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The Crackerhead Chronicles: The Sixteenth Crumb

The Sixteenth Crumb


Now, if you really want to get technical about it, it can be argued that anyone who hauls chickens in any way, shape or form is a chicken-hauler, but I am here to tell you that anyone who would seek to make such an argument just doesn’t get it.  For being a true chicken-hauler is a state of mind (an attitude, if you will) and this takes precedent over whatever they may be hauling in their refer (refrigerated trailer).

In fact, it is a matter of legend that the North Carolina good ole boys, who are credited with being the first to go down this road, did not even have refers!  For they hauled their loads of frozen fryers on flat-bed trailers, and they would have them delivered in California before all of the ice the fryers were packed in melted.

Hard to believe?  Well, you would do well not to.  For that was an example of a typical truck-driver’s story.

Yes, a truck-driver’s story is quite similar to a fish story told by fishermen.  For they are usually very entertaining—despite being generally recognized as being a figment of someone's imagination by those who know better, but it should be kept in mind that not all apparent fish stories truly are as such.

A good example of how that principle applies to a truck-driver’s story involves a run made from Salinas, California (around 80 miles south of San Francisco) to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (around 80 miles north of Harrisburg).  For it is a run of around 2,900 miles (taking the southern route) that was made by a solo driver in exactly 37.5 hours, which is an average speed of just over 77 MPH.

Not bad for a 90 MPH truck—especially when all of the places where speed had to be significantly reduced are considered.  For the southern route passes through Bakersfield, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Amarillo, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Springfield, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; Akron, Ohio; Youngstown, Ohio and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—not to mention that a very strict observance of the speed limit for the 500 total miles in California and 280 total miles in Ohio had to be maintained if you wanted to keep driving.

There is, nonetheless, a rest of the story that needs to be heard.  For an owner/operator (someone who drives their own truck) made that very same run in 31 hours flat, which is an average speed of over 93.5 MPH!

Yes, the truck he was driving was much faster and more powerful than the company truck I was driving, but there is more to it than that.  For it takes a lot of nerve to drive that fast that far, and it took some time before I was so conditioned.

No, I cannot blame anyone who was not out there on the road during those days, for being quite skeptical. For it was a much different world back in 1990.

Yes, I suppose it can be said that chicken-haulers had to go about their business with reckless abandon in order to maintain their status, but this is not to say that they were necessarily reckless.  For it is hard to set land speed records with your truck laying belly-up in a bar-ditch out in the middle of nowhere.

The name of my new outfit was TLC out of Fenton, Missouri, which is a southern suburb of St. Louis, and I cannot remember just exactly what TLC stood for—if anything.  Since Tommy Lange was the owner when I worked there, it makes sense that TLC might have stood for Tommy Lange’s Company or The Lange Company, but I cannot say for sure.

I actually met Tommy Lange once when he personally inspected a load of lettuce I had brought out of Yuma, Arizona and delivered to his section of the St. Louis Produce Market, which was located a few blocks north of the Gateway Arch.  He was pleasant enough, but he struck me as being a very serious man.  So, I am not sure if he would have seen the humor in many of his drivers telling people that TLC stood for Totally Lost and Confused.

Not that I would have admitted it to anyone at the time, but I did feel somewhat totally lost and confused when I first started with TLC.  For I now had a refrigeration unit on the front of the trailer to attend to.

Be assured that attend to is an understatement—especially for someone with no experience with refrigeration units.  For they did not always start when needed.  Neither did they always stay running for as long as needed, and then there was a matter of maintaining the proper temperature and airflow for the product(s) being hauled, which could be a nightmare at times.

Being someone who does not always appreciate a challenge as much as they probably should, I was a nervous wreck from start to finish on almost every run in the beginning, and it became a lot worse before becoming any better.  For I was absolutely paralyzed with fear the first time I hauled a load of fresh strawberries because of them being one of the most perishable items to transport there is.

