Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Great Snow And Ice Storm Of February 27, 2015

What a disaster. Not the snow and ice storm but my apartment, which after tax season looks like it was raided by IRS agents. I should be straightening it up or setting a match to it but instead I'm posting some pictures I took yesterday morning while waiting 4 1/2 hours to get into Albuquerque.

I'd headed for Holbrook at 8 p.m. just as the snow was hitting the Albuquerque area. By the time I got to Grants it was pretty severe, but then it stopped and I was hoping for an uneventful retiurn trip. The Phoenix relay truck got to Holbrook early, which for me means a leisurely, fuel saving cruise back to Albuquerque. At 4 a.m., which is generally about the time I get to Continental Divide,  I send a text message to a couple supervisors at DMC, the distribution company that delivers what I haul. I texted I'd be there at 6:00, and added, maybe even a little earlier if they have the roads cleared.

Heroic New Mexico Department of Transportation union employees to the rescue

Of course they'd only gotten worse, and I got back at 10:30. In fact soon after I sent the text the roads started getting bad. The ice started on the Laguna reservation at around the To'hajiilee exit, 25 miles from downtown Albuquerque, where I-40 starts going over a series of rolling hills. That stretch of road is also where I lose my wonderful AT&T (union company) cell phone signal for about 15 miles.

That's where the traffic backups began. Some lightly loaded semis couldn't make it up the hills and there were groups of vehicles parked on the road here and there. My loads are always very light and I had trouble getting going as I was stopped on an uphill slope. If cases like that you have to sit there and let the tires spin until they get warm and literally melt the ice underneath. You can creep forward a little at a time. Spin and melt, ease off the pedal to let them grab, spin and melt, repeat. Eventually you get a little speed up and then you're moving.

I got past a couple bunches of stopped or stuck trucks but stopped on top of a hill where I had an emergency signal so if I'd happened to be late I could let someone know. A lot of people arrive at DMC when I get there to unload the truck and sort out the pharmaceutical supplies according to which of the clinics, doctor's offices, vet's offices, hospitals, etc., around New Mexico they get delivered to. It's overnight stuff they can order up until 7:00 p.m. and be guaranteed delivery by 10:00 a.m. barring truck breakdowns and ice storms.

As I sat there in the right hand lane, a truck would creep past once in awhile and head down the hill only to learn there was no stopping. They'd slowly slide to a halt on the right hand shoulder, sit there a few minutes, then continue slowly down hill, where they all congregated. The vehicles on the other side or the creek down there never moved. It looked like there a truck stuck sideways across the highway with the front tires over the inside edge of the roadway. When I came past an hour later it had been moved. I got past some others that were broke down or couldn't get traction.

 Semis have a transfer case in the driveline that can put the eight drive wheels into all wheel drive, but if you engage it while you're moving it can blow the transfer case to bits and that could be what happened to some of the trucks I passed. It can get scary when a truck starts going sideways on ice, or the tractor's going one way and the trailer another, or you start sliding backwards as the wheels are spinning, and there's a great temptation to reach for the transfer case lever.

My International - McKinney is a trailer rental company

 I didn't get too far and sat for the bulk of the 4 1/2 hours I was late just short of the last hill going down to the Laguna Tribe's big Route 66 Casino complex. Where I sat I had no phone signal and couldn't see over the crest of the hill, and at one point got bored and started walking ahead to see if I could get a signal and see what was going on down in the valley, but I turned around before I got far enough to see anything because I was about lose sight on my truck. My contract states that I can't leave it unattended while it's loaded.

The car just ahead of me was two truck drivers, a team, who had blown an engine in California. Their company had rented them a car and wanted them to pick up a different truck in Indianapolis, the passenger explained to me. "We're not making any money sittin' here," he said.

Further ahead a woman jumped out of the rear seat of a big pickup truck and edged close to me as she bemoaned the fact that they they hadn't "stayed put" where they'd been. "They say it's like this all the way across Texas," she said. She wore the crazed expression of someone who's gone a long time without sleep, or someone who's crazy, I couldn't say which.

