April 14th, 2010


truck geekery

I've been getting acclimated to my new job and home life. I've been a bit discouraged about it since I'm not sure that, in the long run, I'll be able to keep doing this. I haven't been getting an adequate number of miles, and this has been with putting in 12-14 hour days, including two nights spent in the truck just because the commute didn't make much sense. If I'm going to put in that kind of time, I might as well be OTR and getting 500-600 miles per day, rather than the < 350/day I'm getting right now. I am enjoying being home more, but I have a feeling that practical circumstances are going to force me back onto the road, possibly for a few more years, but at least until January.

January will mark three years since my rollover accident. I've been denied a lot of trucking jobs because of it. Three years is the magic number that all trucking companies use to check for moving violations and accidents. In the case of my rollover, it is what is known as a "D.O.T. recordable accident" (Department of Transportation). Simply put, a DOT recordable accident is any accident in which the truck is removed from the scene by wrecker, regardless of fault. Some companies will not allow any hires of a person with a DOT recordable in the past 3 years. Some will accept them depending on the fault/circumstances and proven safe driving in the interim. To make matters worse, there is a reporting agency that all of the trucking companies use run by USIS, but known in the industry as the "DAC report". Nearly all companies report, and do background checks utilizing DAC. A company can basically report anything they want to DAC, for instance if you abandon a truck/load in the course of leaving your employment with them, accidents, altercations with customers/employees, basically anything... and they can report it however they like without any proof. The only time proof becomes necessary is if it's challenged by the driver, and the process of challenging a DAC entry is a daunting one full of paperwork and correspondence. Werner reported to DAC that my rollover was "preventable" based on their investigation. This was due largely to the citation issued me at the scene for failure to observe signage requiring high profile vehicles to exit the interstate. I never saw the signs they claimed were there. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter stating that the citation was dismissed. I guess someone else decided those signs weren't there either. Yet Werner still decided to report to DAC that it was "preventable".

As long as your 3-year commercial driving history is acceptable, you're typically offered the job. What is "acceptable" varies from company to company. Hornady obviously had a rather lax definition of acceptable, but they were a flatbed company, which notoriously has a harder time finding drivers than a dry van carrier. Online Transport hired me within two years of my roller over, but had my sign something during orientation advising me that I was on "probation" until 01/04/2011; you guessed it, the 3-year anniversary of my rollover.

As of that date in January, not only will the DOT recordable accident finally be outside of that window, but my 3-year driving history will be spotless, barring any incidents in the next 8 months. I will not just have an easier time finding a job; with my experience, I can have virtually any trucking job I want. Don't think I won't be hunting high and low for the greatest local trucking job that exists.

I have some pictures of my truck. A lot of the trucks that are in the pool of vehicles at the Georgetown terminal are relics of the old Lexington Cartage company which Online bought a couple of years ago. My truck is one of those as evidenced by the blue and green stripes on it.

It's a '99 Volvo with 935,000 miles on it. The transmission is an Eaton Fuller Super-10 Top 2 automatic. I used one of these when I first started for Werner way back in '02, for about 6 months, and have driven straight 9s/10s ever since. I like the Super-10; it's a lot easier to shift than a straight but it is taking some getting used to since I haven't driven one in so long. I was hoping to find some nice graphics to show you the difference in pattern, but this will have to do.

A straight 10-speed transmission pattern is similar to a 5-speed passenger vehicle. You shift through the first five gears, then you flip a switch on the stick (which truckers call the splitter) to put the transmission into high range and repeat the pattern. So in a straight 10, the driver is required to move the stick every single time he changes gear. On a Super-10 Top 2, the gears are paired at each position (1&2, 3&4, etc.). The splitter is used to determine which gear you are in at each position and the switch to high range is handled automatically by the transmission as you move from the 3/4 position to 5/6 position. With the Super-10, you only have to physically move the stick once through the pattern, since half of the gear changes are handled by flipping the splitter back and forth. Considering that for most applications you can begin in 3rd or 4th gear, in a Super-10 you can go from a dead stop to top end and only move the stick 3 times, as opposed to 7-8 times in a straight 10. Further, the Top 2 gears change automatically, which is great because as a trucker driver, you spend a lot of time shifting back and forth between those two gears. In a Top 2, you can get as low as 40 mph without having to touch the stick.