Introducing Venus de Volvo

A new truck story!!

Oh, hi there!

As unfortunate as having a major breakdown is, I have to admit that getting a new truck is actually quite fun. And… as fun as getting a new truck is, I have to admit that the break in period can be a little sketch. Here’s what happened:

I moved all my crap into the new truck, enjoying the “new truck” smell, a dash with no dust on it, no hairballs clumped anywhere on the floor (which would be of my own hair, of course), and all the cabinet latches were still attached and in working order. Oh, wait. I lied. There was one latch that popped off right away (it’s funny because those things gave me so much trouble in my last truck). So yeah, this was a *really* new truck. It’s a 2019 Volvo VNL 860 and had less than 1500 miles on it when I jumped in and turned the key for the first time. Aww, yeah. Fun.

But then I went on my first run in this new truck, with that doggone bad-luck cloud still hanging over my head. I grabbed an empty trailer and drove 28 miles to my pick up. After getting loaded I turned out of the driveway to leave and my steering wheel made an unsettling scraping sound, and by the time I pulled into the truck stop where I planned to scale my load, it had gotten worse. I opened the hood and checked my steering fluid. Dry. As a bone. I made it back to the Volvo dealership where they discovered a cracked fitting that all that fluid leaked out of. They replaced it and I was on my way in a half an hour. I made it 50 miles before needing a new part! But whew! It as a quick, easy fix.

The rest of that day went great, and I was enjoying getting used to the smooth ride and all the new features in the truck – aka new safety features with alarms that were set on high volume and scared the bejeezus out of me when they went off. I delivered my load, got reloaded and found a quiet little spot to park for the night. I even took a couple photos of my new ride.

Here’s one. She’s pretty, hey?

Now it was Saturday and I was about 50 miles from home where I was to drop this trailer, hook to a loaded one and make my way to Virginia. I was cruising right along in my new, sweet ride, feeling cool, listening to music, chillin’ out, and

*BOOM!!*

I think I jumped 3 feet out of my seat! Something let loose under my truck and it was LOUD! My right turn signal was flashing and I was making my way to the shoulder before the air guage for my primary air tank totally bottomed out. The secondary tank quickly followed, but held at about 60 psi while I came to a stop and pulled the brakes on my own (the brakes will set on their own if you lose all your air too fast, which means your tires lock up, and that’s a scary thing I hope never, ever happens to me! This was too close!). I was shaking, so I first glanced in my mirrors to make sure nothing needed to be attended to right that second (i.e. fire or something of the sort) and then I just rested my hands on the steering wheel and took some deep breaths. I got out of the truck and could hear air leaking – badly – from somewhere.

From my Instagram stories.

I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick situation, so the next thing I did was dig out my damn safety triangles – again – and get them set up behind me (I believe the law states we need to have them up within 10 minutes of breakdown). And then I began to look at everything. It wasn’t a tire. Everything looked right under the hood. Air compressor was still there and doing its thing. Brake drums all appeared to be intact. The air leaking was coming from underneath the truck, kind of under the driver’s seat.

We have these air tanks that sit under the driver’s seat, and we can access them through a side fairing below the driver’s-side door. They have little nozzles that we can turn to release moisture out of the air tanks, which is done on a regular basis, so I’m pretty familiar with them. My first thought was maybe one of those spun loose, but all of them were tight and no air was leaking out of them. I couldn’t see anywhere else and getting underneath the truck wasn’t possible with its low clearance – and being parked on the side of a busy highway didn’t make me feel safe even trying.

Top photo: fairing under the driver’s door. Middle photo: Shows the fairing opened up. Bottom photo: The three air tanks and their little nozzles.

I started the phone calls. It was a Saturday, of course, so after hours dispatch was on duty. I also tried calling Volvo a few times, and our maintenance guy (whom I’m getting to know well lately!). I was between all these calls when I phoned a friend who’s been driving a lot longer than me. He walked me through some things to check – I wanted to be sure it wasn’t something really stupid because it sounded like they were going to send out a tow truck, and I’d have felt horrible if it was as easy as reconnecting a hose or something. Then another Midwest Carriers driver pulled up in front of me in his personal vehicle – he was driving by, saw me broke down and was checking to see if I needed help. I did! He looked all over and couldn’t see anything, either. Same thing as me – he couldn’t get a view of where the leak was coming from. So he went on his way while I waited for the tow truck (thanks for stopping, George! You’re awesome!).

