Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Swift Trucking Adventure

It has been a long time since I posted anything on this blog, or for that matter on my Adventure blog.
After getting my CDL I really started working and really had no time for posting.
I'm going to post this and a few more post here at this blog and decide what to do from this point on.
I will probably just leave this one up for a while, and see if anybody is interested.

So Much has changed since I lost my job at the auction. My new job took me away from home for almost 2 years, and in Sept. 2012 my cute Girlfriend got transferred up to Kelso Wa so that is now where home is.

After getting my CDL I went to Swift Transport to see how Over the Road Trucking was.  Swift is one of a few Trucking Companies that will take green drivers and send them out with another experienced driver to learn the ropes. I went to Phoenix and spent a week there learning how Swift did things. I was trying to get into Flatbed work because it pays slightly more, although the load and unload can be hell. After Training in Phoenix I was sent home to await a driver to ride with.  I waited for almost 2 weeks before that happened.

Swift then send me on the start of my adventure, by bus.  I can not tell you how bad going from point A to point B by bus is. Smelly people, bus drivers that can't drive, long unpleasant waits. It was not fun.
I remember going out through the California Desert and this small male Asian bus driver weaved the whole way to Phoenix. I confronted him in Blyth Ca. to see if he was tired. He said he wasn't. I sat in the back and watched all the passengers heads move back and forth as this dumb ass rolled down the road moving the nose of the bus all over the lane. When we got to Phoenix the connecting bus was 5 hours late so I couldn't get to El Paso, my destination to meet the training driver, so I spent the night in Phoenix's crappy bus station, didn't sleep a wink. Long story short I arrive in El Paso 11 hours late and we had to start our training the next day.

I met the training driver a nice African American gentleman name Carlos.  Now I must admit that while traveling there I had thought that with me heading to El Paso Texas to meet a man named Carlos I would be spending the next month with a Latino Gentleman.  Carlos was a good guy and a good trainer, my one complaint with him would have been the fact that he listened to his Rap Music too F'ing loud. Our first load was going from El Paso to Providence RI. That was a pretty long drive. It June when we started this and we spend most of my time with him in the southern states where it was very hot and muggy.

You start this trucking thing thinking you will get to see some things along the way. Not so. Driving truck is basically driving down a black top road in the dark or down a tree sided highway. I heard the drivers call it the "big green tunnel", and that is what it was.

We did go through Colorado one time and we did get to stop at a place outside of Moab UT near and arch.

This was the Wilson Arch.

I have a funny story about this arch. My Trainer Carlos has this big screen TV set up right over the driver area that folded down some so he could sit back and watch movies and also see out the front window. He also had a video game console. Well one night a week or so before I took this picture we had passed through this area at night. Carlos had been playing some game called "LA Noire"  It is this detective first person shooter game that is hinged around the Black Dahlia murders in LA in the late 1940's.  It has all this creepy music and all the shooting and car chases, that after a few hours make you feel kind of spooky.
So I'm driving us out in this area and I'm lamenting in my head how it would be so cool to actually see this area in the daylight and I see the sign for this Wilson Arch. It was dark outside and we were in a canyon of some sort but I lookout the driver side window anyways wondering what the arch looked like. Just as I look out, there is the silhouette of the arch with a full moon sitting inside the middle of it.  There was this big creepy eye looking back at me as the spooky music from the game  I didn't expect the moon to be there when I looked, it had been hidden by the canyon walls. I thought about it for a little bit and figured it was pretty cool and the timing was pretty comical, let alone the whole cosmic alignment

So I drove all over the US for a little more than a month. Mean while before I left I had taken a few endorsement tests and had only had the temp paper license to show Swift Trucking and it was about to run out. The whole time I was out on the road my buddy Kevin had been calling me and texting me saying I needed to come up to North Dakota because there was tons of high paying jobs up there. I was thinking it was a long shot to go to North Dakota, and I was just about to get my own truck with Swift and wasn't sure how I could go to ND at this juncture.  Well Swift called on my last day of driving "teams" and had me in non Driver Status and had told me that it would be almost a month before they could get me a truck.

