Search This Blog

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Life As A Moonie

For anyone interested.  If you type truck on search bar at the top of my blog it will bring up a list of my other truck related stories.  Hope it helps someone.  There are a few funnies in the bunch and some well as some opinion pieces that some may not agree with. Thanks for taking time to read my blog regardless

                  My Life as a Moonie

When I got my big break and started my over the road trucking career I should have realized what I was getting into, was not what I thought I was getting into.  I mean when you realize you are hiring on to be a Moonie it can’t get much worse, or can it.  They had nothing to do with the ones you see in airports fortunately.  Moon Freight was a Specialized Carrier.

        My civilian trucking career started totally by accident.  When I left the service I tried to open the door, but it was not meant to be. I worked for a company for forty five days essentially for free to show them I could do the job.  When my discharge became final and I thought was going to start trucking.  The guy who owned the company would not hire me. He said I did not have any history. 

      At least I had an alternative and spent the next couple years in school. Then I started my own business.  Saying it is a lot easier than it was to do.  I did okay for about three years and then I went belly up.  Not because I didn’t succeed, but because I could not manage my success.  I decided partying was more important than working.  That is the short route to the bottom.

     After losing everything I had including my family and spending six months living in a Ford Van in Fort Meyers, Florida I made my peace with God and decided to quit running from him.  I went back home and went door to door looking for a job.  After about two months I got a job as a warehouse man for a local moving company.  Three years of college to get a minimum wage job packing moving crates in a warehouse.  Not exactly my view of success.

      About a month after hiring on my boss asked me if I could drive a truck.  One of the drivers had not shown up for work.  Sure I said.  How hard could it be to drive a straight truck?  DUH!!!  Well if you have never driven one with a two speed axle it takes some adapting.  My loader for the day knew more about trucking than I did, but he had gotten a DWI and was now a laborer.  He basically tutored me on how to use it.

      It went fine for a few months and then one day I was in Bloomington, Indiana and there was semi-trailer that had been converted into a billboard looking for flatbed truck drivers.  It was a union company the sign said.  When I got to the driveway I wheeled in, in my company truck and swaggered in.  I told them how I had driven a truck in Vietnam and hauled 750 pound bombs and how we ran convoys up and down the coast.  Which was all true, I only left out the fact it had been almost eight years before and was all OJT.  I had no formal training.  He gave me an application and told me I would have to come back for a road test.  Union companies loved to give veterans a chance.  Wish I had known that when I got out of the service.

      The next Monday I called in sick so I could go take the road test.  The road test was almost like the one I took in the Army which is in another post on my blog.  It took a lot but I humbled myself and explained I was use to split shifting with two levers and had not driven the kind they had in their cab-over cornbinder’s.  He just smiled and told me to get into the passenger side.  We hooked up to a loaded trailer and he drove me out the motor pool and went south till he got to the bottom of the first big hill.  He then cut across the medium and parked on the northbound shoulder.  We then switched seats and he told me the differences and told me to take a couple minutes and practice the pattern on the transmission and get the feel of the truck.

      The first time I tried to take off the truck started bouncing up and down like it was a basketball and then died.  He just smiled and released the brakes.  DUH…I figured I just failed bigtime.  The next time we actually moved and got a couple gears up before I missed one and pulled back to the shoulder and started over.  He explained how to use the RPM’s to tell when to shift and we took off again.  The rest of the test drive went smooth.  When we got back he told me I passed and that dispatch was at four o’clock.  I informed him I already had a job and kind of needed to give notice.  He said no problem and to call him when I was ready. I asked him why I didn’t fail over the stupid mistakes I made.  He said anybody could be nervous.  Starting on a steep grade with a full load took some understanding of how to drive and as I adapted well, he passed me.

       When I showed up for my first day at work the safety director assigned me a truck.  He also hooked me up with one of the company drivers and said he would show me what to do.  They assigned me my first load.  I did not get to pick one from dispatch.  They assigned me a load of sheet rock going to Pawnee, Illinois. To get our loads we pulled an empty trailer down to the USG plant in Shoals, Indiana.  When I say down that is a literal down.  The plant sets at the bottom of about a quarter mile long road which goes straight to a gate.  That is not the gate we used except when it was snowing and we couldn’t get stopped.  Coming off that hill with an empty flatbed in snow was like riding a bobsled sometimes. 

        My escort helped me get hooked up and we helped each other strap our loads and tie down our tarps.  He taught me how to use a cheater bar and had one he leant me and told me to buy my own.  He told me to give his to the safety officer when I got back.