Trust me, I would have been more comfortable with a full load of unstable dynamite.  For at least I would not have had to face the music for a rejected load if things did not go well with that.

No, just delivering a load to its destination on time was not all that a driver had to deal with.  For the load must also arrive in good condition, and this could vary greatly from place to place, even when delivering the same product to the same receiver in different locations.

A good example of that would be a load of potatoes (in 10-pound bags) from Colorado headed to five different warehouses of the company that had ordered them.   For two of the drops were received without any trouble, but there was a lot of drama played out at the other three.

No, there was nothing different about the condition of the product.  In fact, two of the troublesome locations were sandwiched between the two good ones!

Ice cream was another product that chilled my spine.  For it starts to melt at around zero degrees Fahrenheit.

It is, however, a load of ice cream from Indianapolis that I consider to be one of my most memorable.  For it involved ten drops at military installations—starting with Ft. Knox in Kentucky and ending with Andrews Air Force Base in California.

One of the middle drops was at The Presidio, which I found to be particularly interesting.  For it is located in the northern part of San Francisco, California at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and much of it looked more like just another part of the city than a U.S. Army base to me.  Sadly, what view I may have had of both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz was obscured by fog.

Ft. Knox and Andrews AFB also proved rather interesting to me.  For with both of them being such high-profile facilities, I expected to have weapons trained on me at their front gates until my paperwork could be confirmed, but the guards at both bases were more concerned with why I stopped before entering than anything else.

Yes, I could understand why they would be so upset if I had of been blocking traffic, but I had pulled off to the side.  The Air Force boys were civil about it, at least.

In time, it did become easier on me, and it progressed to where I even welcomed challenging loads.  For with each successful run, the legend of the Goat-Roper was enhanced (even if only in my own mind).

Yes, I grew to think very highly of myself, and this had a great deal of influence on my decision to seek greener pastures when TLC changed their policies.  For what self-respecting chicken-hauler would stand for having to drive a 68 MPH truck under strictly-enforced logbook regulations?

Now, in all fairness, it was not all their fault.  For it was a high-speed road race between a white Cadillac (with the vice-president of their insurance carrier at the wheel) and one of their trucks (NOT ME!) that was the reason for the governing-down of their trucks so much.

Furthermore, it was being blindsided by a surprise DOT audit that sealed the fate of such lucrative runs as the Hershey Turnaround.  For the run consisted of picking up a load of Hershey products from their plant in either Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (around 10 miles northeast of Carlisle) or Stuarts Draft, Virginia (around 100 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.) to either the TAB Warehouse in Fontana, California (around 70 miles east of Los Angeles) or Modesto, California (around 70 miles south of Sacramento) and re-loading at the same location going right back to either Mechanicsburg or Stuarts Draft just as fast as one could go, and there were just too many of them on their books to justify.

Yes, I made several of those runs.  In fact, I became a favorite of Hershey's.  For I could consistently make three complete turnarounds in a two-week period. Hence, the stuff of legend.

Speaking of legend, I suppose I should explain what a goat-roper is.  For I am quite sure of it not being common knowledge.  For if it was, I would not have had to explain to so many people over the radio (and sometimes in person) that a goat-roper is a cowboy, who has to rope goats in order to have sex with something other than himself because of being too ugly to attract a girl.

Yes, my C.B. handle (name or moniker) was certainly an attention-getter, and invariably, the question would come up about why I would prefer goats over sheep.  To that I would matter-of-factly reply, “Because goats are kinkier.”

A variation of the Hershey Turnaround was what I referred to as being the Half-Hershey.  For it would involve hauling a load of candy out to one of their California warehouses, but the back-haul would be a load of produce going to usually the Safeway Distribution Center in Landover, Maryland, which is a northern suburb of Washington, D.C.

