Getting pulled into weigh stations is a little nerve-wracking. Heading across the country, Adam and I always feel pretty confident that we’re all legal and good to go. But it’s still a thought in our minds, “what if we missed something?” There’s seriously like a million things we have to make sure are just right. What if we miss just ONE?
Of course the one time we do, the DOT notices and pulls us in.
Leaving the Fox Valley with a fresh load of paper with five planned stops in California, we had an unusually heavy, unevenly loaded trailer (due to the order in which our appointments were scheduled). Usually on the scale, if anything, we’re heavy up front (steer tires and tractor drive axles) and light on the trailer axles.
This time, however, our first delivery had 7 big pallets so the back end was pretty heavy. I had to slide the tandems to take a little weight off the trailer tires and distribute a little more on the tractor drives. I only had to slide them about three holes, and not thinking, I marked a hole 3 from the current placement with a piece of chalk. I placed a homemade stop so I’d know when I was positioned correctly. When I began to slide the trailer, it didn’t stop. I stupidly placed the stop in the front instead of the back – the wrong side. I went way past my marked hole. But now I couldn’t remember if I’d marked three from the front pin or the back one! I knew we needed less weight on the trailer so I slid the trailer forward, placing the tires closer to the back of the trailer. After reweighing, the weight was almost perfectly even between our drives and trailer tandems, so we were legal weight-wise. But visually the tandems seemed to be pretty far back.
Adam did a quick measurement by spreading his arms from the back of the trailer – our tandems were more than 6 feet from the end of the trailer, and this is usually a pretty good placement – as in legal.
Or so we thought.
There’s this thing in trucking called the bridge law. It actually has something to do with lessening the damage on bridges that heavy vehicles can cause over time. What the bridge law refers to is the distance between the king pin (the steel knob on the trailer that locks into the fifth wheel on the tractor) and a particular place on the rear axles on the trailer. But it’s complicated.
I remember them going over this briefly in school, and I remember feeling a little overwhelmed by the rule(S). Capital ‘S’ because it’s not straight-forward. At all. Each state has different parameters for the bridge law. Some measure kingpin to center of rear axle. Some measure to the center of the axle group. Some states might use the same measurement points, but the actual distance allowed is different. And a few states have a short distance, but allow more weight on the trailer. Sheesh! Confused yet!? I know I am! To top this off, of course, you can span several states in one trip. This is where Adam’s stretched-out-arms measurement came into play. Usually if the tires are more than 6 feet back, we’re legal in most states. What we didn’t count on is that out of the seven states we were traveling through, one in particular has a much smaller range. In fact, I think THE smallest of all states.
California. Sigh… California is kind of known for strict laws with CMVs. I’ve heard of truckers that won’t even enter the state because they don’t want to deal with all of the additional regulations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming California. Everything is always our responsibility as drivers, and we should’ve known about this. It was just something we missed. Dang. And we try so incredibly hard to get this all right!
Sure enough, we get pulled in for the bridge law at the first California scale in Truckee. The same one where we received a clean full inspection not that long ago.
The officer told us we were 3 feet, 6 inches too far back! Holy smokes! He asked us to pull around to adjust them (EIGHT holes!), and when Adam asked what will happen if that puts us overweight, he replied, “that would put you out of service. But we’ll deal with that later.”
Shit! We were both pretty sure we were going to be too heavy on the trailer moving the pins eight holes, but we went ahead and moved them as instructed.
Out of service is probably the worst outcome of being pulled in at a weigh station. It means you sit there until whatever issue that placed you out of service is corrected. There can be hefty fines involved and poorly-reflecting points added to your record, as well as your company’s record. Not cool.
If they placed us out of service for being overweight, I don’t know what we’d have done. Get another truck and somehow transfer a pallet or two without a forklift? Is that even possible? Imagine the coordinating that would take, not to mention time!
We rolled over the scale, and sure enough. Our trailer axle came in at 34,600 pounds. 600 pounds over the legal amount. Oh… no. Adam went in, and since we were so close, the DOT officer let us continue on our way as is – with just a warning.
Oh my gosh. That was too close.
Lesson learned. We go to California a lot, and now we are very much aware that we can’t have the center of that rear axle any more than 40 feet from the kingpin. From now on we will be measuring if it looks even a little close to that. If we can’t get the weight right within those measurements, going back to the shipper and having the load adjusted is the better option. It’s not a fun one, and takes up lots of time, but would be better than the alternative.
We’re pretty darn happy we just got a warning and that we learned something without any major consequences. I imagine we’ll continue learning new things in this career every day we’re out here. I would just prefer they didn’t involve DOT inspections… or tow trucks! But… that’s somehow the way it goes sometimes. We’ll never be perfect, but that’s certainly not going to stop us from trying to be!
Tonight I love Evanston, Wyoming. Why? Because my jaw was on my lap as I drove through there this week. Everything was covered in a thick layer of white, sparkling frost through patchy, rolling fog and sunshine. It was incredible.