How Becoming a Trucker Buddy Could Change Your Life

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

Several years ago, fellow Freightliner Team Run Smart Pro Henry Albert joined Trucker Buddy and I thought he had lost his mind. With his busy schedule why in the world would he take on a class of young students to be a pen pal with? Time went by with him telling us stories of his class, his involvement, and how good the letters from the students made him feel. In time I started suggesting things he might send his class that I thought they would find interesting. He finally said, “Why don’t you get a class?” Well, we finally applied.

There is more to becoming a Trucker Buddy then filling out an application as we first have to go through a background check and then find a teacher that will work with our operation.  We had a couple of teachers before we were matched with Stephanie.  The director of Trucker Buddy asked if we would like to work with a teacher overseas that would be mostly done through email.  That sounded perfect as we do not get home often enough to send a lot of handwritten letters.

We found out that our teacher lives in France and teaches English to three grades so we would have approximately 125-150 students each year. The first thing we learned about Stephanie is that she is very excited about teaching English and working with us. We hit it off immediately and the fun began.  Her feedback was instrumental in keeping me motivated to come up with new ideas to send to her classes. We have sent hundreds of postcards, pictures, maps, and videos to the students talking about our lives. In return, the students have taken us on many tours of their school, given us reports, cooked their favorite meals, and thanked us all in English.

In 2016 we finally took a trip to France to meet our teacher, her family, and our students.  What an amazing trip and Stephanie made sure it was not something we would ever forget. She invited us to stay at their house and go to school with her each day. On the weekend before school started we went with the family and toured the area where they live. Bright and early Monday morning off we went to school to meet one grade of her students and to go on a field trip with them. Each day we went with another grade on a field trip with the students explaining what we were seeing and asking us questions. Not all of their English was great and we spent a lot of time figuring out what each other was trying to say. That trip was fantastic and as we were leaving Stephanie said: “We are going to plan a trip to the States in two years to tour and to see where you live.”

Well, the two years are here and our teacher and her family are in the United States and heading towards our house. The family has been touring the western states and will fly from Denver to Saint Louis. While at our house no moss will grow under their feet! We will start their visit by going downtown and touring the Arch as well at the Lewis and Clark museum at the bottom of the Arch.  Next, we will tour Budweiser and I know one of the things they will like best is getting to see one of the Clydesdales that is always in residence at the brewery. After that, it will be off to the Saint Louis City Museum, and I know it will be a highlight because there are not many like it. Kids learn by doing and it is I believe four floors of fun as there are not many steps as you use tunnels, ropes, and all kinds of crazy stuff to go from floor to floor and room to room.

After a fun day of touring downtown, we will be on our way back home where I will have had a pot of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots cooking for dinner. Our goal is to have traditional food and to show what we would typically eat. This has been difficult to plan as Mexican food is usually my staple.  We will have omelets, pancakes, as well as a choice of biscuits and gravy for breakfasts. Fred, Stephanie’s husband likes BBQ and we have a local BBQ restaurant that is one of the best in the country so we will go to Big Stickies, in Troy, MO for lunch one day.

On Saturday we are planning in the morning going to Big Joel’s Safari and Petting Zoo that is run by a family and it a great place for kids and older kids.  We have been there several times and enjoy seeing how well kept the animals are. After our morning adventures, we will be back home to plan the evening’s cookout. We have invited several friends to the event and everyone is excited to meet the family from France. We are having a traditional cookout, hamburgers, potato salad, baked beans, chips, apple pie and I hope homemade ice cream. Hopefully, we get some rain and it is cool enough to make S’Mores as I think everyone will enjoy this.

On their last full day at the house, we are going to Hannibal, MO to see where Mark Twain lived and to tour around the town and to see the cave where Becky and Tom were trapped. Stephanie is a fan of all American literature and the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are a favorite of hers. I also introduced her to The Unsinkable Molly Brown and have sent her pictures of Molly’s house in Denver and now she will be able to see where she was born. We will spend most of the day touring Hannibal and then it will be back home for a fiesta. Yep, they are not leaving without and Americanized Mexican dinner at our house.

