Red Traffic Stop Lights – Lessons from the road

When I was in high school, I use to ride with my Dad when he delivered (mostly) rough cut hardwood lumber from a local central Indiana sawmill to assorted industries in the Ohio River Valley. It was these ride a longs that gave me an appreciation for the work, labor and effort it took to deliver the goods that America needed for businesses to operate.

The anti-truck movement was as active then and they are now, just now they have more liberal media outlets that are all to happy to expound the rectoric that all truck drivers are driving illegally be it drunk, high on drugs or operating while half asleep because they refuse to take required breaks. I will not say there are not trucker that do this, but there are also a lot of ‘4-wheelers’ that do it also.

But daily, there are accidents in almost every county and every city of any size everywhere in the USA. These stories seldom make the news. However, let one truck driver be accused of improper operation of their equipment smash into a family car and it will certainly make the news. I once watched 3 school buses crash into each other – I witnessed it so I know it happened. It never made the local Las Veges news. What was on the news? A story about two trucks in northern Nevada that collided and caused a passenger car to be wrecked, the driver trapped but not seriously injured. The media loves to trash trucks.

This difference, and maybe rightfully so, is that truck drivers are expected to be professionals. They are PAID to operate large, dangerous units on crowed, often poorly maintained highways and byways. Truck drivers should be more qualified then their 4-wheeler road sharing public. Truck drivers should and must understand the true nature of the forces at effect then operating their equipment – be it a delivery van, an 18 wheeler or a multiaxle, specialty equipment hauler.

With that lecture in mind, this story has served me well – first just driving a car/pickup and then also when driving Expedite Freight in the midwest.

I was riding with Dad on the way back from delivering a load somewhere. As most of the loads were 3-5 hours one way out, he normally returned empty, as we were that day. It was raining lightly as we were south bound on I-67 from Indianapolis. As we rounded the east side of Mooresville, the highway bends slightly and starts down a gentle down grade approaching the traffic light for Indiana 144. Although the Traffic Light was green, when we were still more then 2/10 mile away, dad started applying light brakes. I never thought much about it as there was another lumber mill that he occasionally hauled from located in Mooresville and I assumed that he was stopping there to get tomorrow’s load.

When we were about 100-150 feet from the light, it was still green, he moved his foot from the brakes to accelerator pedal and started speeding up. I asked him why he had slowed down since the light was green the entire time.

I will never forget what he calming, flatly said without any emotion.

“When it is raining, all lights are red.”

The meaning clear then and always, if you wait until you have to stop – there is no way you will be able to.

Come back on Tuesday, no one will unload you now

It was Friday before Memorial Day weekend, 2001. I was working for a Grand Rapids, Michigan based Expediter – mostly driving a tandem axle straight truck with a 26′ box bed. Being still low on the board I had not yet been dispatched. About 10AM, I received a call from dispatch wanting to know if I could do a HOT run to Tennessee. Dispatch said that it was a straight thru, 8-9 hour run, no stops, no delays, no nothing. Had to be there. I replied I had not problem.

I signed my truck out of the yard in Kalamazoo and headed about 1 hour west on I-94 for the pickup. It turned out that it was not a heavy piece, only about 1,000lbs, but it was 20+ feet long. It was a hydraulic cylinder for under ground mining equipment. The repeatedly asked me if I was going to be able to get this there by around midnight. I assured them that I was leaving with the equipment and I had enough fuel to not need to stop and this was my only assignment.

Once loaded (it took all of 5 minutes) and I strapped the box to the sidewall, I headed south. From where I was, it was out of the way to go west and pick up I-65 South near Portage, Indiana and it was equally out of the way to go east to I-69 South near Battle Creek. I was stuck with just taking US31 due south thru the center of Indiana – this dealing with all the cities and towns, stop lights, reduced speed zones and everything else.

Once to Indianapolis, I picked up I-465 to I-65 South towards Kentucky and Tennessee. The truck was governed at 58 mph so even on the interstate, going was not exactly speedy. Eventually, only stopping a couple of times long enough to use the rest room and get a snack, I made it to Tennessee. Once to Nashville, I turned onto I-40 East for the last short leg to the consignee.