Providence anyone. So Carlos gets me back to my house in loverly Hesperia Ca and I tell the cute Girlfriend that I'm going to give this N. Dakota thing a try because Swift is taking so long.  I thought it was a long shot and cute girlfriend was not very happy about it, but it beat sitting around the house waiting and if it didn't pan out I could race back and get with Swift.

I loaded up the fuel saving Geo Metro I own and drove up to ND. Damn what a drive. I showed up there at my friends work and they hired me on the spot for about triple what I would have got from Swift.

I will continue this story on my adventure blog.  I started this blog thinking I would be on the road and it would be a good way to have my friends and family know where I'm at. My path changed and I won't have much in the way of trucking to talk about.

I will leave you with some more pictures I took on the road.
This is part of the stage for the Dave Matthews band....The stage hands had overloaded this trailer and it had crappy tires on it.  We were overweight and blew 2 tires on Dave's Trailer in West Virginia and had to wait under and overpass for 16 hours to get some new ones...we cussed at Dave every time we heard or saw his

We picked up this heave Machinery in a very crappy part of Detroit MI.  I saw some of the most ramshackle areas I saw in all of the US here.  It was sad to look at some of the old stone and brick homes and apartments from the 1920's and 30's all run down and falling down...drove this load all the way back to Phoenix.

This is a land mark in New Mexico called "Shiprock",  It is on Reservation Land and is sacred and you can not climb it. I guess the early European Settlers thought is looked like a tall sailing ship at a distance as they moved along this high desert area in their covered wagons. Shiprock is near the Four Corners area of the New Mexico.
Here it is up close. Well maybe 8 miles  There are some pictures on Google Earth you can click on of this rock that sneaky people have climbed.
A Spire of sand stone on the Arizona side of the Four Corners area.  This is Navajo country near Monument Valley that is just north in Utah. A few John Ford and John Wayne movies have been filmed in this area.

Next installment will be on the Larsen Adventure Chronicles.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A New Career

