Thursday, July 26, 2007

TCC: The Eleventh Crumb, Part I

In November, 1990: I signed-on with a trucking company that was headquartered a lot closer unto Cassville; but that was not the main reason for why I went to work for them. For it was because of their reputation; and I wanted to run with the really, really big boys for as long as I could.

No, it is not of the size of their operation that I speak. For they usually ran under 50 trucks.

Nonetheless: there was nothing small about their aspirations. For they ran some of the fastest and most powerful trucks around; and it took much more than a mere mortal to keep-up with their expected pace.

Greener pastures? Oh my, I believed that I had found chicken-hauler's heaven. For it was not long before they put me in a truck that I called my "purple rocketship"; and thus began the most fun that I ever had out there on the open road.

Oh yes, my purple rocketship was most definitely a force to be reckoned with. For I could start at the bottom of "Cabbage Patch" (a mountain just east of Pendleton, OR on I-84 that is very steep on the Pendleton side) going just 55 MPH (there were almost always a lot of Oregon bears around) with a full load (the combined weight of truck, trailer, and load totalling 80,000 pounds) and be going at least 35 MPH at the top. In fact: I once did that while weighing over 84,000 pounds: according unto the scale house just west of La Grande, OR (all that saved me was still having the inaccurate scale ticket from the place where I loaded "Oregon" Bing Cherries at, which was near The Dalles, OR).

So? Well, in a typical company truck at the time: 20 MPH at the top would have been the best that could be hoped for under the same conditions; but that would not have been the end of the misery. For on grades where my purple rocketship would not pull-down a bit: a typical company truck would lose several miles-per-hour.

Hence: the importance of having speed AND power. For going 100 MPH is not that much of an advantage if it cannot be maintained; and "draggin'fly" (drag-up one side, fly-down the other) trucks would generally spend an awful lot of time on the side of the road at the bottom of hills with a highway patrol cruiser or two behind them. For a draggin'fly needed to fly-down hills in order to make-up for all of the speed that they lost draggin'-up them; and it was at the bottom of hills where state troopers liked to hang-out.

Suffice to say: I did not have to take such chances; but this is not to say that I did not need to be on high alert: even while going up-hill at times. For the chief mechanic of the outfit told me that my purple rocketship was set-up to go up to 126 MPH; and all doubts about the veracity of his claim were quickly proven: unfounded.

No, I never saw such a reading on the speedometer. For 85 MPH was as high as it would go; but I have seen it against the peg in 3 different gears.

Obviously: I also never saw a reading of 126 MPH on a radar gun, neither. For I am still alive; and I am not posting this from the incarcerated side of prison walls.

On the other hand: I made a run clear across Pennsylvania (around 350 miles via I-84, I-81, and I-80) one night with a friend of mine who drove for the same company running the front door (running ahead of me) in 3 hours flat, which was an average of just under 117 MPH.

There was also one night when it looked like I was the only one on I-80 for as far as I could see that I decided to keep the pedal to the metal and the gearshift up against the dash after reaching the summit of the fairly small mountain just west of Wendover, NV (around 120 miles west of Salt Lake City, UT); and I wound-up scaring myself pretty good before getting half-way down the 5-mile slide unto the bottom on the other side. For that was when I could feel the front-end of the truck lifting-up (with 12,400 pounds of weight on the steer-tires); and 140 MPH came to mind.

No, I did not think that I was doing anything overly reckless. For the grade of the downhill slide was not very steep.

Anyway: it was not until it was time for the rest of this story to begin that I really got scared. For that was when my radar-detector sounded-off with all it had; and then I saw the tail-lights of a vehicle coming out of the median and heading back east towards Wendover.

I pooped my pants for real that time; and I had to wait until the truck slowed-down on its own some before I could stop and clean-up the mess. For my brake pads (all 20 of them) would have surely burst into flames if I had of tried to stop while still going that fast.

Besides: I figured that hitting my brakes immediately after getting hit by a radar gun would have been a dead give-away unto the cop that their radar gun might not be as much out of calibration as they were thinking; but it may very well have been that the cop just did not feel like having to fill-out all of the paperwork that was required when deadly-force was used. For they did not write speeding tickets for 140 MPH back then: especially not when a chicken-hauler was involved.

No, I never pulled a stunt like that again; but that is not to say that I started pulling-in on the reins all that much after my miraculous rescue. For I was having too much fun; and I certainly did not want the party to end anytime soon.

Much unto my delight: it did not. For I continued to crisscross the country just as fast as was humanly possible; and on many an occasion: super-human endurance had to have been involved (9 straight weeks of over $1,000 per week take-home pay at only 18 cents per mile).

Yes, the numbers can boggle the mind of the inexperienced; but after breaking it all down into smaller bites: acceptance of the truth of the matter should become much easier to swallow. For it only takes 17 hours to travel 1,020 miles at an average of only 60 MPH.

Nonetheless: it still took a great deal of endurance to maintain my torrid pace day after day; and with any increase in mileage came an exponential increase in stress. For like what was said before: there were all sorts of things out there on the road that could bite a driver on the buttocks at some very inopportune times; and not the least of these were speeding tickets.

Well, not exactly. That is: at least not for me. For as long as I did not get a ticket in Texas, and made enough money to pay all of the others (around 12 per year during my really wild days) on time: no points would ever show-up on my Texas Class A Driver's License because Texas did not recognize infractions in other jurisdictions at the time.

It was, however, the obligatory log book check that went along with getting a speeding ticket that was a big problem for me. For on top of the fine involved (if found in violation): a stoppage of at least 8 hours was almost always also included; and that was enough to throw a schedule way off.

Yes, getting caught in violation of the Hours of Service Regulations was a disaster; but all of the effort that went into trying to avoid getting caught was almost as bad. For the miles had to be accounted for; and the faster and farther traveled: the harder it got to do so.

In example: it legally took 28 hours to get to Buffalo, NY from my outfit's home-base (1,003 miles). Whereas: I once made it in 10.5 hours (around a 96 MPH average).

Therefore: it would take 3 different log books to be safe while making such a run. For I would start-out with one that would have my time of departure backed-up just a few hours in order to account for my speed; and when I had gone around 500 miles: I would fill-out another log book that backed-up my time of departure enough to account for the total speed of the trip and 8 hours of off-duty time. The other log book would be used to provide the company with the original of each days log to keep on record as required by law.

It was (of course) those originals that the DOT would audit from time to time; and my company was a prime target. For their reputation also preceded them in official channels, it would seem.

No, I do not know how they did it. Perhaps some deft slight-of-hand was employed? For they survived every audit relatively unscathed while I was there; and I was sure glad that they did.

It all started to really get unto me after about a year of service, however. For there was only so much that my body could take while completely straight; but I had to do something. For the spirit was still willing; and there I was: absolutely exhausted in Barstow, CA (around 140 miles northeast of Los Angeles) with a load of produce that needed to be driven straight through unto Buffalo (around 2,500 miles).

Therefore: I went in search of some "help"; and I have to laugh every time I think about it. For everyone in that Pilot Truckstop must have thought that I was trying to score an 8-ball (an eighth of an ounce) of crank (or something similar) by the way I was acting.

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