Michelangelo MacGyver Saves the Day

Grapevine, Texas

KaBOOM! It’s a freight shaker!

With Van Morrison’s Real, Real Gone on the iPod, blistering heat shimmering on the road in front of me, I was cruising down US-287 towards Dallas. A few miles past the Love’s truck stop in Wichita Falls, on a curve, on a bridge, 70 mile an hour traffic roaring by me, cars, SUVs, tankers and trailers – KaBOOM!

The bang was so load I jumped in my seat. Tire? That’s the first thought. A tire blew. Trailer tire? Drive tire? Better not be one of my new $428.28 Michelin drives which are not yet paid for, I’m thinking as I guide the truck to the shoulder as quickly as possible, snapping back the sleeper curtain and shouting “Grreeeeggggggg something blew.”

A quick check around the truck showed all tires intact. Are you sure you heard a bang? asks Greg. Duh, I know what a bang sounds like. It was LOUD.

We have to get off the shoulder, it’s dangerous, too much traffic, traveling too fast. The truck needs more of an inspection. Our load is light, 17,000 pounds from Denver, Colorado. I drive on another three miles, flashers on, to the Jolly truck stop. The truck seems to be listing to port – leaning to the drive side. The gauges are reading normally, oil pressure, water temperature, the air pressure has dropped slightly but it’s still well into the safe zone.

Regularly since starting our new adventure, I congratulate myself on my genius in finding my husband, an extraordinary combination of art, science and commerce.

Today cemented his status as Michelangelo MacGyver, the true inspirations for his middle initial. Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect and engineer. MacGyver, the 80s TV crime fighter – filmed in Vancouver – who made complicated machines out of ordinary things.

I could not do this job without him. I like the driving part, the going places part, the part where I can listen, and talk, to people from all over the country with different backgrounds and interests, the Wednesday part where I put the money in our bank account. The truck? I know the basic systems that Schneider taught us, where to look for problems and what number the shop is on speed dial. When something acts up or breaks, I think, call Volvo. I don’t consider for a moment that there’s something that is fixable, as I’ve said, I’m practically useless. Old time truckers say to make money, we must know how to fix basic problems, we must carry spares because if the wheels ain’t turnin’, we ain’t earnin’.

My husband loves to figure out how things work. He likes research. He likes examining things, looking at all sides. He refuses to turn a problem over to someone else until he’s had a good look and a good go at it himself.

Friday night in Denver, the weather a balmy 65 degrees, Greg decided it was time to lift the skirts on the tractor, take a good look underneath and lube the tractor.

“Once upon a time, I was the one getting lubed on a Friday night,” Greg gleefully told me at 0400 when we switched drivers in Kit Carson, Colorado. “I never thought I’d ever crawl under a tractor.”

He’s also getting coveralls, he says.

The joints need greasing every 7 to 10,000 miles and we average almost 16,000 miles a month. One of the drivers told him it was easy and it will save $60 bucks a month. That’s $720 a year, but that’s not why he did it. He did it because he likes to know how to do things, how things work. Our repair shop, TEC Volvo Portland in Oregon, gave him a bonus after we had some unexpected work, our EGR cooler disintegrated to the tune of $1,100, in January.

They said they would show him all the lube points so he could do it himself. I could see the excitement in his eyes when he told me.  Engine TLC and lubing are huge issues for drivers. They worry that the shop has missed lube points.

He’s thinking to himself as I pull into the truck stop, I hope I didn’t do anything when I lubed it.

Greg popped the hood to see the steer tires. I turned the steering wheel from one side to the other and there it was. The driver side, steer tire, airbag was hanging by the air line. The bang was directly under my feet. The airbag didn’t break, the connection to the tractor cracked. Either way, no airbag and no more air ride suspension, our sophisticated Volvo tractor with its driver comforts now had the ride of a Schneider Freightliner, where we felt every bump in the road.

MacGyver swung into action. Into the sidebox, into his bag of tricks – it really is a bag, a small version of Mary Poppin’s carpet bag – he peers deep inside and pulls out a white, zip tie and a box cutter. He cuts the bag off at the air line and seals the air line with the zip tie. The steer airbag is the size of medium-sized backpack. The drive suspension airbags are more than twice the size.

It’s good to know the tractor will hold its air even with the airbag dangling, he says. When you see deep tire treads leading from the road to the shoulder it’s because a tractor or trailer has lost its air, when air falls to 60 (psi) pounds per square inch, the brakes are automatically activated, the wheels stop, the driver must pull, usually the trailer, off the road to safety.

