Driving 18 Wheeler In Alabama

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Rolling on The River.

Cranking up my company Freightliner day after day, at 4 am, Monday through Saturday, I would do a pre-trip while fueling up and then with logbook up to date, I would head north to Selma from Frisco City to pick up a load of bio-fuel made from pulp wood chips. The pick up was made close to the River Dale Mill on highway 140, once I turned off of Highway 41.

That early in the morning, I would quite often encounter fog and rain. Plenty of deer were to be seen, and sometimes I would have to use wildlife avoidance techniques as they would jump in front of me suddenly. At 55 miles an hour on highways 21, and 89 before the last turn onto 41, when I saw one heading straight across the roadway, I would brake just enough to let him by. If he jumped at the last minute, I would again either brake or do a minor steering adjustment since I was lightweight with an empty truck going north. Usually these quick-footed Bambi would get past me unharmed. In fact I never hit one, but one slid so close that he felt the front bumper of the truck as he did his acrobatic death defying road crossing in front of a 14 ton, 22 wheel big rig.

Sometimes I would encounter the most beautiful sunrises as I rolled northward. Those mornings were special as I sipped on a cup of coffee along the straight-aways. There was nothing like having a cup of black “straight-up” Folgers in a thermos cup. Other mornings, I would leave earlier and be entertained by the full moons and the star filled sky. There is nothing like cruising through the forested roads of Alabama with moonlight live-streaming through the tree-tops!

By 6 am, I would encounter south-bounds headed to work a the Dallas-Houston airport at Selma and then would also have north-bound with me headed to the International Paper Mill on Highway 140. I constantly checked my mirrors for sudden passers, and checking gauges in the truck for proper RPM, Air-brake pressure, temperature and Oil Pressure. I loved to hear the drone of the Mercedes-Detroit 460 HP diesel engine as I cruised the early morning countryside. It was soon to be busy, with Log trucks and other traffic filling the roadways.

The “product” I hauled was intended to be shipped out of the Mobile Bay via ship and destinations could be Panama, France, Italy, Sweden or any one of the ten plus nations who are vying to reach a fossil free energy sustainment, free of traditional fossil fuels. So as I pulled into the plant, I checked in at the guard shack, then weighed in at about 25,000. on the commercial truck scale, making sure I had cleaned out any other product before heading to the loading bin, down under the hill. Once at the load point, Alpha or Bravo, there were two chutes strategically placed overhead so that the weight of the load would meet the Alabama D.O.T requirement; simple addition would help the driver to stop the front and rear bins at 40,000 rear, and 20,000 lbs front of trailer. Once loaded, it was necessary also to shake down the load by pulling up and braking, then backing up and braking, so that the center of gravity would be adequate to manage the curves and other challenges of the road. Over time roads such as Highway 41 would have longitudinal wheel grooves or depressions capable of making the truck unstable if a driver is not on his toes with balance, driving technique and by using overall safe driving skills.

Once loaded properly and weighed out at 88,000 lbs with a two axle Peerless trailer hooked to my freightliner, I rolled the tarp out on rainy days but every single load, I made sure my paperwork, with bill of lading, weight ticket etc was on top of my clipboard, again with log time departure and payroll sheet updated, myself buckled in and cab climate controls set to my liking for the three and a half hour run back down Highway 41, through Camden, via Highway 10 to Pine Hill, Highway 5 to Thomasville, then on Highway 43 through Grove Hill, Jackson, Leroy, then on down to Mount Vernon, Axis, Creola, crossing under I-65 to Satsuma, Saraland, Chickasaw, and finally making the turn out to Highway 90, crossing the Afrika Town/Cochran Bridge over the Mobile river and just another mile or so to the Chip-co/Mobile Authority Shipping dock where we unloaded day after day.

About halfway down I would take a ½ hour D.O. T. regulated lunch break and properly log my stop so that I wouldn’t be in trouble with the FMCSA. I liked to either stop at Dunns Truck Stop in Grove hill, or the Leroy Gulf truck stop. Both had a good deli where a driver such as I could find a good hot meal once a day. Sometimes I would run into another company driver and we would share our days story, be it delays, tire blowouts, or just talk a minute about hunting, fishing or whatever. I slowly got to know some of the people who were along the truck drivers trail and look forward to stopping and saying hello. But sometimes, speaking of delays, the D.O.T. scales would be set up to check us for axle and overall weight. Once I got a pass when the weight guys passed around my commercial drivers license and chuckled, I finally asked them “what are you laughing at my license for?” And as it was handed back to me, I was told it resembled “Rocky Stallone”. Hmm. I know that resemblance has been stated before. But cruising through a couple dozen traffic lights, I finally found myself in Mobile and coming into the dock to unload.

After a few months of delivery at Mobile I discovered the man assigned to unload us had driven truck in Houston Texas, where we both worked back in our younger years. I had operated a D-8 cat dozer with a brush cage attached to the blade for pushing garbage. Mark had been driving a recycling truck into the McCarty road landfill at the same time I worked there. We said, “Cool Dude!” when we found out we had that in common.

Coming into the Dock, sometimes it was windy and cold, but quickly un-tarping the load, I would back up on the portable truck dump, which transferred the fuel pellets into the holding barge, and having to unhook from the trailer, I rolled the big rig down the ramp while they raised the trailer, basically standing it on end with the gate open, being very careful not to overfill the hopper which fed the conveyors over to the barge. Later when an ocean-going freighter arrived they would transfer as many barges of product needed to fill the holds of the ship.

Once I was unloaded, I called in my load, giving net load weight, times of arrival and departure, and getting my next assignment. Backing up the ramp, hooking up brake lines, electrical, latching the trailer kingpin, and screwing the landing gear back up, I was now ready to roll back out on the road. Heading up I-65 north towards the Atmore turn off usually sounded pretty good, so unless I had won a load from another mill, I was homeward bound. An hour and a half later I would park the freightliner, turn in the daily paperwork and head home. Tomorrow would start again early enough. D.O.T. required a ten-hour break before I could start up again. Other drivers would be pulling in and out of the terminal at Frisco City, and glad they were to be home.

A local or regional truck driver is expected to work up to a seventy hour work week, but can only drive 11 hours daily, so he has to be dutiful to keep his logbook current, and keep track. Also he must take a 34 hour break once every seven days, which “resets” his driving week. The pay can be pretty decent and a good company such as the one I drove for offers incentives, such as weekly bonuses, pay for passing D.O T. inspections, year end bonuses and other monetary compensations for the drivers services. There is a certain amount of driver professional pride in being a conscientious and committed driver. However sometimes a driver might experience driver-burn out, or encounter personal problems such as health, family, or special events that require him needing understanding and perhaps a day or two off to deal with those issues. When a company-driver trust is established, there is a bond and an understanding that the company has to roll, as well as the driver has to manage his personal life. The big advantage of local and sometimes even regional driving is that he can usually be home on the weekends. Long days all week require some home time to recuperate and prepare for the next one. As a driver eases into the trucking industry, he will establish his gait, or his norm, based on the “run” he is assigned to, whether it be chip-truck pulp haul, flat-bed pulp haul, container, pellet haul, dry-van; pre-cast, or other freight configurement based on the economic need. I have written other stories about truck driver life going in and out of the mills, tanker haul, maintenance, safety, dispatching, and other parts of the industry.

I hope this inspires, and helps others who are sincere in looking for a driving career to find their place in the transportation/freight business. Good drivers are needed. Dial up your company of choice, talk with other drivers and get involved in this Alabama steady as she goes career. Don’t wait!

Written by: Michael O. Jones

MOJ/Oscarlites/ February 20, 2016/copyrights

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