Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sliding the bogies

Trip two of the solo enterprise and things are still a little mixed. On the upside, there would appear to be a conspiracy of silence around my small incident last week. I ‘fessed up to the dispatcher on duty at the time but he would appear to have decided to let it rest. So, on to the next thing. An easyish jaunt across Michigan to deliver some empty bins and pick up new ones filled with something autopartish. I’d been there before, the place is easy to find and has a helpful guard at the gate. What could go wrong?

The only issue was the timing, I was due to start at 4in the afternoon, pick up the bins at 5 and deliver at 8 the next morning. Now there is no way to do this legally because you have to have 10 hours off after 14 on duty, so a little massaging of the books was required. You only have to be ‘on duty’ if you are driving from one town to another, pootling about in the same area doesn’t count, so the convention is that you can start your log book after collecting the load, and then get to the destination, mark your log book off-duty and then deliver sometime during your 10 hours off. This does of course mean that you don’t get legal amounts of sleep and I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. Apart from tired. I’m learning the hard way that the industry pays a lot of lip service to ensuring that you get legal rest but actually turns a blind eye to the details.

Anyway, I picked up my paperwork and checked the vehicle over at 4, duly appeared at the plant round the corner at 5 and backed onto a dock. It took a few mins, but I managed it without hitting anything. I waited for the shipper to finish loading the trailer next to mine. Half an hour later I caught his attention. “Empty dunnage gets loaded at the other end of the building.” I dutifully drove round and backed into the new dock, next to a container I’d seen pull in ahead of me. I knew the delay wasn’t really a delay, since he was still waiting. An hour later we were both still waiting. I found a forklift driver and made polite enquiries, he had to have the paperwork sorted out first. Where should I do that? The office I’d first thought of at the other end of the building. I walked, it was quicker.

I finally got out of the plant at about 7. Then I had to take all the paperwork back to our office so that the details could be faxed to the customs brokers. Most border crossings are electronically pre-approved but the people who do that bit still require a fax to get the ball rolling.

I got moving for real about 7.30. I'd been on duty since 4, but my log began then, so that I could ‘work’ until 9.30 in the morning if necessary. I fully intended to sleep for part of the night but it would make my delivery time legal if the log happened to be inspected on the way.

Roadworks on the 401, a queue at the truckstop we fuel in, a wait at the border, it was dark and late and I was already knackered when I crossed into the US. Too tired to fully appreciate how much nicer and easier it is to negotiate the Bluewater Bridge crossing at Sarnia and Port Huron, when you are used to fighting the Ambassador to Detroit. It’s a straight road on and off, no wheeling around sharp bends to avoid badly marked road works. And it’s pretty too. I had very carefully packed fruit with labels on, and had bought US apples specially. But this one didn’t ask about fruit. He quizzed me for a while on my citizenship, what was in the trailer and where I was going, but no fruit related enquiries at all.

The gps showed that I’d get to Muskegon, Michigan about 2.30 in the morning but I wasn’t in any shape to drive there in one hit. My newly acquired pile of audio books from the library helped a lot, I thoroughly enjoyed the early parts of Going Postal, read by Stephen Briggs, complete with voices, but knew when I’d had enough. I stopped at about 1.30 in a rest stop an hour or so away. It made sense to sleep for a few hours, then get up at 6 and find the place in daylight. I could sleep again after I’d been loaded, rewrite my log to represent having been there all the time and be ready to leave after a metaphorical 10 hours off at about 1 in the afternoon.

The gatekeeper guard was helpful as ever. This place puts you on a scale on the way in and on the way out and has clear, logical paperwork. He pointed out where I could park to sleep and told me not to come back to the scale until I was ready to leave. Things were looking good. I backed onto the dock as directed. The receiver looked at the packing slip I handed him.
“You’ve got a mix, metal and plastic.”
“Yes,” I smiled.
We’ll unload the metal here, then you have to drive round the building to the other docks for the plastic. Then back here for the reload.”
My smile evaporated as I realised just how much longer it would be before I could lay down again.