Who would have guessed from joining Trucker Buddy International many years ago would lead to an overseas trip for us and then us hosting a family from France? During the year I enjoy my interaction with Stephanie and the students and watching as their English improves. This program has greatly enriched our lives. Click here to learn more about Trucker Buddy.


How to Reduce Truck Stop Fender Benders

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By Joey Slaughter

It seems as if almost every night, I see a picture of two trucks swapping paint in a truck stop on social media. As every driver knows, parking is a serious problem. Thanks to the lack of flexibility ELDs have caused, a lot of truckers are piling in truck stops and parking in ways they shouldn’t because they may not have enough time to make it to a safer place to park.

The easiest option to reduce truck stop mishaps is to park at truck stops that have large lots and angled parking. NASTC (National Association of Small Trucking Companies) cited an insurance study when picking their fuel stops for their fuel program. They were able to identify the truck stop chains that did not have angled parking and therefore had more on-site accidents.

Below is a picture of a large truck stop with angled parking. It was probably late morning when this picture was taken due to the lack of trucks. As you can see, it has a large lot with plenty of room.  I prefer the spots on the perimeter where no one can park behind me. I also prefer corner spots on the perimeter where no one can park on one side of me. This further reduces the likelihood of an accident. However, end spots on the middle row are extremely dangerous as the traffic flow will keep trucks going by you all night long and thus increase the chance of a mishap.

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The picture below is of a truck stop that NASTC prefers their members to avoid. I have learned to never sleep in a truck stop like this if possible. As you can see, due to the straight line parking, almost every truck has to get into a “jack-knife” position to get parked. This increases blind spots and the chances of an accident.

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Why Not You?

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By Henry Albert

This past week two opportunities were presented to me that I could solve.

When traveling one over from the slow lane I encountered a spare tire and wheel in the middle of my lane. With traffic on both sides, I was forced to come to a stop. I put on my emergency flashers and when traffic was clear I stepped out and picked up the errant tire assembly. While some motorists honked, others, when they saw what I had done, gave me a thumb up. This situation could have become deadly if a small car had hit this obstacle.

A few days later I came across a rental vehicle that was trying to park. Seeing them struggle and having difficulty. I decided to walk over and lend them some assistance. We then went over some good trailering tips, ways to adjust their mirrors for maximum visibility and other thoughts to make their trip safe. They told me where they were moving to and I gave them suggestions on where to fuel up so they would not end up in a tight convenience store parking lot. They thanked me for my tips and advice and we parted ways.

All it took was a little time to move the tire and wheel out of the road as I was already at a stop as was traffic behind me. Once I moved the tire all lanes were able to move as the road was clear of the situation.

In the end, I looked at both of these items as nice trucking outreach events. Where the public got the chance to see a trucker in a better light.


Culture Shock

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By Linda Caffee

I admit I got into the truck with rose colored glasses on and no clue how to actually live in a truck for months at a time. The first truck was a Freightliner with an upper bunk that became my sanctuary.  I spent a lot of time planning what all I could not live without and Bob, as usual, made it happen.  At this time, I worked on several different types of crafts and I also needed my books to read and none of it could be left at home. Access to the internet was limited to when we parked and using dial-up or at the time Park-N-View. I was very fearful of getting bored.

My laptop, printer, and scanner were also in the truck and Bob made a shelf that hung down from the upper bunk that held everything securely. I was also reminded often that I had to be careful of what all I brought or we could be overweight which at the time meant nothing to me. We also had our Cocker Spaniel Molly who traveled with us often. The Freightliner had perfect places for her food as well as her treats. Even in her later years she always looked at the same cabinet when getting into a truck for her treat.