After about 9 hours on the road (and rapidly running out of log book) I located my exit. My directions was that the Mine was about 2/10 mile north of the Interstate, at the end of a small road that paralleled the Interstate. I was thrilled beyond belief that at the intersection was several motels, as I needed a place to sleep because my truck did not have a sleeper and I lacked the hours to get back to Nashville.

I turned up the access road and about 1/2 mile later I encountered a locked gate. I saw a guard shack, so I grabbed my paperwork, jumped from the truck and walked to meet the guard who had exited and walked toward me. I informed him that I had a piece of equipment for immediate delivery. He stated there was no one on the property, the mine was closed until Tuesday Morning, come back then.

I stressed that, No, I was told they needed this tonight, I just drove straight from Southern Michigan with it.

The gentleman continued to assure me that there was no one there, I could not unload, I had to return “next week”.

After about 10 minutes, and not sure how this was going to go down, I asked if there was anyone from the maintenance department there. He said he thought one of the managers was working, he would call down there to see. The guard steps back in the guard shack, and makes a telephone call. When whom ever he called answered, he explained that he had some truck driver that was insisting he is to be unloaded tonight and I have told him to come back on Tuesday, but he (the truck driver) refuses to listen to me (the guard). It was then the guard was asked what I was delivering and the guard, who had the load’s weight bills, read it off to the other person.

“Oh, okay. To where? Okay. I will send him down.”

With that the guard hung up the phone, handed me my paperwork and informed me that after he unlocked the gate, I was to follow the road to the right and into the area where there were several maintenance buildings. He told me which one I was going to and gave me the name of the person I would be meeting. He then, I believe, reluctantly unlocked and opened the gates.

I proceeded based on his directions to into the mine complex, arriving at the location requested. There a friendly man with a genuine smile and a warm handshake who welcomed me. He let me know where he wanted me to back in for unloading and once I did, he removed the crate from my truck and signed my paperwork. He then commented that there were a lot of people who were really mad at me, when I asked why – he informed me that since I did make it there (as the shipper had promised) it meant that he would be calling in his entire maintenance crew to repair the machine so the miners could work on Tuesday. And the repairs where going to require the majority of the three day weekend. Had I not made it there, they would have had the weekend off, the miners would have been able to sit and do nothing until the equipment was repaired later in the week.

He also offered me a tour (underground) of the mine. I politely declined. As I left the area, I waved at the guard, but he pretended to only slightly notice me. Sorry Buddy, like you, I was only doing my job – Pick up a HOT load and deliver it as fast and as safely as I could.

While the maintenance crew was may not have been happy losing their long weekend, the miners would have to work rather then sit and get paid because they could not work – I know that the owners of the mine and the owners of the company that sent the equipment were all happy that I did my job.

Michigan DOT Officer: Did you show me your log book

I had and enjoyable conversation with a Michigan State Police DOT Office one day coming back from Ohio. I was west bound on I-94 nearing the Jackson County line when the sign for the scales indicated they were open. I joined the stream of commercial vehicles in line to exit the interstate and cross thru the inspection station. Coming down the entrance ramp from a local highway was a State Police DOT Officer in his car headed toward the scales also. As timing would have it, he merged onto the freeway immediately behind me and followed me off the exit, of course he continued behind the scale office while I headed across the scales.

As I crossed the scales the Red Arrow lite up letting me they wanted to talk to me. I had no reason why as I was unloaded and at last check all lights where working. As I pulled around and parked, a Trouper walked out to meet me. As he walked up to the truck, after he introduced himself, he asked for my Driver’s License, Medical Card, Truck Registration, Truck Insurance and Bills of Laden. He did not ask for my log book, which ironically and amazingly was both up to date and accurate. I advised I was empty and those no load paperwork.

As he handed back my paperwork, he said “How about a quick safety inspection?” I, with a smile said “Absolutely. Especially since I don’t have a choice, do I?” The DOT Officer, realizing I was joking, laughed and smiled, the responded, “Nope!

