Fueling the truck

BOOM! Back-to-back blog entries! Whoa! We’re sitting and waiting at a receiver so I had some spare time. This is a ‘learny’ topic that’s been on my list of things to write about for a while, so here it is! Don’t get too overly excited. And grab some popcorn.

image

Feeding the beast, as I like to call it. Filling a truck up with fuel is a lot like filling up your car, but with a few major differences.

First of all, your average car holds somewhere around 12-15 gallons of gas. Our truck has two 125-gallon tanks, so we can haul up to 250 gallons of diesel fuel.

Which leads to the next major difference – the average car uses gasoline. The big trucks use diesel. Most people know this – what’s tough is learning to call the foot pedal an “accelerator” or “fuel pedal” instead of “gas pedal.” Because if you call it a “gas pedal,” (especially if you’re a chick) the boys are going to start reminding you to fill your blinker fluid. And no, there’s no such thing as blinker fluid. And no, I haven’t fallen for that one. Even though I’m typically pretty gullible… and blonde. ;)

Another difference is a very simple thing – when pulling into the fuel pumps to fill a semi, it’s important to know you’re pulling into the correct “truck-friendly” fuel pumps. First of all, they have diesel fuel. Second, there’s usually two pumps for each truck (I’ll get to that below). Third, most truck fuel pumps now have DEF, which I’ll also get to below. And fourth, the canopy clearance is tall enough for a big rig. I’ve seen too many embarrassing photos online of trucks that tried to pull into a regular car fueling station. Yes, they may have diesel, but you just might end up wedged there waiting for a wrecker to rescue you.

The process:
1. Wait for an open pump.
2. Pull up and line up.
3. Enter your information.
4. Fuel diesel tanks, DEF, and reefer.
5. Pull forward and park.
6. Go inside for receipt and leave the fueling area.

1. Wait for an open pump.
Sometimes there is an open pump and you don’t have to wait, but sometimes all the pumps are full and you do. In this case, you generally pick a truck to wait behind because space is limited and you don’t want to take up more room than necessary so other trucks can get through and/or wait in line, too. When you’re choosing a truck to wait behind, there can be a little strategy to put to use. You first look for a truck that doesn’t have one pulled up in front of it (standard practice after fueling is to pull up one truck length and park to open the pump for the next guy). This way, when the truck you’re waiting for is done, it’s clear for him to pull up, leaving the pump open for you. If there’s a truck in front of him, and the driver is inside taking a poo or something, you could be waiting a while. Another thing to look for is how far along the driver is in the fueling process – sometimes you can tell if they’ve just started fueling or are nearly done. Get behind the guy that’s nearly done. And the last thing you can look for is if the truck has a reefer (refrigerated trailer). The reefer fuel tank is on the trailer, so when drivers have to fuel the reefer tank, they pull up a short ways so the pump can reach the reefer tank. This tank doesn’t need to be filled every single time the truck does, so the driver may not even fill their reefer tank, but it’s just one more thing to look for if you’re hoping to get in and out quick.

2. Pull up and line up.
Once your fuel station is open, you pull up slowly and get your truck lined up so the pump hoses will reach the diesel tanks. As you’re pulling forward, it’s important to watch the trailer, too. Sometimes you go in a little crooked and want to be sure “ol’ Leroy,” the trailer (my trainer called the trailers “ol’ Leroy” and it stuck with me), doesn’t clip another truck or the giant, yellow, cement poles between fuel pumps.

image

Gettin full. Mmm, yummy diesel!

3. Enter your information.
Once at the pump, you first insert your fuel card. I’m not sure if it works the same for Owner/Operators that use their own credit card, or if they have their own fuel card or what – but as a company driver, we are given a fuel card to use at specific truck stops. We use only Pilot and Flying J truck stops to fuel. Anyway, we insert our fuel card, then insert our Pilot Rewards card. This is nice because it rewards you with free showers and points that can be used like cash in the store. Next the pump prompts you for the following information: Truck Number, Odometer Reading, Trailer Number, and Employee Number. It also asks if you need Tractor Fuel, Reefer Fuel, or Both. A seperate screen asks if you need to fill DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid)*. After a couple more questions to see if you need a cash advance or will be purchasing any products in-store, like bottled DEF, it prompts you to remove the nozzle and begin fueling.