Since most of the back-hauls involved only one or two pickups fairly close to either Fontana or Modesto, one could usually make out almost as well on a Half-Hersey, but there were times when things would get out of hand.  For unlike most companies, TLC paid their drivers per trip, which was based on what zones a load came out of and went to—not miles.  If I remember right, a load coming out of the western zone (California, Oregon and Washington) going to either Landover, Mechanicsburg or Stuarts Draft (all part of the eastern zone) paid $500.00, which was not bad at all for the time, but deadhead miles were generally not taken into account.

Things getting out of hand (as in regards to not being paid for deadhead miles) happened to me twice after emptying out in Vacaville, California (around 30 miles north of Sacramento).  The first time, I was deadheaded over 800 miles to pick up a load of apples around Yakima, Washington, and the second time, I was deadheaded almost 700 miles to pick up the load of lettuce out of Yuma, Arizona that Mr. Lange personally inspected when I delivered it to St. Louis.

Thankfully, I was able to talk my dispatcher into getting me an extra hundred dollars on both of those runs.  Of course, this worked out to be just 12.5 and a little over 14 cents per mile respectively, but it was certainly better than nothing.

It was coming toward fall in 1990 when I placed my bid to rise even farther above the mundane and make my mom happy at the same time.  For one of the most infamous of all of the Missouri outlaw trucking companies to have ever existed was located just up the road from Cassville.

Of course, it was going to have to be one of those, it’s the thought that counts, sort of things.  For with me being out on the road so much, where I was being based out of didn’t matter a whole lot.  Nonetheless, my mom was still thrilled.

Such was not the case with Sherry, however.  That is, at least not at first.  For she had lived her entire life in and around Columbia, and she was VERY reluctant to move a couple of hundred miles away.

However, her objections eased a bit when she started seeing the paychecks I was bringing home, and it was not long before we were able to put down money on a nice little place near Bethlehem, Missouri (around 20 miles west of Cassville) which she was excited about.  For she thought the place had a lot of potential, and to sweeten the deal for her, she found a job doing home health nursing in the area, which was something that she liked to do.

Just to be clear, it was not on account of what they hauled that my new outfit was considered to be an outlaw trucking company.  It was the way they wanted the freight hauled that was most definitely the different story.

Sorry, this is another company that I would rather not disclose the name of.  For I am fairly sure that they are still in business, and I have heard that they have worked really hard at changing their ways.

I can tell you that they were a relatively small company, especially in comparison to the first trucking company I went to work for.  For they usually ran less than 50 trucks at a time while the first one ran hundreds.

Nonetheless, there was nothing small about their aspirations.  For they ran some of the fastest and most powerful trucks around, and it took much more than a mere mortal to keep up with their expected pace.

Greener pastures?  Oh my, I believed that I had found chicken-haulers heaven.  For it was not long before they put me in a truck I called my purple rocket-ship, and thus began the most fun I ever had out there on the open road.

Oh yes, my purple rocket-ship was most definitely a force to be reckoned with.  For I could start at the bottom of Cabbage Patch (a mountain just east of Pendleton, Oregon on I-84 that is very steep on the Pendleton side) going just 55 MPH because of there almost always being a lot of Oregon bears around (and I am not talking about the furry kind, either!) with a full legal load (the combined weight of truck, trailer, and load totaling 80,000 pounds) and still be going at least 35 MPH at the top.

In fact, I once did that while weighing over 84,000 pounds—according to the scale house just west of La Grande, Oregon!  All that saved me from being in really big trouble was still having the inaccurate scale ticket from the place I picked up my load of OREGON Bing cherries near The Dalles, Oregon.

So?  Well, in a typical company truck at the time, going 20 MPH at the top of Cabbage Patch would have been the best that could be hoped for under the same conditions, but this would not have been the end of the misery.  For on grades where my purple rocket-ship would not pull down a bit, a typical company truck would lose several miles-per-hour, which adds up by the end of the day.

