When I arrived in Burlington, NC to hook up to a load of engines (and 2 light towers), I was hoping for the best, but deep down expecting the worse.
Perhaps a newer, sturdy Dorsey or Utility trailer and remanufactured Maxxforce engines going overseas in the billing.
What I saw instead made my heart skipped a beat. Not only were the engines old and unsalvageable, they were leaking oil and a screaming eyesore to anyone sharing the road.
As part of the random weigh station inspections, DOT inspects not just the truck but the working condition of the trailer. Just one look and you can see huge chunks of floorboard missing through the entire length of the 53-foot trailer. If you look closely, you could even notice the trailer sagging under the weight of the 3,000 pound engines — all 15 of them. Perhaps the frame was cracked – this trailer was definitely not road-worthy to even haul a load of trash.
It was a forsaken junkyard on wheels. And I would be attached to this eyesore for two days at least.
“There’s no way I’m pulling this load. Not a snowball’s chance!” I exclaimed.
The shipper paused, and perhaps he realized whatever he was getting for it was not worth the hassle. He should just sell the entire load for scrap – it could be cheaper and definitely less risky.
“Would you do it if we add a few hundreds dollars to the rate?” he begged. I could feel the desperation in his voice. “This is a very important load that needs to get on the next container ship to Nigeria.”
I wasn’t one to haggle for money. I’m a trucker who values safety over profit. But I liked working with the broker and the shipper seemed like an honest businessman. If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would have never accepted the load. But since I had already deadheaded 100 miles from Charlotte.
“What the hell $1300 for a 330 mile trip to the port of Baltimore.”
And I almost didn’t get it out of the yard. Had to climb a steep dirt hill with the inter axle and differential locked on 2nd gear to scale the huge mountain of dirt.
Less than 100 miles later, I wished I had never made it out. When I was in the middle of nowhere, I heard a loud pop and saw shredded rubber fly everywhere. Was on 85 with only 2 lanes. and narrow shoulder that didn’t look like a safe place to stop. It would be safer for me to press on to the nearest Truck Stop – Love’s only 40 miles away.
As expected, Love’s was backed up. There were five trucks ahead of me, and they wouldn’t be able to see me until the next day. No worries, I’ll take a load off next door at the Holiday Inn. Next day came and at high noon, they looked at my wheel and shaked their heads like they saw an apparition.
“Umm, we don’t service these wheels,” said the technician. “They haven’t made Daytons since I was in grade school.”
My trailer had a Dayton style wheel – something that hasn’t been manufactured in eons – most mechanics had never seen them and considered them too dangerous to work on. They’ve heard horror stories of techs who have lost a hand or rings getting blown up to the shop roof.
No worries – I know of a good truck repair shop not too far from here, I reassured myself.
After getting Smiley’s to replace my oil pan gasket two months ago, when the TA had failed to replace two bolts and all my oil gushed out, it was ironic that I was going back there to save my day.
Bobby Smiley took one look of my load and then at my weathered tires and rubbed his head, a streak of grease ran across his face.
“Oh boy you’ve got dry rot on all them tires. We can change this tire, but you’re probably gonna get another flat before Baltimore.”
“Can you check the pressure and add air?” my voice showed exasperation.
“I wouldn’t mess with them. There’s so much dry rot, that if I touch these tires, they could blow.”
My eyes rolled. “Well, I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” I responded, feeling desperation creep in.
“Yeah, if I was you, I would only drive this bitch at night,” Ron suggested.
“Why’s that? So the troopers don’t see me?”
“Not just troopers – so other drivers don’t see you. You’re just asking someone to call 911 to stop your ass.”
“If there was one time that I would want to tarp a load, that would be now,” I said in disbelief.
“Yeah, not only would you be out of service, but you would be facing a huge fine,” Ron mentioned.
“Plus, the roads are a bit cooler at night which makes it less likely for a blow out,” said Bobby.
I took what Smiley’s suggested to heart. But first I had to dodge the upcoming weigh stations.
I was concerned about two scales: on 85 in South Hill and 95 in Dale City. Both of them were avoided by going around them on US-1.
Driving through historic South Hill on US-1, I experienced a heavy downpour soaking the streets with water ankle-high. I considered this a blessing because it kept my tires from overheating and I would drive incognito.
When the skies finally closed up and the deluge ended, I had made it back to 85 heading to Richmond. I would try to wing this. No more surprises I hoped. And I kept cruise control at 60.
Suddently, I looked out of the window and could see what appeared to be a piece of ratchet strap go flying.
“What in heaven’s name?” Luckily no one got hit.
Apparently one of the cooling fan blades had come into contact with the 2-inch nylon fabric and the ratchet strap rated for 3300 lbs was shredded into pieces. Thankfully, I had ten more of them. Wished I had chains instead.
I stopped in Richmond to fuel up and to check my straps. Then when rush hour dissipated, I pressed on. I bypassed the scale house in Dale City by driving on US-1. Even though I stood out like a bandaged, bent thumb – no one seemed to care and there were no troopers trailing me with sirens blasting.
I seemed to be doing good – felt I could make it all the way to Baltimore. But the port wouldn’t open until the morning, and I didn’t want to risk parking this load on the street or in some strip mall parking lot. i felt like the infamous garbage barge that nobody wanted.
The only reasonable thing to do was to stop in DC where at least I could check my mail and do laundry. Even the city didn’t ticket and tow my rig overnight, I would proceed the next day.
The motors were going to the Locust Point Terminal near Fort McHenry. There was a lot of commotion because Vice President Pence would be there tomorrow as part of the Republican National Convention
When I arrived at the RORO in the port of Baltimore, there was a long line of trucks – had to wait 45 mins just to get through security.
The manager at the yard called the broker to purchase three additional straps
“The ship will take a lot of rolls at sea – we need to make sure these engines don’t roll off,” he said. “Also make sure there’s are no CO2 – they can cause an explosion.”
After I strapped down the load, I was instructed to proceed to the wharf. Had to show my TWIC card to proceed.
There was clearly a lot of inoperable vehicles and wrecked trucks heading overseas. Now I have an option of shipping my truck to Nigeria when she’s no longer road-worthy.
There was a lot of excitement and scary moments, and thankfully I made it with no major hiccups.
Am I glad I did it – absolutely. Would I do something like this again – I’m not gonna press my luck next time.