Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Sound And The Flurry

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’d never driven a dump-truck before hiring on with my current employer. Like most companies, they just sort of pointed me in the general direction and said “here’s what we need done.” No-one told me for three months to NEVER back up with your tag-axles (cheaters) down, though I usually didn’t, but for my own reasons. No-one told me until LAST WEEK that the “regen” wouldn’t work on my old truck unless the coolant was kept almost full to overflowing (meaning that I might have been partially responsible for the loss of my truck). There were other things, though, that had nothing to do with vehicle needs for which I was somewhat unprepared when I took on the job.

The first was the noise. I hired on in July, during the hot months. Since “my” truck had been purchased used, like most of their fleet, the air-conditioner was more than a little inconsistent. It tended to go off and on according to a mystical sequence of potholes in the highway. As a result, I sometimes ran with the windows partly down when the AC was partly working, and clear down when it was on the fritz. Incidentally, I noticed a psychological effect of additional perceived speed with the window noise, about 10 MPH at highway speed, it seemed to me.

I often kept my windows down about an inch anyway, to stay in better touch with my surroundings. Of course, in letting in the sound of sirens, horns, shouts, squealing tires, engine noise of other vehicles, etc, it also let in more of the noise of my exhaust (on the passenger side) and the noise of my own truck’s engine. It was particularly noisy when the turbo kicked in. The windows were generally at least part-way down on job-sites, too, so I could hear back-up warnings, other machinery moving and the horn of various machines used to load the truck, many of which had diminutive horns in comparison to the size of the machines.
The independent radiator fans are nearly a loud as the engine, when they kick in, making it especially difficult to shift by ear, now that I’m driving a standard. Plus, in the old Mack, the speed sensor for the automatic transmission made a lot of noise, at certain speeds. I guess everything comes at a price. Besides the noise in the cab from the engine, transmission, hydraulic lift controls and speed sensor, all those items also add heat to the cab, good in winter, not so much in summer.

The flurry of activity with a dump-truck was also something I hadn’t thought about. My previous driving experience had been with long delivery routes with few stops. There ARE some days like that on this job, but not many. While the salt runs of winter may involve one or two trips a day to some far-flung end of the state, the local “dirt jobs” can involve multiple short runs. I believe 24 loads is my record so far for a day. I don’t usually mind the dirt jobs, though two weeks on that one was a bit much. The senior man, who was there with me, fussed about it after the first day and got moved to another job.

Often, the only breaks that we get are when the loader operators are adjusting their positions or their machine requires some sort of minor maintenance. On dirt jobs, it’s hard to answer nature’s call, or even eat your lunch (those things are difficult EVERY day, for that matter). We’re told when hired to always take a 30 minute lunch break (so they’ll be in compliance with the law) but, with the next load always waiting, few guys do, nor do they really expect us to, though they don’t complain if we do. Most guys do like me and eat on the fly, or when they’re being loaded. Lunch then, is not a meal, but a series of snacks. What you pack in your lunchbox soon begins to reflect that.

Keeping us busy, of course, is what keeps the company profitable and the drivers working, so I won’t complain. I must confess, though, I DO prefer the days when the things are a bit more relaxed. © 2015


Sixbears said...

With all my years driving a fire truck I'm lucky I can hear anything at all. The siren sat right over my head. Newer truck designs mount them lower, but I drove a truck as old as I was for years.

When I first got in the fire department we got very little truck training. One guy was freshly hired and was put on driving a ladder truck his first day so the city could plug a hole in the schedule and save on overtime. Now there's a whole certification process, and while it can be a pain it beats the heck out of being thrown into the deep end.

Harry Flashman said...

That sounds too stressful for me. Maybe when I was younger I could have done that, but I don't think I could now.

Gail said...

I respect your job because I don't think I could handle it now as well as I might have twenty years okay. If it has more than six gears, I am lost and backing has never been my strong point...backing boats and trailers is difficult for me.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Ralph Goff said...

Sounds to me like the employer could have given you a little better instruction in the needs and necessities of the truck you were going to drive. Sometimes people assume too much. Of course in some cases a driver is just going to do it his way no matter what he is told.

Gorges Smythe said...

I used farm machinery for years with no hearing protection. Like you, Sixbears, I'm surprised that I have any hearing left. I am pretty bad at a couple pitches.

Harry, for me, it beats the heck out of telemarketing!

I'm lucky, Gail; I'm pretty good at using mirrors.

You're right on both counts, Ralph.

Chickenmom said...

Oh, the glamorous life of a truck driver ... not! It's just hard, hard work Gorges. I wonder how many realize that.

Gorges Smythe said...

Mine isn't so hard, Cm, but the guys who have to load their own trucks have it rough!

Penny said...

I still love reading the stories of your experiences. Slice of life vignettes like these are so real and interesting.