Thursday, May 29, 2014

Truck Drivers lend Publicity to Missing Persons



Every year the Merced County Sharriff's Office goes around to local truck stops, and asks Truck Drivers if they could put a missing persons poster on the back of their trailer. Deputy Tighe made a phone call to Crete to get the nod. Then another Deputy climbed up and posted it.

This effort is funded by The Polly Klaas Foundation (www.pollyklaas.org). There are a lot of missing persons on the Foundation's web site and you'd be doing the families a service to look through as many photos as you can. Try to see if any of the missing people look familiar. It's not just going to help with people you've seen recently, but, also one of the photos might be somebody you saw 10 or 20 years ago. And that type of information can potentially crack a case wide open for the Detectives and families of the missing.

This particular poster gives publicity to Missing Person Vanessa Smith. Missing since May 31st, 1997. Vanessa left her home in Wilton, CA at 7:00 PM and never returned home. Her walking stick was found along the path she usually takes. Vanessa was last seen wearing a light blue dress with an elastic waist and metal buttons.

The lead detective for this case is Det. Micah Blawley 209-385-7472 ex 4989.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Afternoon with Faxon ARAK-21 and Bushmaster AR-15

ARAK-21 new-in-box w/EOTech HHS1, (above) M4A2 Upper Reciever

I bought 3 Bushmaster Stripped Lowers 16 years ago. I built one into a combat rifle for myself, and have since used the other 2 stripped lowers to built combat rifles for friends. Specced out the way they wanted them. Then sold it to them at cost.

Before becoming a truck driver I was never really able to afford anything beyond the iron sights. So with this year's tax refund I figured it was time to give my combat rifle some upgrades. But I realized early on that all the upgrades I ordered would leave a lot of residual parts, and going from those residual parts to a completed rifle would not be much of a stretch. All I was missing was the stripped lower and lower parts kit. So I got those ordered when I was on the road.

I was going to sell the older completed AR-15, but, my Mom and Dad have since asked to have it around at their house in Phoenix.

For the new build I picked Faxon Firearm's ARAK-21 for my Upper Receiver. Faxon is not new to machining, but, the Firearms branch is 2 years new. I noticed that it's getting some stellar reviews in what few periodicals have been hands-on with it so far. For my sight solution I picked EOTech's HHS1 Hybrid Holographic Sight and 3x Scope (G33.STS). This was developed for our military a few years ago. More Information: http://www.eotechinc.com/. The forward assist and weapon light is from Surefire (http://www.surefire.com/). How important is a Weapon Light? Answer: http://youtu.be/tJf_xl3VlLU

I was planning on building the AR-15 on camera, starting with the stripped lower. When I got to my Hometime to start the build I found that not all lower receiver parts made it into my parts order(s). So I used the Bushmaster lower I built 16 years ago for all the new upgrades. Maybe I can do the build project later this year?


We went to the range to have fun with the new ARAK-21. With 5 cameras rolling (2 Camera Glasses) we filmed 4.6 hours. I got that vetted down to 8 minutes and change.

It originally included what would be a 5 minute intro and narrative. "I got to looking over you folks subscribing to my Channel," is how I wanted to start narrating it. "Most of you are truck drivers. And most of you are into guns. I find myself in good company amongst you folks." Say a few more paragraphs - then I'd move to build the combat rifle in front of a Chroma Key so that I could put quotes from the Framers in the black background.

But, that all got deleted because of the missing lower receiver parts. You can see the start of the deleted scene here [1m3s]: Deleted Scene on YouTube. I worked a long time getting this to look as good as it does. Please watch it.


We brought a new shooter onto the range with us. For the first time handling and firing a gun - she seems to have a natural talent for it. She handled my Glock .45 with excellent control both left and right hand. Very tight group - double and single hand. The Glock 21 and ARAK-21 seemed to be a good fit for her. She thoroughly enjoyed shooting the ARAK-21. And I got just as much a kick watching the enjoyment she experienced.