*DEF, or Deisel Exhaust Fluid
I’m going to go on a quick tangent here, because the DEF thing is kind of interesting, and exclusive to big trucks, as far as I know. DEF is a solution of urea and deionized water. Yes, urea. Like pee. So don’t spill it on yourself! Anyway, the truck has a totally separate tank that holds DEF. This solution’s purpose is to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions into the air from the truck’s exhaust system. So what happens, in a nutshell, is the DEF is thrown into the exhaust system and broken down into an ammonia potion that converts everything to simple water and nitrogen, which is harmless – and that is what is released through the exhaust. So it’s emissions stuff and becoming standard on all trucks. A few fun facts about DEF: The nozzle on a DEF pump is 22mm wide compared to the 44mm wide diesel pumps so that drivers don’t accidentally put diesel fuel into the DEF tank. DEF freezes pretty easily, so the pumps are insulated with a sort of “jacket,” and the tanks are built to reduce the possibility of freezing when in the truck. DEF weighs 9 pounds/gallon, while diesel fuel weighs in around 7 pounds/gallon. (We have had to use this information when dealing with gross weight of our vehicle – and have had to refrain from filling up all the way to stay within legal weight limits.) And last, if the truck runs out of DEF completely? The truck’s power is greatly reduced until the DEF tank can be refilled. We haven’t had it happen, but I’ve read that the truck will power down and run at only 5mph until the tank is filled. That would suck at the side of the road. We do carry a jug of DEF in our storage in case we need it. If you’re all into the super-nerdy details of the emissions and the DEF stuff I’ve mentioned, that’s totally cool. This is all you’re gonna’ get from me, but at the end of this post are two references that I used to get some basics that will lead you to more details. Have a ball!

image

The DEF jacket to keep the urea snuggly-warm and unfrozen.

4. Fuel diesel tanks, DEF, and reefer.
Once lined up, you fill the tanks. Trucks usually have two diesel tanks. One on each side of the truck (ours has two 125-gallon tanks), so the diesel pumps at truck stops have two hoses/nozzles at each spot. The one on the driver’s side is the main pump, and the one of the passenger’s side is called the “satellite” pump. You first start the main pump on the driver’s side tank, then go over to the passenger’s side tank and get the satellite going. I usually wash my windows while waiting for the tanks to fill. 200 gallons can take a while! Oh, and washing windows with the super-long squeegie is tricky, but I’m getting better at it.

Once the diesel tanks are full, the pump prompts you to fill DEF if you’ve selected to fill it. If we’ve lined up correctly, we don’t have to move the truck to fill DEF. But a few times, the hose didn’t quite reach, so I did have to scoot up or back a foot first.

If you’ve selected to fill the reefer tank, that will be the last prompt. Here you’d pull forward until the reefer tank on the trailer is lined up with the pump’s hose/nozzle, then get back out, power down the reefer unit and fill up the tank. And don’t forget to restart the reefer when you’re done!

To spot a reefer unit out on the road, look for a cylindrical tank hanging below the trailer just behind the landing gear, or the actual refrigerating unit attached to the front of the trailer (behind the tractor). At night, you’ll see a small green light on the trailer’s nose (front) on the driver’s side. Green means the reefer is running properly. If it turns yellow, service is needed asap. If you’re hauling something like raw meat or frozen foods, you want to be sure it stays at the temperature it’s supposed to!

image

The green reefer light indicating all is well! Our cheese is staying at a nice, cool 34 degrees.

5. Pull forward and park.
Once all the fueling is completed, you pull forward leaving enough room for someone to pull into the pump behind you. You can also go and park in the lot, but usually when we’re fueling, we just need to run in, pee, and grab our receipt. This is what this space is for.

