All in a Day’s Adventure…

As a Professional Truck Driver, each day is different from the last, at least in the details. In the broader sense, it’s repetitive; Pick up a load from a shipper, drive it to their consignee (receiver), submit the paperwork to the company, repeat. Sounds simple enough? Ahhh… if only.

I had the honour of meeting a friend for lunch recently, which is not all that easy, coz as an OTR (over-the-road) driver, the where’s or when’s of where I’ll be are constantly changing throughout a day. However, I was on my time at home break, so, we had an AMAZING lunch near Philadelphia. (Thank you again, mon trésor!)

This is more of an informative type post and may be a bit dry, but to any of those interested in the part of trucking that even I knew nothing about before I dove head first into this, you may find it a decent read. Even with the details I’ve written, it is still a high level summary, if you can believe that!

During our chat, it occurred to me that so many of my friends do not really see certain sides of my job. I’ve been trying for months to get a post and a video done to show you all some really interesting details of what my day entails. It’s taken me a while to get all my platforms straight in my head, meaning iPhone, tablet and laptop, so that I can move through each device smoothly. When at home, it was laptop, one and done; 24×7 Wi-Fi, laptop & hard drives always set up on a desk, papers right where I needed them, etc. On the road is quite different, because first, I just don’t have the space to leave all set up out here, and second, things need to be stowed and/or secured for driving these sometimes not-so-friendly (bouncy / broken) hi-ways and by-ways! Plus I’ve had to adapt to using all three types of devices; phone, tablet, and laptop. Then photos need to be moved around from one device to another, and I truly can only do the writing part using tablet or laptop, and uploading photos obviously is best using Wi-Fi, which I get only sporadically. I use my hotspot when I can but need Wi-Fi speeds sometimes. It took me a year and a half, but I think I’ve finally got a system figured out. I think aside from figuring out what parts of what I do need which piece equipment, was ensuring I had all the passwords and user names to each app across each device that I need to complete each task! Oh, plus learn a whole new career, and learn more coping skills to manage the all new stressors that accompany said career change. It’s actually quite uplifting that I have gotten to this point of being able to write more while out on the road now.

Starting my day…

Even though I kind of ‘roll’ out of bed and my office is literally three feet away, I still have a routine before my day starts. Plus I like to show up dressed for success. Proper attire; branded shirt if I have any of my Schneider logo shirts that aren’t in laundry bag, work boots, and hi-vis (safety) jacket or vest at the ready.

As an OTR driver, I may not get a shower *every* day, but I still wash up inside my truck, and keep good hygiene habits. Once I am cleaned up, I climb into my cockpit to review my assignment(s) and update a trip plan, which flows into a system that the office teams have visibility to. If there are any glaring timing issues I will drop a subsequent message via my in-cab tablet as an extra alert.

Trucker Requirements

Certify my Logs

We are on an electronic logging system these days, and certifying my logs means to review the past day(s) and attest that what was recorded is correct. These logs can be audited, inspected by DOT officials at any routine stop, or as requested if I am pulled into a weigh station.
I had just such an inspection last year in Montana. I had what is called a Level 3 inspection, which is to verify I had all my documentation in proper order, readily accessible, legible and accurate. I passed with no violations. This was actually more beneficial than just passing; I now have on record that I even *had* an inspection, and that I passed. If I am conveying this properly, the having of the inspection on my record as opposed to *not* having any inspections on my record, is a big plus, and then secondarily passing is of course a big plus as well.

Pre-Trip Inspection

When I am ready to roll, I get “On the clock” and perform tractor and trailer inspections to ensure all things are in operational condition. Lights, brakes, engine fluids, tires, you get the idea. The list is extensive, but after a period of time, it’s very routine and can usually be performed within 15-30 minutes. That thirty minutes is when I need to tweak anything, but that is rare, because Schneider keeps the equipment well maintained, as do I daily, so short of cleaning the glass, keeping washer fluid, I haven’t had any tractor issues at the start of a day. Once in a while I will have a trailer tire issue, but we are talking mechanical items, and mechanical items break from time to time. Even though I have no other company experience to compare Schneider to, I do often think how fortunate I am in the grand scheme that maintenence issues are relatively rare.

Lifecycle of an Assignment

Pick up an Empty Trailer

When arriving at a shipper to pick up a load, it is standard protocol to have an empty trailer so I can either be live loaded, or swap it out for a pre-loaded trailer. Lots of times, I will have picked up this empty trailer when I dropped off the last load.

