Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sorry, this blog has mooooved.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Update, Long Overdue

Yup, we're still on the road and loving every minute. :)So much so, in fact, that we've abandoned the notion that we'll ever do anything else.

We've rented a large storage space and are packing up our belongings as home time allows. The house will soon be occupied by another family who will love the large rooms, the cedar paneled four-season sunroom, the quiet surroundings, the nearby services and amenities, and the excellent school a quarter mile away. We'll leave the Albany politics and New York tax machine behind and find a more financially hospitable state - and an area that doesn't get upwards of 200 inches of snow a year.

We'll leave behind family and friends, but with luck, we'll get loads that take us back for frequent visits. Living just outside Syracuse has felt welcoming and comforting and well, like home, since I moved there 11 years ago. But surprisingly, what I'll miss more is the house itself. I love that house. Love it. It's the perfect size, the perfect layout, the perfect neighborhood. I'm going to miss it, deeply.

But as Wise Husband points out, we'll be working toward building another house that's perfect for us.

For now, the plan is to live on the road, save as much as we can, and look for the perfect property on which to build said perfect house. Of all the states we could settle in, Tennessee holds our interest the most. We like the four seasons with - bonus! - a shorter winter. It's within the expedited freight lanes, which will make sliding in and out of home time much easier. The contour of the landscape is breathtaking. And the tax base is pretty favorable, especially compared to New York.

Our first purchase will likely be a 5th wheel that we can move between Tennessee and New York - or anywhere else that strikes us - as the seasons change. With time, we'll gradually build the house.

But in the meantime, we're happy to live in our sleeper and enjoy the road.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Can't Get There From Here

The expediting freight lanes are primarily East of the Rockies. We took a load to Denver last Tuesday and waited for a load out. Waited...and waited...and waited. Apparently, nothing is manufactured there that needs a quick ride out. We arranged to be bonus'd to Kansas City on Saturday, when a load came up from Hutchinson, Kansas to Morristown, Tennessee. The load didn't pick up until Tuesday afternoon, so we spent the weekend at a campground fishing, cooking out, and roasting marshmallows. We're not happy about sitting idle in Denver for so long, but the end to the week was awesome!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Zip Wash

Did you know you can wash your bras in a Zip-Lock bag?

Pour a couple of cups of precious fresh water into a Zip-Lock bag, add a tablespoon or so of laundry soap (and whatever extras you normally use - I spring for an Oxy product), zip it shut securely, then put it in a sleeper cubby where the road turns and bumps will agitate it for the next day or so. Remove, rinse thoroughly, then hang in a well ventilated area until dry (include ample direct sunlight to the drying process if the article needs extra whitening).

It can be very satisfying to creatively solve unexpected issues that crop up on a daily basis. Need room for an extra case of bottled water? If you've got a gap between your mattress and the wall, you can probably store the de-cased bottles there. Tired of sleeper stuff rattling and sliding around while you drive? Spend a buck at a dollar store for a roll of grippy shelf liner for a quieter ride.

Helga, our first truck, had less than ideal refrigeration. I travel with meds that require constant fridge temps. If the meds freeze or go above a certain temp, they're useless. And these aren't "Gee, whiz, I need to throw these out and go pick up a new pack" meds - to replace just a month's supply would cost about $1,800.00. I wrapped each syringe in a paper towel to keep them from clattering together, wrapped them in a small, flexible blue ice blanket, then put them in a snap-lock, hard case insulated cooler sized to hold a single can of soda. Then THAT cooler was placed in a soft-sided, thick walled, insulated lunchbag with two small frozen blue ice packs. The whole contraption was then stored in the fridge. The idea was that the meds would maintain a cool temp during the periods when the fridge was without power. Did it work? Well, they never froze. Nor did they remain at a consistent temp. A few times, I pulled out a warmish syringe. After nearly a month of frantic worry about med temps (and un-cold OJ and cheese and ham), we came up with a better solution. We bought a 5-day cooler, hot glued plastic tubing to the drain, then put it under the bunk. The tubing exited through an existing hole in the sleeper flooring, allowing the melted ice water to drain on its own and freeing us from the daily hassle of emptying. The hard case of meds was sealed in a Zip-Lock bag and placed on top of the ice. With maybe 15 minutes of effort we had not only solved the med temp problem, but we'd improved our ability to safely store foodstuffs.

