Friday, January 14, 2011

Hanging iron

Although I’m a card-carrying straw hat driver these days, I did pay my dues in winter driving.

The tank line I was leased to had a nice contract for about three years. There was a run from Chicago to Sacramento that was almost always available, especially in the winter, and I ended up running 50 of them over the three years.

There was a steady stream of loads going west, maybe a day apart, and trucks started getting shut down in Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming. Because of road closures, the customer would offer the option of going 300 miles out of route to drop south and run I-40 across. They paid for the extra miles but wanted the same time schedule.

I never took them up on it, preferring to slug it out on I-80. The time schedule was already tight enough for me and if the weather interfered, it ain’t my fault. Besides there was no guarantee that I-40 would be any better. And I-40 ain’t no walk on the beach in winter – more ice, many more trucks.

Actually, we led a charmed life going across on I-80. My wife, Geri, was with me on a lot of trips. There were many times when we were heading into the storms – which were usually tracking east – that we just about had our day in anyway and we would park it for the night. By morning the storm had passed and the roads were getting in pretty good shape.

Somewhere along the line I gathered up some chains, kind of an odd assortment, different sizes, etc., but that didn’t matter. I had no intention of trying to put them on anyway, just wanted something to show the man if he asked.

I almost got away with it. They throw chain controls on Donner Pass, near Truckee, pretty often and the choices are chain up, wait it out, or take another route. Sometimes it’s a short wait, other times the forecast is ugly.

There is a way around Donner. It’s about 90 extra miles, but you can usually make it work. It’s via The Feather River Canyon. It’s a lower elevation, the theory being if it’s snowing on Donner then it’s raining in the canyon. It worked for me three or four times; then one day my luck ran out. Just outside of Quincy before you start down the canyon the CHP were checking everyone for chains. If you had them, put them on or turn back. If you had no chains, you’d get a ticket and have to turn back.

I showed the man my “chains” and went back to Quincy. It was snowing big time and the local weather said it was going to continue for three days. I think I was personally responsible for ending California’s several-year drought. Anyway, out of options I bought a set of chains that would fit and a family size box of tarp straps.

About 10 minutes into this hanging iron process it occurred to me that a gentleman trucker like myself shouldn’t be exposed to something like this. I got them on. And then soaking wet and froze to the bone, I started down.

I was going down a grade; there was a car stalled out coming up in the other lane and another four-wheeler laid out into my lane to get around him. I could see it was gonna be close, even with the chains … I was trying to slow down but my trailer was coming around. Just as the car got back in his own lane, I had to gas on it to keep from losing it.

Lucky for me those chains on the drive axles got a bite and I somehow got it gathered up. At least I wasn’t cold anymore.

A year or so later I bought my last truck, hung those chains in their new racks, and they stayed right there for 14 years.

I guess you could say I hung iron three times, first, last and only.

(Photo courtesy of Bruce Wieser.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

White paper?

Dictionary.com lists 42 different definitions for the word white.

There might be just as many forms of the term “white paper.”

White papers are sometimes academic, though quite often they’re little more than marketing tools printed on white paper – used to help pitch a product or lobby for an idea.

Which brings us to a recent “white paper,” and I use that term loosely, regarding sleep apnea and a company which promises to help drivers with “their unhealthy lifestyles” (their words).

ACS outlines the seven steps its product requires of drivers so they can prove they’ve been treated for apnea.

I’ll let the “white paper” speak for itself.

“In order to stay up long hours, many drivers smoke and eat junk food to ease road boredom. The daily environment of an over the road driver can be lonely and mundane. Eating and smoking tend to alleviate some of the anxiety caused by being away from home. … Most Truck Load drivers deprive themselves of years of living due to their unhealthy life style.”

Hmmm. Rather than quote any science here, they’re going to play armchair psychologist and leap from truckers being lonely, to truckers eating and smoking, to depriving themselves of being healthy, to not sleeping well.

That’s certainly one person’s unsupported assertion.

Of course, they failed to explore major concerns of drivers that hurt sleep and stress levels; things like a lack of safe parking, restrictive idling bans, and shipper and receiver issues.

The paper goes on to estimate that 86 percent of drivers are overweight, which is up markedly from other credible estimates of 55 percent.

As Land Line Magazine has reported, ties between medical supply companies, academic researchers and others – including one U.S. Senator – have been detailed.

Because ACS is “a Xerox company,” one can’t help but think the publicly traded giant wouldn’t mind truckers being required to purchase their products.

“With ACS on the driver and carrier’s side, the chances of waking a sleeping giant is increasing rapidly,” the paper says.

Instead of publishing more, ahem, white papers – ACS would do well by truckers to get facts straight and refrain from lobbying for more restrictions drivers must deal with.

Hinting that drivers are “Sleeping Giant(s)” and judging lifestyles doesn’t help oxygen levels or sleep cycles of anyone, and doesn’t solve real problems that do affect driver health.