The upper bunk consisted of two smaller chests of drawers that were firmly attached to the upper bunk facing each other with clever latches on the sides to keep the drawers from opening. These drawers were stuffed full of my projects and I could set for hours when the truck was not moving in the upper bunk working away.

Now for the shocks to my systems and the rose-colored glasses came off. First, we were with a forced dispatch company and I always say we even though I did not drive as I was part of the team that did paperwork and took care of the Qualcomm. Bob drove and I took care of the rest including spotting for him when needed which was also another riot as I was not really good at this. Bob would watch my legs as he usually could not see much else and when I started jumping up and down he stopped. After I learned to back the trailer I became much better at spotting for him.

My first trip from our very small town in southwest Kansas all of the way to Boston and I was petrified of all of the people and traffic. When we stopped at my first big truck stop Bob stopped to chat with another driver and I headed in by myself and I remember how intimidated I was to walk past so many trucks all running and at that time I thought breathing fire and would run me down at any moment.  Lucky for me and the others around I learned truck stop etiquette quickly. Learning how to walk safely in a truck stop is a must. I was pretty upset and shook by the time I got back to the safety of the Freightliner.

Once we got to Boston our directions were horrible and thankfully a car with a very nice gentleman stopped and led us to our crazy destination. Never will forget this place and after unloading we went to another crazy place to load thankfully going back to the center of the country. This taste of these first two places has stuck with me as the only person that was kind was the gentleman that helped us find our first location. I learned that many of the people in the North East speak differently than those of us from Kansas.

Another struggle I had was with routing Bob as it was my job to read the directions and the map. I will remind you that we were from a rural area of Kansas and our biggest town we drove in was Amarillo, Texas so my experience was not good nor were many of my directions. Whoever heard of a business loop or a belt loop? Well, I learned the hard way when sending Bob down business loops as he dodged trees and I admired the quaint little shops. I learned that when we see quaint little shops pulling a 53’ trailer is not usually calming on the driver. The first time we were routed on a belt loop I had to call into dispatch to clarify what in the world that meant.

Probably the worst was the forced dispatch as well as forced routing as we went places we shouldn’t have. At that time, we knew the truck might disintegrate if we did not follow the rules exactly and I remember a nightmare of when we were routed on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thankfully some fireman caught us before we could get on the highway and helped us get turned around, and another time being routed over a mountain with signs saying NO trucks. We did not take that road.

There are so many stories that are funny now that happened to us in those first years that we are very thankfully someone was watching out for us. We both survived our start but it was not long before we knew we needed our own truck and we needed rid of forced dispatch. The Freightliner though that was our safe haven and home away from home made us want one that belonged to us.

The rest is history as we discovered Expediting, bought our first truck in January 2004, and became team drivers. We paid our dues in trucking and then started fine-tuning what we were doing to fit how we wanted to live our lives.


Back to Paper

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By Jeff Clark

It happened. My AOBRD went down. I went into work like normal. Turned the machine on. Logged on duty. Arrived myself and then recorded my pre-trip. From there I bob tailed down to my customer to pick up my load. All was well, I changed my status to on duty and went about the business of getting my papers and finding my trailer. I found my trailer and hooked up to it. Then I did my pre-trip on my trailer and all was well with the trailer.

My tablet was frozen. I tied restarting it. That usually works. Then I tried turning it off and back on. It still wouldn’t work. I reached into my cabinet and got our the old paper logs. It was Sunday and we would not have my regular dispatcher there. Safety would not be there. Informational Technology would not be there either. We do have extended services and they could email me my last 8 days, so at least I was covered. A lot of drivers do not have “extended” services and you have to make sure that if something does happen to your recording device that you have access to your last 8 days.

