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.


Keep It Clean

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By Jeff Clark

Driving through the winter in northeast Wisconsin is a challenge. Keeping your truck clean through that winter is an even bigger challenge. It is rare for me to get my truck washed while on the road. I do like to get it washed when any maintenance work is done. I will also get it washed if I am using it for a Freightliner event, like an open house or a local truck show. Really I think that my blue truck does not look too bad dirty, but it looks great clean.

It has been told to me by enforcement officers that they are more likely to pull a dirty truck around back than a clean one. To them, it is a sign. The truck may not be properly maintained. I know that enforcement officers might choose you for a variety of reasons. They might see a marker light out. One of your mudflaps might be torn or missing. These officers are not stupid. They learn. They are constantly looking for signs of more serious violations. Why not just avoid the unwanted attention and wash your truck.

Clean is not just the outside of your truck. Keep any objects off of your dashboard. I had a coworker ask me how often I got pulled around back. “I don’t know, maybe a couple of times per year if that.” He was stunned. He told me that he was constantly getting “harassed”. We drove for the same company. Our trucks were similar. They each got washed every other weekend. The only difference was that he had “stuff” piled up on the dash. I politely mentioned that might be the issue. He just said that was stupid. I replied, “Who cares if it is stupid?” He just grunted and walked away. I wonder if he ever did clean off that dash. I asked an officer about that once. He agreed that a full dash is a sign of other issues and it definitely could be a factor.

It isn’t complicated. I don’t think officers expect a clean truck in the days following a snowstorm. They get that. They can also tell if a truck has not been washed in months. That makes me wonder how the truck has been maintained. I would imagine that the same thought goes through the mind of the officer.

Beating the Winter Blues

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By Joey Slaughter

Winter can be a dark, lonely time for many people. There’s even a depressive disorder called SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder that is usually associated with the “winter blues.” It’s definitely a real thing that many people suffer from each year. Identifying the problem is the first step in fighting it.

In my reading on this subject, I’ve discovered many ways to fight this form of depression that I’ve used successfully. Here are some tips:

  • Increase your Vitamin D3.
  • Get outside in the sun as much as you can.
  • Expose as much skin as you can to the sunlight; it’s truly healing.
  • Remove sunglasses periodically. Your eyes and brain need the full spectrum of light to function normally.
  • Exercise. We produce endorphins when we exercise which trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.
  • Try sunlamps. I’ve heard of people successfully using these that live in northern climates. Some people I know swear by tanning beds during the winter but consult your doctor on that.

Sunlight is the key to beating the winter blues. Get as much of it as you can. Rearrange your day to be the most active when the sun is out. When I’m on the road, I check the sunrise and sunset times every day in order to schedule my day. I’ll even cut my drive day short at times in order to stay on my solar schedule.

9 Things Truckers Know To Be True

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By Joey Slaughter

  1. Getting that stomach pain and the nearest rest area or truck stop is 50 miles away.
  2. Your dispatcher says “I think they close at 5, but if you get there a little after they’ll probably unload you”.
  3. Whatever truck you pull behind in the fuel lane, that driver will go and get something to eat after he pays for fuel.
  4. You’re at the end of your day and have chosen a truck stop to rest for the night and there’s not a parking place in site.
  5. The rest area parking lots smell like ammonia for some reason. Wow, it must be clean!
  6. You park at the very back of the truck stop to have peace and quiet, then a loud reefer pulls up beside you.
  7. You know the Subway menu better than the employees do.
  8. Sometimes you forget what state you’re in.
  9. When you see a cheerful truck stop employee, you know they’re new.