The ARAK-21 was a pretty awesome upper. There's no muzzle rise at all when I dropped a 30-round magazine downrange in 3 seconds. We had an issue with the firing pen not making contact with the bullet after 90 rounds or so - towards the end of our shoot. I kept having to pull the bolt to fiddle with it. I don't know enough about the ARAK-21 yet to troubleshoot it.

Before I bought the Bump-fire Stock from Slide Fire (http://www.slidefire.com/) I think I barely put 300 rounds through my AR-15 over the past 16 years. Now that I have it we're dumping what looks to be 600 rounds every time we go to the range - 2 times now. I'm not saying it like it's a bad thing. I'm just saying that it's getting really expensive. Time to start pacing myself?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Truck Drivers Prone to Bladder and Kidney Infections

Three years ago - 15 months after I started driving long-haul - I had a problem peeing for a period of 3 days. My bladder felt full and I couldn't 'go.' It was followed by a whole lot of pain from my right Kidney. At that time I didn't put the 2 issues together. I brushed off the peeing problem as a 'sensor malfunction,' and the Kidney pain as a result of the Energy Drinks I consumed.

I've had a couple more bouts of Kidney pain over the past few years of driving. During all the bouts I was consuming high amounts of Energy Drinks. I've also heard from other drivers about their Kidney pain. Each saying they consume lots of Energy Drinks too. So I kept dismissing each time as 'just a side effect.' And then cut back on the Drinks and switched a bit more to distilled water. The pain in each instance continued for a few weeks to a month.

A week ago I had the same symptoms as 3 years ago - with the inability to 'go' - for a few days. And it was followed by my right Kidney flaring up again, as it has a few times over the years. This time I'm putting the 2 symptoms together, as I realize they are related issues. It's not the Energy Drinks or a 'sensor malfunction.' It's an infection.


Truck Drivers are prone to Bladder and Kidney infections for a couple of reasons.

Obviously we sit for long periods of time. Often times being pressured to keep the load moving. And when we're not being pressured to keep the load moving, a lot of us stay in that mindset. So we're skipping by the few Rest Areas and Truck Stops we pass -- chances to stop and release the bacteria-laden bio-waist. So the bacteria multiplies. And when we sit for long enough, the bio-waste has chance to reflux back into the Kidney. Boom! Infected!

Here's another reason. Because of the job, we're often times miles - even hundreds of miles - away from a toilet. So guys and gals will store the excreted bio-waste in used water jugs (or whatever). It's a nessesity - we got no choice.

Referred to as 'Thunder Jugs' (terminology credit: Jared Pinkard) these containers give opportunity for the bacteria to multiply. Truck Drivers will often reuse the same Thunder Jug for weeks and even months at a time. And with the bacteria hanging around, each time the Thunder Jug comes in contact with the driver's skin is another chance for the bladder to become infected.

I'm trying to get home for my Hometime. But, right now I'm brokedown and having to get my load repowered/relayed. When I get home I'll get with my Doctor for some treatment. Anti-biotics are the treatment, I've read.

More Info from WebMD: Kidney Infection, Symptoms and Treatments

I've been looking forward to an AR-15 build project I was going to film for my YouTube Channel. But, right now this has a chance to screw all that up. Because of the pain I'm in. I do have an offer from a friend to take my place in the video -- if I talk him through the build. LOL Don't tell him this, but, it's been over a decade since I built one. Anyway we'll see what happens in a week or so...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lawyer Repellent: Video Documentation

The past few months have gone by rather smooth. Thanks in no small part to a good Dispatcher and Planning Team. There have not been any incidents, disasters, or problems over the past few months. With only two notable exceptions.

A 4-wheeler called Crete Safety to file a complaint against me. It took little more effort on my part than sending in my Dashcam footage of the incident to get the complaint dismissed. I have the option to press charges against the other driver right now. Because of what's on the Dashcam footage. Ironically that would not have been possible had he not left his contact details with Crete's Safety Department. Not gonna -- just saying.