Hence, the importance of having speed AND power.  For going over 100 MPH is not that much of an advantage if it cannot be maintained, and draggin’ fly trucks would generally spend an awful lot of time on the side of the road at the bottom of hills, with a highway patrol cruiser or two behind them.  For a draggin’-fly truck needs to fly down hills in order to make up for all of the speed they lose draggin’ up the other side, and it is at the bottom of hills where state troopers like to hang out.

Suffice to say, I did not have to take such chances, but this is not to say that I was out there taking it easy.  For the chief mechanic of the outfit told me that my purple rocket-ship was set up to go up to 126 MPH, and all doubts about the veracity of his claim were quickly proven to be unfounded.

No, I never saw such a reading on the speedometer.  For 85 MPH was as high as it would go, but I have seen the needle up against the peg at around 2100 RPM (if I remember right) in thirteenth gear.

Yes, those who know a thing or two about big rigs back then might be scratching their heads about now.  For it was fairly common-place to set up a four and a quarter Cat (425 horsepower 3406B Caterpillar engine) to turn 2100 RPM, and a thirteen-speed transmission could be found in many a truck.

Subsequently, all we would be talking about here would be that the truck had an under-power top-end of around 85 MPH if that was all there was to it.  It was not—be assured.  For my purple rocket-ship was pumped up to turn 2650 RPM, and I still had two more gears to go.

Furthermore, fifteenth gear was turned around.  For in a normal H shifting pattern, the progression of gears would be top-left for twelfth to bottom-left for thirteenth to top-right for fourteenth to bottom-right for fifteenth.  Whereas, the shifting pattern on this transmission was top-left for twelfth to bottom-left for thirteenth to bottom-right for fourteenth to top-right for fifteenth, which made it into an overdrive gear and gave an entirely different meaning to having it (the gearshift) up against the dash.

Obviously, I never saw a reading of 126 MPH on a radar gun, neither.  For I am still alive, and I am not writing this from the incarcerated side of prison walls.

On the other hand, with a friend of mine, who drove another company truck for the same outfit, running the front-door (running ahead of me) I made a run clear across Pennsylvania one night in three hours flat.  Considering the fact that this is a stretch of around 350 miles via I-84, I-81 and I-80, I think we made pretty good time (just under 117 MPH for an average).

I must admit, however, that he could have made even better time.  For his truck was even faster and more powerful than mine (just how much so was classified), and he had to wait on me to catch up several times along the way.

No, I cannot remember if it was a full moon that night in Pennsylvania, but such was the case on another night on another part of I-80.  For I can remember looking out at the expanse that lay before me when I topped the summit of the fairly small mountain just west of Wendover, Nevada (around 120 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah) and it appeared that I was the only one on the road for miles.

So, I decided to keep the pedal to the metal and the gearshift up against the dash, and I wound up scaring myself pretty good before I was halfway down the five-mile slide to the bottom.  For that was when I could feel the front-end of the truck starting to lift up with 12,600 pounds of weight on the steer tires, and 140 MPH came to mind.

No, I really did not think that I was doing anything exceedingly reckless.  For the grade of the downhill slide was not very steep at all, and there were no thoughts of possibly blowing a tire or two rattling around in my head.

Anyway, it was not until it was time for the rest of this story to begin that I really became scared.  For this was when my radar-detector sounded off with all it had, and then I saw the tail-lights of a vehicle coming out of the median and heading back east toward Wendover.

I pooped my pants for real that time, and I had to wait until the truck slowed down on its own some before I could stop and clean up the mess.  For my brake pads (all 20 of them) would have surely burst into flames if I had of tried to stop while still going that fast.

Besides, I figured that hitting my brakes immediately after being shot by a radar gun would have been a dead giveaway that the unit might not be as much out of calibration as the trooper may have been thinking.  On the other hand, it may very well have been that it was at the end of the shift, and the cop just did not feel like having to fill out all of the paperwork required to justify the use of deadly force.  For they did not write speeding tickets for 140 MPH back then, certainly not when a chicken-hauler was involved.

