Saturday, February 7, 2009

You Really Should Start A Blog!!!!!

I have been hearing this from friends and family for years. Over the holidays last year they finally got me interested. The question then was what do I put in it? According to everyone else my husband and I live an interesting life and I should write about it for others to read. So here I go....

We both love adventure and travel so our lives and jobs revolve around this central desire. We own and operate a specialized tractor-trailer and lease it out to a major company who finds the freight. We haul freight that is either one or many of the following: security sensitive, high value, hazardous/nonhazardous, temperature sensitive and/or requires extra care and handling.

My husband always knew what he wanted to do, drive a truck! His father and grandfather both drove truck their whole lives. Grandfather drove bus for Greyhound for awhile and then autotransporters in and out of Michigan for most of his career. His dad drove "MI Gravel Trains" (twin dump trailers with 11 axles, 42 tires and grossing 160,000 pounds) while he was growing up and then flatbedded with him for years till we switched to boxes. When he switched to the same small family owned company in Northern MI we went to. His dad stayed there till he passed away a few years ago. From an early age TV shows like "Movin On" and "BJ & The Bear" also helped to fuel his desire. Not to mention the great 1970's classics "Smokey and the Bandit," "Convoy" and "Whiteline Fever." So when he graduated from high school he joined the Navy for four years. This way when he got out of the Navy he would be 21 and able to get his CDL. In the meanwhile he could travel the world in the Navy while killing the necessary time till he was old enough to follow his true passion in life, TRUCKS!

For myself, I never even considered trucking or trucks before I met my husband. I was a horse (well any animal) lover. Then I met him. After finishing a 2 year Associates Degree, we got married. Thru a chance meeting while working a temporary job just after I got married and moved to a new state, I met and decided to take a position with the managing attorney of a branch office of a national firm. I worked for her as a Legal Assistant for the next 5 years while taking college courses. I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but was considering law. I had discovered that I really loved the law library and doing research while working at that law firm. However, this wasn't the path for me. I had a riding accident and suffered a compression fracture of my spine. As a result of this injury and the closing of my office, I was off work for the next two years. It was toward the end of this time that I discovered how much I disliked my husband being gone so much. So as I got better I started riding around with him. We had a great time, but I am just not a full time passenger. So I "talked" him into me getting my CDL. He was not happy about the idea because he had seen so many other wives and marriages go down hill once the wife started driving. I am not one to be discouraged once I do decide on a course of action however. So I went to the Secretary of State and got my permit.

Over the next year he taught me to drive. I should mention here that the first month or so were very frustrating as he has this idea that I had to be able to back my way out of any situation I could possible get into. Fun? Not really! He was still pulling a flatbed trailer at the time, so we went into a lot of pipe yards. If you have never been into a pipe yard let me take a moment to explain. The ones we usually went to were any where from 15-100's of acres and were filled with piles of pipe with small drives in between the piles. He would wind the truck back into these mazes and get unloaded. Then he would smile and say "Your turn." He would stand on the driver's side step and expect me to backtrack his path, literally backwards, out of the yard. Mind, that there was absolutely no reason we couldn't go forward to get out, other than he was making the rules at this point. He was having fun with the idea of me driving finally, so I learned to back and back.

In one yard there where even two pet Brahma Bulls! The yard owners insisted that we get close and pet their little babies (each one with a set of horns spreading 6-8 feet and probably weighing in at 2 tons or more). They were very docile, but I just couldn't relax while in the yard with them. The owners laughingly joked about how they were the best security they had ever had. Because since they started keeping them in with the pipe, nothing had gone missing. I can tell you they were a HUGE distraction as I was trying to concentrate on getting out of that yard. I certainly wouldn't ever think of entering their area without the owners around!

There was one time when we delivered into a yard in PA where he had gone to check in with the yard manager and left me in the truck. He was standing on the other side of the yard when he whistled and waived for me to come over. Of course I didn't hesitate to comply, after all it was the right direction, forward! To my horror as I drove over, I see him and the other guy laughing! What I didn't know was the yard manager couldn't see inside the cab of the truck, so he didn't know I was there. He believed it for a brief moment when my husband told him he had a remote controlled truck that responded to a whistles and hand commands. Ever since then we have had a great time being together out on the road.

Let me tell you I have never been a shrinking violet, but as a result of his training I can handle the truck! While I was learning to drive my biggest concern was how would the truck handle in an emergency situation. So we went to a skid pad for training. The Eaton Proving Grounds in Marshal, MI. It was a great time. We practiced recovering from jackknifes, going off road and lost traction. Let me tell you catching the edge of the road with one of these big trucks and recovering is not a simple maneuver! One section of the course had a 6" drop off, where you would swerve the truck and trailer off the road thru a cone marked course onto the shoulder and then catch the edge of the road and drop off 6" onto soft dirt. Then you had to get the truck AND trailer back onto the shoulder and finally the roadway without taking out the cones. It only takes once to learn that where the steer tire goes the rest will follow, QUICKLY. Even with power steering it takes a lot of muscle to get the unit back on the road. Not to mention not taking out any of those stupid cones! The first time around I have to admit I took out a few cones with the trailer tires. However the second time, I didn't hit one!

