Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Observations

I’m currently sitting in the parking lot at Wally World, while my wife finds entertainment inside. On the way in, we passed the “disabled veteran” (maybe he is) panhandling at the entrance. He sat under his umbrella, as it was raining pretty heavily at the moment. Even with his hoodie up, you could see the fancy headphones that caused him to swing and sway a bit. I may have mentioned this before, but I saw the young, blond “struggling artist” panhandling there again the other day, and she’d gained some weight. Apparently she’s not struggling as hard as she once did.

My wife and I splurged and had lunch in a nice restaurant today, since it’s a holiday weekend. One guy kept staring at my wife as she ate, until he finally got food of his own. Another fellow kept yelling at anyone he knew who walked through the door. Plus the older couple beside us kept discussing (a little too loudly) things that I wouldn’t have discussed in public. My food was excellent, but my wife’s lasagna was mushy, so I suspect that it was left over from the night before and micro-waved. Overall, I guess you could call it an “interesting” experience.

Being Sunday, and us not in church still, I recalled a church that I saw in Tyler County this past week. There were no words over the door tying it to any location, family or denomination. It had only a large sign on the front lawn saying “Morning Worship – 10:30.” It sort of made me wish that it was in reasonable travelling distance of our home.

I just saw Vladimir Putin walk out of Wally World, get in his car and drive off. I wonder if the CIA knows he’s here? Probably not. © 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

08/30/14 – Riding Shotgun

I’d mentioned earlier, either here or on Facebook, that my blog might be taking a slightly different direction, since I’m working regularly now. My schedule makes it harder to post, harder to read your posts, harder to comment on your posts and harder to link your posts, all due to time constraints. I hope none of you take it personally if you hear less of me for a while. Some of you may even find it a blessing! Eventually, I hope to save my pennies and get one of those gizmo’s that you speak into and it converts your speech into a word document. I’m thinking that might allow me to post more often and be a little more spontaneous. I can’t do it yet, though, since nearly a year-and-a-half of no work and lousy work has left me with a lot of financial catching up to do.

The passenger seat in the dump truck that I drive at work sits perpetually empty, and we aren’t allowed to have riders, so you might as well come along, even if it is vicariously. I’ll share a few of my observations and thoughts with you from my driving, so feel free to speak your own mind; that’s what the comment box is for.
You’ve probably noticed those old folks who sit on their front porch and wave at the traffic going by. I’m one of those, so I give a little wave of brotherhood at all the other drivers whose vehicle has dual rear wheels, from delivery vans to the largest four axle straight-frame. Some of them wave back, some don’t, and some that I see regularly are BECOMING wavers from my efforts. Most semi drivers think a bit well of themselves, so I don’t usually bother with them, unless they’re hauling lumber, logs or livestock. I guess that’s sort of a nod of the head to my former life and their current one.

CB radio use is different than it was 30 years ago when I was driving regularly. There’s probably more trucks on the road than then, at least where I’m driving now, but less chatter on the CB. I think the cell phone has caused a lot of that. The folks are less polite, too. No-one asks for a break anymore; they just talk over you. Of course, you still have a few folks who monopolize the airwaves with their ratchet-jawing. Nearly always, it’s some poor sucker with a whiny voice that sounds like he’s had WAY too much coffee (or something else).

I drove through the little community of Mountain, WV a couple times this week. It USED to be called “Mole Hill,” but they changed it to Mountain a few decades ago, just to prove that it could be done. They got their 15 minutes of fame on national TV, but were quickly forgotten. Some years ago, a few of the wiser folks who still lived there tried to get the name changed back, to reclaim their history, but the Post Office (or whoever) wouldn’t let them.

Speaking of names, I like to watch the names of places, roads and businesses. A former business in Erie, WV was named “Secret Furniture Company.” A discount sale was still advertised in the window. Maybe no-one knew! (I believe the name of the owner was Mr. Secret, no joke.) A few blocks away was Dan Street. I didn’t have the time to look for any other names there, like bill or Dave Streets, but I did see a Jane Street somewhere in the last month.

This week, I revisited Indian Creek Road in Tyler County, WV. It was 36 years ago that I delivered products to a little mom and pop store there for Red Rose Feed. The little building is still there by the edge of the road, though in disrepair. But the once well-kept white house next door, where the owners lived, now seems to be occupied by a youngish family of slobs.

Some folks may be unaware that in this neck of the woods, we tend to call the feeder streams of larger creeks by the designation “run.” It would be a fork or branch in other country settings. On my trip from the limestone mine to Indian Creek and other deliveries in that part of the country, I passed Flinderation Road, Gnat Run Road (starts on a hilltop), Alkire Run Road (starts in a valley), Camp Mistake Run Road, Klondike Run Road (must have been named during the Canadian gold rush), Tarkiln Road, Purgatory Run Road and others of lesser interest. It would be interesting to know the stories to some of those names!