Another simple, cheap fix that's made life easier for us is the addition of a small plastic basket above our bed to hold our phones, lip balm, change, etc. Our bunk doesn't have a shelf or cubby within easy arm's reach, and as expediters, our phones must be nearby at all times. We bought a narrow version, one that might be used to organize flatware in a drawer, with large openings on the sides. Our sleeper is finished with laminated walls, so we used a couple of Command Hooks hold the basket in place - if yours is carpeted, you could achieve the same using drapery pins.

Here's a prediction: Velcro will become your new best friend. Use it to tack things in place on flat surfaces, or to keep organizer drawers shut.

Ignore the designer's intent for a space and use your imagination. Books, maps, and magazines lay flat, so they can go in the bottom of a drawer under the things you normally keep in there - or you can slip them under the mattress.

Our sleeper has a floor to ceiling narrow closet, about 9" wide, with a large shelf separating it into upper and lower halves. It was meant to be used for hanging clothes, but its convenient location (and our nonexistent inventory of clothes that need hanging) meant that we used it for other storage, such as our laptops, packages of freight bill and driver log blanks, laundry soap, shower totes, etc. Each half offered a lot of valuable storage space, but the height inside meant that items needed to be stacked and piled atop one another. Hoss cut two plywood shelves to fit and we now have twice the storage space in that closet, and it's a heckuva lot easier to get things out and put them away, too.

Buy plastic dishpans at the dollar store that fit your cubbies and keep your socks, t-shirts, and skivvies in them for efficient organization. Why root around over your head through a perpetually tangled wad of clothing for that pair of socks when you can just pull out a tub, grab what you want, and put it back?

If your mattress is a non-standard size, you don't have to put up with oversized sheets that untuck and bunch up every time you crawl in the sack. Break out the sewing machine (or borrow one) and a tape measure, and make your own fitted sheets. It's easier than you think - if I can do it, anyone can. Or just sweet talk someone into doing it for you. Sleeping on nicely fitted sheets is worth it.

So keep an eye out for bargains on Command Hooks, over the door hooks, bungee cords of all sizes, Velcro (especially the heavy duty automotive style), and suction cups, as well as wire and plastic racks, baskets, bins and organizers. Think creatively and have fun!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Driving for Was-man

The past month's loads have taken us from Philly to Portland to Laredo. We've seen armadillos and road runners, elk and mountain goat, eagles and turkeys, Mennonites and midgets, tumbleweeds and meteors. It's been awesome. I had to scale back on the blog until we finished up with the wacko fleet owner, because I didn't want to tip our hand until she'd paid up. But it's apparent she's going to put the serious screws to us financially, so I have no reason to continue to squelch my blog posts.

Mike built a truck specifically for expediting, and has maintained it very well. Pearl is not only a robust, capable, dependable partner, but she's accommodating and supportive, as well. Frankly, I feel like she's our new home. I'd have no problem living in her full time.

Mike has paid us fully, on time every time, and has emailed settlement statements every single week. He's been very proactive, calling days ahead for state permits when necessary, gladly paying for maintenance rather than waiting until something breaks, happily splitting the cost for our personal travel, and giving us a generous home time deadhead allowance. From Day One, he's encouraged us to treat Pearl as if she's our own. As a former owner-operator, he loves the lifestyle - not just the incoming checks, but the lure of loaded miles, pressing delivery appointments, truck stop food, and the constant adventure.

We've loved this business since we left for Ohio in late January, but working for someone who invests in his equipment and employees has been an eye opener for us. What a difference it makes in his - and our - bottom line.


he's completely sane.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Annawun, annatoo

The recruiting department at Company X gave us the name of a new owner in Louisville. Mike had recently come in from the road temporarily and needed a team to drive his truck; he had a 2nd truck and team signed on with Panther, and had plans to buy a 3rd to drive himself in the near future. Hoss liked him immediately, and we made plans to drive to Louisville.

