"East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'..."
December 13, 2014 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever wanted to quit your job and head out on the open road? Perhaps long distance trucking might suit you? Yes? No? No worries. We can go on a trip right here and see what the life of a long distance trucker is really like. Being an over-the-road driver has the reputation of being tough and hazardous. Why do they do it? Schneider National 11 Western Regional. Cincinnati, OH to Toledo, OH. Jeffersonville, IN to East Chicago, IN. What truck driving is all about. A Truckers View. An Office With a View. The long haul - OTR truck driving. This trip will be North American-centric, because it's what I'm familiar with. So with that proviso in mind, let's ride. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.

Jerry Reed's song was featured in the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit. "East Bound and Down" with clips from the film.

That's enough foolin' around. It's time the rubber meets the road. Meet Mike Rogers, aka "Trucker Mike." Truck Driver Ride Along - Episode 1. Truck Driver Ride Along - Episode 2. Truck Driver Ride Along - Episode 3. That was a tough few days, but we have to press on. A Week in the Life of a Trucker - Part 1. A Week in the Life of a Trucker - Part 2. A Week in the Life of a Trucker - Part 3. Whew! However, stout hearts, we've got to keep going. Truck Driving in a Cave (Springfield Underground, More). Truck Driving in Winter Weather. Truck driving through the Smoky Mountains grossed out at 78,000 lbs (Smoky Mountains). Truck Fire and Related CB Traffic just outside of Gary, IN (Warning: Salty Language). Trucker Mike's website. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers "Into the Great Wide Open."

The first leg of our journey is complete. We've got a couple of other drivers to meet and our journey is far from over. But first, we need to rest up a bit. Time to hit a truck stop. There are many to choose from. Oh, I know, let's go to the Worlds Largest Truck Stop (Walcott, IA). They will have everything we need and more. About Iowa 80. A video tour of Iowa 80 with a fella by the name of Chris Polk. Thanks Chris. Now's a good time to shower, eat, and avail ourselves of all the amenities we need.

Before heading back out on the road, let's unwind some more by watching the 1978 movie Convoy (Here's the full movie). It's very bad, but somehow fun to watch. Here's C. W. McCall's song "Convoy" featured in the movie.

Some lyrics:
Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin' logs
Cab-over Pete with a reefer on
And a Jimmy haulin' hogs
We is headin' for bear on I-one-oh
'Bout a mile outta Shaky Town
I says, "Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck.
"And I'm about to put the hammer down."

One June the 6th night, three trucks - a Kenworth hauling logs, a Peterbilt with tilt-cab engine access pulling a refrigerated trailer, and a GMC hauling hogs - were approaching a highway patrol car on Interstate 10 one mile east of Los Angeles, when the Kenworth driver announced on his CB two-way radio to the GMC driver, who had the trailer filled with live hogs, that he was getting ready to speed up.

We definitely need to brush up on our CB lingo: Citizen's Band, CB Usage in the United States, List of CB Slang, More Slang. Truckers still use the CB, but times have changed (NYT). And while we're at it: Glossary of the American trucking industry.

A few more truck stop links: History of Truck Stops, The Truck Stops of America, Truck Stops Pro (app), American Trucks At Truck Stop-Trucks in USA, Pilot Truck Stop-Weighing Truck on Cat Scale (CAT Scale, How to Weigh on a CAT Scale), Truck Washing. That makes me want to hear the song. Car Wash Theme song and Movie Clip. Car Wash Theme by Rose Royce. The 1976 film "Car Wash."

Some truck driving songs to get us pumped up for getting back on the road. Johnny Cash "I've Been Everywhere." (The song has quite a varied history.), Willie Nelson "On the Road Again." Rhett Akins "Drivin' My Life Away". Dave Dudley "Six Days on the Road".