As soon as the tow truck lifted the front end of my truck up, I got down on the ground and peeked underneath. I saw it immediately. An air hose about the diameter of a quarter had popped off the back of one of those three air tanks I was describing earlier. The tow truck driver crawled under and said it looked like something on it had cracked, too, so it wouldn’t have been something that could’ve been fixed roadside anyway. So I felt a little better about the whole tow thing.

Another day, another tow.

So… I got a ride back to the same temp truck I was in when my last truck died. I threw the basic essentials in as quickly as I could and took off to continue my run for the week. On Monday I found out that the air line was fixed and the truck was ready for me again. I couldn’t wait to get settled back in, but I first had to finish my week. Thankfully the rest of it went pretty smooth.

So now I’m a few days into a new run in the new truck, and so far, so good. Well, this morning the button for my tractor brake popped off after I backed into a dock, which startled me for a second, but then I laughed. It just screwed back on. It wasn’t like it broke or anything. Man, new truck things!

C’mon, Venus! Quit playin’ with me!

I hope that cloud is gone. And I’m really liking this truck, even though there’s a few things I’m still getting used to. One of them is sleeping on the top bunk! The bottom bed converts into a table, which I love, but I know that if I change it back to a bed, put sheets on it and sleep in it, I’m not going to want to switch it around twice every day. So I’m leaving the table set up and trying to use the top bunk to sleep. But it needs a better mattress. That’s for sure.

Loving this space!

So there ya’ have it. Adventures in trucking. With a new truck. I hope to move many, many miles in Venus de Volvo!

Tonight I love my kettlebell. Swinging that thing helps with stress!

This is the cracked head from Delores, my old truck. Pretty ugly.

More cracked things (I think they called this a casing – where the piston fits into?) Also where all my coolant was leaking into.

Oh, and I also just got this new (well, used) adorable little commuter car. #TootsDrivesAJellyBean

A view I could do without for a while!

Delores the truck’s last run

Adam decided to ride with me this week. Little did we know it would be Delores’s last run. So the cool part of all of this was that Adam and I started out with that truck, brand new, waaay back in June of 2016. I mean, we had to peel the plastic off of the floor and seats – that kind of new. She only had 900 miles when we took our first trip. So last week, on a random whim, or… maybe it wasn’t so random (hello, truck gods), Adam asked me to scoop him up in the middle of my next run. So I did. And so he was with me when Delores took her last run, too. And so we’ve come full circle.

Back in ’16 when she was brand new!

The way this all played out? I had it planned out, and the folks at work had me set up for a great long, holiday weekend on the road, because they’re awesome like that. A quick overnight run to Minnesota. Then back to Wisconsin (where I scooped up Adam). Then head right back out to Tennessee, drop, hook, head to North Carolina. A delivery, another drop, a hook, and head back home. I’d probably be home, sleeping in my own bed on Wednesday night. And I had it all trip-planned. Hours, miles, where I’d be spending my nights, everything. And then I hooked to a trailer that had two clearance lights burned out.

Now, here’s the thing. Looking back on this situation, I wish I’d have done any number of things differently. Started at a different service shop (sorry, Love’s, but I might be over you), left after my 2-hour wait turned into 3-1/2 hours, I don’t know. But I ended up taking a 10-hour break there after only driving 60 miles that day because this is how it went: I was told it was a 2-hour wait to get my lights fixed. Okay, pretty standard, and really not bad for the start of a holiday weekend. 2 hours later I was told another hour and a half. At this point, if I leave, I start over at a new shop with a new wait time, in the back of the line. So I stay. An hour and a half later I’m told 30 minutes. 30 minutes later I’m told 10 minutes.