The other thing is, I've been having significant difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. It doesn't have anything to do with Sleep Apnea. More has to do with the Winter temperatures. And also I can't keep my mind off the Video Games coming out next year. Grand Theft Auto V for the PC and Tom Clancy's The Division. I'm also getting pretty stoked about buying a Bushmaster ACR-SD with my tax refunds soon.

So anyways, let's get down to business...

MY DASHBOARD MOUNTED CAMERA

"Training and Documentation make for the best Lawyer Repellent."
 -Dave Davies, one of my firearm instructors


Folks keep asking me about what Dashboard Mounted Camera ('Dashcam') I use. I have been planning on writing a dedicated Blog about Training and Documentation (aka 'Lawyer Repellent'). And/or a YouTube video. But, I just haven't gotten around to it.

I use KCI Communication's SBX-1100.

I looked into buying a Dashcam 3 years ago after several near-misses and accidents (not involving me). Then one day in Nashville, TN. I came close to rear-ending a 4-Wheeler that was weaving in-and-out of lanes. He got in front of me and slammed on his breaks to make room for his next lane change. And then he nearly got rear-ended again by another truck in the next lane.

After the Nashville incident I told myself  'Okay - this shit is insane! I AM getting a Dashcam on my next Hometime.' I whipped out my laptop that night and started doing my research. There were not as many Dashcams in 2010 as there are now. So the decision to buy the SBX-1100 3 years ago would not necessarily be same decision I would make today.

It's important to write about my must-haves. So you all can hopefully duplicate my decisions when you go shopping for your own Dashcam. But, before you start reading this stuff just remember -- if all you can afford is a cheap cheesy $100 Dashcam from a truck stop DO IT! And get a better Dashcam later. I care about you guys and gals! So here goes:

Small Footprint and Adhesive Mount: I need my Dashcam to be as small and unobtrusive as possible. Every little square inch on the windshield is at a premium. Also, I'd stay away from any Dashcam that uses suction cups for the mount. As the they can break loose really easy in an accident. Find something that uses adhesive to mount to the windshield.

Wide-Angle Lens: The SBX-1100 had an option to order it with a regular 90° Lens (good for recording license plates) or a wide-angle 120° Lens for recording the 'Big Picture.' The way I see things, after an accident everybody is already going to know who was involved. So it's better to record the Bigger Picture of what happened. As opposed to recording the License Plates in the few hit-and-runs that ever happen.

GPS: Having a Dashcam with GPS Video Recording is critical. GPS gives you a Location, Time and Date stamp on the recording. And a lot of the software packages that come with today's GPS Dashcams use Google Earth. So you can watch the video playback and Google Earth side-by-side. As a byproduct of GPS recording, you also get speed and direction indicators.

Removable Memory Card: I have not found any Dashcams without a removable memory card. But, I still need to mention it just in case there are any. In any accident - involved or not - the investigators have the right to seize the video footage from your camera. So make sure it has a removable memory card. And that you have a spare card.

Most of what you'll find online and at the truck stops are single camera systems. But there are 3-camera systems where 2 more cameras are mounted near the fenders of your vehicle. Recording backwards down the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle. As well as 2- and 4-camera systems with an additional camera pointing at the driver with sound and video.

Having a camera pointing at you recording sound and video can be a very good thing. But can also be a very bad thing (see next section). If you get into risky driving circumstances because of bad weather conditions or aggressive drivers, you can start doing Narrative Driving. That's where you start talking and explaining what you're seeing, doing, and why you're making the driving decisions you make. Accident investigators love that. But, the Attorney(s) trying to sue you hate it - especially when all your driving decisions are good ones ;)

REMOTE DASHCAM VIEWING by EMPLOYERS

Like most of you who drive long-haul, I enjoy this profession because of the unparallelled since of freedom. Not having a boss looking over your shoulder; Essentially being our own boss. And having to be self-reliant for so many things. And I plan on retiring from this profession when I hit 'that age,' because of these things.

I'm obliviously a strong advocate for having Dashcams in our trucks. And I would think that any Truck Driver working hard to maintain a CSA-100 score on their Commercial Driver's License would want Video Documentation of their day. (Lawyer Repellent!) And I would think any of our Employers or Clients would appreciate that.

