing compares to nature's breathtaking beauty! From Florida's luscious foliage to Colorado's craggy peaks, it's simply awe-inspiring!
I tell folks who ask, that I'm a paid tourist in a big rig. Not that I stop everywhere to snap photos of monuments and popular man-made attractions; although these things are interesting, they don't hold a candle to the utter serenity of Ohio's farmland or the majesty of Arizona's Grand Canyon! Having the chance to get paid to travel the country and see America's sights was definitely one of my top reasons for becoming a trucker. Being able to be right in the midst of beauty that before only lived in books, postcards, and others' photographs is something that I don't get tired of! Nothing compares to physically standing among Utah's canyons or jogging along Tennessee's gorgeous, winding, tree-lined roads.
This past week, I've been busy delivering from the Midwest to the East Coast and I've had a front-row seat as autumn's beauty rolls in. From Nebraska to Pennsylvania, the trees are turning all shades, from bright, fire-engine red and dark maroon to brilliant orange and glowing gold! And who's grinning from ear to ear and soaking it all in? This girl right here, sitting in her 18-wheeler! I'm definitely hooked. I've been warned by other professional drivers that once trucking gets in your blood, there's no escaping it! And although I'm not planning to grow old behind the wheel, I'm absolutely loving what time I have here!
One of the most common responses that I get after telling someone that I'm a semi truck driver is, "Wow, aren't you scared?!" At this, I always shake my head and give a reassuring smile. Although it is a demanding and rather dangerous job, life on the road now is quite different than what it used to be. Gone are the days when simply stopping overnight at a rest stop made you a target for crooks. You no longer hear of truckers being robbed or of nightly visitors being seen at popular truck stops. Though you're bound to run into some impatient and/or rude drivers on the road who might change lanes without signaling and cut off 80-ton trucks without a second thought, for the most part, the life of a trucker is peaceful and at times quite boring. Saying that, I never take my safety for granted. There is no substitute for being smart and thinking ahead. When you drop your guard and overlook things, problems can arise. Forgetting even the simple task of locking your doors can have unfortunate consequences.
This was made crystal-clear one night in northern California, not long ago. I had fallen into a sound sleep after a long day on the road. My truck was parked at a TA (Travel Center of America) and my doors were locked, my privacy curtain was pulled, and all was right with the world. Then, around 1 in the morning, I awoke to a loud pounding on my truck's door. Sitting up, I blinked in surprise at the red and blue flashing lights that were illuminating my truck. I peeked out of a window and saw several police officers. After pulling on my shoes, I lowered my window enough to hear one officer say, "Ma'am, please step out of the vehicle." After seeing his badge number, I obliged and was soon being questioned by him. "Where were you at 11:45 pm?" "What were you doing?" "Did you hear anything?" Come to find out, there had been a quarrel nearby between two drivers earlier in the day. One had come back during the night, found the door to the second driver's truck open, entered with a knife and attempted to stab him. Thankfully, the victim managed to fend off his attacker and call for help.
We know of course - sadly - that many people today don't treasure human life as they should. But our answer to that shouldn't be to go through life afraid of whatever might happen next. Should we be careful of who we trust? Certainly. But an over-abundance of caution can limit the awesome opportunity we have to enjoy and live life to the fullest!
Besides, for every individual with bad intentions, there are countless others ready and eager to help anyone in need. I've seen it firsthand. Whether it's someone simply buying lunch for a homeless man, or a driver volunteering to pull another's rig out of a ditch, kindness can be seen hard at work. Seeing this thoughtfulness not only warms the heart but reminds me to also be aware of the needs of others and lend a helping hand whenever an opportunity presents itself.
I've seen some amazing sights the past couple of weeks! I've been out west making deliveries from Idaho down to Arizona, and from the southern tip of California all the way up to Washington State. Here's a quick look into one extra-special day where I got the opportunity to explore the majestic Glenwood Canyon!
2 a.m.: I awake to a police siren wailing. This is my alarm. After testing out many ringtones, I found that this particular sound never fails to rouse me from my slumber. Having gone to bed at 6 pm, I am well rested and raring to go. My trailer is full of sacks of pastry flour destined for a large bakery near Los Angeles and it's not going to deliver itself! I have 1 ½ hours before my required 10 hr break will be over and I can get back on the road. Just enough time for a workout, a shower, and a quick bite to eat! I cycle through my usual routine of crunches, curls, and squats and finish by jumping rope. The few other drivers in the truck stop who are awake at this ungodly hour look on curiously. Having worked up a nice sweat, I grab my shower bag and head in to one of the private shower rooms made just for the long-distance traveler such as myself. Once clean and refreshed, I opt for a breakfast of Greek yogurt with flax seeds and bananas. My favorite!