Note – It’s kind of a sin in the trucking world to use the fuel line for anything other than fueling purposes. Truckers have been known to pull through and use it as parking spot for their breaks instead of using the lot. I will admit that we have pulled in and parked to run in for a quick pee – but we ONLY do this when we know we’re going to be in and out within minutes, the fuel island is pretty much empty and we are certain we won’t hold anyone up. I may get blasted for admitting to that – because hey… a sin’s a sin, even in trucking.

image

Don't be "that" guy.

6. Go inside for receipt and leave the fueling area.
Don’t lollygag. After fueling you go inside, be quick about restroom breaks and coffee fill-ups, head to the driver kiosk, swipe your rewards card, select “print receipt,” and move on so other truckers can continue to filter through the pumps without any major hold-ups. If we’re going to use a shower or need a longer break, we’ll always go straight past the fuel parking and just back into a spot in the lot and go in from there.

So that’s the process of “feeding the beast.” I know I can be a little long-winded, but trust me, it could’ve been worse! I just started reading about the two types of diesel – #1 and #2. When it gets freezing-cold outside, diesel fuel can gel up. #1 gels at a lower temperature than #2, so there’s additives, blends and even more that goes into it. The learning process is never over in this industry! I am no expert, and will most likely never claim to be one, but I’ll share stuff I think I know, anyway. Now if you ever need to fuel up a big rig, you’ll know the routine!

Keep ‘er rollin’ rubber-side down!

image

Adam running the satellite pump.

*If you’re curious to read the more techy stuff about DEF, here’s the two basic references I used for my lame-o description. Go nuts and let me know if I missed some major point. :)

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_exhaust_fluid

http://www.discoverdef.com/def-overview/faq/#runout


Tonight I love my and Adam’s squeegie wars when we’re both awake for a fuel-up. We can’t see each other over the truck, but we’ll both be squeegie-ing our side of the windshield and invading the other’s side. He’ll clean, I’ll soap over it, then he’ll get me back. I totally won last time when his squeegie actually fell off the stick and fell into our hood. Yeah, it was pretty freakin’ funny.

image

And that's only half of what we can hold! Quite a price tag!

image

Reefer fuel tank under the trailer, behind the landing gear.

image

The reefer unit/engine attached to the nose (front) of the trailer.

Advertisements

100,000 miles

image

On this last run out to California and back, Adam and I hit a pretty cool milestone – 100,000 miles driving as a team! I’ve been employed as a professional truck driver now for about six months, and it’s crazy to think that we’ve rolled these tires that far in such a short amount of time! It’s been an adventure as I’d hoped, and I’m excited for more. And nervous. It is almost winter, after all! More to come on that topic in later posts!

So much has happened in these past six months, and it’s fun to think back to where I started and where I am now. To be completely honest, I don’t feel like I’ve come a long, long way in improvement in driving, or shifting, or backing, or anything. I know I’ve gotten more efficient with some things, and I have gotten better at other things, but just a little bit here and there. I’ve still got much to learn, and that’s one of the things I like about this job – there is always room to improve on just about everything.

Backing
Backing maneuvers are among the toughest things to do with these big trucks, especially because a lot of the time people are waiting for you and watching as you try not to screw up. So there’s pressure. There’s also the heightened risk of hitting something because of blind spots. I have noticed my backing has improved in the past couple of months, and I’m getting better at setting them up (which I’ve found is pretty much KEY to a successful back). However, I still do have days when I just can’t seem to hit a good back, even in the simplest situations. But from what I see on some of the trucking networks I’m a part of, this is common – from newbies to million-milers. Some days we just can’t back for some reason. So I haven’t been beating myself up too bad. Besides, I haven’t hit anything yet, so that’s success in my book. (Knock on wood, by the way!)