But, something is really bothering me. I've heard from 2 Truck Drivers now - one in my Orientation Class with Crete - about a camera system that allows an employer to log in and watch you via a remote connection. And those employers are harassing their drivers for such things as fiddling with their radio or GPS. Drinking their coffee. Even calling them up and criticizing them for their driving. It should not be of any surprise that those drivers are no longer working for those companies. I applaud the both of you!

For me, all it would take is one phone call or Qualcomm message harassing me about something my employer sees on the Remote Dashcam. Then I'd be stopping at the next nearest Safe Haven, whipping out my laptop, and filling out applications. There's a huge amount of competition by the top Safety-Rated Companies for the top Safety-Rated Drivers. And as CSA-100 committed drivers, we don't have to put up with that crap for any length of time.

There are also some pretty serious Constitutional issues about an employer having involuntary Remote Dashcams recording any part of the Sleeper Berth. The Court and/or Congress is - sooner or later - going to need to take a close look at this practice.

My message to the companies running these remote cameras: I'm going to be poaching your best drivers, and bringing them over to my company. Or at least talking them into leaving yours. Shame on you for treating drivers like that!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Minor Parking Lot Accident



"If you can make it past the first 6 months solo, you know you can make it as a truck driver." -Jim Hawk, one of my instructors.

[Harrisonburg Travel Center]

I remember my first 6 months of driving a truck solo was the most stressful. Learning to shift, following the fuel route, learning to back, the overnight parking nightmare, etc.. The most stressful was backing into a client's dock with a bunch of gluey-eyed drivers watching me. All of us went through that. And we all have a lot of empathy when we see a new Driver learning to back.


This guy missed his setup to do a straight back. So he did a U-Turn to go right into the hole. But he missed that too. When he backed out to correct, he hit my mirror. The Kenworth he was driving is not an easy truck to start his career with. Tiny mirrors. Long wheelbase. Lots of blind spots.

He got out of his truck to apologize and asked if he could just give me some money. He was probably thinking about all the dough he just spent on Truck School. And worried about his employment.

"This is just a minor parking lot accident. The procedure is for us to exchange information, take photos, and then we go are separate ways," I told him. It took all of 5 seconds thinking about that to be at ease. I figured it was his first accident and he had no idea what to do. And that's how it went down.

It took me a week to get to a company shop to get it fixed. I didn't know that the mirror pops right off. You grasp it on the top corners with both hands, then pull down and towards you to get it to pop off. It does take quite a bit of pressure though. The parts counter guy at Kansas City showed me how to do it and gave me a replacement mirror.

I realized a few days ago that Crete's Accident Reporting Kit is missing an Accident Exoneration Card. It you get into an accident with another driver - and the accident is not your fault - you should ask the other driver to fill out this card. By filling out the card the other driver accepts responsibility for hitting you. And releases you from liability.

The Accident Exoneration Card should look something like this:

EXONERATION CARD
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
I hereby exonerate and free from all negligence or blame driver and his employer in connection with an accident involving the undersigned which occurred at _______ on this date __________.

Location-
Name-
Signature-
Date-
Address-

Witnessed By
Signature-
Date-


[SOURCE: http://www.jjkeller.com/wcsstore/CVCatalogAssetStore/samples/forms/033-F.pdf]

If you don't have one of these you can print this out right now. If you don't have access to a printer you can write it out right now on a blank piece of paper. It will have the same legal weight if it's typed or hand written. You don't need to be a truck driver to have one. So print one out and put one in your car too.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2014 Crete Carrier Corp International Prostar+


I turned in my Freightliner Cascadia at Crete's Marietta Yard. The Marietta Staff told me I was assigned to a 2014 International Prostar. Just like the Cascadia, the Prostar is a pretty fantastic truck to live in and work with.