It has been over 5 years since I spent a whole day on paper logs. I had to remember how to fill out my log. Luckily, I had been filling one out for almost 25 years before that. It came back to me. It really wasn’t that bad, or that good either. Really it was no big deal. I drove the 2 hours from my customer and took a short break in Milton, WI. I logged the 2 hours on the driveline and then 15 minutes off duty. Even if I could not access it, I thought that the machine would be recording it. So, I logged it exactly like I was driving it and even made sure to log myself back up to the driveline.

The timing of my 30 minute break did not change much either. On a perfect day, I can make it to Farmersville, IL. My goal is to make it at least to La Salle, IL. The Dixie Travel Plaza in Mc Lean is one of my faves, and I often stop there. This day, I had my lunch packed. So, I just hit the Funk’s Grove Rest Area south of Bloomington. As luck would have it there was an Illinois State Trooper watching all of the trucks in the rest area. I didn’t take any chances, and took a 32 minute break.

The IT department was able to remotely fix my electronic logs the next day. I scanned in my paper log and my electronic log was automatically updated. The episode did serve to remind me that we need to keep a paper log on board. You will also need to access your last 8 days. Be prepared.


The Caffees’ 2015 Freightliner Cascadia

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By Bob & Linda Caffee

411,046 Miles on our 2015 Freightliner Cascadia
Lifetime Fuel Mileage 12.23

The “Caff-cadia” had some crazy modifications performed before we brought her home. She started out getting good fuel mileage and that has not changed. Between our fuel mileage and the fuel sur charge (FSC) we are very pleased with our Freightliner.

2015 Cascadia Straight Truck

  • DD13 engine DT12 transmission
  • 31,500 pounds empty
  • Axle ratio 2.5
  • Disc brakes
  • Liftable pusher axle
  • Wheelbase: 296”
  • 1 – 120-gallon fuel tank
  • 1 – 80-gallon fuel tank used exclusively for generator
  • Average load: 2360 lbs
  • Speed driven: 58–60 MPH
  • Southern half of the United States

At the first of the year, Bob took off the full skirting as we are preparing the truck for a driver when we purchase our new truck. We felt that the skirts would place to much pressure on a driver as they were very low and each dock and dip in the road had to be looked at carefully as to not drag the skirts. Every once in a while, our skirts had to be lifted to cross over a particularly difficult bump in a driveway. Was the extra work worth it? Yes, as the owner of the truck.

We are in the process of spec’ing our next Cascadia and are hoping for even better fuel mileage. The new Cascadia will be a little different than our current truck with the main difference we are going with a twin screw and a heavier front end. More on spec’s when we get the truck ordered.


Choosing the Southern Route

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By Joey Slaughter

On a recent load from Henderson, NC to Stockton, CA I was faced with many options on the routing. My Rand McNally wanted to take me on the northern route across – working my way up to I-70 and I-80. As I always do, I checked the weather in various parts of the country. I’m glad I did as there were forecasts for April blizzards!

Instead of taking my GPS’s recommendation, I chose a more southern route across the country. Interstate 40 kept me south of all the winter weather. I just had to deal with high winds and wildfires. Thankfully, nothing too bad. It’s not by chance that I had this option. Since I live in Virginia, which has a moderate climate, I have the option to go north, south or west on loads from home. I always stay on I-40 or south of it during the winter and early spring months. I’m not required to carry chains with me and I never get slowed down with winter weather. I realize not everyone has this option, but the point is to make the best business decision from the options presented to you.

Besides weather, I also weigh the pros and cons of route options based on whether or not I have to travel mountain ranges, big cities and huge events like civil demonstrations, sporting events and the like. Oversized routing makes it even more complicated. I’ve taken routes that were longer, but had me bypass three states – which allowed me to save more net money because I didn’t have to buy their permits. In conclusion, just remember to weigh all the different factors that will affect your trip before choosing your destination or route. Money, time and safety have to be considered before you leave the shipper on your way to the destination.


