Dec 192015
 

 

One of the biggest and most dangerous problems truck drivers deal with is making right-hand turns. Left turns pose problems but, not as much as a right-hand turn. Most four-wheelers do not realize the wheels that must clear the corner are not the rear wheels of the truck but the trailer wheels. In theI need a lot of space for a turn picture to the right, you can see this truck making a right-hand turn from a two-lane street into the same and it takes every bit of the space. Look at where the trailer wheels are, just inches from the car parked on the corner. And, no, I did not hit the car.

In an effort to avoid accidents, many trailers have these signs posted on the rear of the trailer wide right turn signsaying, Caution, this truck makes wide right turns. There is usually a picture showing what the four-wheeler should expect. And, still, far too many cars try to squeeze by on the right when they see a truck swing left to help their trailer clear the corner.

When many four-wheelers see this gap, they dart into it never realizing the trucker can not see them. The end result is a four-wheeler crushed/stuck under the trailer with possible serious injuries. I hope the people who read this blog, pass this information along  as well as pay attention to it. No matter how much of a time crunch you’re in, getting stuck under a trailer with possible serious injuries is guaranteed to mess up your whole day.

 

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Oct 282015
 

It’s taken a while, but my first audio-book is now available for your listening pleasure. For all of you truck drivers and long distance commuters, you can download Silly Woman, Big Rigs Are For Men from www.Audible.com today. Silly Woman audiobook cover

For those of you, women especially, this audiobook let’s you experience the trucking life vicariously. No tests to study for, no learning to back up a mile-long trailer and no crazy weather to deal with. The story shows how I ended up in the seat of an 18-wheeler. A career I never in my wildest dreams planned. Some of my eye-opening experiences include learning about “Jake” brakes and how to back up that 53 foot  trailer (it seemed like a mile long), a challenging lesson for me. You’ll drive with me through a Wyoming blizzard, it was that important to get home that weekend. And then there’s the scary trip on Oregon’s I-84. I didn’t realize freezing rain occurred on the west coast and some other scary deliveries.

I never realized, when I was learning to do this job, that it takes a special type of person to be a truck driver. Most people felt that didn’t include a woman. Financial necessity as a single parent drove my need to succeed. I needed a full-time job and after driving a school bus for 13 years, it was the only job I felt qualified to do. I really didn’t think it would be that big of a change. I was wrong.

Download this audiobook and sit back and enjoy my story.

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Mar 052015
 

How big is big, hauling oversized loads. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics of managing these oversized loads though not in the least inclined to become one of these drivers.For most of my 15-year trucking career I chose to haul standard size trailers with an overall length of 72-feet. That, I’m sure, seems like a very big vehicle.

However, there was a short one-month period I decided to hauled trusses, the support beams you see in many of the largest warehouses. These flatbed trailers average 53-foot and could be stretched out to 90-feet to accommodate the largest trusses. The longest trailer I drove was a measly 65-foot one and that had me a little tense maneuvering around some of the corners.

Men and women who chose this type of job are a unique type of trucker. They must have special skills to secure their load no matter how unusual the shape is. No two loads are likely to be the same and virtually all their loads will require some sort of special state, county and city permits to get from point A to point B. Recently, I had the chance to get a current picture of just such a load. I met not one, but two, oversized trucks on a portion of Highway 193 that runs between Lincoln, CA and I-80. Knowing this road is anything but straight and, in fact, has a couple of very tight curves, I questioned the feasibility of choosing this route but the drivers apparently made it to their destination without a problem.

 

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Apr 212014
 

 

I had to stop for this car.

I had to stop for this car.

 

 

A few months ago I was driving on state highway 193, the portion that connects Lincoln, CA to I-80. This stretch of road is anything but straight so I was shocked to be flagged down by a escort vehicle who signaled me to stop. A few minutes later I watched as a obviously oversize

 

 

truck with a very large pipe-like object eased

Whoa, that's one big pipe

Whoa, that’s one big pipe

around the curved road ahead of me. The trailer looked to be a minimum of 65-feet long and to top it off there was a second truck with a similar load. Being very familiar with this 10-mile stretch of road I wondered how on earth those trucks had managed the sharp curves on the first part of this stretch. That they were facing me is testimony to their skill maneuvering this difficult road.

 

 

 

 

Oh my there's another big pipe.

Oh my there’s another big pipe.

 

They obviously had else I wouldn’t be facing them right then. In a few minutes both trucks had passed me and were headed toward a much straighter stretch of 193. I really thought taking I-80 to Sierra College Blvd would have been a better route.

