Sunday, October 31, 2010

Experimenting with uploading video clips

Since I'm busily editing the truckerly tales into some sort of book instead of having new adventures, I am going back over all sorts of past exploits. I really ought to share these clips of Skid School. Deliberately jackknifing a trailer so that you can learn how to survive is an interesting experiment in terror.

The voice you can hear is the instructor, each truck had a radio so that we could all hear everybody else's abuse. That was a student, not me I don't think. Here is the instructor demonstrating what it's supposed to look like:

And here is the final exercise of the day, locking a tractor's drive wheels. I know this one isn't me because we had a single rear axle. That means an extra 360 degrees on the spin.

Happy days. Of course only one of us had the presence of mind to take a camera along, I realise the foolishness of not doing likewise now.

Let me know if the clips don't work and I'll have another go at uploading them.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stupid is as stupid does

The plan was to turn up at the yard at noon, collect a preloaded trailer of empty bins and take them to Cincinnati. This was going to be a nice run. Not only starting in daylight but a preload. That meant the border paperwork would be all ready, I could get moving road right away. Cincinnati was about an 8 hour drive. If I hit the road smartish I could be at the region’s only truckstop in daylight. I was beginning to enjoy having been somewhere before, knowing where to sleep really cheered the day along.

I arrived a few minutes before noon, I wanted to get all my checks completed and leave as soon as the load was ready. ‘We have an extra stop for you.’ The dispatcher displayed body language which implied that he knew I’d be pissed off. That is to say, he kept his eyes on his computer screen and threw the information over his shoulder. They only do eye contact when they are going to make you happy.
‘It’s on your way. You just have to collect a couple of broaches first and deliver them to Windsor.’
That wasn’t so bad, at least I wouldn’t have to hang around waiting for border faxes.

I trundled round the corner to load the extra thingumies. There weren’t many bins pre-loaded, only the first 20 feet or so of the trailer were full so I could see why they wanted to take advantage of all the spare space. Once the second consignment was in the trailer I hopped in after them to think about strapping. Now I was in a hurry, I wanted to make the most of the daylight but there really is no excuse for rank stupidity. The loading looked a bit odd, you see. The bins were stacked floor to ceiling at the front of the trailer. Two small but perfectly formed pieces of expensive-looking, beautifully turned machinery (I couldn’t tell you what they were but they were shiny, round and complicated) were strapped to the small wooden pallets called broaches. They'd been popped right at the back of the trailer. There was about 30 feet of empty space between them and the bins. I sort of knew that I should probably strap something to save stuff crashing about. From where I stood, it looked as though the main problem would be bins falling over from the height they were stacked and damaging the nice shiny things. I strapped the bins securely in place at the front of the trailer, making sure that the top strap was as high as I could reach.

Then I headed for Windsor. I’d checked the notes in my little book for Colonial Tool, it was the place where you had to slide the bogies. I’d made that part of my vehicle check...the sliders on this trailer weren’t rusted together. I’d moved them an experimental notch. I was ready for today. I was learning. I did punch the address into Betsy though. I recalled where the place was, I could picture the road works and the shenanigans required to turn onto the highway but I didn’t want any more delays. It made more sense to rely on the gps than my memory. That was the only thing I did right.

Betsy took me a strange way round. I got a bit rattled as we headed further west and less north than I remembered for the bogie-sliding place. If I’d been in less of a hurry to set off, the broaches might have been my clue of course. As I headed further into downtown Windsor than I wanted, to a car cut me up and I had to brake sharply. I heard and felt a couple of heavy thuds from the back. Things had moved about. I visualised the layout. I’d strapped the stuff at the front. But braking sends stuff forwards, why hadn’t I strapped behind the broaches at the back? Because I’m stupid, that’s why.

Betsy took me to Colonial Tool. As she told me I had arrived at my destination I recognised it as the place where you had to drive round the block and park in the street. The one without the loading dock. The implications of all this didn’t hit me at the time. I was just rather proud of myself for remembering where to park despite having got the notes wrong. I sauntered in to find someone. It was gone 6 in the evening by now and there weren’t many people around, no one in the shipping office, just a couple of young lads watching machines. One of them jumped in a forklift to come and offload my broaches. As I opened the back, we all realised the problem. The two shinythings had skittered to the back of the trailer. The plant had no loading dock from which to drive in to it. Their forklift was one that lifted things off the backs of trailers from the ground. Between us we had no way to get the pallets from the front to the back.

‘Do you have a pump dolly?’
‘Um, no. Do you?’
‘Maybe we can push them.’
‘I’m sorry.’

I was visualising how simple it would have been to have popped a strap behind them. I also twigged that the people loading the trailer knew they were sending these to a place without a dock, even if I didn’t. That was why they’d loaded them right at the back.

‘Not to worry, we’ll sort something out. We’re paid by the hour.’ The lads grinned at each other. ‘You weren’t to know we didn’t have a dock, nobody expects that the first time they come here.’ These nice lads were on my side, they weren’t cross or anything. So why did I then say, ‘actually I have been here before, I should have remembered’? Because I’m stupid, that’s why.