Alright, let's roll. Meet Jerry Ott. He's the type of experienced driver we will want to listen to. BigRigTalk on YT. Taking a Drive With Me: Trucking Peterborough to Ottawa On The Two Lane. Trucking Climbing Fancy Gap Mountain. Trading The Big Rd For The Two Lane. Trucking Through Virginia & Two Tunnels. Crossing at The 1000 Islands. Early Morning Chicago Drive. Early Morning Chicago part 2. Taking A Drive By Toronto, ON. Canada. Taking A Drive in North Carolina's Back Roads. Crossing At Buffalo / Ft Erie & Canada Customs. Driving Through Roundup MT in HD. Big Rig Talk Trucking Down Fancy Gap Virginia GoPro.

Trucking Tools of the Trade: Is Trucking Right For Me. Part 1 Cell Phones. Part 2 Bluetooth. Part 3 CB Radio's. Part 4 Qualcomm's (Qualcomm). Part 5 Doing Dishes On The Road. Part 6 Cooking. Part 7 Keeping The Truck Clean. Part 7 GPS Units.

Outside and Inside Tours of My Trucks: Outside Tour Of My 2013 International Eagle ProStar Plus (Note: He mentions AP Unit). Quick Inside Tour of My 2013 International Eagle ProStar Plus. Inside Tour Of an International ProStar Eagle. Inside Tour Of My Truck Sleeper (My Old Truck). International Trucks ProStar.

Playlists from Big Rig Talk: Trucking 101. Cooking In The Truck. Living In A 6x6 Space. Commonly Asked Questions. Trucking With Molly (His dog). Trucking Pre-Trip Inspections.

Thank you Jerry. We're moving on folks. But first a few words about types of tractors. Semi-trailer Truck. Semi-trailer. Top Semi Trucks Tractor Trailer Manufacturer Brands For 2014. Peterbilt (Website). Navistar International (Website). Freightliner (Website). Mack Trucks (Website). Kenworth (Website). Volvo Trucks (Website).

Eighteen wheels and rolling. We're moving. Meet "Tucker Josh" and his dog Diesel. His website. There are 33 trips with playlists. All Trucker Josh videos on YT. Thanks Josh.

Pressing on. Meet Allie Knight. Ride with Allie on her trips: Playlists. All her videos. Man, what a character! Thank you very much Allie.

Time for more truck driving music. Alabama "Roll on 18 Wheeler". Kathy Mattea "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses". Grateful Dead "Truckin'". Janis Joplin "Me and Bobby McGee". Or Kris Kristofferson "Me and Bobby McGee".

Onwards. Meet 1776Filmz. All his videos. Meet journey95. All his videos. Thanks fellas.

We're very near the end of our journey. A few things: Commercial Driver's License. More (Ohio). When you take the written exam you also can request to take the exams for any endorsements you may need. Such as HazMat (You will need a security clearance from the Transportation Security Administration for a HazMat endorsement). After the written portion you will be required to pass Pre-Trip Inspection, a Basic Control or Range Test, and a Road Test (a standard checklist). Basic Control Skills Test Ohio. How to perform a Pre-Trip Inspection: Example 1. Example 2. Skills Test and Road Test: Example.

A few things more: How to shift a 10 speed tractor trailer. Another example. How to double clutch 1, 2, and 3. How to shift a 13 speed tractor trailer. How To Slide The Tandems & 5th Wheel. What's a fifth wheel? How to Handle A Downgrade.

Odds and ends: 10 Things You Didn't Know about Semi Trucks ( I kept getting stuck on 8, so here's 9 and 10). Owner-Operator. More. What You Need To Know Before Choosing A Truck Driving School. More.

A note: Most truck stops are clean and safe places. However truck stop (and rest area) prostitution does occur. Caught on Film: The Dark World of Truck Stop Sex Workers (Mother Jones). A Dark Truck Stop. A Crowd of Sex Workers. A Government Program That Works? (Mother Jones). And, yes, unfortunately they are called "Lot Lizards." By the time these girls and women start walking the pavement at a truck stop, they are truly out of options and near the end of their rope.

We won't end the trip on a down note. Let's listen to Johnny Cash again.

