July 9th, 2011


mmmmm, lookin' for a truck!

After spending the July 4th weekend with welfy and her family in western PA, I took a train to Harrisburg, PA. Shaffer Trucking has a terminal in nearby New Kingstown. Shaffer is a subsidiary company of Crete Carrier, with whom I've taken a job. Since Wednesday, I've been in orientation going through the mandatory processes of starting with a new company. In addition to the things which all of you are familiar with when starting a new job, like W-4/I-9, benefits paperwork, company policy, and workplace harassment training there are a host of other things for commercial drivers. We have to pass a Department of Transportation (D.O.T.). physical, a drug screen, a road test, and receive training on things like Hazardous Materials safety.

In a addition to the standard D.O.T. medical examination, we were placed through a test to determine our ability to perform the physical duties of our job. Most carriers simply ask if you can lift 75 pounds, carry 50 pounds over a certain distance, apply 100-150 pounds of force when pushing or pulling, lift 50 pounds above your head, etc. but don't actually test to see if you can. We went to a physical therapy office where we did these things for about 20 minutes. It was a work-out, that's for sure. Some of the bigger guys really struggled but made it through. The big men were also subjected to sleep studies. A body mass index of 33 or higher was an automatic test for sleep apnea. All three of the guys tested were diagnosed as having sleep apnea and prescribed sleeping masks.

On Friday we were given our truck assignments. There was only one company truck on the lot that was available, which meant to rest of us would have to "recover" a vehicle in some fashion. At first I was assigned to recover a truck in North Carolina. A driver there had had a medical emergency. He was cleared to travel but not to drive, and I was to go get him and his truck and drive it to a terminal in Marietta, GA where I would receive a permanent assignment. I was going to go down in a rental car with another driver who was also recovering a truck in NC, so we took a company car over to the airport in Harrisburg and got the rental. When I got back, another guy in our orientation class was uncomfortable with his recovery assignment. He was tasked with taking a former owner/operator truck to the terminal in Lincoln, NE. The truck in question was a long-nosed Freightliner Classic XL.

It's a huge truck that most of the big companies no longer utilize, and therefore most drivers have no experience driving them. This was the case with my former classmate, so I was asked if I minded switching assignments since he wasn't comfortable driving it all the way to Nebraska. I told them that was fine with me. I actually drove a Classic for the first two months of my driving career when I was in training. Later, I drove The Beast exclusively for a year. The story on this truck is that the owner/operator was fired from Crete, and looking through the old messages on the Qualcomm that indeed seems to have been the case. Crete needs to get the truck back to the home terminal in Lincoln, I presume to return it to the lot which owns the title, so there's no chance that I'll get to keep it.

All in all, everything I've heard over the past two days makes me think I'll like working for this company. The corporate culture is very no-nonsense and believes in taking care of their company drivers. They don't sugarcoat anything and give you straight answers, which I respect. The drivers who work for them are experienced, with exemplary driving records, and are paid a premium as a result. In fact, Shaffer is ranked #1 in the reefer industry for safety and Crete is ranked #3 in dry van based on CSA scores. Because of this, they don't play around. If you can accept what they offer as a company you can make a premium pay, if you don't like it you don't have to work here. I appreciate that sort of mentality. Coming from a management background myself, it always annoyed me the sense of entitlement so many employees have about their work environment and the degree to which employers would bend over backward to accomodate them because they pay them shit wages and therefore try to placate them at every turn. By all accounts, Crete works the crap out of their drivers if they're willing to run, which I most certainly am.

There are however two things which might become deal breakers for me, and I'm just going to see how it goes. One of them is an equipment issue, one is a policy issue, and both are related to lifestyle. The equipment issue concerns Auxiliary Power Units (APU). In a country increasingly concerned with carbon footprints and emissions, more and more states are passing anti-idling laws. Along with fuel prices skyrocketing, all of the major carriers are equipping their trucks with APUs to reduce and eliminate idling of the truck engine, which will consume about a galon of diesel per hour. Crete advertised on their website that most of their trucks have APUs, and they do, but not the type I was envisioning. Most of the carriers utilize a small 2 or 4 cylinder diesel engine on the frame of the truck which provides HVAC as well as AC electrical outlets upwards of 1500 watts. This is what I was thinking when I came to work for them, because I wanted to get all high tech inside my cab with a big screen TV, a gaming PC and/or Xbox. Crete has some of those, but they're phasing them out in favor of battery powered APUs. A standard road tractor is outfitted for 4 heavy-duty lead-acid batteries for cranking the engine and powering electrical systems when the engine is not running. Imagine a battery about twice the size of the one in your car, then imagine 4 of them. With battery powered APUs, there are now 8 batteries on the truck - 4 of which are dedicated to providing HVAC for about 8-10 hours during breaks, which then are recharged while you're working. This is fine to an extent, as long as you never are stuck on the road somewhere for more than 8-10 hours. It also doesn't allow for any additional parasitic consumption like coolers, charging phones, running a laptop - so in reality the usable time of these additional batteries is probably much less. Also, there's no way I'll be able to power things like a 32" TV screen or a gaming rig with a 650+ watt power supply.

The policy issue is their rider program. They only allow spouses and minor children/grandchildren. One of the things I loved about working at Werner back in the day was being able to take friends on the road with me. I won't be able to do that with this company. Additionally, I had plans to take my oldest son on the road with me for a couple of weeks at the end of this month before he started college. He just turned 19 last Monday, and that is the cut-off age for children. I'm going to try to get them to make an exception for me in this case, otherwise I'm going to have a very disappointed boy on my hands. If they won't make this exception for me, I might consider a switch to another company before next summer so I can give him this opportunity. I had also planned to take a friend's son, too, but as long as I stay with Crete, that won't be possible unless they change their policy.

This morning I got my first load assignment. I'm taking a loaded trailer out of the yard here and pulling it to Ft. Wayne, IN for a Monday delivery. The trailer is already here, but all the trip info says that early delivery is not an option. I plan to sit here until tomorrow and work-in a 34 hour reset before heading west, and wipe all these useless on-duty hours from orientation off my 70 and start the week off fresh.
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    mmmm hmmmm, keep on ridin'... ridin' on and on and on and on and on and on
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