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.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tethered to dialysis no more

For the past couple of years I have written a series of articles about improving your financial health. This time I am writing you about protecting your health. You can’t drive a truck, support your family, or keep a business going if you ignore your health.

One of the health problems I have struggled with over the past 30 years is polycystic kidney disease. PKD, as it is more commonly referred to, is also called the silent killer. It affects your kidneys and quite often people don’t know they have it.

I discovered I had it when I started having elevated blood pressures and kidney stones in the early 1980s. PKD affects one person in every 500 of the general population and usually doesn’t skip generations. In October 2008, my kidneys suddenly failed, and for the next 28 months I was on dialysis.

While dialysis kept me alive until I qualified for a kidney transplant, it was no panacea. Extreme lack of energy and all kinds of other medical issues due to the inability of removing some toxins in the blood, plus being tethered to a dialysis machine nearly every day for the past 28 months, didn’t provide a very high quality of life.

On Jan. 25, 2011, I finally received the news I was seeking. A young man in his 30s from Florida lost his life and I was a match. I received the word at 8 a.m. and by 8:20 p.m. I was headed to surgery.

I came home nine days later and am currently quarantined for the next two weeks while my immune system is rebuilt to prevent rejection. For the rest of my life I will be required to take certain drugs to prevent rejection of the transplanted kidney. I will also have to have labs drawn monthly and will need to control my exposure to people who are sick.

The membership of OOIDA currently is in excess of 150,000. This means nearly 300 of you have PKD. Furthermore, parents who have PKD have a 50 percent chance of passing this disease on to their children.

I believe I received it from my father who passed away from cancer when I was just 14 years old. His father reportedly died from sudden renal failure in the 1940s. There is no simple indicator if you have this disease so discuss your family history with your doctor. If you have high blood pressure you certainly may have it.

You can live for many years with this disease unaffected, but knowing that you have it will make it easier to get on a transplant list and will allow you to plan your life accordingly.

Transplant centers are available in nearly every city. The waiting time for a kidney varies among them all. In some parts of the country the wait is five to seven years. Here in Kansas City, it’s about two to two and a half years. Mine was longer due to my size.

Kids get preferential treatment as they don’t tolerate dialysis very well. With rampant drug problems in different parts of the country, kids are becoming more prevalent on transplant lists, which mean you may have to wait longer than anticipated. When I was accepted on to the list I was told the wait would be between 12 and 18 months, so double what you are told. And don’t wait and don’t ignore your health.