Congratulations! We've arrived. Thanks for traveling with me.

Last note: There are a multitude of trucking videos on the internet covering every aspect of the trucking industry. Despite the length of our journey, we've really only scratched the surface.

Here's some goodbye gifts: The biggest, longest trucks in the world. Road trains in the Australian Outback. Road trains. Euro Truck Simulator 2. More. On Steam. YT. A list of 25 trucking movies and tv shows.

Over and out.
posted by cwest (43 comments total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
All this will be lost when autonomous vehicles get just a little bit better. Like tears in the rain.
posted by Naberius at 5:11 AM on December 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wow that's a lot of stuff. Did you get John McPhee's A Fleet of One in there?
posted by whuppy at 5:24 AM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

How about Johnny Cash's 'Monteagle Mountain'?
posted by mmiddle at 5:46 AM on December 13, 2014

Not mentioned anywhere in here is the number of truly shitty people that inhabit the industry. I could go on at length, but I'm out of it mow, and prefer to leave it behind.
posted by pjern at 6:17 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

approaching a highway patrol car on Interstate 10 one mile east of Los Angeles,
"Shaky Town" is Chicago, not LA, I thought. Now I don't know what to believe!
posted by thelonius at 6:28 AM on December 13, 2014

Interstate 10 is LA.
posted by stbalbach at 6:31 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

thelonius..."Shakey Town" = City that experiences a lot of earthquakes/rumblings/etc. LA.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

That makes the convoy cover the entire country (and then more), so that makes sense. Thanks.

While this is surely the most comprehensive post about trucking that I have ever seen, I'd suggest adding Willin' to the trucking music section.
posted by thelonius at 6:34 AM on December 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

This so awesome. When I was 16, and headed out on my first cross country drive by myself, my dad put a cb in my 1964 cherry red mustang, and taught me the language to use if I ever needed help on the road. Back in the days when calling a random trucker was considered a safe thing for a small girl child to do.

This is really an awesome post. Go you.
posted by dejah420 at 6:47 AM on December 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Amazing post. You went and did what they say can't be done!
posted by Spatch at 6:55 AM on December 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

More soundtrack for this excellent post....

I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed
And if you give me, weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
I'll be willin', to be movin'

*Applause.* This post will keep me happily busy all weekend. Thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:56 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

All this will be lost when autonomous vehicles get just a little bit better.

It feels like we aren't that far off from having self-driving trucks on the open road in good weather. But it's harder to see us soon automating things like finding an address in the light industrial district and negotiating where to pull in to offload three pallets of engine parts, and equally hard to automate driving in winter conditions, where traffic gets rerouted on the fly around accidents and the road conditions switch from pavement to ice to slush unpredictably. Eventually both of those will of course be done better by computers, but right now there are still a lot of steps between where we are and full automation.

But I do think very soon we will see trucks on the highway operating more like airliners, with a driver on board to handle tricky situations and take over as necessary, but spending most of their highway miles on autopilot, linking up in chains to maximize efficiency and safety. The days of Convoy-style crusty guys dodging the law are numbered if not over.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 AM on December 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

> linking up in chains to maximize efficiency and safety

Hmm, I wonder what other kind of transport already does this?
posted by scruss at 7:03 AM on December 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

Hmm, I wonder what other kind of transport already does this?

Individual vehicles working together for mutual benefit? Sounds like socialism to me.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:09 AM on December 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am a lineman for the counteeee
And I drive the main roooooooooad
Lookin' in the sun for another ho-ho-verlooooooooad
I hear you sing...

Whoops. Sorry, wrong submeffit.
posted by Twang at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2014

100% real conversation I had with a trucker:

-So what do you do to stay entertained on the road for so long?
-What do you mean?
-Well, do you listen to talk radio? Books on tape? Podcasts?
-Oh, that? I have a little tv, so I just watch movies.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:17 AM on December 13, 2014 [12 favorites]

Hmm, I wonder what other kind of transport already does this?