It wasn’t until I headed home and took a good long look at the Sierra College/193 intersection that I realized that most likely the drivers would not have been able to negotiate the left turn at that corner without taking out the sign.

I’ve always wondered who was responsible for making sure the chosen route would accommodate these loads. An article posted online by Sandy Long says each state provides the routing through that state but I recently spoke with a driver of oversized loads and, at least here in California, he said the driver is responsible for making sure the load fits under and through bridges or other potential hazards.

The permits and whether or not a professional and/or police escort is necessary for a load depends on the size, both width and height, and the weight of the load. These loads are often restricted to daylight hours Monday thru Friday.

It takes a special kind of person to tackle this unique segment of trucking. Each load is more likely to be unique and takes a measure of innovation to secure the load.

 

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Apr 072014
 

HAULING OVERSIZED LOADS

HOW BIG IS BIG

 For most of my 15-year trucking career I chose to haul standard size trailers with an overall length of 72-feet. That, I’m sure, seems like a very big vehicle. However, I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics of managing these oversized loads though not in the least inclined to become one of these drivers.

You want me to back this trailer into that driveway? Right.

You want me to back this trailer into that driveway? Right.

Nonetheless, there was a short one-month period I decided to haul trusses, the support beams you see in many of the largest warehouses. These flatbed trailers average 53-foot and could be stretched out to 90-feet to accommodate the largest trusses. The longest trailer I drove was a measly 65-foot one and that had me a little tense maneuvering around some of the corners. Not the least of these was this delivery into Oregon. The picture on the left

I did it. I'm very proud of myself

I did it. I’m very proud of myself

 

We’re on a residential two-lane street and I was driving one of the two 65-foot trailers required for this delivery. Now what? Well the other driver said our only solution was to pull into the church parking lot across from the driveway we had to back into, so we did. The unknown variable here was would the parking lot support the weight of our trucks? Thankfully, it did.

 

Easy delivery and unload

Easy delivery and unload

 

 

The next couple of pictures show more “normal” deliveries which were not without some tense moments.

 

 

 

My turn, don't hit those poles please.

My turn, don’t hit those poles please.

Note the picture showing the trailer coming uncomfortably close to the metal poles that hold the walls in place. Being good at backing, and I finally was, is key, to keeping this kind of a job. Knocking the big slab of cement wall down, held in place by a few poles, would not be a good thing.

The other negative was having to climb all over the trusses to place my tie-downs for each load. I bruise easily and by the time I’d been on the job a week, I looked like an ad for domestic violence with my innumerable scratches and bruises.

 

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Dec 102013
 

I imagine, unless you have worked in a warehouse, you’ve never given the cost of pallets, the invisible expense of trucking, any thought. It’s one of the many things I, as a consumer, certainly never considered before I became a truck driver. Pallets are the wooden platforms that products are put on to  make it easier to load a trailer. Besides the standard wooden pallet, there are two other types, pallets painted blue which indicates they are a 1-time use throw-away pallet and a variety of plastic re-usable pallets. If you’ve ever shopped in a big box store late in the evening, you’ll see pallets with stacks of goods  waiting to be put on the shelf for consumers. Costco is another place where pallets are visible to the general public.

Pallets to the right, pallets to the left, pallets everywhere.

Pallets to the right, pallets to the left, pallets everywhere.

What isn’t known to the general public is just how big a business this is. The picture on the right shows a pallet yard with 1000’s of pallets stacked up waiting to be purchased. And, depending on the area, there is always at least one pallet yard nearby. Some of the major grocery chains require trucking companies use only #1 pallets, if anything else is used the load won’t be accepted . These #1 pallets average $11 to $14 each and  the warehouse is supposed to replace them with like quality empty pallets.

It doesn’t usually happen that way. The stack of empty pallets sitting by every dock door as replacements, are more often than not seconds that can’t be sold back to the pallet yard for more than $6 apiece. Mind you, the warehouse wouldn’t accept a load on this quality of pallets but they have no problem replacing the required #1 pallets with pallets they wouldn’t accept from any driver or company. When I questioned the quality of replacement pallets at various warehouses I delivered to I was told, “That’s all we have, take ’em or leave them, your choice.”