This is the 8th truck I've moved into over the past 4 years of driving. After Werner moved me to a 2011 Kenworth T660 I stopped unpacking my bags and went into this 'Refugee-mode.' It's been very stressful living in so many different trucks. Am I a transient?... Fuck no! But, I'm starting to know how they feel.

I know I'm going to have this truck for the next 4 to 5 years (that's when Crete cycles it out and sells it), but, breaking out of this refugee mindset is not something I'm finding easy. Right now my cloths are on the shelves. But, I still have everything else packed away in luggage bags. I've also been using a Sleeping Bag ever since I started this career. I'm thinking the next time I get to the Iowa 80 I would very much like to get some proper bedding and blankets.  Then maybe I can start feeling 'at Home' a little more and get these bags unpacked.

The new hybrid Optimized Idle and No Idle Cooling/Heating system* is a much needed improvement to the Prostar. The No Idle Air Conditioner has not let me down yet. It keeps the sleeper cool and the engine kicks on when the batteries need a little help. The No Idle system is meant to be used with the sleeper curtains closed. So I've been looking to order a Bed Back Rest and a Laptop Cooling Pad, for when I'm on a 34-hour Reset or such.

I can see this No Idle technology being standardized in more fleets soon. It's a win/win situation for Fleet Owners and the Drivers running those company trucks. The Driver doesn't have to sweat or freeze in the sleeper anymore. And the Fleet Owner will see a reduced idle fuel costs. And less overturn. It would probably be a good thing for the Owner Operator looking trucks over to consider it too.

The MaxxForce 13 engine uses a shifting and operating range of 1000-1400 RPM in the flats. Which is something new I'm getting used to. I've been using an operating range of 1300-1800 RPM for engine breaking. With a target range of 1500 to 1700 RPM when I'm engine breaking down Mountain Passes. I'm one of those drivers who doesn't use service breaks going down Passes. So my practice has been to pick the maximum gear the engine break can handle at that target range, without using service breaks.

This is the first truck I've driven with a fixed 5th Wheel mount. My first two Crete trucks used a locked and pinned 5th wheel. I've pulled 3 (I think?) heavy loads since I've had it. With full fuel tanks my Steer Axle has not been over 11,800 lbs. And my Drive Axles have not been over 34,000. Because of the No Idle Heating and Cooling system on this truck, I also have a 400 lb Weight Exemption in most States. So the tractor weights are good.


*I've called it a 'Battery Pack Air Conditioner' in previous posts.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

First Year Anniversary with Crete Carrier

When I Published my first Blog post on December 9th last year, I was just experimenting. I had noticed it on my Google Dashboard so I checked it out. I wrote one paragraph, two, etc... Then clicked 'Publish' on a post about taking a month of Leave. I came back to the Blog in March of this year and was a little shocked that 10 people actually read that first post. So I wrote another one.

Today it was nice to get ready for another Blog post and see my views are just about to hit 400. Most of you are looking for information about Crete Carrier Corp, I would assume. My Blog is not about Crete. I'm just writing because I enjoy it. I drive for 45 days over-the-road and then I have 6 days Hometime (was 5 days). So naturally I write more about driving long-haul than other things.

Also, I have had two words of encouragement lately to continue my blogging. The first is a suggestion that I should write about some of the places I goto. For example, two years ago I took a load through the Grand Tetons in Wyoming -- people would like to see the photos and video from that. The second word of encouragement was from a driver just starting with Crete. He said there is a lack of information on the web about Crete from Drivers. And that my Blogs can help fill in the gaps. Thank you to both of you.




FIRST YEAR REVIEW

I went to my First Year Review at the Salt Lake City yard. It consisted of watching a Safety Video and a video about Bloodborn Pathogens. I also signed the updated Job Description. When I went in I was expecting a pep-talk and to go over my numbers (productivity, safety points, etc). This would have been nice because of how little contact I get with people in this career.

When I started with Swift Transportation I knew it was just an entry-level company. So I was figuring I'd put in one or two years with them. While at the same time scouting out other companies with the focus of retiring from one of them. I looked over the websites, forums, trucker magazines, etc. Crete came out as an early front-runner. And continued to be in my top spot as I went through my three years with Swift and Werner Enterpriess.