Everything went fine as I wondered through the plant and found my way back out to “The Hill”  I do not know the grade of that hill, but it is far steeper than most any hill I have ever found on a public highway in any state, except maybe Pennsylvania which has some doozies.  I took off twice and killed it when I went to shift.  I slowly backed it down to flat ground and started over.  I left it in low till I topped the hill.  Even after I had some experience that hill tended to be a challenge.

     Upon reaching the top I headed west on US 50 and had to go through Shoals, Indiana.  By now it was dark and starting to rain.  Coming out of Shoals is a pretty steep hill with a truck passing lane.  I got half ways up the hill and when I went to go from the low side of the transmission to the high side I missed the gear and had to stop half ways up a very steep mile long grade.  I kept killing it and I could picture me tearing the drive shaft out of the truck.  After many attempts, I hate to admit I was driven to tears of frustration as I could see my job disappearing, it finally started up the hill. I decided to stay in low till I got to the top.  Slow was better than never I figured.

      Once I topped that hill things got better in spite of the rain as I knew there were no more hills the way I was going.  It was the longest two hundred and forty miles I ever drove.  There are shorter routes but they emphasized that a person could be fired for failing to follow the route designated on your trip sheet.  That rule would actually save me money when the company later routed me on a state highway in Illinois that I was overweight to drive on.  They had to pay the ticket.  That is another story though.  The rain turned to a fog and rain mix.  I also learned on a short four lane stretch that the company trucks were governed to fifty five miles per hour.
       I got to where I was going about four o’clock and parked on an empty lot across the street.  About seven o’clock I got a knock on the door.  The rain had stopped and it had cleared off.  The guy from the lumber yard asked me if I wanted drive in and back out, or if I wanted to back in and drive out.  I must have looked dumbfounded when I asked him what he was talking about.

      He had me get down and follow him.  We walked down an alley maybe ten feet wide with a brick building on both sides.  Then we made a slight jog to the right and were in the lumber yard.  It looked very old.  The hitching posts for horses told me that was a safe assumption.  I opted for the drive in and back out as it seemed possibly a little easier.  He said that was what most of the drivers chose. 

      That is when the fun started.  I had to fold the mirrors on both sides up against the cab or I could not fit into the alley without hitting them.  Once I finally got in the yard and untarped they unloaded one side.  Then I had to juggle far enough they could get the forklift around the truck and unload the other side. When they were done I had to juggle it back and line up with the alley.  I had no mirrors so the guy from the lumber yard pointed the direction he wanted me to move the tail of the trailer and gave me hand and arm signals till I got out.  It was the longest 150 feet I ever drove in my life.

       I called the company and they told me to move to a nearby truck stop and call them in an hour.  I do not remember where the next load I hauled went.  I may have gone back empty. I really don’t remember.  I was just glad backing a truck up is a lot like roller skating.  Once you do it you never forget how.  I had learned OJT in Vietnam. 

       I had been driving less than a week and I had driven from Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam on Highway One to the air base at Tuy Hua, Vietnam.  It was less than two hundred miles, but was an all day trip.  I had a load of bombs on and was sitting in the ammunition dump when a mortar attack started.  We could see they were walking the rounds right towards the ammo dump.  The fork lift driver told me to drop the trailer and follow him.  I told him there wasn’t time and jumped on the side of his forklift and we went to the safety of the bunker.  What I didn’t tell him was that I did not know how to back up.  I had been driving less than a week and other than backing under a trailer to hook up I had never backed a truck up.  That is the truth.  Scary ain’t it.  Carrying a load of bombs and do not even know how to back up a truck.  Thanks Uncle Sam for the fine training program.  It basically consisted of saying.  You’re a truck driver.

       After the all clear he emptied my trailer I took almost an hour getting turned around to get out of the ammo dump.  When we got back to Cam Ranh I got some explanations on the basics of backing up and found me a large open area.  I practiced till could back up in a straight line with my foot on the floor.  That self- training paid off that day in the lumber yard.

       By the end of the day I felt I could handle anything that came my way.  Little did I realize how many kinds of special freight exist.  It all needs to be handled in a special way.  The biggest surprise came when I found out flat bedding would not keep me out of the cities.  In fact as a Moonie I often found myself in downtown Manhattan fairly regular.  The specialized carrier title on the sides of Moon Freight Lines trucks meant we hauled cut stone.  One of our specialties was facing stone for skyscrapers.

No comments:

Post a Comment