Providing #1 pallets to a shipper adds up to a substantial cost for trucking companies when you consider vans, the box like trailers, require 22 to 24 pallets per load. The cost to a company is an average of $264-$288 (22/ 24 x $12/ea ) for each load a driver hauls. Needless to say companies are happier if the exchange pallets are of equal quality but that rarely happens.

stacking empty pallets for use later.

stacking empty pallets for use later.

The picture to the left is the type of fork lift that is often used to load produce loads.Again, most people know what the average forklift looks like but these big guys are in a class by themselves.  They pick up and move a dozen pallets in one fell swoop. Their purpose is efficiency, to load trucks as quickly a possible and they do. I found it fascinating to watch them trundle out of a warehouse stacked with produce, it’s what I hauled most of my driving career. They’d set their load down gently and slide it into the waiting trailer with a minimum of effort.

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Jul 112013
 

I’ve been asked often over the years how on earth I ended up driving a big rig for a living. It all began when I became a School Bus Driver in southeastern Ohio. I’d be the first to say I certainly didn’t plan to use my school bus driving to transition into driving an 18-wheeler. I’ve liken my life to a tumbleweed pushed from here to there by the vagaries of the wind. I dealt with what happened in the moment never worrying about what might be around the next corner.

Thus this native Californian, who grew up in Sacramento, ended up living in southeastern Ohio when I married. My marriage, one of convenience, wasn’t made in heaven but I soldiered on with the choice I’d made. Talk about culture shock! Outhouses and hauling water were a way of life in this part of the country. It was an eye-opening experience to a life style I never realized still existed here in the United States in 1970 . I’m in the process of writing my second memoir, Pulling the Plug and Flush Toilets about the sixteen years I lived in Vinton County. 

I never thought driving this would lead to becoming a truck driver 20 years later.

I never thought driving this would lead to becoming a truck driver 20 years later.

When my husband told me that because he earned the money, he’d decide when and if I could have money for anything other than my monthly grocery allowance. It was a decision I wasn’t happy with since generally, the answer was no. So, rather than argue with him, I looked for a job to earn my own spending money. I became a school bus driver a job, given the area, that paid reasonably well and had good benefits. As far as my husband was concerned I had no say in our finances. With that attitude, it goes without saying, I did not give him my check to handle.

Never mind that I’d never driven anything bigger than a car; with my intrepid spirit I stepped out and tackled the job. What I’d never considered when I hired as a school bus driver, was the winter weather in Ohio. It snowed! That’s a well duh! But remember snow in the California, I grew up in was something you visited then left and came home to clear roads or maybe rain but not more snow.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this was my training ground for a future driving an 18-wheeler. It taught me to handle all types of roads, mostly gravel in this area, and areas where maneuverability was limited. I also learned to share the roads with the semis that hauled coal out of the strip mines in the area and stay on my side of the narrow roads.

This was probably a one-time thing for a week or so. A quarter mile long gravel drive made this dicey in bad weather.

This was probably a one-time thing for a week or so. A quarter mile long gravel drive made this dicey in bad weather.

The following picture shows my next bus parked alongside the same barn in the snow. I don’t remember, now, whether or not I made my next run. It would have depended on whether more snow fell that day. One thing I do know is, if I did make it, I did not get back to the top of the hill. Our quarter-mile gravel drive  never, despite tons of gravel being put on it, seemed to have adequate traction for our cars let alone my heavier school bus. Necessity made it crucial that I learn to back my bus up on the lower section of our driveway which was fairly level with a bit more gravel. This learning curve was nothing if not challenging and perhaps the main reason why I didn’t think moving to a big rig was that big a change.

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Jun 202013
 

Put it here. Yeah right! I mention in my first book, Silly Woman, Big Rigs Are For Men, that one of my biggest

It doesn't look that difficult at first glance. But I soon found out different.

It doesn’t look that difficult at first glance. But I soon found out different.

hurdles was to learn how to back up a tractor-trailer and it most definitely was an issue. Because this was such a problem for me, I took the time over the years to document some of the “docks” I delivered to and I’ll add more blogs detailing those difficulties

This dock didn’t look that difficult at first glance. But I soon found out different.  It turned out to be one of the most difficult docks I backed into in all the years I drove. The entry driveway doesn’t look like it’s going to be an issue, but when I try to set up my truck so I am able to back around the corner close enough to get into the dock as well as keep from hitting the trash dumpsters and the parked cars, that proves dicey to say the least. The person responsible for designing the dock must have thought truckers had rubber trailers that bend in the middle, sadly we don’t.

