Monday, May 27, 2013

A little bit of history...

Randy and I have always been intrigued with the idea of driving across the country.  We have talked about it for many years.  Then one day several years back, we stumbled upon an article in the newspaper about a husband and wife team who became truck drivers to make some serious money.  This couple put together a plan to be able to pay off their house, put money in savings, and retire after just 5 years of driving. To top it off, during the five year period they were able to spend quality time together and see the entire country.  Well, Hawaii and Alaska were excluded of course, but they had an opportunity to see every major city in 48 states.  The seed was planted in the back of my mind that day.  Randy and I both thought that driving a tractor trailer across the country would be a lot of fun.  We could see the country and get paid for it.  We definitely wanted to consider this idea when we retired from our jobs much later in life. 

In May of 2011 Randy and I both lost our jobs.  Although the company we worked for took good care of us, we immediately started looking at our options.  The job market did not look very good and nothing seemed promising.  With our kids starting college and leaving home, we felt that we needed to look at this layoff as an opportunity.  Maybe this was a perfect time to look into driving a big truck.  We spent hours and hours on researching the trucking industry.  We really did not have anything to lose so we decided to go ahead and go to school to get our CDL licenses.  In the meantime, we continued with our research.  We asked tons of questions.  Any opportunity that presented itself for us to learn something new, we jumped on it.  We talked to all sorts of people, all sorts of companies, all sorts of unhappy and some happy drivers, all sorts of owner operators and to all our teachers.  We talked to anyone that was willing to speak.  Overall the response was mostly negative.  We were disappointed and undecided.  Then we found a blog about a couple, a husband and wife team, who drove for US Express.  Their story was not much different than ours.  I contacted them immediately.  They were a happy couple who seemed to love what they did.  They concentrated on the positive aspects of the job and they definitely looked happy.  It seemed like they had a ton of fun.  They were able to enjoy themselves and make money at the same time.  I remember the excitement I felt every time they posted on their blog.

Believe it or not, we still walked into the industry totally in the blind.  We had no idea what this was going to be like.  I felt like we were getting into one of those pyramid companies where you were promised the world and you had a certain amount of time to make up your mind or the offer was off the table.  It was crazy if you ask me.  I was even told that the recruiters lie to you just to get you in the door.  If it wasn’t for Anne and Craig, the couple from US Express, we would not be driving.

We started school in July of 2011 and graduated in October of 2011.  Randy received the President’s award in our class and boy was he ever proud.  It seemed like driving the big rig came naturally to Randy.  I struggled a bit, but I did well in the end.  Not knowing how all this was going to pan out, we did not want to sign any contracts and be obligated.  Con-way accommodated that requirement.  We wanted the flexibility of being able to go home if we chose to.  After all, we were leaving the three most important people in our lives behind.  That was the hardest part.  Even though the kids were getting older and moving on with their own lives, leaving them behind was really tough.  Two weeks after graduation we left on a Greyhound bus headed for Joplin, MO to start our venture with Con-way Truckload.  The bus ride was definitely a memorable experience.  Let’s just say that we will never do that again.  I know, I know, you should never say “never”.  I think we spent a total of 38 hours on that bus.
To my amazement, I sincerely enjoyed driving and touring the country.  I enjoyed spending everyday with Randy.  I loved the fact that nobody was over my shoulder telling me what to do, with the exception of Randy, lol.  I got to experience new places with someone I loved and I was getting paid to do it.  Our experience with Con-way Truckload was a very positive one.  I am not saying that it went off without some hiccups, but over all we did not have anything negative to say about Con-way. 

After driving for a little over a year, both Randy and I felt that we wanted to look at other opportunities.  At this point we knew how we felt about the trucking industry, we knew the risks that were involved, we had some driving experience, and we had an idea of the possible potential.  Randy started looking and asking questions all over again.  I was desperate for us to try something different and new.  I wanted to move forward, yet not jeopardize what we had with Con-way.  Randy decided he was going to be the one to tread in the new waters.  He applied with a tanker company located in our home town and was hired.  He was very excited about this opportunity because the potential was there to make more money and be home a lot more often.  If all worked out well, then I could have joined him in the future.  For the time being I stayed on with Con-way and looked into becoming a trainer.  Teaching was right up my alley.
Randy did not want me to be out there in the big bad USA all by myself, but I insisted.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do the job and I also wanted the new experience.  I can tell you all that I absolutely and positively hated it.  I had to do everything by myself and it was not easy.  For example, moving the tandems, pulling the tandem handle, pulling the king pin handle, strapping cargo, closing the uneven doors, putting placards on and off in the rain, parking, docking, pre-tripping, fueling, cleaning out the trailers, cleaning the windshield that I could not reach, and the list goes on.  Solo driving was not for me.  I recall telling Randy that I knew why I liked the job before he left me.  It was because he did all the work and I only drove.  Mostly, I felt that solo driving was very dangerous and way underpaid.  My dispatcher was good to me, but I still did not think it was worth the risk.  By the end of the second week I finally started to come around.  I stopped crying and I found ways to be and feel safer.  I worked out a schedule which made life a little bit easier day by day.  Of course I had my little support team.  My friend Dianna called me every day to keep me company over the phone.  Some days we talked for hours.  Dianna was my moral support and she continuously reminded me that I can do the job.  My friend Donna cared about my well-being.  She kept track of where I was at all times, she monitored my locations for weather and road conditions, and she made sure that I was safe.  The minute I was not logged into Google Latitude (a mobile location service); she was on the phone wanting to know why.  It was very refreshing to know that people out there cared for me so much. 