Even wreckers break down - call a wrecker

Traffic started rolling at 9:50 a.m. The hill going down into the Rio Puerco Valley and the one coming up the other side had been well sanded. It was bumpy from the ice underneath but traction was no problem. Nine mile hill coming down into Albuquerque was clear sailing in the left lane, and by the time I passed Coors Boulevard all lanes were all but clear.

Home Sweet Home

 I got unloaded and back up to Airport Drive, where I park the trucks a block from where I live at the soon to be fashionable Tierre Pointe Apartments, a little after 11:00, at which point I was an hour over the legal "on duty" limit of 14 hours, although there's an exception for emergencies like today. Either that or you can put down whatever you want in your log book, which of course I never do and never have done if any handsome young DOT officers ever happen onto this.

Note: Creative logging, as some call it, is probably ending, as the federal DOT is going to require "electronic logs" in all commercial vehicles that create a time record of when your truck is moving.

The looming requirement is already hastening the exodus of experienced drivers from trucking that's been caused by a series of non-sensible logging rules imposed over the past ten years, most dangerously the change to the "14 hour rule," which I've written about.

I mentioned, above, that I'd left Albuquerque at 8 p.m. That means I have 14 hours from 8 p.m. to be on duty -- driving, loading, fueling etc. So I have to go off duty at 10 a.m.

Before the rule was changed, you could stop the 14 hour clock by going "off duty" in your log book. So if you needed a nap, you could take a nap, wake up, and continue to your destination.

In its effort to get all truck drivers on a daytime "24-hour circadian cycle," the DOT has changed the logging rule so that if you take that nap, your 14 hour clock keeps ticking, so you can't really take the nap. You have to keep driving, even if you're tired, in order to get all your driving done within 14 hours.

What the federal DOT doesn't realize is that Capitalism isn't on a 24 hour circadian cycle and trucking has to pick up and deliver loads when Capitalism wants it to, so a driver's schedule is constantly changing. Drivers who stay in trucking eventually adapt to it. It might not be as good as being on a 9-5 schedule as far as being alert, but it's a lot safer than driving when you're tired. Believe me.

The federal DOT has really created a problem in trucking. Accident rates for trucks have been steadily increasing for five years now. Every night it's more and more like a clown circus out there.

I'd explain it all in letters to my congress people but I'm afraid they'd take it seriously.  They often take interest in "constituent issues" like this. They assign staff, they get things done, then they promote themselves with it. To me though it's just another excuse not to be working on the issues that matter most -- the increasing income inequality in the US, the declining living standards of American workers, the constant assaults on Social Security, Medicare and other New Deal programs, which Democrats are now going along with. The trucking industry needs to take care of itself, which it sometimes shows signs of being able to do. So much of the economy, almost 100 percent, depends on trucking that the trucking industry, united, could control the country. Truckers could do it, too, if they organized, but if you ever want to hear a lot of Rush Limbaugh implanted right wing blather just read the comments section of an article in a trucking industry publication.


  1. The absolute worst driving condition and probably one of the most dangerous situations for a passenger vehicle is when a semi truck passes or is passed by a passenger vehicle. Blindness for 4-6 seconds. And I do mean blind. I once saw a small compact being passed get in a horrible accident.....

    1. True, true. Even in a truck, where the driver sits up quite a bit higher. Often you've above it but not always. At one point, in the 80s I think, there appeared that plastic "fringe" around the wheel wells of UPS (a union company) semis, which is supposed to cut down on that spray. Thanks for the comment NM.

  2. Most interesting post. I have a distinct memory of this stretch of highway under similar conditions as we were heading to Phoenix to visit our son and his family. Horrible barely describes it. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I enjoyed your use of the term "wacko Republicans. I'd adopted the term "wingnuts" in common usage. I think I'll switch back to wacko....;) Dick will always be "Tricky" to me but considering some of accomplishments to todays lot totally worthless lot....

    1. Thank you! And you're welcome on the comment. You're right about Tricky Dick. You have a better memory than I do.

  3. Fascinating post. Was just discussing the condition of roads, maintenance budgets, etc. with a friend of mine in Public Works. Drove from Santa Fe to Los Alamos this morning, it was raining in SF, fog and rain in the valley, snow in Los Alamos. Lovely morning, but we also weren't working or carting time sensitive freight. Alas, now I am at work. Time allowed to read your writing of course. Cheers.