FIVE hours later I’m in the shop. And guess what? They don’t have the damn lights to replace my broken ones. Umm. Excuse me!? After waiting five hours? Ohmygosh. While I fume and try to figure out what to do next, he checks the power going to the lights. And now guess what? It’s actually a wiring issue and they can’t work on it there. I called a couple of shops down the road – one doesn’t have a mechanic on duty that can work on wiring, and the other is an 8+ hour wait, and by that time the mechanic that can work on wiring will be gone home. So I surrender, take my 10-hour break there and decide to take off later that night, suddenly switching to driving through the nights because of this whole debacle. But I’ve got Adam with me and we make the most of it. I grabbed as much sleep as I could and we got rolling at like 9pm or something stupid like that. We caffeinated, he played DJ, read me internet jokes and the top 10 ways to conserve water at home (which, by the way, were all common sense or pretty dumb). But whatever, it was like having a live podcast sitting next to me, who also happens to be handsome and have a great voice that I could listen to for hours (which I totally did). And I made it those 622 miles I needed to make with a couple of hours to spare.

There will be a few of my favorite shots of Delores throughout this blog entry.

Next, drop trailer, hook to new trailer, drive down road, scale my load (I need to take a brief tangent about this in a moment), park truck, visit Starbucks for some decaf coffee and chill time, back to truck, sleep and drive through the night again.

The tangent: I scaled my load, and while it was all legal and okay to go, my steers were pretty heavy, which I’d been struggling with for a long time with this truck. I decided it was a good time, once and for all, to play with moving my 5th wheel (which is quite a process, aka pain in the arse) to see if I can get my weight more evenly distributed. After a couple of tries, I think I got it figured out. My 5th wheel was finally in a good spot! Yay! Little did I know not even 40 miles later I’d be sitting on the side of the road with a dead truck.

So as we planned, I got some sleep, woke up and hit the road. I think it was like 10pm or something, again, stupid like that. I approached Monteagle pass, which is kind of an infamous climb in Tennessee along I-24. I pulled off at the required truck pull-off where there are big, colorful, intimidating lite-brite-style signs alerting you exactly where all the emergency truck ramps are (like if your brakes fail and you are going 100 down a mountain and need to slow down like right now – you can take one of these ramps, which are designed to slow your truck in this exact situation, like right now. They usually head uphill and are a deep gravel or sand. Yeah, scary as heck). So anyway, I start heading down the 6% grade, got into a low gear, about to settle into a nice, steady slow descent and right away, from, I *think*, somewhere on the passenger side, kind of by my steer tire, I hear a “flap-flap-flap-flap” sound, exclaim to Adam, “what the hell is that noise?” as I’m already braking and heading toward the shoulder. He says, “no idea,” and even before I get the truck to a complete stop, my red “STOP” alarm pops on, beeps once, and the truck just shuts off. I roll to a stop, thankfully safely off the road.

Four-ways on, safety vest on, I get out, pop the hood, and my first observation is that I have almost no coolant left. I don’t see it leaking anywhere, and I recently got a new radiator, so it can’t be that, I hope! Something isn’t right here. I think about dumping my one bottle of coolant in there, but change my mind because the level in my reservoir is still dropping. I get my safety triangles out and set them up behind the truck, counting my paces to be sure they’re placed properly. 4 paces, 10 feet. 40 paces, 100 feet. 40 more paces, 100 more feet. Then I trudge back through the dark alongside my truck as the milky way twinkles and shimmers above me. By the time I get back to my opened hood, the coolant reservoir is completely empty.

Not good.

Back in the truck I make the late-night, holiday-weekend call to our after hours line and I’m instantly getting help. I’m given a number to try for a 24-hour mechanic, so I hang up and dial the number with fingers crossed that they’re not closed for the weekend. He answers! After asking some questions he tells me he’ll be out to me in an hour, which he is.

After looking everything over, then dumping like 10 gallons of water and coolant into my reservoir, he shows me some bad signs. Gray, bubbly oil, steam coming out of hoses, something dripping out of my exhaust, and an almost empty coolant reservoir (!). Again. Then he explains that it’s not leaking out onto the ground and answers the question I was asking myself when I first opened the hood: “Where’s all my coolant going?” The answer? The motor. That’s where. And that’s not good. I asked him what the best-case scenerio is here, and he shakes his head and says, “there is no best-case scenerio here.” He mentioned something about a crack in a head gasket and an engine rebuild and things of the sort, and I don’t know a ton about mechanical things, but I do know that an engine rebuild is not a small deal. Like, at all.

Pouring buckets and buckets of coolant and water into my reservoir.

