Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Early Christmas Present

What a week we've had!

We've been blessed to attend Mass both the third and fourth Sundays of Advent (thanks, Ray and Mindy!), we've had a great week of miles (a 3000 mile load from Los Angeles to Philadelphia started us off), we're no longer using paper logs (I promise I will dedicate an entire post soon on the ins and outs of logging), at the end of the week we'll be spending Christmas with both of our families, and...

THREE recruiting bonuses will be on our paycheck this Friday, right in time for Christmas, and right in time for us to pay off our LAST credit card! The bonus money is enough that we may even be able to pay off my smallest student loan, all before January 1st! That puts our total debt to date paid of at around $48,000. We truly began paying off our debt in February, so 11 total months so far of paying off our debts equaling $48K is pretty darned AWESOME!

It certainly was slow-going at first, but paying off the smallest debt and getting that monthly payment out of the way really made the next debt easier, and the next and so on. And now, we are completely credit card FREE!

Student loans come next...and boy are there a lot. Ben's undergraduate degree was paid for by the religious community he was part of for 4 years, but his graduate degree, my graduate degree as well as my undergraduate degree are all on the docket for getting paid off. Currently all but two of the loans are in forbearance, which was necessary in order for us to get traction on paying off our truck, car, and credit card debt. The two that are not in forbearance will be the first to get paid off, which will be completed by the end of January. The loans in forbearance will become active again in March, so we'll have the minimum monthly payments start up then, but with all of the other debt gone, we'll be able to throw all extra income after our general monthly expenses at the smallest loan first until the last one is gone. Every day we're getting closer!


Current location: St. Peters, MO (a suburb of St. Louis), making Christmas cookies with Sarah Swaykus
Next load: pick-up in Effingham, IL and drop in Irving, TX (Dallas area)
Miles this week: 5000ish


Things to look for in our next posts: our newfound fascination with jump-roping, and command central inside our truck

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eisenhower's Interstate

Do you know the history of the interstate system in our country? A rest area in Utah has a snippet of fact looking into the history of how they began. (I tried to download a picture of the sign but to no avail...instead I'll just give you the text!)

"Father of the Interstate Highway System"

In August 1973, the U.S. Congress designated a cross-country stretch of interstate as the "Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway," in tribute to President Eisenhower's early recognition of the need for a national network of highways to enhance the mobility of a growing nation. His dream originated in 1919 on an Army convoy from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, California, a journey that took 62 days.

On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the historic legislation that created the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and the Federal Highway Trust Fund, the pay-as-you-go mechanism throughout which U.S. motorists have funded the construction and upkeep of the U.S. highway system.

Today, that system stands as a monument to Eisenhower's vision as a young Army officer--a legacy of safety and mobility that has brought all Americans closer together.


It is because of this innovation of highway systems that it only took us 50 hours to drive from Los Angeles, CA to Washington, D.C. ourselves! Fifty hours sounds a lot better than 62 days, no?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chaining Up

On our way home to Bend for Thanksgiving, we had to do that dreaded thing that truckers dislike--chain up our tractor and trailer *sigh*.

We had just dropped our load at FedEx in Portland and were heading toward the pass for our three hour journey home to Bend. Unfortunately the recent snowfall had mucked up the roads enough that chains were required on all vehicles with a gross weight rating (GWR) of 10,000 pounds or more. Four-wheeler vehicles needed only to have traction tires, but without that they also needed to chain up. There was only but a few inches on the roads, but a few inches is enough to send you careening off the side of the mountain!

Thankfully, because the company we work for is just awesome and really takes care of both the drivers and the equipment, all of our chains worked perfectly! Last year, when we had to chain up our one time, even though we had 3 more chains than needed, half of them were broken or were so twisted we couldn't use them on either the tractor or the trailer! This time around, it was so easy! It took about an hour to put them on, and forty miles later we were finally able to safely remove them without fear of sliding off the road. It was a nice 30 degrees during the on-put, but had cooled down to 14 for take-off (extra bonus then that it only took 15 minutes!).

I suppose I can now say, "Bring on the snow!" Ben likes to drive in it more than I, but now that we've gone through chaining up a second time and everything is in working order, the ordeal it turned out to be a year ago just won't be the case this winter!

The passes that we have to look out for, that we drive the most frequently, are:

-Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 in Washington
-Siskiyou Summit on I-5 in southern Oregon/northern Californa
-Cabbage Hill on I-84 in Oregon
-Grapevine on I-5 north of Los Angeles, California

We do not drive these routes as often anymore, but they are high candidates for chaining up as their elevations are 7000+ feet:

-Continental Divide pass on I-90 in Butte, Montana
-Donner's Pass on I-80 just west of Reno, NV in California

Mother nature has been known to dump up to three feet of snow in a single storm on these passes. Three feet! You can make a lot of snowballs/men/angels with that!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Perfecting the Pitch

After three months and about 60 contacts, we finally succeeded in driver recruiting! Our first convert to the company, Bobby, was seated in his truck over the weekend. Our bonus for bringing him in should be showing up on our paycheck this Friday!

Every day we get in touch with at least one person or one team from our old company. We've worked on our “script” of delivering the pitch and I think we've really caught a rhythm. Our total contacts to date are around 80, and we keep in touch with many on a regular basis, to continue answering any questions they may have and to encourage them to make the switch. We benefit, obviously, with the bonus if they come on board, but our aim is also to benefit them by providing them the opportunity to work for a better company. We believe in what we are selling!

In preparation for “life after trucking”, we've invested significantly in business literature. One such book is “The One Minute Salesperson” by Spencer Johnson. It is confirming our present pitch tactic and giving us other great ideas for “making the sale”. If you have any suggestions or tips that have worked for you, let us know!

Many of our contacts are planning to join the company after the first of the year, so as to keep their hometime's scheduled as are with their present company (who doesn't want to be home for Christmas?). That means that in January and February we should be seeing great returns on our recruiting investment!


Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Theory Confirmed

Our last post detailed our theory that warm weather climates=aggressive drivers? Just last week that theory was confirmed in a way that could have led to a motorist's death.

I was driving on I-10 east of San Bernardino in California, on the way to Phoenix. The interstate was three lanes wide, and I was in the far right lane. The construction vehicle in front of me was driving slower than I, so I checked my mirrors and turned on my turn signal to merge into the center lane. In that center lane, about 4-5 car lengths behind me, was a motorcyclist. Because I had clearance and my turn signal had signaled at least six times, I began the merge.

Apparently this was extremely offensive to the motorcyclist, because he immediately sped up alongside my trailer leaving me straddling the dotted line shared between the center and far right lane. Obviously I could not now complete the merge as this ticked off biker was just a foot or two away from me (by the way, his bike was a crotch-rocket, not a Harley...from a generalization of what we've seen on the road, bikers on Harleys are laid-back and do not try circus stunts at a speed of 60 miles per hour. Crotch-rockets, on the other hand, are high-strung young males that need serious attitude adjustments and lessons in highway safety).

He continued along my tractor until he got in front of me, and then proceeded to “stare me down” and flip me off. What came next? He dropped his speed from 60mph down to 25mph in about 3 seconds, all while continuing to stare backwards and flip me off! His bike was so close to my bumper that I could not even see his rear tire. Had their been debris in the road ahead of him or had he simply lost his balance, his life would either be over or it would consist of eating food from a straw. Thankfully, we had a light load and I could slow “quickly”.

I think there are a few kickers to this entire incident:

      1. The far left lane? It was completely open. This guy just didn't want me to get in front of him.

      2. Traffic was not thick, but it was heavy enough that had someone behind me not been paying attention (in either the far right or the center lane), we could have had a rear-ending frenzy of vehicles.

      3. What point did it serve for this young man to perform this circus act? He sure didn't get to his destination any sooner, although I could have sent him to his final destination.