My husband's favorite exercise was when they watered down the skid pad. Then had us take a bob-tail (truck/tractor without it's trailer) toward the pad at 35-40 mph. When we hit the pad we were told to pull the air brakes (this would set or lock up all the brakes on the truck). He did the exercise first. When we hit the pad, he pulled the brakes and we spun! WHEEE!!! The truck instantly started doing donuts and continued all the way down the pad till it came to a stop!!! I was sitting in the passenger seat white knuckled, with my fingernails embedded into the dash. He, on the other hand, was smiling ear to ear and couldn't get the truck off the pad fast enough and back around to the beginning for my go around. When we changed seats, I took the driver's seat. He headed for the sleeper and jumped onto to upper bunk. I looked back at him and there he was still smiling and sitting up there looking like a kid telling me to "hit it." I made him get back into the passenger seat and put the seat belt on. I don't think he has ever really forgiven me for that ;-). As I am reading this back to him, he is still telling me how it would have been fun and there wasn't any real danger of it rolling over!!!!

By the end I was really sore from the truck being thrown around and over the next couple of days my arms developed bruises all the way up over the elbows from fighting the wheel so much. It was a great day though and I no longer feared the unknown. I know exactly how bad it can get and what it feels like before, during and after.

I can't tell you how many times this early training has literally saved both our lives and equipment. In the first two years on the road I was confronted with...

A trailer dropped right in front of me as I topped a hill on a major highway in Michigan. It was around 3 in the morning so there wasn't any other traffic on the road. I was hauling beer at the time and was almost maxed out on weight, so I quickly swerved to the left (hammerlane) and avoided it. Another reason to always be aware of who and what is around you and have an out ready to take at a moments notice (this is good advice whether in any sized vehicle). There was no way I would have been able to stop that heavy truck in time. Sometimes things are just that simple, other times they aren't.

Another night a large dog kennel, made out of 4' high chain link, fell off a trailer in front of me on the same major highway in Michigan. Again traffic was light so I was able to avoid it easily by having an out ready. But I started thinking if there was another route I could take!

Believe it or not a piano flew out of a pickup truck in front of me and smashed down on the highway in an ice storm just east of Gary, IN. I guess it was old and very dried out, because luckily it smashed into little itty bitty pieces. I say luckily, because of the ice I couldn't swerve the truck or stop suddenly and ended up driving right over much of it. None of the wires wrapped around any axles or drivelines and the only damage was a small scratch and dent in the front license plate.

In Florida a semi-truck lost air and locked up in front of me in a construction zone (of course it was pouring down rain). I had to swerve hard to the left thru construction barrels down 4" into and then back out of a shaved down lane in a construction zone (I didn't hit anything in part thanks to the cones in the exercise at the skid pad I'm sure!!!). It must have looked good, because several other semis and 4wheelers (any vehicle 4 wheeled vehicle on the highway) followed me to avoid an accident. Some of them weren't as lucky though and hit a few barrels.

Then there were the 3 vehicles coming the wrong way at me on major highways in the early morning hours, 2 cars and one semi. One of the cars (a drunk driver) came the wrong way down an off ramp onto the highway, crossed oncoming traffic into the median and then swerved back into oncoming traffic headed straight toward my front bumper. The cars scattered around me and surrounded me leaving me nowhere to go, but stop. I had already started slowing down considerably as soon as I saw the idiot, but by the time I got my truck stopped the drunken moron's front bumper was less than 5 feet in front of mine. At least he stopped and didn't keep driving into me. I guess my high beams and 6 train horns finally penetrated his drunken fog!!! I love to tell stories like this to people who make comments after seeing my train horns. I don't over use them, but sometimes this is what it takes to get some people's attention and avoid an accident. By the way I am accident/ticket free and have been driving semi's for 9 years at night when all the idiots come out to play! My husband has the same safety record and has been driving for 20 years.

Then of course there is the every night stupidity that comes with the job. Tired drivers weaving out of their lanes as I try to pass them and trying to run me off the road. More tired drivers tailgating my trailer (Some of these sleepy heads are so numb I can slow down to 30 mph from highway speeds and they will stay behind the trailer. Like if they aren't 5 feet behind my taillights they wouldn't be able to drive their own vehicle!!!!)

The list of dumb things drivers do is endless and it is not exclusive to any particular group. We have seen dumb drivers in everything from motorcycles, cars, pickups and semis, including the occasional cop. (Just last night around 9 pm in VA while my husband was driving on I64 westbound, we saw a cop car in the hammerlane with NO lights on. No headlights, taillights or disco lights (the roof mounted flashing lights). He snuck up behind a car and then turned everything on and pulled the car over.) So we don't want to hear from anyone that we discriminate. We universally makefun of all stupid drivers! Both of us could literally write a book about nothing but this and I am sure from time to time we both will return to this issue and rant a little.

I guess you all are probably starting to get an idea of who we are now. From here on out we will both be blogging about everyday and not so everyday things that happen to us while on and off the road. From the weird and wacky loads we sometimes haul, to the places we go and the people we meet...

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