After the roadside diagnosis in the middle of the night, it turns into a rush. He’s got a secure dirt lot at the bottom of the hill (about 6 miles away), and I’ve still got my one little bottle of 50/50 coolant mix. He says we gotta go if we want to avoid a tow and get it down there before the coolant burns off… or whatever the heck it’s doing. Getting guzzled by my engine? Whatever.

I literally run all 84 paces behind the truck to gather my triangles, run 84 paces back, toss them on the floor of the truck cab, and I’m soon following the mechanic’s pickup truck down the mountain. The truck is running really rough, the big, scary red stop alarm on my dash is blinking and honking at me and smoke is billowing out behind me. A car passes me and is flashing his lights at me. “I know, I know,” I say out loud.

As we approach the exit to the dirt lot destination, I step on the fuel pedal and get no response. Then it chugs a few more times, then nothing, then a few more chugs. I chug, clunk, and practically coast into that little lot, and once I come to a stop the smoke (or steam?) surrounds the truck and is blowing in through the vents on the dash. It was quite a crazy experience. But we made it.

Once the truck was safely parked, Adam and I gathered our things and he got a ride from the mechanic back up the big hill to the little town of Monteagle, Tennessee. Adam booked a room at the Super 8 and the mechanic came back down the hill for me. For now, the plan was to sit tight and wait to see what to do the next day when people were awake and decisions could be made.

So now it’s the next day – Monday – Labor Day. While Adam and I sat on a hotel bed watching “Dumb & Dumber,” weekend dispatch back at home was working with maintenance, safety, and I’m sure a bunch of other people to get a plan in place for us. Because, again, they’re awesome like that. The plan? Adam and I sit tight. They are going to tow a temporary truck from Wisconsin out to us in Tennessee, then grab my dead truck and haul it back to Wisconsin and we’d stay on the current load and deliver it a couple of days late. And that’s what we did.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Monteagle, TN, to be honest. There’s no public transportation (I mean, not a single Uber or Lyft, even), no movie theater, no coffee shop, and there’s tons of great trails, but all of them were too far away. So we visited a fun BBQ restaurant, the Waffle House to play cards, a hippie store, I went for a couple of short runs (and got a little touch of heat exhaustion), and we lazed in bed watching stupid TV. I was antsy, wanting to be driving, to be moving, to be working, but I tried to just relax and appreciate the unfortunate break.

Two days later, on Wednesday, we waited in the lobby of the hotel until a big tow truck came up the off ramp of the highway towing a gray truck with the big “MC” on the front. What a welcome sight! Our ticket home!

The temporary ride.

We tossed our stuff inside, and while doing a pre-trip inspection I discovered a visor light burned out. Well… the truck started up and ran, so we had that going for us… but that visor light was going to require a visit to a shop, and I didn’t have a ton of time to spare once again. We had to get rolling if I had any chance of meeting my *new* delivery time. There was one service shop between where we were and Chattanooga, TN. A Love’s. Greeeaaaat. Well… we tried to call to see if they had the part (see? I learned from that frustrating experience earlier!), but they took a message and said they’d call back. They didn’t. We ended up at a Volvo dealership and they fixed us up in a couple of hours. And there I was, driving through the night – again – and made it to my delivery a couple of hours before my appointment time, but just about out of hours.

She got us through a few tough winters!

But whew. We were back on track. I felt a little off from my sleep schedule jumping around so much, but we did eventually make it home on Saturday afternoon. It was a long week, and we survived. But sadly, poor Delores did not. When we arrived at the Volvo dealership where we park our truck, I pulled up next to Delores (that’s where they towed the truck to from Tennessee) and gathered up all of my belongings from inside and stashed it all in the temp truck I was currently in. I have to say, it was a little sad. I get attached to things – I mean, especially when I name them. Delores really was a good truck, and I’ll miss her, but as I like to say, “onward.” I’ll be in a new truck soon. It was definitely an unfortunate situation, and I’m sure the fix is not going to be a pretty one. So it’s a big bummer, but I’m really thankful that I work with a good bunch of folks that can carry their drivers through stuff like this. Breakdowns happen, and they’re not fun, but I felt like it went as smoothly as it could. So, thanks to all of you that were involved!

Finally home!

Tonight I love (duh) Delores. I’ll miss her!