No, I never pulled a stunt like that again, but this is not to say that I started pulling back on the reins all that much after my miraculous rescue.  For I was just having too much fun, and I certainly did not want the party to end anytime soon.

Much to my delight, it did not.  For I continued to criss-cross the country just as fast as was humanly possible for quite a while.

It could even be said that super-human endurance had to have been involved (naturally-speaking, of course).  For I took home over $1,000 a week for nine straight weeks while only being paid 18 cents per mile!

Yes, the numbers can boggle the mind of the inexperienced, but after breaking it all down into smaller bites, acceptance of the truth of the matter should become much easier to swallow.  For it only takes 17 hours to travel 1,020 miles at an average speed of only 60 MPH.

Nonetheless, it still took a great deal of endurance to maintain such a demanding pace day after day, and with an increase in mileage came an exponential increase in stress.  For like what was said before, there were all sorts of things out there on the road that could bite a driver on the buttocks at some very inopportune times, and not the least of these were speeding tickets.

Well, not exactly.  That is, at least not for me.  For as long as I did not get a ticket in Texas and made enough money to pay all of the others (around 12 per year during my really wild days) on time, no points would ever show up on my Texas Class A Driver's License because the state did not recognize infractions in other jurisdictions at the time.

It was, however, the obligatory logbook check that went along with a speeding ticket that was a big problem for me.  For on top of the fine involved if found in violation, a stoppage of at least 8 hours was almost always also included, and that was enough to throw a schedule way off.

Yes, concerns over being caught in violation of the Hours of Service Regulations were quite stressful, but all of the effort that went into trying to avoid being caught was almost as bad.  For the miles had to be accounted for, and the faster and farther traveled, the harder it became to do so.

To give you an example, it legally took 28 hours to drive to Buffalo, New York from my outfit's home-base (1,003 miles).  Whereas, I once made it in 10.5 hours (around a 96 MPH average).

Therefore, it would take three different logbooks to be safe while making such a run.  For I would start out with one that would have my time of departure backed up just a few hours in order to account for my speed, and after I had driven around 500 miles, I would stop and fill out another log book that backed up my time of departure enough to account for the total length of legal driving time and 8 hours of off-duty time.  The other logbook would be used to provide the company with the original of each day’s log to keep on record as required by law.

It was (of course) those originals that the DOT would audit from time to time, and my company was a prime target.  For their wild reputation was well known far and wide.

No, I do not know how they did it.  Perhaps some deft sleight of hand being employed, or maybe something much more conventional—like…bribery?  For they survived every audit relatively unscathed while I was there, and I was sure glad they did.

Despite all of the fun I was having purely from tearing back and forth across the country like a bat out of Hell (yeah, I really did go there, Pete) with its tail on fire, I would still become bored from time to time, and that is when I would take my turn at tormenting some greenhorn over the radio.  Some of my favorite targets were drivers of Schneider trucks, which were nick-named pumpkin trucks because of generally being painted orange.

I hit the jackpot one day while having to behave myself north of Columbus, Ohio on I-71.  For after seeing a bunch of pumpkin trucks ahead of me, I asked over the radio if it was true that I could make a lot of money driving for Schneider.  Lo and behold, one of their drivers answered me by saying that it was indeed true.  I then asked him if he would tell me the truth about something, and after he said that he would if he could, I asked him if it was true that one of the bonuses for signing on with the outfit was that when a person completes one year of safe driving, they are given the location of the great pumpkin patch.

Yeah, I suppose you would have had to have been there, and I am sure glad I was.  For there was nothing but dead silence over the radio for a good five minutes after I asked about the location of the great pumpkin patch.  I mean, even the stuff that had nothing to do with the conversation I was having with that Schneider driver shut down.

Finally, someone else said that possibly learning the location of the great pumpkin patch was enough to get them to at least think about signing up, and then the radio went silent again.  Since no one ran off of the road from laughing too hard, I think a good time was had by all—except for maybe the Schneider drivers within radio range, of course.

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