The US already routes a far larger percentage of cargo by train than does Europe, which is part of why we have such astoundingly crappy passenger rail service (since freight trains get priority). I doubt that we are going to see that percentage go up by a lot, so increasing efficiencies of truck freight makes a lot of sense.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:20 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here is my truck song contribution: The Kenworth of My Dreams. This guy does a nice cover of Willin' also.
posted by clavicle at 7:37 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband was an owner operater for years. He carried food with him and only ate at bright popular spots. He would not go to truck stops. He did drybox, flatbed and rock hauling.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:48 AM on December 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Back in the 1980s, my dad and I went on a roadtrip up to Canada and we convoyed with another family so we got a CB radio to keep in touch. At the time, I just had my learners permit (did I mention we were towing a boat on this trip?) so my dad's handle was "White Knuckles."
posted by vespabelle at 8:13 AM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cwest, i hope you have your superload permit, because this post exceeds the GVW for fantastic.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:04 AM on December 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Not that I would normally want to suggest that such a fantastic post be missing something, but I feel this needs mention of Red Simpson's I'm a Truck. One of the few records I know of that is written from the 1st person (?) point of view of the truck itself, and featured on an amazing MeFi Mixtape I got a few years back.
posted by jontyjago at 10:45 AM on December 13, 2014

Six days on the Road
posted by adamvasco at 11:34 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Needs more Commander Cody.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:06 PM on December 13, 2014

I got to climb into the cab of an 18 wheeler for the first time a few weeks ago. It was one of those jumbo cab things with a fridge, mwave & a place to sleep. Pretty nice. He asked if I wanted to hear the engine, so I said heck yeah! Sounded like a big, deep, purring cat.
posted by yoga at 12:13 PM on December 13, 2014

That Allie Knight really makes her job look fun. I wonder if more women and couples being truckers change the dynamic much?
posted by readery at 12:30 PM on December 13, 2014

Totally wanted to be a truck driver when I was a kid. Asked for a CB radio for Christmas, birthday, the following Christmas... My folks smiled and kept saying no. By the time I got a summer job in a warehouse during college, I was a total snob, waaaay above being a truck driver, but when I finally got to ride in a big rig I felt like a kid again, and in awe of the knowledge and skill it takes to drive those things. Great post.
posted by Lyme Drop at 1:18 PM on December 13, 2014

White Freightliner Blues ... I'm goin' out on the highway, listen to them big trucks whine ...

I got four hundred dollars per round trip, plus another hundred dollars if the produce got there in good shape. I make four round trips a month. America through a windshield, ten feet off the ground--if you want to live, drive the traffic, not the truck. Most of it is the road moving around you--special relativity, just for truckers. Sub-text on channel one-nine, a voice I thought was yours, which, I'd swear, called my name. No, that was someone else, and some else's voice. You are 2700 miles behind me, or 2700 miles ahead of me. The gap seems never to close. This was before the cell phone and internet, you understand. The better truck stops had telephones at the booths, so you could call while waiting for your thermos to be rinsed and filled. I grew to hate the telephone. I stand by the drive wheels, at the open tank, and watch 200 gallons flow through a one-inch nozzle, then go around the truck and do the same thing for the other tank. I'll climb up on a rolling ladder and squeegee my windshields, clean my lights, all of them except the marker lights on top the trailer, and bump all my tires with the billy. My partner and I do this once each way. We time our shifts so that we change drivers at fueling points, so we can move the truck 20 hours each day. Our other break together is either breakfast or supper. Best is in Okie City, cheap fuel, good food. I also liked to stop for a break at Bucksnort. The coffee wasn't that good, but it had the coolest name on I-40. One time, when I was off shift, my partner pulled into a TSA somewhere in Tennessee, and went in for supper. I woke up and decided to go inside and void my bladder. I forgot to throw a jacket over the steering wheel to let her know I'd left the truck. I had to wait for four hours for her to notice I wasn't in the sleeper, and come back to get me. Some mistakes are funny that way, others are not so funny.