Ironically, is this irony?, I was talking with a driver-fleet owner in the lounge about a month ago. He and his wife drive a Volvo and they own three other trucks in the fleet where they have employee powerseats. He was giving me tips. His biggest tip, carry extra steer tire airbags. “They’re hard to find and they go often,” he said. “If you have the bag, any TA (truck stop) can install it.”  Our last trip into the shop in Portland was $1,400, so Greg decided to wait on buying an airbag. Damn, eh. If we had it, we’d be on the road right now.

The other issue with Volvos, except for TEC in Portland, the dealerships keep banker’s hours. They close early week days, many are closed Saturday and Sunday. We lost the airbag at 1500 Central Time Saturday.

We immediately whipped out the computer – we have a continual WiFi hotspot in the truck – looked up Volvo and caught them one hour before they closed. They had ONE airbag. We said hold it. We will be there at 0700 Monday.

It was Greg’s turn to drive. The last 100 miles to Dallas he drove 55 miles per hour. While the airbag is non-essential, without it, it can chew up the tires. The road, mostly concrete, concrete roads suck, is pitted and cracked.

“Schneider’s trucks didn’t have air suspension, we’re going to feel every bump now,” he says, smiling at his victory, man over machine. “I’m thankful we don’t have a huge towing bill.”

Of course, I want the miles to pay off our Vancouver trip, I have a full fridge because we were prepared to run and here we are at the Grapevine Hilton. 

Not many truckers spend their forced layover time at the Hilton, but it’s really not much more than the Super 8 or the high falutin’ Hampton Inn, in fact, it’s cheaper than the Hampton Inn we stayed at in Atlanta last week when there was no freight. It’s a lot more value for a little more money, says Greg reassuringly and we are one more stay closer to re-confirming our Diamond VIP status.

Breakfast is included, because we are Hilton Diamond members, in the $104.16 including tax price – truckers demand all prices quoted INCLUDE tax – plus $10 in tips, bellman and breakfast server and $4.87 for my venti latte from the lobby shop and that equals 97.5 miles.

We rented a car, the two day rental starting on Saturday night at $65, was less than one day starting on Sunday. We’ll do some errands today and tomorrow, we need extra keys for the locking fuel caps, new extra long sheets, 400 thread count from Bed, Bath and Beyond – MacGyver has sensitive skin – we’ll see a movie, Greg has picked out two, we’ll stay in the truck at the terminal tonight, and on Monday it’s time to pay the yearly $550 Highway Heavy Use Vehicle tax, known to truckers as their 2290, there is no big truck parking at the IRS offices.

The tractor will be sitting outside Volvo Monday morning. Hopefully it can be fixed in one day and we’ll push off the dock with a load in the wee hours into Tuesday morning. We need to keep the doors locked and wheels turning.

2 thoughts on “Michelangelo MacGyver Saves the Day

  1. You have a great blog. I've read it all and can't wait for the next installment. So, how do you like being o/o? Did you buy or lease a truck? Is it worth it? Sounds like trucks suck a lot of money. Are you with a trucking company or does your broker get you enough loads?Lot of questions. Hopefully, I'm not being to personal.Pat

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  2. Thanks for your note Pat. The next installment is in the works, tentatively titled The Canoe, The Cabin and The Billy Goat. We are completing a week long swing through Ontario and Quebec visiting friends.We love being owner operators for two big reasons. It's our truck so it's set up the way we want and we like the flexibility of setting our own time-off schedule.Fleet-owned trucks are bare bones. We have an auxillary power unit, APU, which allows us A/C and heat without idling the engine, a fridge/freezer and microwave and an inverter powerful enough to run three computers, yes, three of them. We have also made many upgrades to improve our fuel mileage, including Michelin tires with low-rolling resistance. The stats show that for every 1 mile-per-gallon fuel mileage is improved, a team saves about $18,000 a year in fuel costs. Since purchasing the truck we've improved the fuel mileage from 6.1 mpg to 7.4.We bought our truck used last October with our savings and we're paying ourselves back with interest. Most of the bills have been for the upgrades, but we had about $5,000 in surprise repairs, which is not unreasonable considering we've driven almost 180,000 miles since we purchased the truck.We are leased to a carrier and dispatched by the carrier. So far, we're happy with the miles.

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