I left Swift to get away from an angry Driver Manager. Only to find myself getting an even angrier one with Werner. And the only reason I didn't go from Swift to Crete is because I didn't think I had enough experience. And I was also a little intimidated. Looking back now I'm seeing that it was a mistake. I should have just called Crete to see what they had to say. I would have gotten the job.

So far, so good with Crete. The only hurtles I see getting to my retirement with Crete is sweating to death in the sleeper berth (or freezing), something in life forcing to me to go local, or an angry dispatcher (hasn't happened yet). I'd like to see the company start ordering trucks with Auto-shift. And I'd like to see the company start offering drivers an incentive for staying CSA-100.

UPDATED RDO45 JOB DESCRIPTION

On March 1st Crete made a couple of changes to the National (NAT) Job Description. The first is Pay Increases. You get a $0.01 raise if you drive 119,000 paid practical route miles and there are no more than 12 Risk Points assessed to you. The miles are calculated from your date-of-hire anniversary. The other change is you get to use 6 days of accumulated Hometime, up from 5. You can have a recruiter fax or e-mail you a copy of the full job description. Call them at 800-998-2221.

NEW TRUCKS COMING TO CRETE

In March, I Blogged about the problems with the Battery Pack trucks. Navistar International has been working on a hybrid Battery Pack and Optimized Idle system to fix the problems. The dedicated no-idle batteries charge while the truck runs, as before. But, with the new system the Optimized Idle starts the engine when it senses the batteries are about to give out. I have heard from 3 Crete drivers that say they now have these trucks. The next time I'm at the Lincoln yard I will see if I can get the keys to one of them. And I'll post some photos and a short review.

AUTOMATED MESSAGE ABOUT CALIFORNIA LOADS

A big 'Thank you' goes out to Crete's Information Systems for putting an automated message about scaling California Loads. For Crete Drivers who have not seen it yet, you will now get an automated message whenever you have a load going to/through California. It will ask you to have your rear Trailer Tandem axle set no further back than 40' from the kingpin before you scale.

What I would like to see next is for you folks in I.S. to program a message for all restrictive States. Based on the Suggested Route, the system needs to determine the State with the most restrictive kingpin law that the load is going through. A message needs to be generated and sent along with the Load Assignment informing the driver about the restriction.

GETTING TRAFFIC ON RAND McNALLY TRUCK GPS

For those of you who have a Rand McNally TND 720 or 520, you will want to know about this. Last week I received a message that I can upgrade my TND 720 to receive Traffic via Wifi. I already have the FM radio Traffic Receiver, but, getting traffic via WiFi will give me the whole country. As opposed to just the major cities. It's a 20 buck-a-year subscription. I took the offer.

Okay. First problem. After you pay for your subscription and use the unlock code, you get a notice that you have to download the latest map. And it's a 4 gigabyte download. I don't have to tell you that there's not a whole lotta places on the road where you can download that much data. I have a 4G prepaid connection. But, it's 90 dollars for 10 GBs or 1 month. After 2 days of thinking about it I just said 'Fuck it' and downloaded it.

Oh boy. Second problem. A lot of the menus are buggy and unfinished. Some of the menu buttons are overlapping. I feel like I'm testing beta software. And when I had the traffic data coming through the WiFi in Denver, it turned the GPS into a slug. And with both traffic and weather overlayed on the map, the GPS was a brick.

You all might wanna hold off any upgrades until Rand McNally gets the bugs fixed. I will post an update when they get things working a little better.

I LOST MY MEMORY

And in one final bit of news, the 32 GB memory card I had in my Dashcam finally bit the dust. I've had it running in there 24/7/365 for 2 years, 1 month. With temperatures ranging from -17 F to 145 F inside the truck. I'm impressed it lasted that long. It recorded several accidents and near misses. And recorded 3 trucks hitting mine in the middle of the night, including 1 hit-and-run. And No, they didn't all hit me on the same night. But, I have a feeling that they all may have conspired.