Trucking Ruminations

I spent 14 years as a truck driver, driving for various companies in California. Here is a rumination of some of the many trips I made with a 1974 Kenworth transfer dump while working for a small outfit out of Escondido, CA and leased to an Indiana bulk commodities hauler with hazardous waste contracts:

There were a few trips from Santa Fe Springs to Hayden with coke (the fuel kind, not the beverage or the powder), then running empty from Hayden to a boomer mine somewhere in the desert west of Oracle Junction to load up with copper ore to haul to Ajo, Arizona, then from Ajo to either Long Beach Naval Shipyard or San Diego Naval Shipyard with copper slag.

If it was San Diego, usually then from the Port of San Diego to either Phoenix, Arizola or Maricopa, AZ with Calcium Nitrate (washed out in the back lot of my father-in-law's church once after a deliver in Phoenix), then to Ajo empty for another load of slag.

Spent the night at least once at my sister-in-law Andrea's place while laying over in Pheonix as well - I remember one night we stayed up late playing some then-cutting-edge space-themed video game on their computer that by today's standards would be considered archaic. And back then there were nine planets.

Once, I hauled a load of scrap metal from Compton, CA to Avondale, AZ. Funny side story on that trip - after they had me unloaded in Avondale, I stopped at a Circle K truckstop near there for a quick microwave burger and a Coke before heading west on I-5 to pick up a load of ore at a mine in the Sierra Nevadas northwest of Bishop, CA. I walked back to the truck and balanced the burger on top of my aluminum log book box on my knee while I held the Coke in one hand and opened the door with the other. As I was so posed, a "lot lizard" walked up and grabbed my burger and took a bite, then set it back on the log book box and, while still chewing, asked me if I wanted any company. I was kind of shocked. I told her no, and that she could keep the burger. I ended up stopping in Quartzsite to get another burger.

But I digress. On this particular trip, I got to the mine late - although I was only a few minutes behind another truck. We got our ore and called the dispatcher to advise her that we were planning to stop for the night in Barstow on the way to the unload in Hayden. She freaked on us, telling us that the load "has to be on the ground in Hayden by sunrise." So we, being the dutiful galley slaves --- uh, truck drivers that we were, said okay. Well, we stopped in Barstow anyway and spent the night - or at least a few hours - at a motel. That is to say, I got a room because my truck didn't have a sleeper; the other driver spent the night in the motel lot in his sleeper.

It was ten or eleven in the morning before the load hit the ground in Hayden, but no one said anything. When we called in, we explained that there was a CHP truck inspection set up in a rest area near Ludlow (true - although it wouldn't have been there the previous night, we passed it after leaving Barstow early in the morning) and we were both out of hours (also true) and couldn't risk the log book check. "Out of hours?!! How can you be out of hours? We give you plenty of log books; you CAN'T be out of hours!" Typical dispatchers.  (Note, this was back in the day of paper logbooks, before today's modern new-fangled electronic logging devices had been invented.)

Don't recall where the other truck was sent, but I was then sent to Phoenix to pick up a load of crushed glass bottles from a recycling facility to take to someplace in the Los Angeles area - that was a one-time load and I don't recall exactly where I took it. It was a bother though - I didn't want to tarp my load because I didn't want to risk shredding the tarps on the glass pieces, but after getting on the highway and having paper labels ripping off the glass and floating off in the breeze I had no choice but to stop and tarp. Once I got to the destination, the load was refused for quality. Several hours and a lot of phone calls later, the dispatcher finally found another place in the L.A. area that would take it, and they did.

One one trip from the Phoenix area, I was westbound near Buckeye when diesel fuel started flowing from the radiator overflow. I limped the truck to the Kenworth dealer's shop in southwest Phoenix. Was told it needed an entire inframe overhaul. Called my boss in Escondido -- he sent a tow truck from San Diego to haul it home because it was cheaper even with the tow to fix it in his shop than at the dealer.

I once hauled a load of "Salt-and-Pepper" decorative rock from Roll, AZ to Sacramento CA, then ran empty up to Placerville for a load of almost identical rock to haul back to a landscaping company in San Marcos, CA. I hauled a lot of colored rock from quarries to landscaping and garden centers . . . picked up or delivered to places like Calico CA, White Water CA (a guy with a purse hit on me there once), Scottsdale AZ, Peoria AZ, Palm Springs CA, Thousand Palms CA, Twenty-Nine Palms CA, Ventura and Oxnard CA, Point Hueneme CA, San Diego CA, and so forth.

Another time, I hauled a load of coke from a plant south of Mojave, CA to Orem, UT, then ran empty to Conda, Idaho for a load of Ammonium Nitrate to take to a farm in Harquhalla Valley, AZ. From there it was empty down to Ajo for another load of copper slag.

