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Tales from a small town

Short stories about life in a small town. Non-fiction. Great reading.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


OJT: On the job training. The company I'm working for now, doesn't have any. I drive a straight truck. That's basically a semi-tractor with a huge cube fixed to the bed. The bed doesn't turn separately like a semi tractor/trailer does. Think of a produce truck - but I don't drive produce.

The company I'm at is a little family operation. The office people are great - and they are - but your "training" consists of "Here's the keys, here are the maps, the load needs to be there yesterday. Call us on your cell phone when you get unloaded."

I've figured something out: I love being a truck driver. But here's the downside, if the company doesn't provide training:

  • Break downs

One day, I back into a dock to get unloaded, and when I got unloaded, the damn truck wouldn't start. I had to be pulled from the dock. Since it was a stick shift, they told me to pop the clutch to get it going, which worked. When the guy who pulled me was taking off the chains, he says, "Damn! I'd get this checked out if I were you!" What was it, you might ask? Nothing but electrical sparks shooting out of the driver's side wheel well, that's all.

I pull out of the factory I was at, make a turn, get into the U-turn lane, make the stop to look both ways and as soon as I let my foot off the brake pedal, an alarm goes off in the cab. I look at the air pressure guage, and it went to zero. The significance of this? The truck has air powered brakes, so if you don't have air pressure, you don't have any brakes.

I call dispatch. The guy I'm talking to thinks I'm too new to judge what's a good reason to call an on-site mechanic, and he's thinking I'm just forgetting to press a button or release a lever, or something. He says, "Can you drive the truck to some big, empty parking lot, so if we have to tow it, the wrecker has easy access?"

I said, "You don't seem to understand the gravity of the situation! I don't have any brakes!"

The on-site mechanic was called. Turns out, the mechanics where I work, put the hot-wires from the battery, over the main air line. Not a big deal, as long as the hot-wires have insulation. In my case, the insulation became worn and caused a phenomonon called electrical arching. This is basically bolts of electricity randomly shooting out from the worn insulation. This caused my main air line to look like swiss cheese.

The on-site mechanic told me if I would have driven that truck any further, there would have been an electrical fire.

Another situation happened in Kentucky:

The heat guage starts to steadily rise. The red zone on the heat guage is 260 degrees, the normal operating temperature is 180 degrees. The needle gradually hits 200 degrees, and an alarm goes off in the cab. I remember dispatch telling me that this was a "hot load," meaning it had to be there as quick as I could get it, so I'm thinking, "since I'm not anywhere near the red-zone, even though this alarm is annoying, I'll just keep my eye on the guage and as long as it stays away from the red zone, I'll just keep driving till I get to a truck stop to put some more water in the radiator."

That was dumb as fuck!

You see, they failed to tell me in my lack of training, that if the heat alarm goes off for more than 10 minutes, the truck automatically goes into "engine protection mode." What's that, you might ask? It's where the freaking engine completely shuts down! I'm on a federal highway in the mountains of Kentucky (which you think would be safe,) and I'm downhill, hauling five tons of metal in the back, and I have no engine. The shoulder on the road is just barely wide enough to accomodate my truck. Just beyond the shoulder, is a drop-off so steep, you could toss a rock over the edge and count (one thousand one, one thousand two - and so on - before you'd hear it hit bottom) and I'm approaching a bridge with a concrete rail, and the bridge has absolutely no shoulder. There's nothing but jam packed traffic in both lanes while I'm riding the shoulder, and oh, yeah: since the engine's off, the power assist on my brakes isn't working either. That's not to say I don't have brakes, it's just I don't have power brakes. On trucks that big, with loads that heavy, power brakes aren't a luxury!

I had to stand on the brake, while grabbing the steering wheel at the bottom with both hands - palms-up - and do a curl with the steering wheel to get enough leverage to activate the brakes, before I either: slam into the concrete guard rail; pull into a mass of on-coming semi traffic; or go off the shoulder in the other direction, into oblivion.

I was able to stop, with about 100 feet to spare, but that was majorly intense. I called dispatch, and got the problem resolved, but I just wish they would have told me about this wonderful, "Engine Protection Mode" thing, before I ever started driving, so I would have known to pull over immediately upon hearing the heat alarm.

From here on out, I hear an alarm - I don't care if it's a bird shit alarm, I'm pulling over, no matter where I'm at.

So, why would I love truck driving, after all of that?

I remember in the factory, my favorite jobs, were ones where I was all by myself. I'm not alone, because those jobs are always the ones that require the most seniority to hold. I used to be in labor pool, where you'd fill in for people who called in sick, or who were on vacation, and that's how I got to work some of the high seniority, "gravy" jobs - which were always jobs where you worked by yourself.

Truck driving is essentially that - but with the most spectacular scenery you can imagine. You hear all kinds of jokes about Kentucky, but Kentucky has some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen - and I've been to Hawaii! (Not that Kentucky is in the same league as Hawaii, but it's damn close sometimes - surprisingly!)

Driving over the ancient, iron bridges built over a hundred years ago, when the industrial age was just kicking into overdrive, looking down on the barges and ocean liners below, seeing the rusting hulks of once-great factories along the river banks - it's all there - and truly amazing at sunrise or sunset. The mountains, hills and hollers - it's all there. It beats the hell out of the factory, because in the factory, you're staring at the same cinder-block walls and the same conveyor lines, and the same vending machines, all day long; you're stuck with the same damn annoying people, who you spend more time with than your own family, but you can't treat them like you would your own family, or you'll get fired - which makes it that much worse!

Why the hell I spent fifteen years in a factory, I'll never know!


  • At 1:02 PM, August 08, 2006, Blogger Boris Yeltsin said…

    GP: read your blog. Did you know your comments have been disabled? How are people supposed to tell you how great you are??!!

  • At 3:35 PM, September 14, 2006, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said…

    09 14 06

    Gee Boris:
    You keep on trucking and always have something interesting to write about. I hate those types of jobs with no training but love them too. If you are autonomous they allow you to figure things out on your own, which is cool. But on the other hand they can use it as an excuse to blame you for crap unreasonably! Best wishes with this stint!!! Now I need to learn from your example and get on the stick! Since my internship ended a few weeks back I haven't been working, well I have been studying like all hell but now I need to get another job like as a research assistant or something.

    Sometimes I feel like we are slaves to this job thing but gotta pay the bills! I hope you are well otherwise.

  • At 6:11 PM, November 20, 2006, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said…

    11 20 06

    I hope you are well. I see you may not have the time to blog, but I just wanna say hey. Your last email was pretty serious and I am still thinking of a way in which to respond. Grass roots movements are a good thing, but must be appropriately organized...Hope you have an enjoyable Holiday season.


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