Shifting
When it comes to shifting, I wish I could say I never grind a gear. I used to get really upset whenever I’d grind. I felt like I should have this totally figured out by now, but again, the more experienced truckers tell me they still grind gears now and then, too. It’s just the way it is. It keeps getting better, and my inner-self does a little dance whenever I downshift like butter to 9th as I head up a steep mountain grade. I’ve learned to do a little slip-shifting (shifting without using the clutch), but that also needs a lot of work. I can slip-shift  UP in gears smoothly up to 6th gear, but I’m still working on the higher gears. Sometimes I get them perfect, sometimes I don’t. It’s usually a slight grade or something that throws me off. As for slip-shifting DOWN in gears? I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m taking my time with learning this new technique. One of the biggest things I’ve been trying to work on is keeping the truck moving as smooth as possible, and slip-shifting helps with that – because when I’m driving, Adam’s sleeping!

Schedule
I’ve gotten used to my 2am – 2pm schedule. I like it quite a lot. It’s still really tough to start out after time at home when I throw myself back into a “normal” schedule with the rest of the world, but I know what to expect now, at least. When I start out after time at home, I just plan in a couple of naps in throughout my shift. Crawling back in the bunk and cuddling up next to Adam for 15-20 minutes (or an hour) in the middle of my driving shift is something I started looking forward to. Really early mornings are still the toughest for me – usually between 4am and 7am. Audio books have become my friend!

image

Mornings on the road are spectacular!

Diet
I’m doing pretty well in the diet and exercise categories. With my history of being overweight and the incredible ability to gain a lot of weight very quickly (I could be some sort of super-hero!), I’m not going to be humble here. I’m frickin’ proud as hell that I’ve maintained my weight since I started driving truck. Actually, since I’m gloating, I’ve actually lost a few pounds and have managed to keep it off. There is a small hiccup in my super-awesomeness, though, and I’ll fess up. When Adam and I are “at home,” we usually take care of the cravings we get during the week while we’re on the road, which can add up to a lot. While we’re on the road, we eat really, really well. We stock up on raw veggies, fruit, nuts and simple, healthy things to eat, and that’s all we eat. Well, unless we’re going past the Norske Resaurant on I-94 (popovers!) or heading to the Jubitz truck stop in Portland (friends, restaurant and movie popcorn!). Or sometimes Little America and their damned ice cream cones. It’s their billboards. I totally get suckered into their horrible marketing trap. You win, Little America. So we don’t completely deprive ourselves, but I think that’s probably good anyway. But overall my weight has fluctuated as it always does, just not quite as extreme as it used to, or at least I think. I don’t have a scale to weigh myself, so I base it on how I feel, look and how my clothes fit me. When I’m on the road I feel great because I’m exercising daily and eating well. At home I sort of pig out and end up feeling pretty crappy by the time we get back in the truck, and I look forward to my simple diet again. So yeah, I’m proud of myself for not gaining a bunch of weight, which was ultimately one of my biggest fears when I jumped into this career, but obviously still have things I need to work on. And I always will. That’s totally okay with me.

Exercise
I’ve learned to like exercising out on the road (usually). There are definitley days that I just don’t want to get up an hour early, and I don’t. But my normal routine is to get up and do about 15-20 minutes of exercise before I start my day. Then at night, I’ve been doing some sort of “challenge.” It’s usually like a 30-day sit-up challenge or something. Right now I’m doing a Squat/Push-up/Plank challenge, where the reps increase each day until I’ve hit 30 days – then I start a new challenge, or do the same one over (I did the sit-up challenge twice in a row). I also just started my own new challenge that I call the “Max Challenge.” I listed 15 exercises, and each day I pick one and max out on it. I do as many reps of that exercise as I can until I’m totally fatigued or can’t do any more. It’s a butt-kicker, and I like it so far. I imagine it’s going to get tougher to exercise as winter hits, but I hope to keep up the basic routine as best I can.