After this biker had enough of speeding up and then slowing down, speeding up then slowing down, speeding up then slowing down in front of us, he finally sped up for good and was out of sight. I merged back into the far right lane with my four-way flashers on until I could resume the highway speed. I was visibly shaken, upset, mad, and ready to cry. Ben was on the phone with the state police to report this act of indecency and to give the biker's license plate number. They did not seem to care, unfortunately (would they change their tune had an accident occurred?).

We've seen some crazy feats of driving by crazy people out on the road, but this one takes the cake. I am not even sure it can be topped! Thank God no one was hurt—our guardian angels are certainly looking out for us!


Present location: Salt Lake City, UT
Where we're headed next: Portland, OR
Fun loads as of late: Nintendo, T-Mobile cell phones (Andrew V., this one's for you!), and Amazon

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Have a Theory

The last week, we've spent some time in the warmer-climate states (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee), and have two incidents of significance to note on aggressive driving. This leads us to our theory that the warmer the climate, the more aggressive the drivers (especially when you add Florida and California to the mix). Of course, Chicago, New Jersey as a whole, and New York City have their fill of them too, but our experience with the rest of the country has been pretty mild with road raged drivers.

Incident #1
Ben was driving west of Baton Rouge, east of Lafayette, LA. The interstate was three lanes wide, and we were in the far right lane. Upon approaching an on-ramp (i.e. traffic entering the interstate), there was no room for us to merge into the middle lane to allow for the on-ramp traffic to enter the far right lane.

Mind you, it is not required by law that drivers in the far right lane do such a thing. It is courteous, yes, but not legally mandatory. Drivers on the on-ramp, after all, are required to yield to those already in transit on the interstate.


Anyway, a very shiny black BMW with a very fancy cycling road bike attached to the trunk was trying to get in from the on-ramp. We were driving faster than he but could not merge left, so we held our lane. He had to *gasp* slow down and make the merge in behind us. He then (obviously because of his speed, small vehicle size, and raging anger) merged into the center lane, sped up beside and then in front of us, and proceeded to merge back into the far right lane to be the vehicle directly in front of us. Can anyone guess what he did next? Yes--this mature piece of work SLAMMED on his brakes.

Now, I've never been known for my mathematical skill or knowledge of the laws of physics, but what do you think a tractor-trailer combination weighing up to 80,000 pounds could do to his less-than-5000 pound fancy foreign car?

Thankfully, we had a safe six second following distance (minimum) and avoided any such catastrophe.

Incident #2
We were on our way back to the interstate in the Memphis area after having a mid-route drop for our last load. We had several miles of three-lane traffic (i.e. with stop lights) to battle through before we got back to the outer loop of the city. We were less than 3/4 mile from the particular on-ramp we needed, and were in the middle lane of three. Traffic was moving extremely slowly, but because there were so many trucks/four-wheelers in front of us, we couldn't quite tell what was going on. What we did know, however, was that the far right lane was mostly empty, so the cars behind us would zip around to get in front. We then employed our tactic that we like to call "plugging the hole". We maneuvered around enough to see that some utility work was being done ahead and the workers had blocked off both the far right lane and the center lanes. Our "plug" was to take up both of those lanes so as to prevent more four-wheeler traffic from zipping by and slowing down the process for everyone else.

I moved right to block these lanes just before a "big bad pick-up truck" (BBPUT) with a small trailer of his own tried to get by me. He was ticked off so bad at my plug that he made sure he was seen in my driver's side mirror, where he proceeded to fist pump his extended middle finger three times through his windshield, and then two more times out his window. It didn't take a genius to see that he was flaming mad! I continued to hold both lanes until a kind four-wheeler driver (they do exist) let me in front of him to get in the far left lane just as I came upon the orange cones blocking off the two lanes I was plugging. BBPUT guy had to merge in a few vehicles after me.

Just after the utility work lanes opened back up, I got back into the far right lane as the on-ramp was following the next traffic light. BBPUT guy sped up to meet me window to window, screaming and hollering at me, wagging his cell phone in one hand and his cigarette in the other. I pulled up just enough to where he wasn't even with me anymore, and couldn't be (a vehicle was in front of him at the traffic light). Ben told me I should smile and wave. That dude was an angry bully and I was not going to give in to his loathing attitude of my action.

Using the tractor-trailer to "plug" may not be the kindest of actions to perform, but 90% of other drivers on the road non-verbally support and often follow this action. They don't like dealing with that BBPUT guy type who think they're so important they need to zip around everyone violating safe driving practices just to be the first in line.


What to learn from these two examples? Don't be that aggressive driver! It's not worth it!


Present location: Greencastle, PA
Where we're off to next: Las Vegas, NV
Miles this week: 6000ish (we just came off our home-time and they're running us hard!)
Friendly encounter: Dianne and baby Charlie came up from Front Royal for a lunch date--it was great to see them!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Only One More Left!

We are so excited--we just paid down our second last credit card and now only have one more credit card left before we start on our student loans! This card had the final balance of the farmhouse renovation costs; Tani had paid us in full (monthly reimbursement installments) over the course of a year once we finished the work, but as we had a time period of no income for a while, and very little once we started trucking, we used that small monthly amount to live on. In the past 6 weeks though, we've paid the card off entirely!

Yesterday we started calling up those accounts we've paid in full to close them (and redeem our "rewards" points for restaurant gift cards). They didn't understand why we'd want to close them! *gasp* "But--what if you have an emergency?!" Our response: "Well, ma'am, that's what our emergency fund is for. We are not going in to any more debt!"

Hopefully by Christmastime we'll have the last credit card paid off; the second installment of our sign-on bonus and possible recruiting bonuses should help a lot with that!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's True

I was passed by an empty cattle trailer that hadn't been cleaned in a while (if you know what I mean).

The license plate: "Cow Cab"

Bumper sticker #1: "BEEF--it's what's for dinner."

Bumper sticker #2: "Shit happens."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lincoln

Our company has a terminal in Lincoln, Nebraska that Ben and I like to frequent for many reasons: it is hardly used by any other drivers, there is a workout room and showers, free wifi and laundry, a courtesy van is available for checkout for 1-2 hour increments, and Lincoln seems like a fun, laid-back city. A lot of our loads have us traveling on I-80, so stopping in for a break here works out really well.

Last time we were in Lincoln, we were working on a 34-hour restart (one of these days I'll write a blog on all the ins and outs of trucker laws and regulations) and had the opportunity to attend daily Mass. We found the "old" cathedral and participated in the 8am liturgy with the Catholic elementary school students. This prompted me to contact our Bishop in Oregon, who hails from Lincoln. He gave me directions to the new cathedral, as well as his former parish; we plan to attend the vigil Mass there this evening!

Using the courtesy van is great too--we've enjoyed a few great meals in this city, and this afternoon was no exception. I had noticed the last time we were here that there was a "Buzzard Billy's Armadillo Bar and Flying Carp Cafe" somewhere near the university district. That restaurant has a personal tie; when my dad used to travel throughout the country working for Tigereye, he would try to find fun places to visit or eat at off the clock. A trip to LaCrosse, WI provided him the opportunity to visit Buzzard Billy's Flying Carp Cafe. When he came home, I remember him telling us about his meal--the Jamaican Jerk Rub seasoning was so spicy he got a nosebleed!

I made special requests that he pick up fun t-shirts at his various travel locations (Idaho Six-Pack, Forrest Gump, G.R.I.T.S., and others made the cut), so he obliged in bringing home a t-shirt from this restaurant. After he passed away, I thought it would be neat to visit some of those places he had been; LaCrosse, WI unfortunately is not often a stopping point. When I saw that Lincoln had this restaurant, I knew we had to go!