As a truck driver, you quickly learn your dispatcher, who may never have driven anything larger than their personal vehicle, has no clue what the dock is like at any pick-up or delivery point.

note the dumpsters and cars that compromise my maneuvering room

note the dumpsters and cars that compromise my maneuvering room

The best the dispatcher can tell a driver is, “Well our drivers have delivered here before and nobody said anything about a problem backing in.” Perhaps in today’s world dispatchers are a little more truthful than they were when I was out there driving, but I seriously doubt it. After all, their job is making sure the product gets from point A to point B. Accidents, weather, construction hold-ups, breakdowns or docks from Hell or other issues the driver faces aren’t their problem.

The next picture shows the damage done to the building by other drivers due to the limited space for maneuvering a 72′ vehicle. Ergonomics, the study of the most efficient way to design a work space, isn’t considered when docks are installed. I’ve always thought too many docks were a afterthought when buildings are designed and so they are tacked on in the most unlikely of places by engineers (theoretic’s, you know theoretically this will work) who have never driven an 18-wheeler. I can hear them saying, “Oops, you need a dock? How long did you say the truck was? Seventy-two feet, no problem I’ll add an extra eight feet for the drivers to back in right over here, that should be enough space.”

 

Damage to the building by other drivers. A result of the limited maneuvering space

These marks are from trucks that cut the corner too short backing in.

 

Six inches of clearance here. Very careful backing

Six inches of clearance here. Very careful backing

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Jun 062013
 

Hi, welcome to my website Eighteen Wheels & Heels, a site meant to inform the general public about the world of “Big Rigs,” otherwise known as 18-wheelers. I’ll discuss both the rules of the road established by the DOT (Department of Transportation), first in 1939, and finally revised in 2002 after a six-year battle with the numerous factions involved. And the HOA (hours of service) all truck drivers must follow.

I drove an eighteen-wheeler for fifteen years, so many of my comments are based on personal experiences. What many people don’t realize is there are hundreds of different kinds of Big Rigs, all developed for specific loads. They all look the same to them right?

The five basic types of truck-trailers are:

The van (this looks like a huge box on wheels)

The flatbed (which looks like a big slab of wood on wheels)

The car carrier (the trailer looks kind of like a large erector set) with a collection of hydraulics responsible for moving the two levels of ramps to load and unload the cars.

The tanker (usually a long cylinder, sometimes with dividing walls called baffles)—this classification also includes cement trucks and

Dump trucks, which are self-explanatory.

The trailers I’ve pulled most often are reefers, and no, it has nothing to do with marijuana. It’s the abbreviation for a refrigerated trailer used to transport cooled and frozen products. This is one of the variations of a van type of trailer. Often a reefer is used as a regular van to transport products that do not require cooling.

A heavy hauler trailer carrying a large boatAnd then there are the heavy-haul trailers, which are in a class by themselves. Eighteen-wheelers they are not; these trucks haul oversized and over-weight items, and require drivers with imagination to not only load whatever the odd item is onto the trailer, but to make sure it’s properly secured and all the proper permits have been acquired. The drivers, at least in California, are also responsible for making sure the routes taken are able to handle the weight, width, and height of whatever is being transported.

These trailers are rated by the number of total axles on the rig. They are five, seven, nine, and eleven axles sometimes with regular truck-size tires or, in one case, there was a custom heavy haul that had something in the area of 120 car-sized tires.  The one in the picture is a five axle, one of the smallest of the heavy hauler class. Any of these trailers can and have been modified for specific loads.

My blogs will occasionally touch on this specialized segment of trucking over the next few months with the handful of pictures I took the single month I tackled this type of trucking. I didn’t have extra axles but just the trailers could and did extend to 90 feet long. The longest trailer I ever hauled was 65 feet long and getting around corners was interesting to say the least.

Finally, through no planning on my part, I not only drove a big rig for fifteen years but every job I’ve had, except for the first couple of jobs in my early 20s, was a driving job. Twenty-nine years of driving jobs beginning with a school bus for thirteen years, 18-wheelers for fourteen years, back to a school bus, a casino shuttle, a big rig again for the final eighteen months to make up my fifteen years, and last, but not least, a bookmobile currently. So, as you can see, I certainly have a bit of driving experience behind me.

I appreciate comments and questions about the world of truck drivers. Often, many people don’t realize, it is a life-style, not just a job. I’ll do my best to answer them or give you a resource who can answer your question.

Hit the airbrake, shift into gear and let’s hit the road. Enjoy my site.

 

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