65 hours from Modesto, or thereabouts, to Hunt's Point, or thereabouts, hauling garbage--vegetables to youse guys--550 miles logged on my shift every 10 hours. I am lulled to sleep by the whine, the shifting gears, gently rocking bunk, but I know every time my partner touches the brakes. 75 hours on the backstroke hauling furniture or mixed dry cargo to Shakey. People are not real, only the ever moving road sliding under my world, up in the cab. Some hauls take me through Idaho, over Whitebird, or down via Little America. I liked mountain driving, shifting gears, running the jake brake. It's technical and sort of scary on some grades, if you weigh, say 53,280 lbs, the max allowable weight for several of the states I drove through to get to the markets on the East Coast. I averaged a speeding ticket every 17 months, never more than 10 miles over what was posted. Sometimes it was bogus, but this: the trooper escorts you to a convenience store near an off-ramp, and gives you an envelope to put the ticket and cash in, and he watches you mail it in the handy mail slot. Then you are back on the road again. They don't usually offers truckers the option of a court date for stuff like this.

Solo driving is a different kind of freedom, but it makes you crazy, gets you to thinking about stuff, but settling for lot lizards instead. No way to live, that. Lousy dock masters, smoky in the comedian strip, and that truck stop in Armadillo that has the best potato salad. All that. It's nuts. I saw things out there I can't describe except as if in a dream. Popped an airline on the I-90 tollroad, and went through the toll booth at 40 miles per hour, horn blaring. Got stopped, finally, and made temporary repairs with electrical tape. The guy in the booth was very cool about it, he could have had DOT crawling up my butt. One night between Blyth and Wickenburg, on the old Hwy 60, jackrabbits lined up on the right side of the road, standing like a row of totems, until I was nearly upon them, then dashing in front of me. I must have hit fifty of them before I could get the truck stopped. It was a supernatural moment, in the desert, large white moon, no sound but the idling of my engine. I would not get out of the truck. Nancy stuck her head out of the sleeper and asked what the I was doing, so I told her. She got out the passenger door and walked around the truck, looking. Back in the cab, she seemed as freaked out as I was; she said get us the fuck out of here.

The last year I drove cross country I was first on the scene at four accidents. When I got to City of Industry I dropped my load, then left the tractor in the dispatch yard, along with a note telling them to get another driver.

I got off them goddam big trucks a long time ago, it was a while before I got over them. I liked to go over to Klien's in Fresno now and then and just sit there by the fuel island, smelling the diesel fumes. I stopped doing that, because, you know, I ain't like that any more.
posted by mule98J at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2014 [45 favorites]

This comes close to home. When I"m not making myself look like an idiot on the Internet, I make my living writing software and doing design and service work for a scale company. We sell and service a lot of types of scales, from lab balances to huge tanks on load cells, but a lot of the scales we handle are truck scales and they tend to require software more often because of the need to link inbound and outbound weights to get a net, and other data collection and paperwork generation.

I have actually worked on CAT scales (mentioned in the OP). I know a hilarious and dare-not-repeat-it story on the order of Sears vs. Whirlpool about the company that sold CAT all their scales for many years and doesn't any more because of a titanic act of managerial incompetence.

And the OP does leave out that many people consider truck drivers to be about two levels beneath dirt. Back in the 1980's I pitched a reworking of an unattended truck scale system (that is, one operated by the driver himself, in this case by presenting a card). We had a big meeting with all the plant's supervisors who relied on the scale, the plant manager, and HIS boss from the corporate home office. I made my pitch -- I had designed several of these systems already, so I knew the pitfalls, and I was confident I could make theirs work. (Truck scale apps ARE tricky because no two places use their truck scale the same way or want the same output, which is why canned systems almost never work and I've written a LOT of custom truck scale programs.)

"I understand you're good, Roger, but you do realize these are truck drivers we're talking about."

"Sure, I actually did the system in use at..."

