Multi-Talented Trucker

I-70 to Newark, New Jersey

Greg was under the truck grinning like a cheshire cat this afternoon.

He is adding truck electrician to his long list of accomplishments. There is artist Greg, computer geek Greg, now SUPER ELITE handyman Greg.

There is a row of nine amber-colored marker lights on the tractor above the steps and under the door on both sides stretching from the front door to the back of the catwalk.

They started acting up in Iowa a couple of days before Christmas. The salt, snow, rain and caustic road chemicals were taking their toll. Nothing really lasts very long on these trucks, they vibrate themselves to death. We’d hit a bump and the lights flickered, slowly but surely almost all died. Yesterday morning, two worked on the driver side and four were lit up on the passenger side – scale side in trucker talk because that’s the side the Department of Transport inspectors can see when we drive through a scale house or weight station.

Overweight is a big fine and while you’re rolling through, overweight or not, they can decide to do a once over of the driver and truck for a log book inspection to see if the driver has driven more than his allotted 11 hours a day or 70 hours in a week and of course look at the truck, an inspection of brakes, airlines, windshields and marker lights. Anything amiss and we’re not only liable for a fine, but as of this year, violations are recorded in a master rating book in Washington, DC. It’s called CSA2010.

Because as you know, it all comes down to the driver, if the truck or trailer is not in good condition, it’s the driver’s fault because she pre-trip inspects both before deciding to set out. In this business, your driving record is your ticket to success.

I’ve been sweating bullets for a few weeks about the marker lights, being both Canadian and frugal, I don’t like to run afoul of the authorities and I don’t want to spend money on a fine. As soon as it’s daylight, I turn the headlights and the running lights off, so no one can see that a few are burnt out. DOT rules say any and all lights on a truck or trailer must be operational. No burnt out bulbs. Greg got stopped outside Marfa, Texas last year literally half an hour after a headlight blew. We had a spare so the officer wrote a warning ticket.

The best way to stay out of trouble on the road, drive a couple of miles an hour below the speed limit and keep all the lights burning bright! Right now every state, county and city desperately needs cash, truckers are rolling piggy banks. They pay tickets because they cannot return and fight them.

We like the look of the side marker lights, we like the extra light it gives around the tractor, but we can now see they are going to be a royal pain!

The vibration of the truck and the road salt and chemicals wreak havoc. Greg, with the help of every piece of handyman stuff that his brother gave him, rebuilt much of the electrical harness, rewired the connections even changed some of the plugs.

Greg was up all night Wednesday working on the lights. We spent $160 in stuff including a soldering iron from Advance Auto Parts. Racing against threatening rain on Thursday and a load pickup time of 1800 it took three hours to get the final three lights fixed. He finished, ear-to-ear grin plastered on his face.

“I’ll probably need to go to a spa this week to get my hands treated,” Greg said admiring his handiwork and his workingman, dirty hands.

We’re taking time next week to have an oil by-pass filtration system installed. We have 12 gallons of top of the line synthetic oil sitting under the bunk. Once this OPS system is installed, instead of changing the oil every 18,000 miles, which is once a month for us, at a cost of $225, we will take an oil sample, send it for testing, change the fuel filter and lube the truck, probably costing $75. The sample tells us what’s happening with the oil. If everything is good, the oil can last up to 100,000 miles. The system itself cost $500 and will last the lifetime of the truck.

We’ll be back on the road March 18th. We’ve already been told to expect a heavy two weeks of freight from March 19 to April 4, it’s the end of the month and the end of the quarter.

We’re expecting to run hard, 6,000 miles a week for each week and flop someplace for a couple of days at the end of it.

In the past ten days we’ve traveled a circle route from Columbus across the northern route, I-94 through Montana, which never, ever disappoints as a fantastic drive. My 150 miles in ice fog was redeemed by sunshine, which finally broke through revealing filagree trees encased in ice and a new crop of  baby cows tottering on unsteady legs.

The Pacific Northwest is awash in color, pink cherry blossoms, yellow crocuses, purple pansies, emerald green hillsides. Once away from Oregon and Washington, there is still snow on the high passes. It’s true, snow is at it’s finest when viewed from a distance. The barren Nevada moonscape is brightened by snow capped mountains. We were a few hours behind a small snow storm through Tonopah, Nevada on the way to Las Vegas. In Dallas, through Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York there are the telltale signs of spring, but no buds on the trees.

A dull brown, not espresso or chocolate brown or coco, the worst brown, a bleak grey-brown. Grey-brown grass, muddy roads, forlorn skinny leafless trees, sun is poking through thick grey rain clouds, snow is melting, rivers are filling up.  You know when they say it’s darkest before dawn, well it’s ugliest before spring.

When the landscape is boring, bland, depressing brown as far as the eyes can see – you know spring is just around the corner.

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