I slept until 1, had a brisk rub down with a flurry of wetwipes and talc, change of clothes and I felt ready for anything. A seven hour drive back would mean that I would just get to the plant in daylight. I didn’t much fancy docking in the dark just yet. A coffee would have gone down well but I’ve not got around to buying a kettle for the truck yet. Back to the gate and onto the scale. They’d loaded 44,000 lbs, which is pretty close to the maximum allowed weight. I asked the guard to weigh each axle separately, which is a wise precaution when the load is that heavy. There are regulations about how much weight each axle should carry, as well as an overall maximum, and weigh scales along the interstates will check and fine the unwary. It’s as well we did the extra weigh-in, as one axle came out overweight. I had 1800 lbs too much on the drive wheels, and not enough on the rear. I sighed. I was going to have to ‘slide the bogies’ now, and that would mean digging out a text book to make sure I did it right. You get taught about it, but no-one really does it that much. The guard smiled at me. “You can pull up over there to do that, just make sure we can get another truck on the scale behind you.

I checked my books and made sure I was going to slide the rear wheels of the trailer the right way. The wheels had to go forward, to shift the weight in the trailer away from the front end. Three notches should do it. That meant moving the tractor backwards about  two and a half feet. I marked the distance out on the ground with a glove. I unlocked the slider bolts, set the trailer brake and attempted the shift. Nothing. The bugger wouldn’t budge. I checked the bolts, they were clear, it was just rusted together and seized. I tried pulling forwards and backwards again, to see if I could jolt it loose. Nothing. The guard came out to help. “This happens a lot” he said. Bogie sliding (I don’t have any idea where the slang comes from, must find out) isn’t something that gets routinely checked, like so many other bits of truck. He suggested a remedy they have used before, of sticking a bloody great lump of timber behind the wheels. It was a friendly gesture and I appreciated the moral support as I seemed to be unaccountably close to tears again. It didn’t work though. I called dispatch to tell them I was delayed by an equipment failure. They put me on to a trainer. “Have you tried dumping the suspension?” I hadn’t. I felt a fool, there was an aspect of doing this that I’d missed and I was just being a troublesome rookie. I dumped the suspension and tried again, but it was the trailer and not me, it was seized and that was that.

By this time I was pouring sweat from everywhere and doing another impression of Pigpen. Which helped to mask the teary eyes. The guard and I came to the same conclusion, I’d have to go round the block, back onto the dock and get them to reload the trailer with more weight on the back. I watched my daylight arrival back in Guelph disappear as time went by. He called the shippers and told them I was coming back. He showed me the quickest way to turn around and said they’d reweigh the axles when I came back. His name is Lonny and he is an angel in human form.

The forklift driver was grumpy. “I always load that way.”
“I know, it’s not you, it’s my trailer, the wheels won’t slide.”
“I wish someone would tell my boss that, he thinks I did it wrong.”
“I’m so sorry about that, I’ll tell him, where is he?”
“It’s ok.” He seemed mollified by my contrition. Or maybe the accent. I decided to capitalise…
“Thank you so much for your time, I know you’re busy, but it will get me out of here…”
He smiled. Maybe people aren’t usually nice to forklift drivers.

I got out of there at about 2.30. I was tired, hungry and fed up. Going Postal helped a bit but not much. I opted to ‘hammer down’ and get home as fast as I could instead of stopping for coffee and food. My stomach has been playing up anyway the last few weeks; I’m not sure if it’s the unusual routine or the combination of anxiety and fear, but I don’t seem to be able to eat much at all. I am surviving on trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches. And apples. That’s probably not a good thing long term.

I breezed through the border this time, no stupid questions at all, treated myself to a coffee while fuelling up an hour from home and arrived back at the Guelph plant just after sunset. Oh poo. One dock open between two other trailers. In the dark. It had to be done. It took about 10 minutes and a lot of getting out and looking but I got it there in the end. The load was safe, correct, the paperwork in order and I finally handed a complete envelope full of stuff back to dispatch at about 10 o’clock. I’d been away for two days but it felt like two weeks.

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