We enjoyed a wonderful meal of shrimp, gumbo, hushpuppies, red beans and rice, armadillo eggs and bread pudding, all while watching college football. It's definitely a stop we will be making again!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Record

Some time in September I broke the standing high-mileage record: 709.3 miles in one 11-hour driving shift. Now that we're on eLogs, this record will likely never be broken (more on eLogs later). Now Ben can only beat me in the low temperature category!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Income Opportunities

There are no shortage of opportunities at this company to earn a little extra income here and there. Ben and I are working on two at this time: the health incentive and driver recruiting.
The health incentive deals with health, obviously. Specifically, if a driver logs his/her diet and caloric intake for the day, an exercise log of working out at least three times a week, or turns in doctors annual exams or proof of preventative care, points are earned. One hundred points are awarded for each three months of logging; once 600 points are earned, you can redeem them for a sport bottle, gym bag, exercise clothing or $400 cash. Can you guess which one we're going for?
As detailed in our “Exercise Endeavor” post, we are working hard at keeping active throughout the week getting exercise. This health incentive is the extra motivation needed to keep up our routine! At present, we are only logging our workouts, but may add the other options at a later date. It's kind of nice to earn $400 a year for just exercising!
The driver recruiting incentive is where the big bucks come in; for every experienced driver we successfully recruit from another company (i.e. they become employed by our company and are dispatched on their first load), we earn $1000. We could potentially earn more income recruiting drivers than we could in driving! For every $1000/driver recruiting bonus we earn, that is 3 days less we need to be on the road. If we get even just 10 drivers/bonuses, that is one month less we need to be on the road!
We are targeting drivers of our former company, CRST, because we know how poorly run they are and how awful the drivers are treated. If you remember my post about the differences between the old and new companies, you could see how we want to convert, if you will, drivers from CRST to our present company. To date, we have contacted over two dozen CRST drivers; though we have yet to see the bonus. Some of them found other companies to switch over to, and some—no matter how much we tell them “It's better on this side”—are just reluctant to change. This company even offers a $5000 sign-on bonus for teams and 48 cents per mile if the drivers have their HazMat certification. To further give incentive to our recruits, we are offering them $100 of our own money if they get signed on with the company; a 10% investment from our $1000 bonus is worth it to guarantee they apply and are hopefully employed! (Once we receive the bonus on our payroll, we send out the $100)
When we found out about the program, we got decals put on both sides of our truck as well as a stack of promo packs including applications for new drivers. On our last hometime, we made up business cards advertising the $5000 bonus and our phone number; anytime we see a CRST truck we either talk to the drivers directly or leave our card in their window. Once we gather their basic information, we forward that on to our recruiter, Rhonda. She then makes contact to sell them on all the other great aspects of the company. It has been a little bit of a comfort zone breaker, walking up to complete strangers and trying to deliver a pitch successfully. What drives us is the bonus, obviously, but we also really believe in what we're selling: a professional company to work for, and one that treats you as such as well.
If you don't mind, keep this endeavor in your prayers! Like I mentioned—the more recruits we get employed into the company, the less time we need to be on the road!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Mixed Blessing

Bend has a Bed Bath & Beyond store that Ben and I like to frequent, partly because they send out promo 20% off coupons in the mail, as well as other good deals. Presently we're using them to beef up our cast iron collection of cookware. Last time we were home was no exception—we were set to get a cast iron bacon press to use with our newly seasoned 9” cast iron skillet.

So, Ben had several errands to run one day—BB&B being one of them—and as he pulled into the parking lot, an elderly woman was backing out of her parking space and backed straight into the side panel of our Dodge Ram. To make a long story short, the accident was ruled 50/50 by both ours and her insurance, and an claims adjuster/appraiser came to assess the damage on our truck.

---Ben and I bought this truck about a month before our wedding for a smoking hot price of $2950. It has some miles on it, a few rust spots on the underside, and paint fades here and there, but it's a great 4WD manual truck that got us through 6 months of renovation and a move across the country hauling a U-haul trailer. Prior to our cross-country move, we put about $1000 worth of work into the engine to make sure everything was sound, as well as new all-terrain tires. Add it all up, and our total investment to date has been little more than $4000, all paid for.---

Back to the insurance claim: the damage caused was deemed a total loss for the vehicle. No big deal—we'll get a check in the mail from her insurance company for settlement on the truck, the truck's title will have to branded, and we of course have the huge dent. But—here's the great blessing from this unfortunate incident: the appraiser valued the vehicle at $4600 and adjusted a bit off of that price due to the high mileage, rust and faded spots. The grand settlement total then comes to $3964.21. Not bad for a paid-for truck that we get to keep, huh?

The truck still runs fine—it's getting older, though, and now with the dent, it has gained “beater” status. We plan to continue using it, dent and all. And the check? I bet you can guess where that money is going—straight towards the debt!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sheepish

As I've become accustomed to driving down the road, Ben awoke from his slumber in the back and peeled open the velcro curtain.

"Hey hun! How ya doin?" I ask.

"Oh, never mind. I thought there were a bunch of sheep back here but there aren't any. I'm going back to bed." He responds.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five Down, Three to Go

We've paid off a couple more debts in the last month; the first installment of our $5000 sign-on bonus came in mighty handy for them! Both were credit cards; one was Ben's truck school tuition, and the other was full of miscellaneous living expenses from when we were jobless for 3 months last summer before getting hired on with CRST. Our total debt paid off to date is roughly $20,000.

We have three credit card debts left, with the goal of the first being paid off by the end of September, the second by the middle of November, and the last by Christmas. Come January 2011, we're going to begin tackling the last of our debt: the dreaded student loans. That should take us right at a year to accomplish.

I must say, it sucks that we have as much debt as we do, but working the "debt snowball", as Dave Ramsey has termed it, is so motivating and encouraging. We are losing a huge amount of debt-weight every time we make a payment and eventually bring our balances down to zero. Debt-free is the way to live!

Dave Ramsey mentions at least once a week the Biblical principles for not being in debt: the borrower is a slave to the lender. A few weeks ago, I was listening to daily Mass when the Gospel reading was the story of the servant who had an extreme amount of debt to his master. The master threatened to sell the servant, his wife and all his possessions, but the servant pleaded with the master for mercy on the debt. The master did in fact have mercy, and forgave him the debt, only to later find that the servant would not have mercy on a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount. The master took matters into his own hands then, casting the unforgiving servant into prison until all his debt was paid.

The obvious moral of the story is to forgive; Jesus told this parable to Peter after he asked, "Lord, how many times should I forgive? Seven times?" Jesus replied, "Seventy times seven", then told the parable. With my own view of debt changed, I see a much deeper moral to be learned from this story beyond merciful forgiveness. Having debt is perilous; your life can be taken from you, your spouse can be taken from you, your possessions can be taken from you if you are unable to pay your debts. This is how people lose their cars, homes, furniture, etc., because of debt they couldn't pay. How do you get around this? Just don't go into debt!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Unassuming Wild Animal Spectacle

Shortly before Ben and I came home for our last home time, we were hauling a load of Toyota Tundra and Sequoia engines from Huntsille, AL to San Antonio, TX. We drove along the I-10 in Louisiana west to Texas, and after just having crossed the state line into Texas late at night, we stopped at a rest area for a break. There was a nice deck-type ramp going from the parking lot into the restrooms. I waited there for Ben to come out, and noticed a couple of raccoons climbing down a nearby tree. I didn't think much of it until I noticed some shadows out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the ramp, below, on the grass. This is what I saw:


Someone else came out from inside the rest area with a bag of chips from the vending machine. The slight sound of that crinkling wrapper brought the raccoons to assume the begging position.


They're kind of cute, when you look at them from a distance. Mind you, there were no fences or anything keeping the critters from coming up on the deck. In fact, one did to get closer to the chips, but quickly went back to the grass after we shooed him away.

The guy that had the chips eventually just gave them all up to the raccoons. They fought like, well, raccoons over them.