Ding! My timer says my break is over! I hop out of my truck and thoroughly inspect it to be sure it's up to the task of traveling the 550 miles that I plan to cover today. Satisfied that my truck is good to go, I settle into the driver's seat. After turning on an audio book, I set off down the interstate which, at this early hour, is nice and quiet. Today I'm listening to a book detailing the little known history of North Korea. It is riveting and the hours and miles fly by. Having started the day near central Kansas, I soon find myself cruising through Colorado on I-70 with the Rockies in the distance. The sight is beautiful; the sun is now up and shining on the craggy mountain peaks as fluffy clouds lazily float by.
I pull into a Love's Travel Stop where my dispatcher told me to purchase fuel. I decide to refuel myself as well and take a break to eat some lunch. Then, onward ho! I'm in the thick of things at this point and my truck lets me know. Its powerful engine chugs up a steep mountain grade and attempts to come hurtling down the other side. I restrain it with a lower gear while carefully monitoring my speed. Before I know it, a tunnel appears ahead of me, winding its way straight through a mountain. I zip through and find myself faced with one of the most scenic sections on the Interstate System - the Glenwood Canyon. Another required break is almost upon me, so I decide to take the time to stop and enjoy the splendor! And what a sight to see! The canyon walls rise 1,300 feet into the sky above the all-important Colorado River. There are foot paths that run along the river and areas for canoeing, hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding, you name it! I thoroughly enjoy a nice long walk through the canyon seeing waterfalls, fish, and even a beaver before retiring to my sleeper. It's an awesome end to my day!
Can you guess where I was last week? At a prison in Texas. No, not to be incarcerated or to visit anyone. I was there delivering ten tons of cereal! Froot Loops to be precise. Thanks to my job as a long-distance truck driver, I have the opportunity to visit many places that I wouldn't otherwise. I've been to countless factories where I've seen many products being made, packaged, and sorted right in front of me! It's just like one of my favorite TV shows, "How It's Made" except that I am right there in the middle of it! I've been to a bottle factory where mountains of colorful glass shards sparkled in the sunlight, waiting to be recycled, while inside, newly blown bottles hurried down conveyor belts. I've watched sparks fly as metal workers ground down sharp edges on new aluminum frames at a window factory. I've seen the inside of Amazon sorting facilities where boxes containing customers' recent purchases traveled speedily all over warehouses on an efficient network of slides, belts and rollers. And at a paper mill I watched as forklifts carefully placed huge rolls of paper measuring 7 feet tall inside my truck. Only 12 rolls could fit in my 53-foot-long trailer but the load weighed 44 tons! It was quite a sight!
But I digress. Back to the prison. I arrived to see several large buildings nestled among an abundance of barbed wire. I stopped and checked in with a guard at the front gate who told me exactly where to take my truck laden with Froot Loops. Finding the building that I was directed to was easy, as it had been painted a bright pink! I pulled my truck in to the adjacent lot and checked in with guard number two who told me which dock to back my truck into. Having done that, I sat in my nicely air-conditioned truck and waited. The temperature in Texas that day was 98 degrees!
Soon a group of 6 prisoners dressed in bright white uniforms came out of a small building and trooped across the lot accompanied by yet another guard. After the guard gave instructions, the prisoners hopped on several forklifts and one by one, the pallets of cereal were unloaded from my truck. Before I knew it, my truck was empty and I headed back to the front gate. This time the guard did a thorough inspection, not just inside my trailer, but also inside my cab. He also used a large mirror to look under the entire truck to be sure I wasn't secretly toting any prisoners away. After the guard was satisfied that my truck was "clean", we wished each other a good day, and off I went to grab a load of medical supplies destined for a clinic in Kansas. Who knows where I'll be headed next week!
I've started talking to deer. Sounds odd, right? I'm not kidding, though. As a truck driver traveling all over the great US of A, I see many critters, some widely known, such as squirrels, possums, and coons, and some rarely seen in your day-to-day life like wolves, bison, and armadillos. But the creature that I see the most? Deer. White-tailed deer, to be precise. They are a familiar sight along my oft-traveled highway and interstate routes. Yes, sadly, many are quite dead when I see them. This brings me to my reason for talking to them. In the early morning hours, especially, when everything is peaceful and quiet, white-tailed deer are a dime a dozen. As I come across the usual three or four white-tails, I'm super cautious. Many of them steer clear of my 70-ton truck racing down the road, but some stand stock still, as if debating whether or not to come dashing into the roadway, as many of them unfortunately do. This is when I start to reason with them, even though I know full well that they can't hear or understand me.
