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12:24 am EDT 75°F (24°C) in South Rockwood, MI
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Later today, specifically at 4:00 pm EDT, I go back into work after having had what amounts to a five-day weekend. Last Friday, the lead driver in our crew, who was the one training me, decided to turn me loose after I had spent two weeks with him; however, because I had already worked nearly 50 hours for the week, under company policy I could not immediately move to my new, permanent shift (nights Wednesday-Sunday). For that reason, I had to take Saturday and Sunday off, and I guess you can say I moved into the new shift at the beginning of its “weekend” on Monday. From here on out, unless I take an unpaid day off or paid vacation time, that will be my shift — 4:00 pm to 4:00 am Wednesday through Sunday.
This isn’t horrendously different from the other truck-driving jobs I have had in the past, but there are a few pretty significant differences. Because (a) Michigan lacks a hard gross-weight limit in its law, and (b) we never leave the state, we are not restricted to 80,000 lbs. (36,227 kg) as truck drivers in forty-odd other states are. With our trailer having six axles, we can run at a maximum of 130,000 lbs. (58,967 kg), and when fully loaded, the truck is not far short of that limit.
Of course, you can probably imagine how a 130,000-lb. truck with liquid cargo handles and drives. Any piss-ant little incline, even a 2% grade less than a quarter-mile (0.4 km) long, costs the truck a significant amount of momentum; on the other side of that coin, you have to be careful of downgrades that 80,000-lb. truck drivers would think nothing of. One must also exercise care with the steering, particularly with lane changes; since the cargo is liquid, it can slosh inside the trailer, and if enough force is applied through the steering wheel, the liquid can move violently enough to put the whole rig on its side.
The other big difference I have had to get used to is dealing with lift axles, or axles that can be raised and lowered on and off the road as needed. Two of the six axles on our trailer have this capability; one is the rearmost one, immediately behind four fixed axles that are always on the ground, and the other one sits by itself near the mid-point of the trailer. These must be lowered to the pavement in order to legally carry the weight we do; however, it is impossible to make most turns — other than long, sweeping freeway-speed curves — with these axles down. (The one at the mid-point of the trailer would essentially be dragged sideways; at high enough speeds, it just keeps the trailer going straight no matter where you point the tractor, and that leads to a jackknife.)
There is a switch on the dash that raises and lowers these lift axles. As the previous paragraph suggests, they must be raised before entering into 90° turns, clover-leaf freeway ramps, and even some of the tighter curves on non-clover-leaf ramps; then they must be lowered again once the truck is straightening out after the turn. (Of course, this only applies when the truck is loaded; in fact, you never want to put the lift axles down with an unloaded trailer. Lowering the lift axles when unloaded could put enough vertical force on the trailer to uncouple it from the tractor, and then you’re really in deep shit.)
I’m half-asleep as I type here, so I think I’m going to have to call it a night on this update.