The rest area attendant told us they recently put up a fence around the perimeter of the rest area to keep the alligators out (what!) who would crawl up the ramp and enter the rest area. The fence kept out the gators, but not the raccoons, who were soon joined by an opossum. He didn't last long inside the fence, as he was simply outnumbered by the herd of raccoons, and retreated back to the other side.

As we left, we noticed this sign, and thought it to be ironic; for "beyond this point" was where all the action was with the critters.


Texas just does it up as much as possible; this is our conclusion :-)

Friday, August 27, 2010

How We Get Paid

Our paychecks vary week to week, depending on the amount of miles driven. We put together a "trip pack" of all of our log sheets corresponding to the load, a copy of the bill of lading, any reimbursements (like scale tickets or tolls), a seal manifest, and a cover sheet. Each load we pull has a specific trip number. When we finish the load and turn in our paperwork, that trip number makes its way to payroll and they know from that how many miles we are to get paid for that particular load. We turn in an average of 4 trip packs per week. Turning them in by midnight Monday evening means we get paid for that load the Friday morning at the end of that week. Anytime a trip pack is turned in after midnight on Monday, we'll get paid for that load the next Friday.

I realize now as I'm describing it that "turning in our paperwork" means nothing like how it sounds. We scan it through TransFlo (kind of like a fax), and keep the originals. There is a barcode on our cover sheet that TransFlo reads and immediately sends to our company (many of the large trucking companies use this method of payment). The way some trucking companies still operate the payment process is through the snail-mail system of UPS or FedEx envelopes being shipped back to company headquarters.


Using TransFlo is a much quicker option for getting paid, and after the trip pack is sent, a confirmation receipt is given as verification. We then wait until Friday morning to get an email copy of our paystub to ensure all the trips that should be on there are, and the money is direct-deposited into our account. Every terminal for our company has a TransFlo machine, and every Pilot and Love's Truck Stops have them as well. It's a pretty easy way to get paid!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Truck Stop Shower Experience

As promised, I've got a few new posts coming! Ben and I made it to Bend on Sunday evening and are relishing our time at home! Ben is fervently working on his thesis (as of right now, he's written a rough 30 pages out of a 45 page minimum), we've taken full advantage of having dental/vision/medical insurance filling our days with appointments and check-ups, I'm finally printing out and framing wedding photos, and we're loving the ability to attend daily Mass (and celebrate our parish's 100 year anniversary! Great solemnity!).

Life.is.great.

But--on to this post: the truck stop shower experience. Here's how it works: when we need to fuel up our truck, we swipe our company credit card in the fuel island kiosk. We then swipe our "rewards card" (similar to what you have at a grocery store, that gives you discounts for store brands). For every gallon of fuel purchased, we earn a point (i.e. a penny). We can use those points in the store for snacks or other merchandise, but we generally use the points for Subway sandwiches or other fast food meal combos (mostly salads if there's not a Subway). If we purchase at least 50 gallons of fuel, we "earn" a shower (otherwise, it costs $10 on average). The showers expire after a week, and a shower is obviously deducted from your point balance if you use one. I recently documented the process of "getting a shower", and want to share the pictures with you:

First, we swipe our rewards card at the kiosk inside the truck stop.


We then wait for a shower to be deducted from our balance, and wait for the shower slip to print.


The shower slip, with our shower number and door password is printed.We check the shower monitor to see which shower number is ours.


We type in our password for the door.


And our private bathroom is equipped with a toilet,


shower and sink (not pictured).

And, as you can see, the truck stop has a "pledge" for keeping a clean bathroom and shower for the truckers.


I've seen some sparkling showers (the TA in Redding, CA to name one), and some showers that could use a little help, but all in all, a shower is a shower. It is so nice to get cleaned up after a day or two on the road, and after a good workout. Some truck stops even offer bathtubs (and crown molding and granite countertops...Little America at exit 68 in Wyoming is the best we've seen. AND they have 50 cent ice cream cones. It's hard to top that)!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Sluggish Blogger...

Hello readers: I have not forgotten the blog! I've just not been in any place with free wifi long enough to write a post! We cancelled the "tethering" feature of my Blackberry to the laptop, and my thumbs are just not up for posting on a 3" screen. I've got a few minutes here at a rest area in Texas, so what you have to look forward to in the next blog posts (once we make it to our hometime in Bend) include:

1. two more debts (equaling about $6500) have been paid down
2. the truck-stop shower experience
3. how we get paid for our loads
4. the unassuming wild animal spectacle at another Texas rest stop

I look forward to posting all of these as well as some pictures of our recent adventures...til then, keep our safety in travel in your prayers!

God bless,
deb

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Exercise Endeavor

Many of you may know that both Ben and I have a past with running. We've logged a couple hundred miles of training, three marathons, three half-marathons and several 10K's between the two of us. Knowing, then, what kind of shape we've been in, and what "shape" we're in now, we're seeking resolution and working towards the former. Having this sedentary lifestyle as we know it in trucking, it is easy to just continue sitting--but, we are tired of it being easy, because in reality, that's hard.

In June, we both applied for term life insurance, which included as part of the processing a physical exam. We had Nurse Nancy and her husband Jack come to our home and do a thorough medical history, blood and urine samples, and height and weight measurements. That was all the kick-start we needed (do not worry; everything else is completely normal--we just added a few pounds) to get into gear and "healthy-up".

Since then, we have made it a point to get out and run at least every two days. This has certainly been a challenge for us with time constraints, hot weather, and lack of motivation. But--we have done it! And we have loved it! A great help to our endeavor is several of the company terminals have work-out rooms with treadmills. Sometimes they have only one treadmill, so Ben will run and I'll do yoga for 30 minutes. It has been a great way to sweat out stress, feel better physically, sleep easier at the end of our shifts, and tone up our trucker bodies.

This has also inspired us to search a little further off the beaten path for places to run. We found the Rogue River State Park Rest Area near Grants Pass, OR last week, and enjoyed a 2 mile stretch along the river. In Santa Rosa, NM there is a great length of road right by a truck stop that we've run on a couple times now (and watching the sunrise up over the mesa in the east is quite a beautiful sight!). The terminal in Lincoln, NE has been a frequent stopping point for us with their work-out room, and the terminal in Markham, IL (Chicago) also has a couple of treadmills. Laramie and Evanston, WY have also provided us with some nice trails, and we've made our own routes in Mountain Home, ID and Dunnigan, CA.

When we are home in Bend, we try to maximize our opportunity in the land-of-the-outdoor-enthusiast. Pilot Butte (2 miles round trip, 460 feet up) is right outside our front door, the river trail loop (3 miles), and a myriad of other hikes keep us busy and our heart rates elevated.

Do you live near an interstate and know of a running path? Let us know, and if we're ever in your area, we'll stop to take advantage!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Independence Day

Okay, I know it's been two weeks since the 4th of July, but life has kept us a little busy! We had a fabulous home-time over the holiday weekend, complete with watching fireworks shot off of Pilot Butte. Add to that a few nights out with friends, a killer hike (which included drinking fresh spring water and wading through a river, knee-deep), and you've got one great weekend!

The 4th of July/Independence Day are coming to have a bit more meaning to Ben and I though: last year, we left Bend on July 4 to start our training with our old company in the Los Angeles area. One year later, we have moved up and on to our new company and are growing closer to our goal of being debt-free every day. According to our calculations, we will need to drive truck just two more years--until July 4, 2012--to complete paying off our debt and to save a small nest egg. It is a terribly exciting feeling knowing that in just those two short years, we will be financially free! Independent of owing anyone money (except for rent, utilities, the basics)! Continuing to listen to the Dave Ramsey Show three hours a day has been motivating, and we look forward to being the happy couple calling in to say "We're debt-free!"