At the end of March, 2011 My Employer of almost 9 years decided that I was a bad employee. I made some mistakes true but none a hanging offense. I have a lot of friends there and a lot of them say the place has changed since I left. Warms the heart the I had a good effect at a place that had almost 500 employees. The economy is really bad here in California and a lot of things are faltering, and they are firing left and right it seems. Oh well it was their loss.
After a week of not even one call back on all the online applications I sent, I came to the conclusion that I'm not going to find work back to the pay bracket I was in. I have thought of doing some cross country trucking over the years, they call it "Over The Road" in the industry, and thought it would be fun to move around the country hopefully seeing things as you delivered things.
Back in 1995 I had a job driving a small truck and it was a blast. I drove all over the Colorado State area delivering ceiling tile. Maybe I can do that on a bigger scale.
Well to drive an 18 Wheeler it takes a special license. It is a rather complicated test to get that license too.
I started looking around for Truck Driving schools. I found some companies online that would pay for your schooling if you gave them a 1 or 2 years of driving for them to pay back your tuition. I did some research online and found a company that had an inexpensive training school.
I sent them a application and talked to a Recruiter. He turned me down do to the fact that I had been fired from my last job. Back to the Internet. I found some sites with forums on them and fell into a seedy region of information about trucking companies and their foibles.
Not that I listen to my Dad very often, but he said something once about the information on the internet, "you have to beat the wheat from the chaff", you can be lead so astray from the crap you read on the internet. I started looking up trucking company names searching if they have had problems. This of course put me on the bitchy, whiny channel.
Time out! To whom may read this Blog Trucking is not an easy job, there are rules and regs you need to follow, you will live out of a truck for long stretches of time, less than 50 sq. ft., regular sleep is long forgotten, and you don't get to be home very often. Here is the real clincher, sitting on your keester for long periods of time is not all that good for you! Do your research before doing this career. It can make a lot of money but forget raising a family doing it.
So they have these forums that people can post their experiences with what ever company they run with. Holy Crap! How can all these large companies be so bad as to have so many drivers complaining so much. Back to Dad's advice, not all of the info (complaining) is worthy of your consideration, the Chaff. Finding the honest information, the Wheat, is kind of tricky.
I'm starting to get good at finding the people that should never have gotten into trucking on these sites. The dream of high pay and a site seeing life on the road sucks them in and they find out that it is actually hard work. Also dangerous work. Weather conditions, Traffic, Fatigue, can kill drivers.
I'm kind of a big picture guy so I look at what is there and try to see if these companies are for me and learn from the whiners. A funny thing I did notice was that any trucking company name that started with, or had the letters "C" or "R" in the name seem to have a lot of complaints. I'm not saying these are bad companies but, the shear volume of complaints makes me want to steer away from these guys.
The company that turned me down was a C R company.
Long story short I found a School that was close to my budget and needs and I signed up.
Some schools I found were $5000, $4500 and so on. I have already driven some large vehicles in my 49 years and didn't need a full bore school. I need to learn and re learn some things.
I borrowed $1500 form my Dad and Mom. It sucks having to do that at my age but you just have to do these things some times. Thank you Mom and Dad. Most companies give you a sign up bonus so that money should be back to them pretty fast.
The School was in Fontana California, not too far from my old work. The Advanced School of Driving. My experience was good there so I would recommend them. By Wednesday of the first week I had my Class A permit. The rest of the week we worked on learning the testing procedure for the DMV. The next week we were in an modest older truck learning how not to grind gears and not roll over curbs.
The driving is really the easy part to learn. Shifting can be a little hard to get use to, but not a huge hurtle. The DMV test now there is what makes you sweat.
There are several parts to it and some of them are do or die.
For the non trucking people here is the tests.
First the Air Brake System Test. You have to do six test to show that the brakes work. If you miss one of these or do one of them wrong you are done. Thank goodness the DMV Test guy got a cell phone call in the middle of it. I had screwed up on one of the air pressure reading and then did one of the tests out of order. I saved myself after his phone call and passed. WHEW
Second test. Pre Trip inspection of the Tractor and Trailer. Checking and inspecting anything that could be a safety issue on the vehicle. There has to be well over 300 points on a Rig to check. You can miss like 20 or so of them. Luckily many of the points are duplicated around the truck. I missed like 5 over all. The cool part about this test is all the stuff is right there in front of you and all you have to do is point at the part.
Third test. Skills. They have a small course they take you through to see if you can maneuver forwards and back in a safe and proficient manor. One test, a parallel parking deal I never missed at the school. Murphy's Law says I have to mess that one up. I had to pull up and redo. knocked a point off but made it in the box they wanted. This test they allow 10 point before fail I had 2.
Fourth Test. Driving Test. This was actually a funny deal. The DMV Test guy was pretty cool. If you showed him that you knew the stuff he would kind of hover in a place you may have missed something, and sometimes lead you to where you need to be in the test.
We pulled out of the Parking Lot the DMV Commercial Center was in and headed out on the road. He took me down some of the tightest, skinniest roads in San Bernardino, all the while pointing out signs he had in the past had to bend back or turn back around that had been hit by one of his earlier knuckleheads. I must have been doing ok because he starts telling jokes. He started off with a few Bin Laden jokes. These large trucks have a few little things that can catch you up. One is the turn signals. They don't turn off automatically like in a car, and the noise in the truck over powers the clicking noise so you can miss that the stupid thing is on. The other is the Transmission. If you get lost and can't remember which of the 9 gears you are in you could be in trouble. So here I am not running over curbs on my turns, keeping the correct speed, leaving my turn signal on and grinding gears and the test guy asks me a trivia question.
This one was a good one. He had a grin on his face that I could see out of the corner of my eye.
He asked "What was Steve Martin's first job". I actually know the answer to this one. I figure the next look on his face was amazement. I might have been the first driver to have answered it correctly. I'm sure most people being tested are so nervous they can hardly hear him say make a left turn ahead, so when he would ask something like that I'm sure a dull stair would be produced on the tested persons face. I passed the driving test with only 2 negative marks. Stupid turn signal, and the few gear grinds I did. I now have a slip of paper that says I have a Commercial Drivers License. CDL Class A.
My next Mission is to find a good trucking company to work for.
Steve Martins first job. He worked at the Magic Shop on Main Street at Disneyland.