Picking up a trailer

  • Inspect the trailer first.
  • Line up to the trailer
    • Height, coupler open,
  • Hook up and verify it is secure
  • Attach lighting and brake cables
  • Test all is connected and operating.
  • Raise landing gear
  • Adjust tandems on trailer
    • Tandems are the rear 8 tires on a standard box trailer, and the Tandems can slide, for legal and proper weight distribution.
    • Sometimes at the shipper they are slid all the way to the back for safe loading of heavier goods. That is not legal for roadways, so they need to be, at minimum, at the 43′ mark you see on the trailer. There are laws in each state which govern the absolute furthest back that the tandems are allowed to be, so I need to know those laws and the states I’m traveling through for each load.
  • Ensure this trailer with it’s unique trailer number is updated to my e-logs,
  • Review ETAs

Roll!

At the Shipper

  • Check-in at initial guard shack, and possibly also a shipping office,
  • Drop trailer, or dock it
    • They will assign a particular numbered parking spot, dock, or area which I will have to back it into
  • Adjust tandems when required
  • Lower landing gear
  • Uncouple lines
  • Uncouple from trailer
  • Pick up pre-load, or wait in dock for a live-load:
    • Line up tractor (as written above in the pick-up empty section)
    • Couple
    • Verify coupling was successful
    • Attach lines
    • Raise landing gear
    • Adjust tandems
    • Assure all is in order
    • Assign trailer in logs
  • Update ETAs, noting any glaring timing differences,
  • Scale load
    • This is usually done off premises at a nearby truck stop; I always use a CAT Scale, as they will legally back up their weights if a DOT Official issues a weight violation citation. What’s a weight violation? Remember the tandems I mentioned above regarding distance setting? Well, there are also not-to-exceed weight limits on each set of my 3 axles
      1. Tractor or Steer Axle (2 tires on front of my tractor)
      2. Drive Axle (set of 8 tires on the rear of my tractor)
      3. Tandems (set of 8 tires on the rear of my trailer)

Drive to Delivery

  • Repeat all of the above… Yes, AGAIN!

Easy-Peasy? Not always.

In fact Easy-Peasy is the exception not the rule. The list here is nowhere near all-inclusive, but gives you an idea of some challenges.

  • Signage/name changes
    • With mergers, acquisitions, businesses are constantly changing their names and this does not flow in real-time to a driver. After a year and a half., I have sort of gotten the gist of things and can kind of deduce what the correct business is I’m searching for when I arrive. That said though, there is no special way to “deduce” where I’m supposed to check-in, or what the procedures are for every single place. It’s a stressor out here especially if it’s dark out or at the end of my day, so to mitigate that kind of stress, I need to time things accordingly for the places I pick from and deliver to. This is going to be more specific to an OTR driver as opposed to a dedicated driver who works with a certain customer and certain region of locations; their routes are way more repetitive.
    • Then yet some other outfits do not have any signage whatsoever with their business name on it, nor directing which entrance is the truck entrance, nor where to check-in. This is beyond confusing, and I do not like this at the end of a long day, or in the dark.
  • Bad directions
    • This happens all too often due to new constructions, entrances are always being updated. Don’t forget this is a 70-80 foot long monster which only bends at one pivot point, so missing an entrance can sometimes be a very big deal. Missing an entrance on a two lane county road can take from 1/2 hour to hours just to get to a safe and legal place to turn around!
  • Small places
    • I showed up in winter to a small place, which I made the extra efforts ahead of time to ensure the lot was plowed; “Sure it is.” Yeah… No it wasn’t.
    • The smaller the customer, the more challenging, but if they expect big trucks, it may be tight, so s-l-o-w maneuver training comes in very handy, but it can be done, just takes extra time and an abundance of cautions.
  • Rural towns
  • Pre-load is now a Live-load
    • Sometimes upon arriving the pre-load is not ready, which will need either need a reschedule, or they offer to load it while you wait — the latter of which delays drive time, translating in my OTR CPM “cents-per-mile) world as loss of wages, unless they keep me over 2 hours. Again not an issue for all drivers, but for me this kind of surprise is a definite momentum killer.
  • No empties to swap for
    • The location may be out of empty trailers to swap out. Then the ‘search for empties’ begins by notifying my office, then teams try to find one at a nearby location, but once this starts, it can be be a rabbit hole, and energy killer.
  • Trailer damages
    • I must say Schneider does keep a well maintained fleet of trailers, so this is rarer but can be an energy zapper in certain instances. Tire issues are the major culprit in the instances that I’ve been delayed.

How much time do YOU think it takes on average after I’ve finally driven all the miles to pick-up or drop off? Well, at Schneider they plan 30 minutes at each location for a drop/hook. 30 minutes of non-paid blood sweat and tears in the 100F degree heat, in the 15F degree icicles, figuring out all these extra things. Now imagine I get assigned a few short hauls in 100 degree heat… I’m drenched in sweat, exhausted after fending off who knows how many surprises at the shipper or consignee with shorter driving miles in between. :0(

Bet you thought all I do is drive a truck….

Cheers!

If you have a question on any of the terminology I used, drop it in the comments!

Here’s to more Miles N Smiles!

JJ

xx

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