Present location: Olive Branch, MS (at the terminal, taking advantage of free wifi, and free laundry)--we will be heading to Columbus, OH from here, then to Atlanta, GA
Miles this week: 5100

Have a beautiful Sunday, everyone!

God bless,
deb

Friday, June 25, 2010

...and another one's gone!

We are pleased to once again report that we have paid off yet another debt! This one belonged to a real estate course Ben took a few years ago. The information learned was quite valuable--as the cost was expensive--but we are happy to kick this debt to the curb!

To date, since we've been ahead enough to pay off our debt (roughly February of this year), we've paid off close to $14,000, some of which was taxes due. The bulk, though, of our payoffs, has come since we switched trucking companies and saw the huge increase in pay. We feel so blessed and fortunate to have been hired on with the new company, making our goal of being debt-free closer. Our next debt will be taken care of within 3 weeks!

Present location: somewhere in western Iowa, on our way to the Denver area
Mileage this week: 6571 (a GREAT week!)

I'll try to give another update in the next few days about our visit with fellow truck school alum Russ, our exercise endeavors, and more terminal visits (we have been impressed!). Until then, have a beautiful Friday and weekend!

God bless you,
deb

P.S. A HUGE shout-out and thank you to Jennifer, for designing the header of our blog. We love it! Check her out at doxologydesign.com !!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Beautiful Day in Portland, OR

Last week on Sunday, June 13, Ben and I had a "free day" in Portland. We were parked at a truck stop right next to a bus stop for the city transit system. We inquired to one bus driver how much an all-day pass would cost, and he gave us a deal for $5 total for the both of us! Off we went into downtown...

Our first stop was Pioneer Square, to check out the Visitor's Center and plan our day. We then took the Max to the Portland Zoo, which proceeded to give us so much joy--watching the otters and the polar bears was worth the admission price! Here are some photos of the zoo animals:

Bobcat:

Hippopotamus:

Black Bear:

Polar Bear:

Bald Eagles:

Check out our little video of the polar bear having fun with his "toy", a plastic bin with a hole torn in it (caution, it is quite loud):

video


Next was a visit to Old Town, the haunted pizza joint near Chinatown.

We also visited the Rose Test Garden, a place where 10,000 blooms can be seen and smelled, where hybrids reign and a "Rose Queen" is crowned every year. We were a week past the peak of the blooms, but they were still so beautiful and fragrant!


Then we took a walk along the river, where the Rose Festival was finishing up its weeklong celebration. A stop at somebody's #1 on a top ten list of Irish pubs (Kell's Irish Restaurant) was our last escapade before heading back to the truck stop. A full--and extremely fun--day! Portland isn't always this beautiful with great weather, so we really lucked out!


We look forward to the next time we'll have another "free day" in Portland, but if the weather is crummy, we'll just head to Powell Books then (as the gentleman at the Visitor's Center said, "It's like Barnes & Noble, on steroids).



Right now we're at one of the terminals near Chicago. We've had a great week of miles, but I don't know exactly how many as I write this post. From here, we're heading to eastern Pennsylvania, and from there? Who knows! They keep us busy, and we're loving it--goodbye, debt! We're going to kick another credit card to the curb by the end of next week!

Have a great week, everyone! God bless you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Our Rig

After transferring to our new company over a month ago, here is finally a picture of our "new" rig:



It is a 2008 Freightliner Cascadia with 260,000+ miles on it. We've put on close to 30,000 since we started at the end of April. She's squeaky-clean in this picture, as we just pulled out of the truck wash!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mile Marker 48

It has been seven years since Dad died. Several times now, I've driven past that crick-bed on I-44 in Missouri where his soul left this world. Sitting in my Bible, I still have a Father's Day card, signed but unsent. I still miss him.

I had hopes of writing up some elaborate tribute to my Dad, but sometimes the grief is still too much, sneaking up on me in waves of emotion. So instead, I just ask that today you say a prayer for his soul, and for my family.


May God bless you and yours abundantly,
deb

Friday, June 4, 2010

Another One Bites The Dust!

We are happy to report that we have paid off yet another debt...this one was a while in the making because taxes this year set us back a bit, but we are another one down! This time we paid off the car; the VW Jetta is now ours, not the banks! It will be nice to not have that extra $200+ payment each month--that money will now go to our next smallest debt, which we should get paid off within 3 weeks or so, depending on how good our mileage is. We're getting closer to our goal of being debt-free, one debt at a time!

Present location: San Jose, CA (to Tempe, AZ to Memphis, TN)...it is 84 degrees here!
Miles this week: this load will have us at 2780 miles by Monday morning

Have a great weekend, everyone!

God bless,
deb & ben

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movie Madness

To pass the time when we're on a layover, we enjoy watching movies. Purchasing our laptop was a huge contributing factor to viewing, and we've made our fair share of purchases from Blockbuster's $2 movie selection. Here's a review of the movies we've watched over the past 4 months, in no particular order (we learned pretty quickly that $2 movie generally means that the movie stinks).

Revolutionary Road: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kathy Bates reunite from their Titanic days in this book-turned-movie. Great acting. The story revolves around a young couple who consider themselves to be extraordinary and beyond the ho-hum of daily work and life in the suburbs with a father who hates his job and opposes the conformity to the settled American life. The wife convinces the husband to return to the enthusiasm of their younger years and move to Paris, which gives them fleeting moments of unrecounted happiness. All hope of this new adventure comes to a quick halt when the wife discovers she is pregnant with their third child. The husband decides to take a promotion at work and stay in the states, while the wife desperately seeks out ways for them to return to the enthusiasm of their plan to move, which includes a self-induced abortion which culminates in the taking of her own life as well.

The Life Aquatic: This movie is steeped in European humor. Unless one is a fan, we do not recommend it. Great cast, though.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter: The book was great, the movie, notsomuch. It exhibited a low budget and tight schedule (and apparently was a Lifetime movie). If you're interested, just read the book. Trust me.

The Devil's Tomb: Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in one of the biggest wastes of time. It's remarkable just how bad a movie can be. He needs a new agent.

Dan in Real Life: This is one of the better movies we've seen in a long time. Dan is an advice columnist who is still coping with the recent loss of his beloved wife, while he continues to raise their three daughters. The movie centers around an extended family get-together weekend. One of his brothers brings his new girlfriend over to meet the family, and Dan finds himself strongly attracted to her, bringing about many funny and awkward situations, which will tug at your heartstrings. This movie is an emotional rollercoaster, with a heartwarming ending.

Lies and Illusions: Christian Slater and Cuba Gooding Jr. star in this movie, which started out very serious and captivating in the first 10 minutes. It didn't take long, then, for it to take a dive south. We both feel that halfway through the movie, the director decided it was a joke to film it, and then they improvised the rest of the film, sprinting to the finish. Christian Slater needs a new agent too.

The Life Before Her Eyes: This is a fairly good movie, opening up with two teenage girls primping in the bathroom before class, when suddenly, gunfire shots are heard throughout the school as a disgruntled classmate is taking his frustration out on the school. The scene ends with the young man barging into the girls' restroom, looking for someone to shoot. The movie then jumps forward so many years, depicting the aftermath of the shooting in the life of one of the young women. As the movie jumps back and forth between present-day reality and the day of the shooting, and with it unclear as to what took place in the girls' restroom, this movie is filled with suspense and twists in the plot.

Lakeview Terrace: This movie is about a black workaholic police officer who sought to provide everything for his family, while not realizing that in doing so, he drove his wife and children away from him. Consequently, his wife had an affair, and was accidentally killed in a traffic accident with her lover, who happened to be white. This brings about deep racial prejudice against white men who are married to black women. With his new neighbors happening to be such a couple, this movie focuses on the tensions therein.

Crossing Over: This is an intriguing portrayal of the trials and tribulations both legal and illegal immigrants go through as they seek to work and obtain citizenship in the United States. The movie is interesting but filled with lots of nudity and foul language. The great cast includes Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd, and Ray Liotta.