Career vs. Lifestyle

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By Jimmy Nevarez

When I first considered getting into driving nearly 16 years ago, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little part of me being fueled by the stereotypical “Smokey and the Bandit” or “Convoy” illusion of the outlaw open road that has wrongfully plagued our industry for so long. As fun as it may sound, running an illegal beer load from Texarkana across state lines with an irrational and truly unsafe deadline, is just not what this industry is about! It is probably better for me that I have always been more business-minded in my career goals since I was young, which helped me approach the business of trucking as a career from the moment I got into it. My approach was to get into it as a youngster and try to learn as much as I could about all aspects, both financial and operational, as I possibly could from both trial & error and learning from those that had “been there, done that” as well.

Everyone’s approach to this industry is different, which is why I suppose there are those that see being a driver as a lifestyle rather than a business. Take a very common case of the empty nester that comes into being a driver with the plan to possibly be a ‘paid tourist’ of sorts. With the kids all grown and off to college and possibly a small retirement income from another industry coming in, it might make plenty of sense for a married couple to downsize or sell their homestead and take out to see the country in a nice ARI or Bolt sleeper equipped setup together. This would be a great testament to those that trucking can be a great type of lifestyle! I have also ran into a few younger drivers that have made a good run at staying out for long periods of time, essentially mastering an effective and healthy manner in which to live out on the road, to save money over a period of time. Although a little different from a ‘paid tourist’ scenario, this method could arguably be considered a trucking lifestyle as well, essentially living in the truck.

On the other hand, you have the argument that trucking is a career. This makes sense, considering that most of us didn’t get into driving to work for free and sought out to make a decent wage in our decision to take to the open road. Whether someone starts out in this industry because they essentially have nothing else to fall back on, or whether someone just loves to drive and seeks to make some money doing just that, everyone wants to make money as a driver if they jump behind that wheel! Even if the goal of someone starting out as a driver is not to be the next mega-fleet, the decision to start driving as a way of making a living is a career decision and that lends itself as an arguable fact to those wishing to say driving is a career.

I would argue neither side of this coin, as my opinion as to what driving really is lies somewhere between ‘heads and tails’. Not just because I wanted to be the next “Snowman” if they ever remade that classic trucking movie I grew up watching to further my irrational trucking lifestyle dreams, but more because I have a great “lifestyle” afforded to me by my choice to pursue a “career” in trucking. Starting at the bottom, deciding to put myself through college while on the road, learning all I could from the “old-timers” I encountered, then eventually going out and taking the risk of building my own small fleet, has given me the lifestyle I always wanted. As with any career, I continue to further my education and understanding of what it takes to be successful and enrich my career as a small fleet owner, with hopes to grow even more in the coming years to enable a level of independence I would not have been able to dream of had I not ever gone down the avenue of becoming a driver. Trucking is in me and in a lot of what I do, both on and off the road. So my opinion is that truck driving can be both a lifestyle and career, riding side-by-side down the road, in anyone’s decision to take on driving for a living.


About Your Averages

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By Henry Albert

Part of the reason why I believe my goal of hitting 10 MPG at 70+ MPH can be achieved is due to the way I look at the components used to build the truck and trailer. Average are very important and knowing what your true averages to have a truck and trailer combination that will perform well in a wide range of operating conditions. (Click here to read about the 70+/10 project.)

Averages are very important as we use it to figure our income per mile and our cost per mile. An average is a finite number and not a range. When you ask someone what is their average fuel mileage, the reply is often given in a range. For example, they might tell you that they get 6.5 mpg to 7.5 mpg. This is not exactly the answer to the question. An average will be a number and not a range. The answer will be an exact number such as 6.8 or 7.1 etc.

Averages also become important when you order a new truck. This is because questions about speed and weight are critical issues to be discussed. The question in regards to operating speed is often answered with the maximum speed in which you plan to operate. While knowing your maximum speed and its importance, it’s also vital to know your average speed. This can be found by running a detailed engine report. The report will not only give you the lifetime average speed but also monthly and daily averages as well. Knowing your average here is very important in regards to maximum fuel efficiency. You want to excel at your average and be able to do the maximum well. If you set up a truck to excel at the maximum speed, your overall average will most likely suffer. Typically, I add two to three miles per hour to the averages on the report as to account for my in town and traffic jam mileage.