All we knew about our new truck is that she's a 2005 Peterbilt with over half a million miles and what sounded like a well appointed sleeper. After living in Helga, anything more accommodating than an army cot with air brakes would be an enormous improvement. We decided to go for it.

I'm very grateful that we spent two months in Helga. Otherwise, we couldn't have appreciated how comfortable a used-but-well-appointed sleeper can be. Mike had this sleeper custom made for his own use; it's a 96" - a full two feet longer than Helga - complete with a toilet and shower, a flat-screen TV and satellite receiver, a sink, microwave and fridge, windows (!!), and ample cabinet space. Power to the sleeper is practically uninterruptible, thanks to a robust battery bank, an inverter, and a generator. The sleeper sports not one, but two, heating and a/c systems, the larger of which throws out so much cold air that even this old Mainer gets chilled. The box is a half generation newer than Helga's, lacking of rust and watertight. The tractor, although its cab is smaller than Helga's, was built to pull a trailer and therefore has more horse. Mike gives every indication that he's completely sane.

I'm so happy, I could scream. :))


Listen up, newbies: make sure you ask the right questions.

In an early phone conversation, we asked Mindi what type of equipment she had in her fleet. She replied that the truck destined to be ours was a late model straight truck, a 2008 Hino, to be exact. The sleeper was a 72" double condo, with a microwave and fridge, and an inverter for power. As she described it, the sleeper was smaller and more basic than we'd hoped for, but we expected to work our way up and into better living quarters.

As it turned out, Helga was, indeed, a 2008 Hino. But the freight box leaked profusely and was rusty; it sported broken lenses and rewired taillights, and predated, by my best guess, the Clinton administration. The sleeper was even older. It was dark, with only a single window in the attic above the cab. Fresh air was provided by a vent on each side of the cab, each smaller than the size of a standard envelope. Less than half of the lights worked, and most light lenses were missing or broken. The built-in heating and a/c system was completely dead; heating was provided by a small auxiliary add-on unit, and a/c was, I presume, limited to what little air you could coax into the sleeper from the cab. Other than the few lights that worked, the only power to the sleeper was obtained via the inverter, which obtained its juice from the engine battery.

Hinos are purportedly built for local deliveries, not long distance. They're passionately dissed by truckers, who claim that they're underpowered, unreliable, and simply not robust enough to take a million miles of road. In response, Toyota, the owning manufacturer, offers a comprehensive but strict 3 year warranty: don't touch nothin'. Mindi took this directive to heart. Other than periodic maintenance, she made sure her trucks ran without any modifications whatsoever.

Her determination to meet warranty requirements also meant her drivers drove a truck limited to stock electrical options, which meant that, unless idling, you've got *x* minutes of power until the battery dies, and then you're fucked. We were to find that limitation on several occasions. Forget running the fridge - or anything plugged in to the inverter - for more than just a few minutes. Headlights accidentally left on? Better be back to crank the starter within a couple of minutes or she's dead, pal. Overhead light left on? Find some cardboard and start making a sign, cause you're stranded. Since the only power to the sleeper (and cab) ran off the battery, tasks that required lighting and all appliance usage were severely limited.

Convenient storage was limited to six cubby holes, each about 1/2 the size of a shoebox - although much more storage existed under the bottom bunk (not so convenient). The original curtain that closed off the sleeper from the cab was long gone and had been replaced by a suede-like square of fabric attached to the walls with - I shit you not - drapery hooks and bungee cords. The microwave was broken and didn't work. The fridge was very small, but more importantly, the lack of continuous power rendered it slightly less useful than, say, a comb with no teeth.

But at most, we'd have to deal with it for six months, tops. What was most significant was that it was the first evidence that our new owner had a much different perspective than ours. To her, this was a perfectly suitable sleeper for a team of drivers. To us, it was a test of tolerance and endurance. It was filthy, rusted, broken, and noisy, with mattresses that didn't fit the bunks and holes that let in the rain and snow.

But Helga had character, and I'll miss her. Which is more than I can say for her owner.

So, newbies, when you ask about the truck you'll be driving, be sure to also ask about the age and condition of the sleeper and the freight box, as well, or you may spend the length of your contract in a miserable situation.