Driving Rt. 18, out of West Union, toward Middlebourne, the road was bad. I saw one straight-sided pothole that looked to be a foot deep. Luckily, I didn’t hit it. I knew I was getting close the oil patch, though, when I suddenly hit brand new asphalt. Also, there in the middle of nowhere, I looked across Middle Island Creek to see a new mansion of downright palatial size. SOMEBODY is certainly making some money from the oil and gas business there! © 2014

How Now, Black Cow? (And Other Beefs)

I about laughed my socks off when I saw the packaging for the bologna that my wife had gotten. It proudly (and foolishly) proclaimed that it was made from “Angus Beef.” Having been in business myself, I understand marketing is a needed part of the picture. However, since the “beef” in bologna is largely hearts, tongues, lungs, lips, udders, trimmings and pink slime, does the color of the animal’s hide really matter? Let’s get real. Incidentally, the first three ingredients were beef, water and corn sweetener. The beef stock (beef flavored water) listed further down the list is, I suppose, to make it taste more like real meat.

On an only slightly related note, one of the other drivers managed to get his son on the payroll as a shop and grounds helper. He’s a good kid, but a bit clueless, like most of us were at that 16-18 age. Knowing his dad was a former dairy farmer that still had cattle, I asked him what breed of cattle they have currently. He said that he didn’t know, but maybe Angus. I asked him the color, and he told me that they were black, so I agreed that they were probably Angus. It sort of shocked me that a kid could grow up, and still live, on a farm and not know what kind of cattle his father raises. I assume the kid doesn’t plan to be a farmer.

That’s one rather sad thing that I see on my driving through the country on my job—the number of farms growing up into brush and timber. Often, the old homesteads stand unused, their houses and barns empty and deteriorating. Generations of children may have been raised there, but hard times and lack of interest has scattered those grown children to the winds. Many folks still live in the country, but they don’t live “on” or “from” the land. They merely live a city-style life in the country. I fear that this country has largely lost its ability to take care of itself. Few folks remain that know how to do anything, even raise a garden.

I see very few square balers being used these days, having been replaced by the big round balers. I miss having cattle, but I must admit that one thing I DON”T miss is stacking bales against the barn roof, when it’s 120 degrees in the loft and you have to watch out for wasps. The round bales supposedly let you get out of the expenses of needing a barn and the extra help to handle hay. Everyone farms from the tractor seat these days. I lived through that bale change, though, and it wasn’t because of the costs that folks around here made the switch; it was because summer help wasn’t available at ANY price. Most kids these days won’t work that hard, preferring to flip burgers, or simply sponge off their folks until they get shamefully old.

I worked many a day pitching bales for a dollar an hour. A boy down the road parlayed his summer days, and dad’s mostly unused haying equipment, into a well-paying business during his high school years. He’s one of the few folks around here younger than me who still farms on the side. It’s a sad day for agriculture and for American readiness, when guys like him are such a rarity. © 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Automatic Deposit

It’s a hot Sunday morning and all the decent people are in church (personal joke). I’m sitting, in my truck, in the outer lane at a bank drive-through to take advantage of the shade. For some reason, they took out the equipment in this lane, so it now serves only as a pass-through when the bank is open. Since the bank isn’t open on Sundays, I figure that I’m not bothering anyone sitting here.

The ATM is mounted in the actual wall of the bank, which probably makes it easier and safer to service. It’s doing a bang-up business today. I suppose the folks driving through probably have automatic deposit and need a little cash. I suppose it might be a good plan for folks with slight self-control problems. There IS no good plan for folks with NO self-control, except to grow up.

My mother worked in bookkeeping for several years at one of the local banks, and told me a lot of horror stories about automatic deposits and withdrawals. She never had it herself, which should tell you something. Of course, many folks have no choice in the matter these days, as their employer makes it the only option available. If that were the case, I’d probably empty the account of the bulk of its contents at the earliest possible second. Automatic withdrawals are, by far, the most troublesome, with even many supposedly legitimate businesses doing things to circumvent a held payment when there’s a dispute.

I realize that such things are a convenience for some folks, especially those who travel a lot. Personally, I believe it’s another sneaky step in edging us toward a cashless society. As for me, call me cranky, but I’ll handle my own money, thank you, if only to aggravate the powers that be. © 2014

I Should Have Told You Sooner

It was frustrating being out of work for over a year. It was even more frustrating to have to go back to telemarketing as a last resort. Thankfully, I was only there a couple months, but I never told you the rest of the story.

The job only paid minimum wage the first week or two during training. After that, it went up to $8 an hour. Following that, if I showed up for work as I was supposed to, the pay was actually $9.75 an hour—still not enough for two people to live on. Naturally, I always received the larger amount, though. After a couple months, they figured out that I was never going to be any good at running multiple conversations and multiple computers, so they switched me to validation and dropped my pay back to $8.

They gave me the news 15 minutes before shift end on the last day of the week. I swear, I got more mean people on the phone that last 15 minutes than I’d had all day. No, I really wasn’t just hearing through “jaded ears;” I think the devil was simply trying to kick me while I was down. When I left and got to my truck, I got out my phone to call my wife and let her know that I was on my way, as I always did. There was a number above hers that I didn’t recognize, so out of curiosity, I called it. It was the co-owner of the trucking company where I now work but, of course, no-one answered at 10:30 pm. I thought right then that it might be the workings of the Lord.