Our truck
We’ve had some weird things go wrong with our truck, but it’s not a bad truck. It’s a 2013 Freightliner Cascadia, and I laughed when I saw it referred to online somewhere as a “Freight-shaker.” So maybe it’s not my fault when it bounces as I back sometimes. Haha! But let’s see here… a quick rundown of a few things I can remember – we’ve had a blinker issue that took three repairs to fix, I think we’ve had three closet handles replaced, the housing on our shifter came loose and rattled like crazy towards the end of one of our runs, our e-log system ripped out of the dash and landed on the floor once, and then it got an electrical issue (we eventually got it replaced completely), a couple of clearance lights went out at different times, a small critter decided to jump into our bumper and put a hole in it, a stupid mudhole cracked the same bumper later on, and a bird tried to take out our hood mirror (and nearly succeeded!). One of the weirdest was when our pigtail (the line that supplies the electricity to our trailer) somehow got wedged under the catwalk (the platform behind the truck that can be walked on to reach things) and popped out. It must have happened as we turned a corner or something. This is a pretty important connection – without it our trailer has no turn signals, marker lights, or brake lights! I noticed it as I was making a turn into a truck stop (freak-out moment – “why aren’t any of my trailer lights on!?”), so we were able to tape up where it was caught under the catwalk and plug it back in before anything bad happened. Whew! But… again. Things might have hit us (small critters, birds and millions of bugs), but we haven’t hit anything, and we hope to continue that trend!

image

Parked for a break at a rest area.

Our company
I love V&S Midwest Carriers. It’s a great company, and I feel really fortunate that I didn’t have to wade through a few crappers before finding a place I’m happy at, which it sounds like most truckers end up doing. We landed here first, and it’s been a great experience. We got hired right away, I had an awesome training experience, our bosses and driver manager (dispatcher) are all amazing. We’ve had a few weird circumstances on the road with things like an interstate closure and waiting four hours for someone just to count our freight, but the folks at our office are always very understanding and helpful in every situation. I don’t know… I’m just really happy here, and I feel proud of the work I’m doing. Everyone at the office is encouraging, too. They let us know we’re doing a good job whenever we stop in, and that feels pretty darn good. If any truckers out there have experience and want to work for a great company, let me know – I can get you some info!

My gosh, what else? I don’t know! I got pulled into a scale yesterday and was instructed to pull around and bring in my paperwork. This was the first time this has happened to me. Usually when we get pulled in, we just drive over their scale slowly and we continue on our way. But this time, it seemed like they were pulling everyone in. I was so nervous! I didn’t know if they were going to inspect the truck or what. All they did was check our registration, ask what we were hauling, said “thank-you”and sent us on our way. Well, geez… that was easy!!

I’ve seen a few bad accidents (after they happened). The worst was a truck that drove off the road into the median and was engulfed in flames. As I drove past, the fire fighters were just starting to spray it down and there was stuff all over the road I had to steer around, so it was pretty recent. That made me tear up and gave me a stomach ache for a good half hour. I never was able to find out any information on it, though. I have no idea how it happened or if the driver was okay. The less accidents I see, the better, that’s for sure!

Something that has surprised me is that I don’t see as many weird things going on in cars as I’d hoped. I haven’t seen anyone driving with their feet, reading a newspaper at the wheel, and noboby’s flashed me yet. I’ve read funny stories of this happening to other female drivers – and I guess the expression on the flashing-girls’ faces is pretty priceless when they realize the driver isn’t the dude they were expecting. One girl said she flashed a girl back once. You won’t see me doing that, but it’s funny, anyway! I’ve only seen people picking their noses. They’ve probably seen my pick mine, too, so that’s not much fun!

So there ya’ have it. Six months. 100,000 miles. Many, many more to go. Hopefully some goofy situations that are fun to write about will come up, and no yucky situations to share. Winter will be here soon, so you can bet you’ll be hearing about that! Here’s to more burned out lights and noses being picked! Trucking is fun!!

image

That sun is so bright!! I shoulda' been picking my nose for this photo, huh?