This was an interesting trip for two reasons: One was nobody told me that Ammonium Nitrate doesn't play nice with water ... I had stopped at a truckstop in Las Vegas and had my truck washed. Although I had the load tarped and told the guys not to bother with the top of the tarps, they still climbed up on top and scrubbed them with wet brooms and then rinsed them with the water hoses. I was fortunate the tarps didn't leak -- someone later told me that they had seen an Ammonium Nitrate fire and it wasn't pretty -- supposedly when the first firefighters hit it with water it exploded with such force that it killed three of them and annihilated their pumper. Don't know if that's true -- but Ammonium Nitrate was what was used to bring down the Federal Building in Oklahoma City (although it was mixed with other combustibles, not water).

The other reason was that after dumping the load in Harquahala Valley and heading to Ajo, I was pulled over by a road cop on highway 85 south of Buckeye, and again later that day by another road cop somewhere along I-8 in Arizona after leaving Ajo. The first one gave me a warning for having a mud flap that was too short; the other gave me a warning for my fuel crossover line hanging too low.

Lots of loads of silica sand from Oceanside to various places in California and Nevada -- stucco manufacturers, janitorial supply manufacturers (they use it in Voma-Sorb), glass manufacturers, golf courses (sand for the sand traps), a railroad yard (sand for the locomotives), an iron foundary (used in casting iron), etc.

Lots of loads of hazardous waste ("dirty dirt") from various places to different hazmat landfills - Buttonwillow, Kettleman City and Holtville in California; turned down a load once for Arlington, Texas and ended up dumping it myself in Kettleman City after my boss and another driver took it to Texas and it was refused in Arlington for being "too hot" (containing too many PCBs) so they lugged it back to California.

One of the last dirty dirt runs I had was one load a day, five days a week for three months straight, from an old Boeing plant in Kent, Washiington to a landfill in Arlington, Oregon. Let's see now, what's the statute of limitations on log books? You could not legally make the round trip in 24 hours, but the company would penalize you if you didn't load at the same time in the same truck order each morning. There was a point system -- three points in a year and you are suspended. I tried to be legal... On paper (logs) it looked legal, and it almost was. The dispatchers would nail you if you didn't make the trip on time, and the same company's safety department would nail you if there was an error in your logs... including being over hours or drawing a line in the wrong place.

At this point I will tell you, dear reader, that THIS was the main reason I decided to get out of long-haul trucking (well, that, and to try and save my marriage). I simply could not deal with the ethical issues of lying in my log books.

I was fortunate in that in my entire 14 year truck driving career, I was only asked for my log book by a law enforcement officer one time. I was unfortunate in being three days behind on that day. I was fortunate that the officer --- well, here's the story:

What had happened is that I had hit Troutdale empty on a Friday and decided to call my brother-in-law and sister-in-law Dave and Carol, who at that time lived in the Troutdale area. I spent that Friday night, Saturday and Saturday night at their house, then headed back north to Kent on Sunday morning. Because of the company's requirement to always lay over in Kent on that run (where they provided motel rooms for the drivers), I had not shown myself going off duty in Troutdale in the log for Friday afternoon, figuring that since I'd be going back north on Sunday all the scales would be closed so there would be no chance of being stopped for a log inspection -- and when I got to Kent I'd show in the logs that I had completed the trip on Friday.


Washington's Port of Entry was wide open and doing business on Sunday morning. I must have mentally telegraphed my guilty conciense to the weighmaster - he red-lighted me on the scale platform and stepped out of the chicken coop to ask for my log book. I handed it to him, and without even opening it he told me to go park and come back into the scale house.

When I entered he was leafing through the pages. "Looks like you got a little problem here." I admitted that I'd stopped in Troutdale on Friday and had not brought my log up to date upon leaving there that morning. "Tell you what," he said. "I'm gonna run your license. When I get back, there better be some lines in that book, and they better be believeable."

"Yes, sir!" I said, handing him my license and medical card. He handed me a pen and stepped over to the computer to run my license. I carefully drew myself off duty in Troutdale at the correct time Friday afternoon, showed off duty all day Saturday, then showed my 15 minute on-duty-not-driving truck pre-trip and then up to driving on Sunday.

He came back and took a look at the log, closed it and slid it across the counter to me. "I see you come through here every day. I'm going to be watching you. Next time something like this happens, you are gonna be talking to the judge. You understand me?"

"Yes sir!"

"Good. Have a nice day."



There's more to my trucking  story, but that's enough for now. Maybe someday I'll tell you about my runs with Amfac Nurseries Select/Flynn's Rainbow Nursery out of Rainbow, CA.

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