I called my wife, but I waited until I got home to tell her about my demotion and the call from the trucking company. She, too, thought it might be the Lord at work. I played telephone tag with the guy for a couple days, but we finally connected and I got my interview. I knew the guy was a Christian, because he’d sung in a couple churches that I used to attend so, after the interview was mostly over, I told him about the situation. I also explained that had he called BEFORE my demotion I would have turned him down, figuring that I’d be laid-off all winter anyway (and wouldn’t be able to draw any unemployment the first year, due to being out of work for over a year). I ended by saying that I didn’t know if the Lord was leading him to offer me the job but, if he did, I firmly believed the Lord wanted me to accept it. His reply was, “That’s exactly what I’m doing, is offering you the job.” Needless to say, I took the job.

The pay is only $12 an hour, but through the summer, the weeks are 50 hours, so that helps. It turns out that they rarely ever lay off in winter because he will take break-even work to keep his guys working, plus he has salt-hauling contracts. Sadly, the pay is still barely enough for two people to live on, the way things keep going up. Plus, the devil is still trying to throw obstructions in my path, but we’ll make it. The folks are good to work for and I like the job. I’m sure that negatives will eventually show up, but that’s life; I’ll whine and gripe and deal with them, like I always do.

The thing that impresses me is that through all the disappointments, through false hopes and over-extended CDL classes this past winter, the Lord was at work. He even made sure that I got that call AFTER I got my demotion, so I wouldn’t turn the job down, assuming winter lay-offs. God is good; I only wish that I could be a little more worthy of such care. Praise the Lord, and praise His holy name! © 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Seen From The Driver’s Seat

As might be expected, I’m seeing and learning a few things on my new job. For one thing, I notice that most dump truck drivers wave at each other as they meet on the highway, even on the four-lane. I guess they consider themselves sort of a brotherhood. I remember doing such things years ago, when I drove the mail truck, but I waved at most any medium-duty truck. Actually, I still do, and now have some of the oilfield drivers waving at me. What can I say; I’m one of those country bumpkins who sits on the porch and waves at the cars that go by. Of course, there are a few Grumpy Gus’s who just glare at you, but I figure that’s their problem, not mine.

I learned from a lady flagger, regulating traffic on a back-road, that the oilfield slang for a dump truck is a “bucket.” Water trucks and such are “bottles,” and the trucks that haul sand to the drilling site are called “sand cans.” As a result, you may hear one flagger radio to a flagger at the other end of a one-lane road, “I’ve got two buckets, a sand can and a bottle coming your way with the bottle in the rear.” The reply may be, “10-4, I’ve got a lowboy (semi with lowboy equipment trailer) and two four-wheelers (cars or pickups) waiting. I’ll send them out after the bottle goes by.” I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more. My granddad was a rig-builder back when they built them from wood. I’m sure he’d be interested in seeing the changes that the last 50 years have made in the oil business.

A lot of the well sites and compressor stations are located WAY back in the boonies, far from the eyes of anyone but the closest country neighbor. I suspect that’s partly for security reasons. Speaking of security, I suspect the amount of security at such sites is staggering. In these days of terrorism, that’s as it should be. It’s amusing to travel back some miserable little country lane for five miles and then come upon roads that look like gravel four-lanes. The oil companies have much better roads than the state, once you get to them. One cloudy day, I was going to a well-site in one of the back-counties and the road was so narrow and the canopy of trees so overgrew the narrow gravel road that I put my headlights on so oncoming trucks would be able to see me better. You rarely see a house on such roads. One that I DID see was a modern, but traditional style, two-story log house built very fortress-like in a valley in the middle of nowhere. It had few windows, and they were small and high. I suspect a prepper may live there, but who knows.

A couple days ago, I was heading east on the Northwestern Pike at sunrise when the sun looked like a huge orange ball, just barely above the horizon. As I approached the next ridge, the great orb slowly sank back below the horizon, not to be seen again for the rest of the day. I guess even the sun doesn’t want to get out of bed some days. A couple days before that, I was further out the same road when I noticed a strange thin cloud in the distance that stretched from side to side of a big cut in the nearby hill made for the highway. Something didn’t look right, and as I studied the cloud further, I realized that it was actually the top of the next ridge, and the “sky” in which it was floating was really only fog in the next valley. The sun that morning looked like a pale imitation of the moon, until nearly noon.

I enjoy seeing the few remaining farms in the back-country, since we have almost none left in my area now. They remind me of my youth. Most are cow-calf operations, but a few look like they just buy stock in the spring to eat their farms down through the summer. One farm has a small herd of donkeys; I’m sure it’s not a paying proposition, but they’re neat to see. I’ve still never figured out where the white Guinea hen came from that was sitting alongside the four-lane in a desolate section of the next county.  No “evidence” of him remained when I returned an hour later, so he must not have tried to cross the road! © 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Insanity On The Highway

Most of us think that drivers are getting crazier by the day. Nothing strengthens that belief like spending all day, five days a week, on the road. Though a few stick out, so many people have cut me off and pulled out in front of me that I actually remember few of them. You would think that putting yourself in the path of a vehicle that (loaded) weighs 15 to 30 times the weight of your own vehicle would cause folks to hesitate. And it sometimes does, just long enough to let you get closer before they pull out in front of you anyway.
Even though their use while driving is now illegal in both states in which I drive, the number of people that I see driving along texting and talking on cell phones is scary. Many talkers seem nearly unaware of what’s going on around them, but the texters literally have to take their eyes off the road to do their “typing,” sometimes for amazingly long periods of times. The one that surprised me most was a brine-truck driver. The guys who haul water and brine to and from the well-sites tend to work long hours and drive fast, so it sort of shocked me the other day to find myself gaining on one. As I passed, I noticed that he was texting away!
Speaking of water truck drivers, they tend to be a dangerous bunch. I’ve seen a few that have gone off the road and got stuck in the mud, probably because they fell asleep at the wheel. They were VERY lucky!