Tonight I love being somewhere different every day. The mobile life. Yeah, it’s for me.

image

My favorite place to drive through so far - the salt flats.

image

There's snow on those peaks! Eek!

When things go right

image

A perfect driving day. We are enjoying these while we can. Soon the snow will be here. Ugh!

It feels like forever since I’ve written. I haven’t made any major wrong turns, gone the wrong way down a one-way street, my backing has improved, and I haven’t hit anything. Well, except for lots and lots of bugs. But they’re harmless. Anyway, sometimes with the lack of things going wrong, it seems like there’s nothing exciting or dramatic enough to talk about here. But things have mostly gone right, so I guess that’s pretty awesome and definitely worth mentioning!

image

Gorgeousness along I-84 in Oregon - the Columbia River. One of my favorite roads to drive so far!

A few runs ago, we head to Portland. Usually when we go to Portland we meet up with friends, but we laid low this time – nothing personal, friends! Our schedule had me getting up too early, so it would’ve been tough for me to hang out. The next day went nearly perfect. I had three paper deliveries – all places I’ve been to before so they were familiar. The appointments were close, but I got unloaded a little early at the first place, and unloaded right away at the other two, so I was on time for all three appointments! Compare that to our run in Jersey a while back. We sat at a warehouse for so long waiting for them to catch up on counting freight that we had to haul booty to get to our first two pick ups (that we were very late for) and ended up having to cancel the third. I know I did everything I could, but not picking up that complete load still left me feeling bummed. So this Portland delivery day really made me giddy. I just felt good about it.

To add to that, I had a really good back on the first delivery, and a freakin’ rock-star back on the second. I made a 90-degree back without using a single pull up! I did that just one other time so far – in school – around cones. I was pretty darn excited about doing that for a second time at a real dock! But then I got to the third place, which I’ve been to twice before. I always have tons of room to set up and back, and I think it actually screws me up each time. I always overshoot my dock lane, and there’s just not much room for pull ups to correct it. So I had to reset a couple of times. Next time I’m bringing sidewalk chalk or something so I have a visual to work around! I guess it didn’t really matter, though. I got it in there safely and didn’t hit anything. All’s well that ends well!

From there we head to Washington state. The schedule for two pick ups of apples and pears were tight, but possible. This drive was a highlight of my day. First I got to drive I-84 out of Portland during the day. This is one of my favorite roads. It follows along the Columbia River and has some really incredible views of the gorge. On a clear day looking west you can even see Mt. Hood! It was in my rear view this time, though. From there I took Hwy 97 north across the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington. The climb out of the gorge was so steep I had to downshift to 8th gear – and our trailer was empty so we were super-light! That’s typical in the mountains when we’re loaded, but not empty! Crazy! Along the way I got a nice view of snowy Mt. Adams and saw just the tippy top of the brightly snow-covered Mt. Rainier. I drove through Yakima, which is a town we stayed in last year on our PCT adventure, and we came close to Snoqualamie. All on a clear, sunny, happy day. These might be little things, but they sure made me smile!

image

Mt. Adams way off in the distance!

The apples and pears messed up our near-perfect run, but it still ended just fine. There was a mix-up with our order count. Our list didn’t match theirs, so we were on the phone with the broker while things got straightened out. We had to back in a second time and have another palette of apples added on, and then we were on our way to the second apple place – they were open a half hour later than normal so we just got in before they closed. This is also where I saw the coolest thing ever – a driver napping in a hammock hanging off his trailer while he got loaded – brilliant!

image

This guy is cool.

So nothing can go perfect, but it can still go right. And I don’t want to jinx ourselves, but so far… this current run? It’s been great. I hope this is a trend!


Tonight I love the dude in the huge, black Peterbilt that gave me a thumbs-up after I nailed an offset back at a truck stop. Note: it would’ve been an easier straight-line back, but I set it up wrong. Haha!

image

Adam workin'.

image

Aaaand, another salt flats shot. Last time I was here, I ran across this because it was solid-white, hard, crusty salt. This time, a shallow lake. I love this place!