12 December, 2009

'Tis the season to be... jolly?

Just in case you didn't know, winter is upon us. Last weekend I was beginning to believe this whole "mild winter" crap we've been hearing in this part of the world. However, earlier this week the shit hit the fan and winter came on strong and swift. We got a shit-load of snow one day, but the temperature wasn't low enough to bitch about. As usual, I spoke too soon. The day after we got all the snow I went out on a service call (more on that in a bit) with the temperature hovering around 25 to 30F. If you don't live in a part of the world where it snows I'll explain something about it. A snow storm is akin to a rain storm in a way except for the fact that it's cold and nobody is running around in shorts. The humidity goes up a little, there's cloud cover and there's a slight haze hanging in the air. Well, while I was working this particular service call I suddenly realized that the sky had cleared and the wind had picked up. The only thought I had was "Oh shit!" Around here when the sky clears it means that it is going to get really, really cold. On top of the drop in temperature the wind chill factor made it seem colder yet. The next day I was at a rest area off of the interstate on a service call and the combination of low temperature and wind chill was just brutal. I'd work for five minutes, warm up in the service truck for five minutes, work for five minutes etc. I've never experienced winter in a place where it doesn't get cold. I keep telling myself that if I moved away I'd miss the snow, and it's a true statement for the most part. Lately I've been wondering if I'm not crazy for thinking that. Winter was always something I could deal with until I became a diesel mechanic. Having to work outside in this crap totally sucks. Throw in all the other stuff I bitch about on this blog and winter is a bad thing. The worst winter service calls are the ones where it's not only cold outside, but the job at hand doesn't allow me to keep moving. Changing tires, brake chambers, brakes etc. helps keep me warm due to the physical activity. Standing in one place or laying on ice underneath a trailer becomes a bone chilling event. I don't know how I managed to finish the service call at the rest area. I couldn't concentrate on the job because I could only think about how freakin' cold it was.

Now for the service call I promised to write about earlier. We got a call from a large trucking company asking us if we could run a service call for them. They told us the trailer had a leaking brake chamber. OK, not a problem. The foreman handed me a chamber, the paperwork and off I went. I found the driver and his rig in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot with big piles of snow all around. I got out of the truck and started filling out paperwork. Once the paperwork was done I took a quick look under the trailer and what do I find? A brake chamber completely torn off, dangling by the air hoses that attach to it. I look further and see a torque rod broken cleanly into two pieces. Then I turn around and finally see the boulders underneath the trailer with tire tracks leading to them. Putting two and two together, I realize the driver had cut a corner thinking he'd just roll over the snow bank a little. Well, the snow bank had a nasty surprise inside. There was no way I'd get that thing fixed that night because the job required parts that would have to be ordered. I have no idea why this driver thought about going through that particular part of the parking lot, but after speaking with him I knew he was a noob. Even though I couldn't fix the trailer that night, I had to get him out of the way. Being late in the evening the parking lot was almost empty so there was plenty of room to get this guy through the lot and off to the side. But, first I had to get those boulders out of the way. "Hmmm, how am I going to move those things?" A chain wrapped around the rock and attached to the service truck worked, but I couldn't figure out how to get the rocks out of the way. Then like in the "when a door is closed, a window is opened" thing, I see a couple of guys getting into their pickup truck and their truck had a snow plow on it. "Excuse me, sir. Would you do me a favor and push those rocks into that snow bank over there?" That was one more problem solved. That turned out to be the easier part of this service call. Trying to work with "junior" to get his truck moved made my brain hurt. I'd tell him to leave the brake buttons pushed in and wait for air pressure to reach its maximum before trying to move. He'd do exactly as instructed, but when the air pressure peaked, he'd pull both brake buttons out which set the parking brakes. He'd then push them back in and try moving the rig. After a few rounds of this I finally told him "Do not do anything unless I specifically tell you to do it." I was thinking that an experienced driver would know what I was telling him to do without having to give step by step instructions. But then again, an experienced driver would never have tried to go through this parking lot. I finally get the driver and his rig way off to the side of the parking lot and start making a list of parts that will be needed to repair the trailer. Called the company back and let them know what was going on and that it would probably be early evening the next day before we could have the trailer repaired. I fully expected to be back the next night (Thursday night) to complete the job, but it was not to be. We had to wait until Friday for the torque rod to come in, the catch being that I had to meet the parts guy in another city to get the part. Heck, I don't mind getting paid to drive. I meet the parts guy and get the final part on my list then head back to where "junior" left the trailer. I was thinking how the job might be an ass kicker, but at least "junior" wouldn't be there to bother me. He was still there. A normal company would have had the driver drop the trailer and head off to pick up another load, but not this one. "Junior" had been at that Wal-Mart since Wednesday afternoon because his dispatcher told him to stay put. Totally ridiculous in my opinion. The job took awhile, but it wasn't as bad as I had expected. There wasn't even any wind so I actually was nice and toasty most of the time. After completing my work, I woke up the driver and told him to start the engine (truck had an APU to keep him warm without running the main engine) and let air build until the air dryer popped. He asks me "How will I know when it pops?" I did a mental forehead slap and somewhat sarcastically said "It will make a 'PPSSSSSSSHHHHHHH' sound." No air leaks, parking brakes released... "Alright, buddy. You're good to go. Have a safe trip." I'm really disappointed with the quality of drivers being put behind the wheel these days. I've come to enjoy doing service calls for the salty old owner operators because they know so much about their job and their trucks.

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