Also, the first week that I drove, I was following the boss in my truck when we came to a stop light. He was sitting in the right lane with two cars ahead of him. I was still in the left lane with two cars and an extremely old, rusted-out water truck in front of me. The cars got stopped okay, but the guy driving the water truck and had waited too long to slow down and had to jam on the brakes. He was almost stopped when the surge from the water in his tank threw him forward. He was quick enough to steer around the stopped cars in front of him, but he blew right through the red light. Luckily for the traffic coming across, they’d made a slow start, so he crossed in front of them. Still, water truck drivers are mostly decent sorts at heart. A couple years ago, some idiot woman with a car full of kids pulled out in front of one on the Northwestern Pike. With no time to stop, he steered toward the berm, went through the guardrail and down the long fill of the raised highway and lost his life in saving theirs. As far as I’m concerned, that woman has his blood on her hands.

Some people pay no attention, though. Thursday of this week, I was headed east on the Northwestern Pike in the left lane and had just gained full speed when an old lady pulled from a road on the right and then STOPPED broadside in my lane, while she waited on traffic in the opposite two lanes. There was a very wide median pass-through that she could have pulled into, but she didn’t! Two cars were behind me and a motorcycle and two cars were beside me. I probably had time to stop, but was afraid the cars behind me would rear-end me if I stood on the brakes. So, as I braked gently, I slowly started inching toward the lane of the cars beside me (the motorcycle had already pulled ahead slightly due to my braking), knowing that they had a wide, paved berm on which to escape my crowding. For the first time ever, I laid on the air horn, but the old lady was apparently deaf as well as blind and never even looked my way. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, she eased forward just enough that I could squeeze by her. I wouldn’t have wanted to be standing against her rear bumper, though!

Since I’m speaking of the Northwestern Pike, I’ll state that I believe the western end to be an unnecessarily dangerous highway. It was designed back when 55 mph was the national law. For a four-lane, it was poorly designed even for back then. Many of the curves have no banking or not enough to be worthwhile. Even back then, they posted signs on a few curves that gave “safe speeds” of under the speed limit. This on a brand-new highway, mind you! Since that time, they’ve raised the speed limit on that road to 65. That’s okay on the straight stretches, but those curves are still laying in wait for you. Technically, you can take them at 65 in a truck, even a top-heavy, loaded dump truck. I know this because I’ve done it while following veteran drivers. HOWEVER, all it would take would be an unexpected pot-hole or bump in the road (both common around here) to cause you to lose control and go flying over the high fill upon which the highway is built many places. An idiot driver, animal or pedestrian could also cause a driver to brake or flinch with the wheel, resulting in the same tragic scenario. Anymore, I let the other drivers go their own speed, while I slow down for the curves in many places. I’d rather the ambulance drivers pick those driver’s body parts from the wrecks in the valley below, than theirs and mine, too. © 2014

The Road More Traveled – A Little Highway History

Too often, due to corrupt out-of-state corporate owners and sometimes equally corrupt state politicians, to many out-of-staters, West Virginia has simply been a place that has to be traveled through to get somewhere else. Over the years, however, many of us who live here have developed the attitude that such a bad rap may be a blessing in disguise by keeping the northern big-city riffraff from settling here while looking for their little slice if heaven. Whichever perspective a person has, the truth is that moving people through the area began early on.

The first of four major routes of the day was the Midland Trail, formed by the Native Americans themselves, as their moccasins travelled from the eastern side of our mountains to the Ohio Valley and beyond, and back again. Generations of back and forth hunting and warfare made the trail obvious enough that early settlers followed it with no fear of losing their way. It’s now at least in its second reincarnation as U.S. Route 64. I generally prefer to drop off the four-lane and travel the two-lane version that I remember from my childhood.

Of the remaining three, the next one to the north is the old Staunton – Parkersburg Pike, created in the early 1800’s to link Staunton, Virginia with Parkersburg, Virginia on the Ohio River. On the Parkersburg end, it’s always been referred to as “the Staunton Pike.” Considering the grudge most southerners carry about losing the Uncivil War, I seriously doubt if it’s referred to as “the Parkersburg Pike’ in Staunton these days. It was this road that my great-grandfather traveled in some form of covered wagon immediately after said war. He’d fought on the “wrong side” by local standards and was probably seeking friendlier territory. Perhaps because of that war, the Staunton Pike has largely fallen into disuse, except for local traffic, and now consists of three different numbered routes.

Moving northward again, we come to the Northwestern Pike, originating in Washington, D.C., and also terminating in Parkersburg, at the Ohio River. I used to read that it was the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson, who sought to further his belief in manifest destiny by getting people quickly to the Northwest Territory. Wiki now lays the idea on a young George Washington, seeking an easier way to check on his western lands. It is now replaced by U.S. Route 50, which in some places, is in its third incarnation and has become a four-lane highway. In nearby Murphytown, WV, the old, and the old-old versions lay in the shadow of the new, and all still in use by locals. In the mountains, though, you have no choice most places, as the government hasn’t yet chosen to spend the fortune needed to make a four-lane through our state’s more scenic parts.