Valkyrie: This movie is the retelling of the last assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. It is fairly suspenseful and well-acted.

Meet the Browns: This Tyler Perry film highlights the struggles of a single mother providing for her three children with limited income and resources. What is refreshing about the movie is the the mother's care for her children and the responsibility she takes upon herself to be the best she can be for them.

Meet the Fockers: An excellent sequel to Meet the Parents, with as much gut-busting laughter as the first.

The Unsaid: Andy Garcia stars as a psychologist who lost his teenage son to suicide. Years after his loss, a former psychology student requests his help for aiding a young man similar to his son (at least in physical characteristics). The story is a race against time as the psychologist must put aside his own feelings of inadequacy about his son's suicide in order to uncover the truth about the young man's past before he acts out dangerously. The plot has plenty of twists to keep you at the edge of your seat to the end.

Zodiac: This movie tells the true tale of the San Francisco area killings in the mid-1960's that spawned a nationwide manhunt for the killer. It also focuses on a journalist's obsession to discover the killer's identity.


Present location: at home in Bend, OR
Mileage this week: 8 miles (hiking/running)

Happy 19th Birthday to Sarah!

Have a great week, and God bless!

Peace,
deb & Ben

Monday, May 24, 2010

The California Fruit Stand

Having a lot of time on our load from Longview, WA to Pico Rivera, CA, we made a stop at our favorite truck stop in northern California, then finally took the opportunity to stop at a well-advertised fruit stand off of the I-5 near Bakersfield. Many samples later, we left with a jar of pumpkin butter, handmade white corn/wheat tortillas, six nectarines, a pound of cherries, a pound of garlic pistachios, half pound of ranch-flavored corn nuts and a slice of blueberry crumble pie. Murray Family Farms has made a life-long customer out of us (at least for as long as we're trucking!). Check them out!

Present location: Fontana, CA (in the shop...again)
Total miles this week: restart at 0

Have a blessed week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tips for Driving

As you can probably imagine, Ben and I see quite a bit of good driving, bad driving and down-right crazy driving out on the road. Did you read in the last post about the person who passed us on the right shoulder only to then drive over four lanes of traffic to (barely) make it to the left exit? This, unfortunately, is not uncommon. It is also not uncommon for us to see four-wheelers (cars, pick-up trucks, SUV's, etc.) have complete disregard for truck drivers out there. Hence, this post is for anyone with a license and could use a few reminders for safe driving, as well as a few things to know in general about trucks if you do not drive one yourself:

1. Always use your turn signal.

2. When on the interstate, if you are not passing someone, drive in the right-hand lane.

3. Use your cruise-control feature (if available), especially on the interstate. When driving is your livelihood, it can be extremely frustrating to play “leap-frog” with others because they will not keep a steady speed. Please do not make us pass you 3 times or more. It gets old.

4. Never ever tailgate. Especially behind a semi. Keep enough distance between you and the semi that you can see the truck mirrors. If you cannot see our mirrors, we cannot see you.

5. After you pass a semi on the interstate, be sure to leave enough space cushion before you merge back into the lane the semi is traveling in. In some states, if you do not leave enough space, you will get a ticket if caught.

6. Be aware that the distance needed to stop a tractor-trailer is significantly longer than the distance needed to stop a car. For example, if you're driving on a state highway and a truck is behind you (with his/her own proper following distance) and your turn is coming up in ½ mile or so, put your turn signal on at the ½ mark. This gives the trucker ample time to slow down and adjust his speed without having to slam on the brakes.

7. It takes trucks a lot longer to get going from a dead stop than it does a four-wheeler. Our tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Honking your horn will not make us go faster.

8. Trucks need a LOT of space to make turns. Because of this, remember to “keep your distance”.

9. If you see poor driving by a trucker, call it in. I have done this for both truckers and four-wheelers because they posed a very real and dangerous threat to everyone in the nearby vicinity on the roadway. When we all cooperate for safety, everyone wins.

10. Be courteous to truckers and help them change lanes when they signal. This can be done by leaving enough space for the truck/trailer to merge into your lane, as well as flashing your high beams to let them know. Two feet of clearance is hardly detectable from the mirrors of the truck; let there be a few car-lengths of space.

11. Believe it or not, when it comes to merging, it is the vehicle already in transit on the interstate who has the right-of-way, not the merger. Do not expect the truck to get out of the way; it is much safer for the truck to hold his/her lane. Either speed up and get in front of the truck, or be patient and yield. Do not drive on the shoulder with the same speed.

12. Trucks turn over easily. They have a higher center of gravity and therefore need to take curves a lot slower than a four-wheeler.

13. It may be annoying, but be patient with them, and be weary of them. Trucks, by their very size, can hurt you a lot more than you can hurt them.

14. If there is a sudden and strong wind gust, be careful about passing trucks: that can easily push him/her into your lane without the driver being able to do anything about it.

15. In general, when passing, do not "lolly-gag"; we do not like being boxed in.

16. Honking does not do much good; it is not easy to hear what is going on behind the truck.

17. Most trucks are governed. If it looks like two trucks are duking it out with one trying to pass the other, it is because one is going just slightly faster than the other. Most times, the truck getting passed will slow down, but sometimes this show can go on for miles.

18. If a trucker ever looks like he doesn't know where he's going, especially if he's an over-the-road trucker, he probably doesn't. There are many places that truckers have never been and the learning curve is high. It may be annoying to be behind a trucker like this, but it is one of the more stressful parts of the job. Being courteous and patient can go along way for a short fuse.

19. Although it seems that most truckers are safe and courteous, there are some very unsafe truckers out there, and we see that a lot more from our perch up here than you would down in your four-wheeler. There are drivers who will drive distracted; they watch movies, knit, text, etc., all while driving. You name it, they probably have done it while driving. There are drivers who take drugs to stay awake, although this seems to be more of a thing of the past. There are drivers who will keep a false log. There are drivers who will pee in bottles. There are drivers who will drive an entire 11-hour shift without taking a break...basically, not all drivers are good drivers, so be vigilant around trucks.

20. Truckers are people too.


Do you have any other safe-driving tips for four-wheelers or suggestions for truckers? Safety is always our #1 priority and any feedback is welcome.


Present location: Tumwater, WA

Recent visits: brother-and-sister-in-law John & Melissa, our nephew Ben and nieces Maddie & Amelia

Miles so far this week: 3958


Have a great weekend! We are looking forward to returning to Bend next weekend for our hometime! It has been nearly 2.5 months since we've been to our apartment, and it will be a nice break.

God bless,
deb

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's no wonder...

...people kill each other in New Jersey. I think it is official that New Jersey has now surpassed California as my least favorite state. People are mean, short and nasty (well, not all, just most), the roadways are begging for rehabilitation, trash is littered everywhere, the state smells like a garbage dump, people pass you on the shoulder only to then cross over 4 lanes of traffic to barely make a left exit (not joking), there's a mass overlay of roads that lie on top of each other near Newark making it easy to miss a turn, leading you into an area of town that doesn't allow for trucks to turn around especially with low-hanging bridges...... We had this experience just a few days ago, and in a span of a few minutes. To say the least, stress runs HIGH, bringing out the "best" in us, if you can believe that.

In this last experience, we were stuck blocking a road trying to make a tight right turn that couldn't be made until all of the traffic in the opposite lane of the direction we were headed moved. This led us down a residential/industrial area (who thought that would be a good idea to mix the two?!) with many more tight turns, swearing and frustration, only to find another low-clearance bridge directly in front of us. I had to get out of the truck and help Ben back it down the roadway and try another route to get us out. All in all, it was a delay of about 30 minutes trying to maneuver through the streets. Thankfully, we came through when traffic was light and we had plenty of time on the load to deliver.

