Friday, February 11, 2011

Drivers need some truckin’ weather

One thing all truckers would agree on right now: We are ready for a break from the ice and snow.

Being off the road this winter through no choice of my own, I’ve been sitting here in my Lazy Boy in front of the TV watching the winter play out. Watching snow, ice storms and blizzards happening around the country. Here in the Midwest – Indiana – we are used to winter, but this year has been a real bummer.

What really gets my attention is the way the southern states are being clobbered. Georgia, for instance – seems like they have ice storms or serious snow in Atlanta on a regular basis. But not just Atlanta, it’s all across the South from the Carolinas to Alabama to Texas and Arkansas. I can remember when the threat of snow flurries would put people in a panic in cities like Nashville or Birmingham.

Trucking across I-90 and I-80 this year? No thanks.

If I were out there trucking right now, I would have a hard time following my normal game plan, which was to watch the weather and take loads that would let me dodge the nasty stuff. That would be a real problem this winter; there ain’t no place to hide. Normally, I would take loads going to the South, and spend a lot of time in Texas and California. This year going to Florida or California is OK, but are you going to get there without dealing with the elements?

I’m afraid that if I were trucking this winter I would probably go in the hole money-wise. I’d be like that line in that old Roger Miller song, “I lacked 14 dollars of having 27 cents.”

On the positive side, driving a modern truck makes trucking in cold weather so much easier. Especially equipment like APUs – and yes, they are a blessing. I had one the last three years or so.

I never kept any records to try to figure out if it actually saved me any money. It saved on overnight idling fuel, of course. It also costs to keep it repaired. I never looked at the expense, because it was worth it. Forget the no-idle laws; I just hated to let my truck run. I never could understand why you would have to run a $25,000 motor to do what a $20 space heater could do: keep you warm.

With the generator I felt like I was getting away with something. On the coldest night, crank that generator, plug in the engine block heater, have antigel in your fuel and there you go. Engine is off, I’m toasty warm, my block heater keeps the engine warm, and I know it will start in the morning.

My engine is an older mechanical engine. All diesels since the late ’90s are electronic and return warm fuel to the tanks. You don’t need to worry about gelling as long as it’s running, but parked with engine off can be a problem.

Fuel gelling used to be a big problem for all of us. My rule of thumb was: Don’t worry about it until it gets to zero. It really gets serious when you would encounter that 20-30 below stuff. I learned my lesson early the hard way, on a two-lane road, western Illinois, night time and blizzard conditions. It was ugly.

After that I would sometimes get yelled at by my boss for buying so much additive, but I never wavered. One day I even got some satisfaction out of it. Driving for a private carrier with a small fleet, all eight of us were leaving the yard going to a construction site somewhere. I was the only one who delivered his load. The other seven trucks all started and headed out, but all froze up before they got out of town.

Later on when I became an owner-operator, I recall chilly evenings that were 25 below, chill factor 50 below in Nebraska, Wyoming, etc. I would dump in additives until I was comfortable, no matter what it cost. All I had to do was think back to that night in western Illinois.

Today, the sun is shining, and it seems like the brutal weather might be gonna break. And for a lot of truckers, trucking families, dispatchers and others, that sure would be nice.