They tried pushing. They tried pulling. But the momentum of my little emergency stop had pulled the manufacturer's strapping loose, the shinythings were now a bit wobbly on their pallets. They went and got massive lengths of chain with hooks on the end. They hooked one chain around a pallet, linked all the others together and hooked the other end round the forklift. One lad drove away from the truck while the other one stood inside yelling instructions. Every so often they looked at the stupid driver with the defeated and miserable demeanour and smiled sympathetically. They were having fun. Clearly this was more interesting than watching machines. But I was watching the daylight disappear. I think maybe I’d have felt better if someone had shouted at me. My triumphant return to Cincinnati, the one where I would benefit from all that experience and do things better was not beginning well. I'd have to sleep on the road now and get up early to deliver on time. I was tired just thinking about it.

When the time came for them to sign off on the paperwork that the consignment had been delivered in good order, the taller one who fancied himself a bit twinkled at me.
‘You do know that if you’d delivered these to Ford or somewhere they’d have refused to accept them don’t you?’
‘Yes, I’ve learned a few things today, thank you very much for being so nice.’

I was actually getting sick of doing humble. I wanted to do brash and old-hand. But I’d have to be beating the stupidity first.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Little Black Book

No not that sort. I’m a little old for reams of phone numbers of eligible bachelors. Although come to think of it, being young didn’t require a book for them either. It’s a little notebook that made itself useful while I was so generally freaked out and terrified that nothing stuck in my memory at all. Dispatch would say "you went there last week" and I would stand there looking gormless, searching the synapses for any kind of recognition.

Sometimes the book makes sense. It says things like ‘Textron, Muskegon. Lenny the scale guy, fierce rules; under rlwy bridge, Michigan turnaround; scale on rt, must weigh in and out; metal bins 2nd dock, plastic and loading 1st dock’. This was all useful information the second time I went there, bogie-sliding incidents notwithstanding.

Sometimes it is of limited use. 'Muhashi, Battle Creek. Brown bldn to L of ball diamond, use intercom, mad car park.' Once I found the ball diamond the memory kicked in but I’d not noted quite how much it looks like the road has stopped before you get to it. Or how to negotiate the mad car park.

Sometimes my notes are just plain wrong. It’s not always my fault. When I wrote 'Detroit, bridge from I94, exit 213B, DON’T MISS IT, signs for Toledo, not bridge’, I didn’t know that Detroit keeps moving its routes around roadworks all the time. I should have written ‘look for tiny orange signs’ instead.

Occasionally I have just been very stupid. And since I have a little more time on my hands and am trying to edit all this, and the bits that never made it into blogland, into a proper book…I feel duty bound to confess to some of the screw-ups I was too embarrassed to mention at the time.

Remember the car park we’re not supposed to drive into? The one with the coffee wagon and the people trying to go home? It’s here if you have better things to do with your life than memorise my hapless struggles. We’d had to visit two plants in Windsor on the way to the border. We were delivering a little thing called a broach to a company called Colonial Tool and collecting a truckload of empty bins from another called ExCor to go to Coleman, Michigan. There was a lot of debate about where to go first, the delivery was a lot closer to the border than the collection was. So, we could either do the two stops in logical geographic order and hope that the shippers would kindly unload the broach and reload it on the back when they were done, or we could get rid of it first and then double back. I didn’t know what a broach was of course. I had no idea how big or heavy it might be, so I just nodded sagely and refrained from opening my mouth while my trainer weighed the options.

It turned out to be a small wooden pallet, we reckoned we could probably shift it ourselves if required so option 1 became the plan. The first stop in Windsor was a place that insisted you shift the trailer wheels as far to the rear as they will go before loading, ie my favourite pastime of sliding the bogies. It was a nuisance at the time but at least I got a refresher in how to do it while I still had a trainer with me. (Not that that made much difference in the end.) 

Leaving that plant had been a nightmare. It required a tight right turn into a load of coned off roadworks, followed immediately by a dog-leg through more cones and an easy-to-miss ramp onto the highway. Not demolishing any cones had been a triumph of trailer wiggling, although I had held some irritable traffic up in the process. The ExCor forklift people had kindly removed and replaced our little wooden thing on the back of the trailer, so that when we finally emerged from the whole ‘trucks don’t normally come into the car park’ thing at Colonial Tool, it had been removed fairly effortlessly.

I didn’t make my notes until the end of that run. We’d delivered to a place with a car park so tiny that my trainer had taken over the reversing while I sat trying to observe how it was done. My observations had been a little hampered by the little voice in my head going ‘ohnoohnoohno I might have to do this’. She’d moved the trailer wheels as far forward as they would go to create the smallest possible turning circle and barely got the truck into place. 

Then they’d sent us to Pontiac. I’d been noticing that a lot of Detroit’s suburbs had the names of cars and had set to wondering whether the places or the cars came first. I was planning to ask someone when we got there but it was impossible to find and getting lost ate up a lot of time. We were tired and it was dark when we finally located the end of a street that nobody had heard of. My notebook has a diagram of the car park. If the last one had been difficult, this one was a piss-take. A blind-side reverse that you could only set up for by poking the nose of the truck up a little alley. The notes on my diagram say things like ‘this wall not straight’ and ‘concrete not square’. And 'Yellow line deceptive'.

So what with one thing and another, when I later wrote 'Colonial Tool, Windsor. Must shift duals to back, air pressure knob retracts pins, dog-leg through roadworks'. And 'ExCor, Windsor. Park on Seneca St, forklift will come out, turn L past bldn and go round it.' I didn’t realise I’d got them reversed until I had to return to one on my own.