"I mean these are not normal people we are dealing with here. These are TRUCK DRIVERS. These are people who could figure out how to break a brick."

"Well sir, I know there are challenges but I'm pretty good at..."

"You have to realize these people could break a brick if it was made out of STAINLESS STEEL. They can break things GOD can't break. I want to know you will put all of the equipment in a locked steel box."

"Well, we have to provide a display so the driver can see if the card was read and the weighment was recorded..."

His next comment is best left unreported. We did finally get him to compromise on a locked steel box with a bulletproof glass front and a display behind that.

I put the first version of that system in in 1988, and with a couple of regrades to replace equipment that became unavailable, not because it needed to be better, it's still in use today.
posted by localroger at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Large Marge sent me.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:23 PM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can get your own fixin's!
posted by oneironaut at 10:53 PM on December 13, 2014

Must every post on MeFi tonight remind me somehow of Archer?!
posted by Wataki at 1:32 AM on December 14, 2014

A shitload of interesting links and comments that cite among other things, both John McPhee and Little Feat? A truly epic post, approaching the legendary Alice's Restaurant in its scope!
posted by TedW at 5:19 AM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel this needs mention of Red Simpson's I'm a Truck. One of the few records I know of that is written from the 1st person (?) point of view of the truck itself

Back in the day Mad Magazine had a feature on how to write fiction. It said if you're not sure how to end your story just put, "And then everyone got run over by a truck."

Next to that piece of advice was an asterisk to a footnote: "*Note: This does not work if your story is about trucks".
posted by mono blanco at 6:10 AM on December 14, 2014

cwest, would you please add "megapost" to your tags?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:41 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

A post about truckers and trucking, and no Full Trucker Effect?!

why yes, I went to school in the Midwest during the 90s, and Johnny Socko played in our town several times a year
posted by Ghidorah at 2:24 AM on December 15, 2014

This is a great post.

If I might: Scania Trucks (website).

(Scania is now a property of Volvo, but they are still their own family of trucks. AFAIK.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:44 PM on December 15, 2014

Dip Flash: "It feels like we aren't that far off from having self-driving trucks on the open road in good weather. But it's harder to see us soon automating things like [...] "

This. I work in transportation, and the actual "driving a truck on the interstate" is the easy part. There is a surprising amount of complexity most people never hear about.

I can't see full automation of transportation for decades, at least.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:51 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

the actual "driving a truck on the interstate" is the easy part.

I think one of the best depictions of how this will happen was in the otherwise mostly forgotten Schwarzenegger flick The Sixth Day. While the whole cloning thing is a bit ridiculous it showed autonomous vehicles that were only autonomous on the highway, warning you to assume manual control before reaching the exit. I thought that was a very realistic detail.
posted by localroger at 3:41 PM on December 17, 2014

I do think very soon we will see trucks on the highway operating more like airliners, with a driver on board to handle tricky situations and take over as necessary, but spending most of their highway miles on autopilot

GPS and just-in-time logistics already revolutionised trucking a while ago. I remember reading this WIRED piece about it: Qualcomm's OmniTracs was tracking trucks in the mid/late-80s, long before the company sold phones, and in fact was the foundation for what became CDMA. The days of going from A to B with wiggle room for alternate routes or longer breaks on days with good traffic have been history for a while. Newer trucks now come with anticipatory gearing systems guided by terrain and GPS.

I can see the autopilot relay model being adopted because it's commercially attractive, but I'm also reminded of a recent piece written about the downsides of fly-by-wire planes: pilots who are used to autopilots managing the bulk of the process can have trouble snapping into emergency mode. "Digital devices tune out small errors while creating opportunities for large errors."
posted by holgate at 1:55 PM on December 18, 2014

One more for the soundtrack: 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Tom Robinson Band
posted by SisterHavana at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2014

Spotted this: 4 Innovations Changing the Truck Rental Industry
posted by Chrysostom at 10:44 AM on December 23, 2014

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