Furthest north, and barely in West Virginia at all, is the National Road. Like the rest, of these east-west highways, it was designed to get settlers to the western lands. It only passes through a few miles of our northern panhandle here in West Virginia, passing through the former steel town of Wheeling, as it crosses the Ohio River. Due to its steel production in the past, there’s a surprising strong business bond between Wheeling and Pittsburgh, and I don’t just mean the old company by that name. Strangely enough, though I’ve traveled the National Road from D.C. to its junction with I-79 (mostly through Maryland), I’ve never traveled the section from I-79 to Wheeling. The National Road has basically been replaced by U.S. Route 70, though many of its parts are preserved as scenic byways.

The four-lanes are certainly a boon to folks who need to get somewhere in a hurry, and I guess they do keep the “furriners” moving so they don’t have time to settle in and do serious damage. Still, when possible, I like the old roads. © 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Morning Run To The Mine

Sorry folks, this one’s a bit longer than normal.

Most construction jobs start at 7 am; that’s why my company expects us to have our pretrip done and be in the dispatch room at 6:45. By 7, we’re all on our way to the slag yards to load up and get product to the sites. (I need to learn to call them “stone yards,” since slag is a rare commodity, now that little iron and steel are made in this country. Sand has replaced cinders and limestone has replaced slag in this day and age.*) Since the site that I was hauling to Monday was on the far side of the mine, and in the next county, it made sense to pick it up there, rather than load at the local yard and haul the weight the extra distance.
It had rained on Sunday, so the well-sites would be too muddy to deliver to, thus most companies were scrambling to fill orders that didn’t depend on the weather, until the mud dried out in a day or two. Many were filling various Department of Highway orders for supplies that the DOH keeps on hand in their own supply yards. The drive east on the modern four lane version of the old Northwestern Pike consisted of driving into what I call “bright fog,”—fog thin enough that the sun was back-lighting it, but thick enough that you couldn’t easily see through it. My clip-on polarized sunglasses helped cut down the blinding glare. In the distance, I saw the lead truck in our little five-truck flock turn on his signal, one by one, those of us following did the same.

I was surprised how dry the access road was already, after rain the day before and the current fog. Guess good ditching and a deep bed of limestone helps. Going in, I saw not only the usual native pioneer plants on the roadsides, but a few non-natives as well. Multiflora rose abounded, as did autumn olive, what appeared to be pampas grass, and several young specimens of pawlonia tomintosa or “princess tree,” a native of China. They had apparently sown ceresa lespedeza soon after the road had been graded in years ago, for it was thick everywhere. The native boneset plants were thick in a couple spots, but they were probably covered with diesel-laden road grime. Most days, they’re also covered with a thick layer of limestone dust from the road. I swear there were little puffs of dust coming up from the wheels of the trucks ahead of me. By noon, the water truck from the mine would probably be spraying the road to keep down the dust. He never seems to be able to keep up, however. Even though he sprays all day, I’ve seen times when clouds of dust swallow the truck in front of you, and the dust cloud over the little valley that they reamed out to form their yard looks like pictures of smog hanging over Los Angeles.

I soon pass the gate, with its signage telling me what the place is, that they have security cameras, that there’s a $10,000 fine for getting out of your truck, that they monitor CB channel 3, and that the speed limit on the grounds is 10 mph. All that concern for my safety makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy inside. Arriving at the scale house, I see probably 50 trucks lined up waiting their turn to get their “tare” or “lightweight,” the weight of their truck when it’s empty. Most are in little ranks and files of about 10 trucks, often at different angles to the other groups. They count on the honesty of each driver who started each group to be certain that everyone stays in order. Of course, 50 sets of eyes and CB radios would keep them straight, too.

After weighing again when loaded, they’ll know the weight for which to charge the customer. They usually just get a tare weight on Monday of each week, and use that weight all week. When you’re dealing in tons, a few pounds here and there don’t matter. Today, though, many of the trucks are hauling to various DOH sites, and they demand a tare FOR EACH LOAD. I’m sure the government bean counters don’t realize that the time the trucks sit in line has to be covered by dollars charged in the contracts, while the practice saves them a few pennies, at most. My grandfather used to talk about folks who’d spend a dollar to save a dime.
If you know where the material is located that you want, you simply back up to the pile so that the loader man can load you from the driver’s side. Otherwise, you can ask him on the CB and he’ll tell you where to find them. Many “gravels” are classed by numbers like 57’s, or 467’s. That isn’t just a random number, but shows that shows that the pile is a blend of sizes 5 and 7, or 4, 6, and 7. I haven’t yet figured out how those numbers correspond to inch measurements, but I will. The big end-loaders have scoops that can load over 10 tons at a time, so sometimes the 22 ton loads we usually carry are only two scoops. Usually, though, they have to add a partial scoop, as well. I think they have a somewhat inaccurate scale built into the loader, but it puts you in the ballpark, at least. When you’re loaded, the loader man will either tell you on the CB or give you a thumbs-up, at which time you can either give him a wave of thanks and acknowledgment, or tell him thanks on the CB.