Nonetheless, this led us to believe it's no wonder people kill each other in New Jersey. The state is dirty, crowded, polluted, and people do not know the term courteous. Thankfully, we only have to visit this state every once in a while. Otherwise, we may kill each other...

On our way down to the Memphis area from New Jersey, we stopped by a truck stop near Greeneville, TN, to get a bite to eat: the "Davey Crockett Travel Center". The food was horrible, but the placemats kind of made up for it and kept us entertained.

In case you can't read it, it's titled "Mountain Talk", with phrases and words common to the folk who live in the hollers of the Appalachian Mountains. Because of their previous seclusion from outside culture and influence, these gems have been passed down from many generations. Here's an example:

BOOK READ - Educated or well informed "We aim for little Flossie to git book read someday."
FUR PIECE - A great distance "He lives a fur piece from his kin folks."
GULLY-WASHER - A hard rain "We shore had a gully-washer last night."

On a brighter note from the NJ depression, we're in Olive Branch, MS, a stone's throw from Memphis, TN, the location of the second terminal we've now visited. This one is just as nice as the first! With free laundry! And a "rental" van available to drivers to go out of the terminal to get a bit to eat or do shopping in the nearby area! The staff here continue to be helpful, pleasant and courteous (take note, New Jersey!). We could hardly ask for more. It is quite remarkable the difference in cultures between our old and new company.

We've got a load going to Boise, ID from Memphis, picking up early tomorrow morning. This will be our first venture back into the Northwest in almost 6 weeks. Considering the ridiculous humidity I awoke to this morning, I cannot wait to get where it's dryer! It's hard to believe we've been away from our place in Bend for 2 months, and we are looking forward to returning in two weeks!

Have a great weekend, ya'll! God bless!

Peace,
deb & ben

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Some Random Thoughts

Greetings from Los Angeles! We're at the dock getting unloaded, then hopefully dispatch will set us up with another load soon so we can leave this area! It's always nice to say goodbye...

I have great news: I passed my comps! I have officially earned my Masters Degree in Theology! Praise the Lord! Now if I could just continue developing my exit presentation for the catechetics specialization I will be all set!

I've enjoyed reading "smut" books (i.e. books that have no academic or theological bearings whatsoever) since comp day, and have completed both "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards and "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham. Both were page turners, but I finished Grisham in a day. What a story! Presently, I just dove into Michael Crichton's "State of Fear". Any recommendations for other good books out there?

We passed by the creepy honey-I-blew-up-the-baby toddler cut out again today, so I snapped a picture. It doesn't seem as big as the first time I drove by it, but I still think it's weird...


When we were in the shop the other day getting the starter changed, we were able to spend some time with Steve and Valerie in San Antonio--they were gracious hosts! We enjoyed seeing y'all and look forward to the next time!

And, a huge CONGRATULATIONS shout-out to AJ for completing his chemo! You've been a great inspiration to me and your faith and trust in the Lord is admirable! Your family continues to be in our prayers!

Have a great rest of your week and a fabulous weekend! God bless you!

Peace,
deb

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mother Nature's Fury

Greetings from the great state of Texas! We've been very busy with this new company so far, traveling from western Ohio to Chicago to Denver to Kansas City to Phoenix to Los Angeles to San Antonio. We were to head to Georgia next, but our starter is giving us problems again, so we're in the shop.

Traveling from Denver to Kansas City last Thursday evening was a sight to behold. We were driving behind a long-and-skinny thunderstorm cell, which stretched from Dodge City, KS all the way up to the twin-cities area of Minnesota. For over an hour, as we neared the storm, we saw nothing but lightning light up the sky, bouncing from cloud to cloud. Not more than a second was between each flash, and the view was from every direction in front of us. It was really quite beautiful! Here is some video footage (bear with us, it was black out, but you can see all the flashes):

video

A short hour later, we were driving through marble-sized hail, wind, and rain so thick and strong that we could not even see the front of our truck! We literally had to stop in the middle of the interstate because the white lines were not visible. Thankfully, no cars were in our near vicinity, and stopping gave us a clearer view of the road. We limped along through the storm, getting in front of it where it was dry, but the winds were too strong for our trailer so we had to shut down at a truck stop in Salina and wait for the storm to pass us by again before we could continue east.

I feel confident in saying that I would rather go through a snowstorm than to go through something like that again.

In Salina, we waited in line to pay for our fuel, standing next to one of those storm-chaser guys. He wasn't with "Storm Chasers" proper, but it was a similar group, heading into the storm, waiting to see what they could see. They had one of those turtle-shell type, low-profile, armored vehicles. After going through that storm myself, I think those people are crazy...

We are so thankful the Lord kept us safe!

In other news, my weekend driving highlights are:
1) driving 10 feet away from a small herd of elk near Flagstaff, AZ
2) watching a shooting star fall over Sedona, AZ
3) seeing a creepy honey-I-blew-up-the-baby sized cutout of a toddler playing with an equally large tractor, west of Phoenix on I-10. Apparently this is to advertise the nearby flea-market. It was so life-like I half-expected the baby to stand up. Definitely creepy.

We've logged over 4800 miles since last Monday night. That's a pretty good week! Here's hoping to break 5000+ this next week!

Have a great week everyone! And congrats to Pat and Jill for competing and completing the Eugene 1/2 and full marathon on Sunday! Way to GO! God bless you all!

Peace,
deb

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Few Pictures to Share

We had an enjoyable 2 weeks off between our old and new companies, and were able to spend some time with family (including attending Austin's First Communion)! Above are "the boys", Isaiah-Avery-Austin, piggy-backed on me-Ben-Andy. Below is our beautiful niece Izabel, "borrowing" my toothbrush and toothpaste.


Here is a lovely message found at the United Church of Christ in Akron, OH (no, I wasn't driving when I snapped this photo). Please heed this advice! :-)

Finally, what's under your bed? This is just a glimpse of what's under ours, with our monthly supplies of food and drink.


We're in the great mountain city of Denver, CO at the moment, with our truck just getting finished in the shop (we had a fuse keep blowing). We'll update you with where we go next! Have a blessed day!

Peace,
deb

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Leaps and Bounds Beyond

It is as if we have moved from the ghetto of Los Angeles to Beverly Hills (not that we would ever live in California, but you get the point)!

The differences between our old company and our new company are nearly astronomical, and has completely cemented our commitment to and desire for working with them. It has also positively reinforced our decision to leave our old company. A few comparisons:

Old: the terminals were dirty, dusty, and shoddy at best with trailers for showering (use your imagination), one driver lounge with one tv, cheap laundry at $1 a load to wash and $1 to dry, a bad-attitude guard and the gruffest maintenance people in the shop (including the foremen who were always covered in a layer of grime, shower habits unknown), etc etc etc
New: we've only been to the one terminal in Springfield, OH, but it is incredible: granite countertops, leather couches and seats, a flatscreen tv in any direction you look (including the laundry room), the laundry is free of charge, the shower stalls are all ceramic tiled with those great big showerheads, there is a driver shop to purchase company-logo attire and accessories, the shop foremen wear khakis and polos (and appear to shower on a regular basis), etc etc etc

Old: had we stayed, our pay would have topped out at 40cpm, after 5 years
New: our pay is 48cpm and will be until we leave this company (after the debt is all gone!)

Old: we drove the "economy" version of a tractor: the cheapest, easiest-to-produce, no frills or bells and whistles (Freightliner Columbia)
New: we get the upgraded version: a Freightliner Cascadia with clean-idle certification, a bunk warmer that produces low emissions, and closets with doors (!)

Old: the shop is a ragpile mess of parts, workers, and messes scattered about
New: the shop is immaculate with a well-organized separation between parts and service (it's as nice as a truck dealer, or better!)