I see one shy doe frozen in her tracks and I say, "The grass on that side is as green as it gets!" and "Don't even think of going exploring now!" As of this writing I haven't hit one. It's been close, but I've managed to slow down just long enough for the scared creatures to scamper out of the way. For some drivers, striking a deer is unavoidable.
As a student driver, you are taught to never risk your life or the life of another motorist in order to avoid an animal. However, hitting an animal as large as a deer is very rarely without consequence. There have been countless occasions where a collision with a deer has not only damaged the truck, but also the driver. It's just one of the many hazards that truck drivers face.
Weight gain is another. With all of the time drivers spend sitting, coupled with the fact that fast food is very easy to find at truck stops, the majority of truckers are overweight and out of shape. I knew that staying healthy would be one of my toughest challenges as a truck driver, and can't say that it's been a walk in the park. I have to find time in between my many pick ups and deliveries for trips to a grocery store in order to stay stocked with fruits, veggies, and whole grain bread. I also have to find the time for workouts. I have a bicycle on board my truck and I go for a ride or jog whenever I can. I also have free weights, a kettleball, resistance bands, and a jump rope that I use at least every other day. It absolutely takes effort and determination to be fit and healthy, but it's totally worth it!
May 4, 2016: Woke up at around 8:30 and saw that I had some new loads on my qualcomm. The night before I had just cleaned out my old Kenworth and moved everything into my "new" Freightliner that I had been assigned. I hope I get another Kenworth eventually because I definitely prefer them.
After freshening up at the Swift terminal, I requested an empty trailer from the front desk. I saw that my first load to pick up was smack dab in Chicago. I pulled up the satellite image of the location on my phone and saw that it was going to be challenging, so I accepted the load. I hooked up to my empty and got rolling to my first pickup, munching on a banana and some of my Dad's tasty cookies as I went.
After driving for about an hour, my qualcomm told me that it was time to leave the safety of the interstate and venture onto the narrow, crowded city streets. That's where I turned into a bobble-head, looking back and forth and back again, lest some impatient motorist tried sneaking around my big rig and getting in my way. Sure enough, there were several of them.
As I approached my destination, I encountered a few bridges telling me that they were only 13 feet, 6 inches high. In driving school, that number is drilled into your head as the height of your truck. I knew that my truck was actually a couple inches shorter, but I still slowed and held my breath as I took my huge truck and trailer under those scary things.
I arrived at my pickup; a factory churning out driveway sealant by the bucket-full. I had to park and block a lane of traffic in order to give a worker my pickup number. He informed me that I would have to drive into a crowded parking lot, turn my 63-foot rig around, head back up the street driving against traffic in the left hand lane, pull into the street diagonally blocking all 4 busy lanes, and back up through a gate into a dock! Another Swift driver was at the scene looking skeptical... he was an older guy and had the next appointment after me. He said, "I'm not gonna risk it! When it's my turn, I'm getting myself a police escort to block traffic for me!" The factory worker said, "It's really pretty easy to do," ...obviously someone who had never hopped in an 18-wheeler and tried the maneuver himself. I decided to go for it, but to be exceptionally careful.
I spun my truck around, avoiding the many cars in the lot, and headed back up the street, going very slowly while flashing my hazards. The constant stream of traffic didn't feel like stopping, so I slowly nosed out until I owned the road. Several disgruntled motorists honked their puny little horns but when I blasted my truck's air horn, they quieted and waited a tad more patiently. The other Swift driver now stepped in to guide me through the gate and into the dock. It took a nice chunk of time to get the truck and trailer perfectly straight in the dock without bumping into anything else, but finally I was satisfied and thanked the other driver for his help. Mission accomplished! It was definitely one of my most challenging backs. As my trailer was being loaded, I stepped out to help block traffic for the other Swift driver. He got in without a hitch as well.
Still waiting on my load, I munched on a couple of leftover baked sweet potatoes. They were cold but still delicious.
Soon my trailer was loaded and I set off to find a truck scale... a trailer full of driveway sealant is heavy and I was not about to get an overweight citation. As soon as my truck showed a legal weight, I headed off to deliver my load. The delivery was just a few hours away, but there was so much road work in progress that traffic jams and lower speed limits made the trip take nearly twice as long as it should've. At least the delivery was one of my easiest, making up for the troublesome pickup.
After losing so much time with my last load, I decided not to bed down for the night until reaching my next pickup. As I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Woodman's just a couple of miles away! I had some extra time, so I pulled in and did some late night shopping... quite a treat!
At this point it was about 12:30 (or 00:30 as I read it) and I was tired and hungry! I headed over to my next pickup, parked, and popped some of my sister's tasty meatballs into my cooking box. Time for dinner and bed!