They have little signs directing those exiting to do so by basically driving the perimeter of the yard. On the berm around the yard are strewn stones of light brick red, dark grey and golden brown. I assume them to be color variations of limestone, since the texture looks the same from my truck cab. If it wouldn’t cost me 10 grand, I’d stop and get a sample of each to take home and examine. (I notice that they use the stuff themselves, but they don’t seem to include it in the product they sell. Uniformity of color is a selling point, no doubt.) After getting my truck weighed again and a receipt for the customer showing that weight, I head off to make the delivery. I retrace my route coming in from the hard road, put my cheater axle down when I get there and start my first of several deliveries for the day. The fog is beginning to burn off as I head east on the Northwestern Turnpike, and it looks as if it might be another good day to be on the road.

*I think it’s ridiculous that we have allowed our smelters and foundries to close, put our ore mines, ore boats and trains out of commission (usually scrapping them), are selling all of our scrap iron overseas, and have closed our steel and iron casting and milling operations. Not only will we be held hostage to prices charged by other countries, but if prolonged war ever comes, we not only will no longer have the facilities for production, but will have let the knowledge of operating such things die as well. Furthermore, I read the other day that ALL of the “smart” parts used in our current weaponry are manufactured overseas. It’s a heck of a way to run a country! © 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Company And The Truck

I drive for what would be called a small family business, but it’s not as small as I suspected. There’s a row of 12 or so trucks under the shed that faces the highway, plus a few “spares” in the front edge of the lot, so I suspected they’d have about a dozen to 15 drivers. It turns out that I’m number 23, plus the owners still deliver as well, though it’s mostly for special orders, fill-ins or to finish up an order, so they can move on to the next one. They deliver over a much wider area than I realized, and once rolling, a truck rarely stops until the day is over. They actually have two businesses on the property, since the stone yard and the trucking business are run separately. Those who’ve been in business for themselves probably understand why. For those who don’t get the idea, let’s just say that it makes figuring taxes and some paperwork easier, though there would probably be other reasons as well, in a family business with multiple owners.

The two owners are brothers who grew up in the business started by their father. The elder appears to serve as manager, though I suspect all major decisions are mutual. Some days they appear to spend most of their time on management, while other days, they’re driving the same as the men. Most days seem a blend of both. As I mentioned in another post, it makes it easier when the boss actually knows what’s going on and how things work, instead of sitting in some office, on the phone, studying charts and sipping latt√©. If you describe a matter on the site, or about the truck, the boss knows exactly what you mean. I was amused to hear the eldest brother tell of his father’s first “tag axle.” He pulled one of his trucks into a friend’s garage, raised the extra axle (used rear end with the “guts” taken out of the “punkin ball”) one inch off the floor and welded it solid. When the springs settled the least bit, the tag axle began helping to bear the load. Technology and regulations were a little simpler in 1956, obviously.

I drive a 2006 Mack with an automatic transmission and a Mercedes engine. The “gearshift” is comprised of push-buttons on the dash, reminding me of the old push-button shift ’56 Dodge station wagon, with the two tone blue paint scheme and the white roof, that my folks had years ago. The Mack is burgundy and a WHOLE lot bigger, of course. Despite being an “automatic,” I’ve learned that if I don’t push the up and down buttons a little, I spend entirely too much time standing on the brakes. The engine brake doesn’t help much if you’re in too high of a gear. I wish I’d known how to lock the transmission in first gear the day that I came off that big hill at the well-site in Doddridge County! I soon learned how, and now the engine brake will bear most of the braking load on high or long hills. I need to google that transmission and see if there’s anything else that I should know. At one point, I was down to 80 pounds pressure that day and getting a little edgy. Going up into a couple of those places, I’ve kicked in the back axle and locked the differentials, in order not to spin out on the steep gravel roads. That’s the equivalent of four-wheel drive and positive traction at the same time. Semi drivers will know what I’m talking about.

Like most modern dump-trucks, the tag axle is in front of the drive axle. You only drop it when you’re loaded and on pavement. Off road or on the lot, it can make turning more difficult. It does distribute the weight over a larger area, and it may help keep you legal on the scales when you’re nearly at maximum load, too. The boss pays us by the hour, and overtime over 40 hours, so we have no need to try to squeeze by a heavy load, or drive like an idiot to get in that extra load for tonnage. We usually haul about 22 tons or a little over.

I have no real beefs with the truck, except that the dash lay-out looks pretty poor to me. The wheel blocks my view of most of the gauges. One thing is for sure, taking that thing down the road sure beats telemarketing! © 2014

Ten Days On The Road

Unlike the subject of a song by that name, at least I’m home every night. My work day has been starting at 6:15 every morning for the last couple weeks (and always will there) and ending about 4:30. I’ve discovered that I need to get up about 4 a.m. to get everything done at home, make the 15 minute drive to work and have my pre-trip inspection done by 6:30. I’m just slow, I guess. This past week, I’ve not made it back to the shop, after my first dispatch, until quitting time. Keeping those wheels turning is what makes the company money, and provides me with a job, so I’m not about to complain. Sometimes, a load isn’t even sold when I’m dispatched, but by the time that I’m there and loaded, an order has come in and off I go.