Old: an outdated type-writer kind of communication device to get information to and from dispatch
New: a touch-screen interface tool to communicate between us and dispatch, with other perks of a gps system and multi-media safety videos

Old: the terminal lots were gravel, with more potholes than level surfaces
New: the terminal lot is one smooth and level slab of concrete and no potholes

Old: orientation was very unimpressive and very unprofessional with a lot of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality (and took 5 days), and handouts were copies of copies of copies with nothing organized or looking crisp in appearance; orientation was not paid
New: orientation was extremely professional and well-executed (and took only 3 days), with handouts bound with covers! We were paid $58/day for attending orientation

Those are just a few of the perks to whet your appetite of a new glimpse into the industry. We can't wait to get a load and start driving out on the road again! There are a few cosmetic things that need to be addressed with the truck while it's still at the terminal, so right now we're hanging out with family in the meantime. We're looking forward to sharing our new adventures with you!

Have a beautiful spring Saturday today! God bless you!

peace,
deb

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Strife is O'er

...now we just wait to see if the battle is won...

I feel free! It is such a relief to have taken those comps and now we're just in the waiting game to see if I passed! My apologies to the dear readers (Sandy) for not posting any updates since Easter, but I've been spending most of my free moments going over my notes for the big test!

We've been in Ohio for over a week now; on Monday last week we finished up our last load with CRST in Akron, then drove our rig to the drop-yard in Columbus where Joe and Andy picked us up and helped us unload our belongings. Some of you remember that my first load ever driven as a professional driver with CRST was 40,000 pounds of Bud Light. Not to be outdone, I suppose, our last load with that company was 42,000 pounds of Corona and Pacifica beer, with never a load of beer in between. Maybe one of these days we'll get a load of Guinness...

Right now we're hanging with the Wilker clan in western Ohio making our visits with family. Last evening's events included rolling down the "hill" in a cylindrical tile, the results of which had Andy running into a tree and Ben landing on his forehead earning a strawberry with surrounding hues of grass-stains. Tonight we'll join Grandpa, Uncle Tom and Aunt Esther for supper; afterward we'll head to Springfield for orientation to start in the morning with US Xpress!

We are so excited for this opportunity to be moving "up" in the industry, and are looking forward to sharing our new experiences with you from this company and the different places we will be going. Ben and I brainstormed one afternoon all of the various stories and topics we could cover, and came up with a list several pages long! If there are any curiosities you have of life in this business, don't hesitate to ask!

In other enjoyable news, we've been able to visit with some friends we'd been trying to get together with for quite a while! On Divine Mercy Sunday, we were able to visit with Steve, Dianne and baby Charlie in Front Royal, VA, and attend Mass (that made 3 Sundays in a row for Mass!!!). In the few days before comps, we spent time with the good people at the Apostolate in Bloomingdale, including Bob & Christy, Jim & Kay, and Mr. John Martin. After the big test on Saturday, we hung out with Sarah R. in Robinson, PA, attended Mass (4 in a row!) on Sunday morning at St. Peter's in Steubenville and saw a whole bunch of great people from the university at the donut social. We then headed back toward my mom's and stopped in Westerville, north of Columbus, to visit with Michael, Jennifer and John-Paul (Ben's godson). JP wanted to know "What are you still doing here?" after he woke up from his nap.

We've had a great visit with all of you and look forward to the next time we'll be able to spend time together again!

We've been out of a tractor cab for so long that (can you believe it?) we're itching to get back into that 8' x 8' box and just drive drive drive. It's time to see some more of the country! Spring is in full bloom everywhere (except for West Virginia) and we can't wait to see more of that seasonal beauty!

Have a beautiful Tuesday, folks! May God bless you abundantly!

Peace,
deb

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two Weeks Notice

At last, I now have the time to deliver the good news!

It's been our plan ever since we first started trucking with our current company, to move on to another better-paying company when the time is right, and the time is finally right!

About three weeks ago when we were "stranded" in the Seattle area for 3 days straight waiting on a load, waiting on our home time, and with no entertainment options, Deb and I began to get antsy. We decided it was best to start calling some different trucking companies that we were interested in to see what they had to offer. Of those which we called, many we had spoken to before, several months prior, but we decided it would be a good effort to call again and see if anything had changed since we last spoke.

Of those former contacts, one proved to be particularly desirable, which hadn't been when we previously spoke. As I spoke with the recruiter, I was informed that certified and experienced team hazmat drivers were being offered a $5000 sign-on bonus and a starting pay of 48 cents per mile (cpm), which is more than one-and-a-half times what we are currently making. This is surprisingly and fantastic good news; it is like earning overtime pay for all the work we are currently doing. To say the least, Deb and I were very excited!

However, this opportunity did provide itself with one small obstacle to overcome: for our hiring area, this company required that we live within 50 miles of the I-5 corridor. We presently live within 100+ miles. So, as I spoke with the recruiter and she informed me of this news, she said that they initially wouldn't be able to take us on, unless we moved closer to the I-5, something that neither Deb nor I had any desire to do. But, as she spoke with me further, she encouraged us to still fill out an application and see what would happen, that maybe they would allow for an exception.

We submitted our application and waited several days to hear back from her, which we eventually did. She informed us that they would not take us on with us living in our present location. She informed us of this via email, and to say the least, Deb and I were quite disappointed. Nonetheless, we did not want to lose this opportunity, and still not wanting to move, I decided to call the recruiter and ask her if we could work out some sort of deal. I offered to them to waive the $5000 sign-on bonus or to decrease our starting cpm by a few cents, or to have us leave the truck and trailer somewhere along the I-5 and have us commute, or we would be willing to cover the cost of fuel to cover the extra distance in that commute (because their preference is that we take the truck/trailer back home with us)...pretty much anything and everything. Apparently my eagerness to come up with some deal that would be mutually beneficial, the recruiter decided that she would talk with her supervisor again and see if she couldn't make it work.

So, we waited a couple more days.

Then on one early morning as I was driving west on I-80 in Nebraska, I decided to give the recruiter a call to see where things stand. She simply informed me that they were willing to make an exception for us, and that they would take us on as is. To say the least, I was sitting on cloud nine! I was not simply tickled pink, because they were accepting us and taking us on, but also because a few years ago I never would have attempted to negotiate a deal. I would have simply and quietly accepted what they had to say and looked elsewhere. Acquiring this job is in some sense a great achievement that I'm thankfully proud of!

We've already submitted our two-week notice to our current company and have decided that the best time to make this switchover is while Deb is taking her comps back in Steubenville, OH. Our new company, US Xpress, has a terminal and orientation site located in west-central Ohio, Springfield, OH, and so this just made good sense to have the switchover during this time. It also provides the opportunity to visit with Deb's family for a couple of days. We'll have three days of orientation beginning on April 21st, then hopefully by week's end we'll have ourselves a new job (we're not technically hired on until we complete the orientation, until the company is satisfied with our performance), a new truck, and a considerably new income.

We were always hoping to make money this good in the trucking industry, but in many ways this is a goal fully come true. This is top of the market money, and most companies that we spoke with topped out at only 42-44cpm. So, we're making almost $12,000 more a year with this company than with other places. As we've spoken with other friends in the trucking industry, they are known to be a reputable company, quite large, and well-maintained. We are looking forward to this new adventure!

This money is as good as we could have possibly hoped for, and it is sooner than expected, and so we should hopefully be able to pay down our debt, establish a financial base and nest egg, in less time than originally planned. As Deb likes to bring up, we should be debt-free by her 30th birthday, and on our way to a new life of both business and employment opportunities.

Please keep us in your prayers and may this note find you especially well during this Easter Triduum. May God be praised for His love and goodness to us!

Peace of the Risen Lord,
Ben & Deb

P.S. A 48cpm pay and near 240,000 miles a year equates to a salary of $115,000. That's pretty decent money for 4 weeks of school training, 9 months of experience, and $10,000 to cover the cost of schooling.