We then proceeded thru the Prescribed Inspection of the brakes, tires, lights, safety equipment etc. Once done with no gigs, dings or we have a problem, the Officer asked me to come inside with him and he would, “give me gold star to take to my safety department”. As we got inside, he commented that he noticed coming up the ramp, where he was behind me, he noted that my license plate expired that month and he was wondering if they were expired yet. So I asked, “Oh. And you were hoping for an easy ticket?” Again, I was smiling and as he laughed, re commented “YEP!”

The DOT Officer then settled into the process to complete the paperwork showing that he had did his job of inspecting my truck and that I had done my job of operating a truck that was in proper maintenance condition.

Mean while the other DOT Officer working the scales was working on the paperwork for a multiaxle steel hauler, whom had already been inspected and was inside the scale house when I arrived. However, is was clear from the conversation between that officer and the driver, it was clearly not going well.

About the time the Michigan reprsentative of the DOT was finishing my paperwork, the other officer chastised the steel hauler about his log book. That was when my Police Trouper looked over at me and asked, “Did you show me your log book?”


“Why not?”

“You never asked”

“Oh, ok. Is it up to date?”

“Of course”, I said with a smile. “Do you want me to go get it?”

“No, I will take your word for it.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the steel hauler was looking even less pleased that it was clear I had passed my inspection and that I was having a much better interaction with the Michigan State Police.

About then, the Officer handed me all my paperwork including my truck’s sticker indicating I had passed a road side inspection. I prompt left before the trouper changed his mind and wanted to look at anything else – but not before I documented in my log book my time, Line 4, On Duty, Not Driving.

The moral to the story, if there is one, the Michigan State Police DOT Officer was doing his job at looking for unsafe truckers and illegal trucks and as long as I kept a positive, cooperative attitude, he remained fun and pleasant to work with.

Dockworkers and my first high priority load

I learned a lot about dockworkers with my first high priority load when I started work for a Grand Rapids Michigan based expeditor showed me a valuable lesson for dock workers who have their schedule.

I was called by dispatch about picking up a load of automotive parts just west of Detroit for delivery to an automotive assembly plant on the south side of Chicago. At the time I was driving a tandem axle straight truck with a 26′ box. I left my house, drove the leasing company’s yard where the truck was parked (in Kalamazoo MI) and headed east on I-94. I was about an hour from the pickup point when dispatch called me on the cellphone and asked my schedule. The broker had called in and said if we could not pick up and deliver by 6pm to abort the load. After talking with the dispatcher it was determined that I should be able to make it, so I continued on.

I arrived at the shipper and checked in. It was then that I found out the load was not near as important to these people as it was to the people in Chicago. (This attitude, by the way, raised it’s head numerous times in my short driving career.) I finally was loaded with about 12 crates of either starters or alternators (I forget which) and headed back west toward Chicago.

I drove steadily, made only one short rest room stop, and made it to the consignee with about 45 minutes to spare. Would have been a hour sooner but again the people loading the truck was less concerned about my schedule then I was.

When I arrived, I learned more of the story about the shipment. This particular component was in such short supply that if I had not delivered it – they would have to idle the assembly line and send 1 boat load of workers home. After checking in with the gate, they directed me to the docks that I would unload at. Once there, I asked the forklift operator which dock spot he wanted me and then I spotted the truck as requested. I then waited patiently while he scratched off several Illinois lottery tickets before he finally pulled the pallet off my truck and moved it directly to the assembly line (it was some distance in the plant but I could see he placed the pallet right next to workers on the line.)

He then came back and unloaded the rest of my load and took them a different direction to where I assume was the warehouse storage.

About one and half hours after I checked in, I was finally able to check out. I guess the moral or the story is that the load is only hot before and after you pick it up and before you arrive at the consignee. Once you are there, the receiver is less concerned about it because they now know where it is – even if it is still on your truck.

I have always wondered if this dockworker would have ever unloaded me if he had hit the lottery.