I’ve delivered to four counties in West Virginia and one in Ohio so far. One delivery is in the third county east of here. I’m surprised that it’s a paying proposition to haul that far. Those loads are going to a site where the soil around the area homes is being replaced, since the city found out that it was contaminated by a chemical plant that used to be there. Some of the eighty and ninety-year old residents opted out of the offer and told them that if those chemicals were so dangerous, that they should have been dead years ago. Makes sense to me! The work is being done by a company from Maryland, while the young people of OUR state have to go to places like Maryland to find work. Why in the world don’t people just hire folks from their own area, so everyone could work where they were raised if they choose?

Something that I’ve noticed on a construction site where I deliver, is that no-one really cares how you get to the dumping site, just as long as you get there. They leave tools and equipment worth hundreds to hundreds of THOUSANDS of dollars parked and strewn all along the path through the site. Some places, you have only eight inches on each side to get a dump-truck through. Generally, if the mirrors go through, the rest of the truck will follow, UNLESS there’s “ground clutter.” The stuff doesn’t belong to any of the workers personally, so I guess no one cares if it gets damaged. The workers seem friendly enough, though they’re from out-of-state, IF you acknowledge them first. You can tell who the engineers and “big men” are, though; they’re the ones who sneer at you when they have to move from their position in the middle of the alley, so you can deliver the stone that their plans call for. A tan hound has called that site home and the workers his new family. He follows them around and they give him attention when they can. I suspect he gets a few bites of their lunches, too. He has a collar, but it has no name on it. They don’t know if it’s a stray, or just a neighbor’s dog who likes the attention. I hope the latter, as he’ll be lonely and unfed when the workers finish up some week and go home.

I went to another well site this week. First, the other driver and I went up a hollow so far that I was half expecting to see a sign that said “Welcome to New Hampshire.” Then we went a similar distance up a big hill. The last few hundred yards were on a ridge so steep and narrow that a goat would have been nervous. Once there, though it was in Doddridge County, West Virginia, you would have almost thought that you were in the Smokies, and not a house in sight. Going down, we had to wait on a semi that was being pulled up the hill by a dozer. The grade on the gravel road was so steep that he would have just dug a hole with his wheels, otherwise.

It’s been thirty one years since I was on the road every day in a truck. My previous observations from driving my personal vehicle have proven correct, though; people really ARE crazier and more idiotic than ever. It never ceases to amaze me the dangerous things people will do with a 75,000 pound truck bearing down on them—like cut him off, or pull out in front of him! Some people just have death wishes, I suppose.

Still, I enjoy the job. Except for the seven years that I worked full-time for myself, this is the first time in thirty-one years that I can honestly make that statement. Whine as I may, life isn’t ALL bad! © 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

I Didn't Need That!

I was pleased, today, to leave my new job with my first decent paycheck in nine years. However, on my way home, my brother-in-law calls me with the news that his wife has only a couple more days to live. So, I have to give my wife the news when I get home. So, we decide to run to town and pick something up for supper and the serpentine belt on my truck breaks. Guess the devil knows how to destroy a good day!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Impersonating A Bowl Of Cereal

Most of us with a few miles on us have joked about our joints snapping, crackling and popping when we move. I tease my chiropractor when he tries to give me an adjustment and his hands crack more than my joints. I tell not to worry, that I won’t charge him anything.

Recently, though, I’ve been making such noises when lying absolutely still. I mostly sleep on my left side, but I’ve always turned to my right side if I get tired of lying on that side. Anymore, though, when I do lay on my right side, my vertebra, shoulder joints and rib connections seem to click and pop something awful for a while. It’s like all my blubber is causing them to shift from their old “sleeping on my left side position” to a new position for sleeping on my right side. This has only been going on for a little over a month, but it’s mildly disconcerting, when I’m trying to go to asleep, since each pop is very slightly painful.

Getting old isn’t for sissies, I’ve been told. I guess it beats the alternative, though. © 2014

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Things Of Beauty And Interest In The “Waste Places”

I admit to being odd. My interests are generally unpopular and my humor is often considered quirky. For the most part, though, I feel like the Waggoner’s Lad who said that “them as don’t like it can leave me alone.” Needless to say, I don’t have many friends.

For instance, who would enjoy going to a sandpit or a limestone mine to look at the scenery? I do. Most folks would see ugliness and destruction at such places—the very opposite of beauty. I look at things a bit differently. Yes, I wonder what the places looked like before man’s intervention. Were they wooded bottoms and hillsides of ancient trees, or perhaps small prairies maintained by the Native Americans to create grazing for the buffalo, elk and deer that once lived in the Ohio Valley? (Yes, buffalo and elk once lived here, and the Indians DID practice land management!) At a later time, perhaps the area was covered with the crops and pastures of the white settlers, who built their homes and raised several generations of descendants here. Beside those scenarios, some folks couldn’t help but see the current appearance as homely by comparison.

Still, people travel hundreds (or even thousands) of miles to see the Bad Lands, Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon. To someone from the forested hills of the East, such places might seem lonely and forbidding, yet the scope of those landscapes, and their very appearance of barrenness, is a large part of their draw for those with wider definitions of beauty. And the Native Americans lived there for centuries, so there IS life there and there ARE natural provisions for man in those places. Even cacti have blossoms, as do many desert plants.