Randy was busy acclimating to his new position and learning another facet of the trucking industry.  Pulling tanker and working with different chemicals required a lot of focus.  There was much more to the job then just driving.  The majority of the materials hauled in tanks included flammable and hazardous chemicals.  One small mistake could result in a major catastrophe.  The loads were usually very heavy and more difficult to control.  Even though Randy was only in his training process, he still managed to be home quite often.  Randy was impressed by the company and the laid back atmosphere.  Everyone was always happy and very positive.  With this kind of job, a driver’s mind frame was very important.  The job included a lot of responsibility, not only to the new company, but also to himself and to the general public.  He needed to be very focused and clear minded.  Randy was about to start his one week hazmat training in South Carolina when he realized that he could not do it.  He could not move forward with a clear conscience.  He knew for a fact that his mind was elsewhere.  He was constantly worried and thinking about me.
Randy was fortunate to leave the company on good terms with an open invitation to come back.  He rejoined me at Con-way Truckload at the beginning of February.  Con-Way has a 30 day no questions asked policy which Randy took advantage of.  Both of us were very grateful for the experience and knowledge we gained during that transition and we were excited to be back on the road together as a team.
 
Not too long after being on the road together again, we started looking into taking the next step and the possibility of becoming Owner/Operators. We looked at many different options and decided that buying a used truck would work out the best.  In March of 2013 we purchased our first truck from Con-way Truckload.  We did all the research on driving for other companies and we realized that going from Company Drivers to Owner Operators at Con-way would be a very easy transition.  We had the help and support we needed, which made life much easier.  We also met some wonderful people who we are proud to call our friends.  Since we were very happy and comfortable, we decided that we would stay at Con-way Truckload as Independent Contractors. 

Today, we continue our research and look forward to taking yet another step.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back on the road again...

Well we are back on the road again after 2 weeks of home time…plus a couple extra days. Irene’s honey do list was longer than I thought and the turkeys would not cooperate, well actually they did but they got the best of me. Turkeys won the battle. Oh well, there is always next season. Home time was great and we were able to spend time with family and friends.  We were also able to spend some quality time with our kids. Now it’s back to work! 

Right out of the gate Con-way shot us to Rocky Mount, NC to pick up a load bound for Lenexa, KS. From there we picked up in Kansas City, KS and headed to Salt Lake City, UT with a UPS load. From Salt Lake City, UT they dead headed us down to Calexico, CA to pick up a load going to Taylor, MI which we are currently on as I write. We should end up close to 6000 miles this week. That is not bad seeing we missed the first day of the pay period. Our fleet manager is awesome and we couldn't be happier with her.
While at home we sent our truck to Kenworth for a checkup and an upgrade on the oil system. I have received a lot of inquiries about our truck and what we do to achieve the fuel mileage that we get. I thought I would periodically give our readers updates and share information to help them achieve better mileage with their own trucks. We must keep in mind that our truck has a lifetime history of 6.4 mpg and our goal is to get it to 7.5 mpg.

Our 1st upgrade was to install Michelin low rolling resistant steer tires. The truck had Michelin wide singles on the drives already but we removed the Goodyear steer tires and replaced them with the Michelin XDA’s. Next we backed our speed down from 65mph to 62mph, which helped us save on fuel. We have also installed an Eco-Pure, OPS 1 oil purification system and switched to Synthetic oil. The Synthetic should help us with better fuel mileage. It may only be one or two tenth of a mile, but when you travel 280,000 miles per year, it all adds up. The oil purifier is for keeping the oil cleaner and free of contaminants.  It should hopefully prolong our oil changes from every month to every 6 months.  At $275.00 a month (times 12 months) that is quite a savings. All we have to do is change the filter once a month and send an oil sample in for testing. The results will tell us when to change the oil and also let us know what is going on inside the engine. The biggest increase we have found was in the tires and reducing our speed. With all of the upgrades so far we have taken the truck from 6.4 to 7.1 in our first 30 days. Doesn’t seem like much, but that will actually put $7k back in our pocket this year in fuel savings. Our goal is to get the truck to 7.5 mpg with a few more upgrades. Our next purchase will be the Fleet Air filter for the intake. It’s a washable/reusable filter that allows more air to the engine. We should be able to squeeze out a couple more tenths with this upgrade. Stay tuned to find out.

I am so glad that spring has finally arrived. We love the outdoors and all the colors of spring. What a beautiful ride we had from Salt Lake City this morning down I-15…no more worries about the snow for a while. I love what we do and love spending everyday with my blonde bombshell at my side, even though she still struggles with her Geography, names, and Border Patrol...but she has improved! Although this morning she referred to a Peterbuilt as a Peterborough...maybe Geography and names are getting mixed up with her...lol