In regards to the gross vehicle weight, the most common answer that drivers will give to a truck salesperson is 80,000 lbs. This number is most likely the maximum gross vehicle weight that they plan to achieve. It’s important to know this number as the truck needs to have the capability of handling 80,000 lbs from a safety and durability standpoint. However, the crucial number from an efficiency standpoint once again will be your average weight. To figure out your average gross vehicle weight requires a bit more homework than figuring out your average speed. You will need to know your total amount of empty miles as well as your loaded miles. For example, in some tanker operations, there is 50% empty miles. The tanker truck may go one direction at 80,000 lbs and be only 30,000 lbs empty traveling back to the terminal. By adding the 80,000 lbs and the 30,000 lbs together will equal a total of 110,000 lbs. If you divide these by two, this will give you an average GVW of 55,000 lbs. I used the tanker example for two reasons. The first being that it was simple math to demonstrate. The second being many tanker operations opt for smaller engines to reduce their weight and increase their payload. I don’t often get held up by tanker trucks on the road and therefore their formula seems to work quite well.

Finally, the grade changes of terrain in which you travel are also an important factor in figuring out what components you want to order on the truck. If you are going to run a dedicated route, your dealer can run a computer simulated report using different components. If you are running 48 states on irregular routes, this would prove difficult to simulate. Instead, my way of looking at this is in the fact that most of our country is flat and where it isn’t flat the other half is downhill. The reason I say this is so that you don’t put too much emphasis on getting up over the mountain as it is a small portion of your total operation.

I hope that this helps anyone who may be ordering a new or choosing a used truck. This formula has served me well over the years in the operation of my business.

 


Visually Check Your Fifth Wheel Connection

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By Jeff Clark

Last week I had a day with a live unload, a live load, and then another live unload. This included about 500 miles of driving. My hope was to get them all done within 14 hours. By the time that I got to my second live unload it was 18:00 and my 14 hours ended at 20:00. The customer told me that they could not start unloading me until 20:00 and that I could not spend the night there. I asked if I could drop the trailer and come back and get it around 05:00. They said that they would definitely have it done and that I could pick it up at 06:00. Worked for me. I went to safe overnight parking and came back in the morning.

The bills were signed and they released the trailer. It was still dark. My trailer axles were dropped all the way back. After I backed under the trailer and got everything reconnected. I gave it the tug test and all appeared well. I still like to get a visual on my fifth wheel connection. At my age, it is not easy to crawl under the trailer and get a flashlight shined up there to see. Inevitably, I bang my head getting out from under.

So, very slowly I will pull away and get my trailer turned so that I can visually check the fifth wheel connection. On this day, the bar was not all the way across. Since I saw it, no problem. I set the trailer brakes and backed up and the connection completed. It took me, maybe an extra minute to check and properly connect. It probably saved me the embarrassment of dropping a trailer in a parking lot. The thing is that it may also have saved me from damaging the trailer and or my lines. That would make me and my company look less than professional in the eyes of our customer.

It could have been a lot worse. There have been incidents of trailers staying connected for miles. That is more likely with a loaded trailer where gravitational force my hold it on the fifth wheel. At some point, a bump in the road, or a light braking might disconnect the tractor and trailer at speed. The results can be fatal.

I know that we are all in a hurry. Yes. 999 out of a 1,000 times the tug test works. This one happened to be that 1,000th time for me. The fact that I caught it was not luck. It was a habit. Good habits lead to safety. It takes me about 30 seconds to get out of my truck and eyeball my connection. As Coach Wooden would say, “Be Quick. Don’t hurry.” Never let yourself be so rushed that safety is secondary to speed.