When I see the active part of a sandpit, I see a miniature Monument Valley, perhaps only because I’ve never been to the real one. Like the buttes and mesas out west, the pit walls show the different levels of the land’s creation. Sitting in the truck the other day at a little mom and pop sandpit, I marveled at the similarity of the sedimentary layers of sand to the growth rings of trees. Just as the rings of a tree indicate the physical growth of the tree and the passing of time, the obviously different layers of sand represent the filling of the valley from floods over the centuries. According to geologists, the Ohio River, as we know it, is only about 10,000 years old—a mere tick of the geological clock, if you believe estimated scientific time over the Bible bean counters. It’s hard to imagine a river 50 miles wide, but only one inch deep. However with time and flooding, a channel was cut vaguely similar to what we see today, and additional floods filled some low spots in again, creating the sandpits that man now mines for building material and fill dirt.

When I look at the “abandoned” part of such places, I see an archaeological dig, a ghost town of old equipment, a history lesson and a lesson about the relentless perseverance of nature. In 500 years, little or no sign of man will be seen here if nothing more is done. Quaking Aspen, Sycamore, Virginia Pine and other pioneer species are already growing there. So are many of the native plants; I saw Queen Anne’s Lace, Brown-eyed Susans and Joe Pye Weed blooming prodigiously as I looked around one pit yesterday. There were others, of course, including some that were edible, like Milkweed and Colt’s Foot.

As for hunting, were it legal, it could be done there. I’ve watched trophy bucks grazing cautiously among the native “weeds” and the deliberately sown lespedeza covering the land once mined. Other times, does and their spotted fawns have fed and cavorted within 50 feet of the truck. Canada geese have grown accustomed to the traffic in and out of such places and to the digging and dumping. I dumped a load within 30 feet of a flock the other day and all they did was walk 20 feet further away and turn around to give me a honk and a dirty look. Perhaps the land is preparing itself for the next age of hunter gatherers.

The slag yards and the limestone mine is little different in most ways. One extra thing there is the trains. I was blocked from crossing a two mile spur line for about 10 minutes the other day by a CSX engine and it’s following of coal cars. A couple hours later, I was blocked by the smaller engine (pulling a single car) of a tiny railroad company that operates a mile-and-a-half spur line on the other side of the river. There aren’t many places that I get to watch trains anymore.

So, are such places ugly? They are to some people, but I’ll take them over a modern downtown any day. See, I TOLD you that I’m odd! © 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Five Days On The Job


So far, so good, as they say. I’ve got a lot of things to learn and have made a couple minor gaffs already, but nothing they wouldn’t expect from a new guy on the job. The owners and their staff give very appearance as being as nice to work for, and work with, as I suspected that they would be. One thing I like about the owners is that they grew up in the business and still do most every aspect of the job on a daily business. It’s a whole lot easier to respect and follow orders from people who actually know what they’re talking about than it is from some guy in a suit, sitting in an office with no idea what’s going on anywhere except on paper.

I love the work—traveling from slag yard to work site to supply yard, to sand-pit, etc. There isn’t much sitting still, since keeping the truck moving is what makes the owner money. I enjoy the change of scenery, going to and arriving at the different places that I go; I even find the sand pits interesting. I thought that I knew where most of the sand pits and slag yards in the area were located. The truth is that I only knew about the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I haven’t seen “nothin” yet, I’m sure. I learned there is an underground LIMESTONE mine on the eastern county line at a place called SAND HILL. (As far as I know, there’s never been a sandstone mine at Limestone Hill on the southern edge of the county. LOL!) It’s quite a surprise to start down into their yard of several acres from the hilltop. It’s a view slightly reminiscent of the big copper mines out west, but on a much smaller scale.

Every job has its downside, of course. One of them on this job is traveling the far-flung country roads to make deliveries to oilfield sites. I’ve only made two of those deliveries so far, but speeding down roads already torn up by oilfield equipment feels akin to sitting on the handlebars of a jack-hammer in use. After two trips, I had both a b_tt-ache and a headache. I don’t care for long rides of over an hour on the interstate, either, and for related reasons. At least there, though, I can set the cruise and move my legs a little. I like the short hauls, where you make shorter, but more frequent deliveries. They let me get out of the truck and stretch my legs more often.

Besides the fact that the folks are good to work for, there’s another plus. I picked up my first paycheck from my new job yesterday (they DO NOT hold back a week, like most places), and my last paycheck from my former employer. Even though the one from my old job was the largest I’d ever gotten (for some unknown reason), the one from my new employers was for $45 more, and for only four days, not five like the first place (though the total hours were nearly the same). Their pay period is from Friday through Thursday, so yesterday’s pay will be on next week’s check. I’m still $3 short per hour of what I was making when the factory moved to China nine years ago, but the overtime will probably more than make up the difference. That overtime is the cost of not getting laid-off in the winter, since the owners try to not hire more people than they can use in the winter. While I might not enjoy the overtime, I’ll enjoy the extra money and the lessened chance of winter-time lay-off when expenses are the highest.

Since I follow the old maxim to write about what you know about, future posts may contain more references to my job than some folks will care for, but I hope you’ll bear with me. Also, thanks again to everyone who has been praying for my employment situation. Your prayers and mine have been answered to the affirmative. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” © 2014