Monday, April 2, 2012

10-4 Good Buddy

Monday Mystery Tour
April 2, 2012

I was looking through an archive of stories I have written over the years. This one was dated August of 2008. Not sure if I ever posted it before. But what the heck, here it is, either for the first time or as a repeat.

My Zen and Meditation studio
It was late in the 1970’s and we were living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. We had bought a house on Laurel Avenue and I was in the infinite stages of remodeling. We had three daughters by that time ranging from one to four. As Greg Brown the folk singer would say, I was rich in Daughters.

The remodeling was huge project for a number of reasons. First of all, I am not a skilled craftsman, secondly I didn’t have a lot of the right kinds of tools. After that, the list is simply the problems associated with not having enough money and working so many hours to earn some there was no time to work on the project.
We had the regular bills to pay as well as remodeling material to buy. I started looking for another job so I could make more money. My bride had a paper route in the early morning, but didn’t work away from home. She toiled there, raising children, and doing all the other duties necessary to run a household. By the way, she did and still does a fine job at this despite now working a full time job at Macalester College, and I still help out, a little.
One of the places where I applied for work was with the State of Minnesota. I applied for many jobs with the State. Back in those days. I was chasing a living wage and the inclusion of benefits. The State had a good program. I know some of these benefit programs have changed recently, but back then, it was a plan that was desired for anyone who works. 
I had worked for the Highway Department, MnDOT, in the mid 1970’s, only to quit and move again for what was deemed the good of the family. My current applications were for work near Minneapolis/Saint Paul. I applied for a job as a Grain Inspector, a Truck Driver, an Distribution Manager and a Warehouse Worker. I applied, then waited and waited and never heard from the State. I ended up keeping the job I had which was local truck driving in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN.
It was a long time later, over a year, that I got a phone call from the State. They mailed me a letter, then called about an opening as a truck driver, with other duties. It included travel opportunities with expenses paid and some other duties involved. I went for the interview, a year and a half after I applied for the job.
I had been attending college classes for a long time. I started at a Junior College called Triton near Chicago. Kirby Puckett went to Triton. I didn’t know him. After I moved to Minnesota in 1974, I continued at Lakewood Community College and got an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts.
I moved onward to Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul and was due to graduate in December of 1979. The State truck driving job interview was in early December of that same year. I was offered the job. I told the supervisor that I was literally a week away from getting a Bachelors Degree and that I’d love to take the job, but I couldn’t start until after I graduated.
My Alma Mater
He agreed to this plan and I started a new job, driving truck with other duties for the State of Minnesota in early January of 1980. Now, I needed a little more info about these “other” duties. I thought at first I would be working in the warehouse when I wasn’t driving. I still had questions about what I’d be hauling as well. At first I thought it would be office furniture because the arm of the State I was being hired by was the Administration Department.
I graduated, got my diploma and skipped the ceremony. I was anxious to start my newest job. The truck I would be driving was a new lease Peterbuilt with a sleeper. It had a bigger motor than the usual company truck, but not so big and powerful I could run with the owner/operator guys at 80 and 90 miles per hour in the wee hours of the morning as they roar over the tarmac to make it to their next destination.
The job consisted of hauling one of three trailers that this department had. A regular flatbed, a dry van, and a three axle gooseneck for hauling heavy machinery. Obviously what I was going to haul dictated what trailer I’d use to make the trip. But where was I going? I didn’t know if I was taking State equipment TO somewhere, or going to get it and bring it back FROM somewhere else. And it had to be a goodly distance, hence the cab-over with the sleeper. I found out soon enough.
3 axle gooseneck trailer

On my first two or three runs, I went with the other driver in the fleet of two trucks. His name was Gene. I can tell you that long after I left this job, the department where we worked broke up and dissolved, he stayed with the State and after many years in an office, he is now a manager of the department that auctions off all the old vehicles and equipment. 
Anyway, I went with Gene and here is what we did. We were called the Federal Surplus Property Division of the State of Minnesota. You see, the Federal government, in all their glory, has so much stuff sitting in warehouses all over the country, they don’t have room to store it all. These warehouses are on military bases, in government complexes and in ammunition dumps. They have them in Corps of Engineers projects at dams and along ocean and lake fronts. They even have a storage warehouse at the Smithsonian!
The surplus goods are stored in these places. Some are new items, have never been unwrapped and used in any way, others are used, but still in good repair. Anything and everything is included. Office furniture, tools, construction material, clothing, tents, blankets and sleeping bags,  heavy machinery like fork lifts and cranes, bull dozers, and vehicles of all kinds like trucks, cars, trailers. There is kitchen stuff from mess halls, electronics gear from Navy ships and Aircraft, generators from 10KW to 1000KW and bin upon bin of hardware. There’s more, I just can’t remember it all.
It was my job, then, to go to these places where this stuff was stored, peruse through large piles of documents that listed every item, fill out the paperwork so the State could take these items and reutilize them by selling the stuff to municipalities and non-profits at the tune of ten cants on the dollar. Then I’d load them up on the truck and haul them home to Minnesota.
Minnesota would then have a warehouse called the Federal Surplus Property Warehouse and only non profit organizations and other municipalities could buy the Federal Surplus property and use it . No personal use of this stuff was authorized. The Department of Defense had first crack at it. If they didn’t want it, then the other government departments like GSA or the NSA for example would take the surplus. After that, the States, in programs like the one I worked for, and lastly, auctioned to the general public. This process took years. Some of the stuff I remember was a box of tools from WWII still sitting around, crated and protected, until I finally took the box back to the State of Minnesota to open it and find out it was a box of 30” long phillips screw drivers marked simply as “Tools”.
My travels with that State job took me all over the country. I was a regular at Fort Riley Kansas and at the Aircraft factories in Southern Kansas, Boeing and McDonald Douglas. I did Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, S.I. Kaiser Air Base in Michigan, A plethora of Army and air bases in the Washington DC area, The GSA warehouses in Columbus Ohio, Rantool, Illinois, Wright Patterson in Dayton, Mechanicsburg, Harrisburg and Chambersburg in Pennsylvania, About every Corps of Engineers dam on the Ohio River. The list goes on and on. Ammo dumps in Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. I worked at this job for a couple of years.
The travel was good. No pressure on time. I got paid by the hour. I rushed to get home because I wanted to be with my family, but the State Administration department never put a rush on me. And unlike other truckers that had to do log books and have markings on their trucks, I was exempt from that sort of thing. Just a tiny State of Minnesota plate on the truck and another on the trailer and I was waved by through the truck scales and inspection stations no matter how heavy my truck was loaded.
The only law I had to abide by was the speed limit. I didn’t fare so well there. The truck did get up and go when I didn’t have a heavy load. I got a lot of speeding tickets. Most didn’t have a reciprocity with Minnesota so my license only got suspended once in the two years I worked there.
With no log books, I ran day and night. I’d get my work done and go home and sit there until Friday, then I’d drive the truck in like I was just returning from out east somewhere. They never knew I had been home since Wednesday afternoon. I once did the 246 miles of the Ohio Turnpike in 230 minutes. That’s a pretty good average for an eighteen wheeler in that traffic jam packed stretch of Interstate.
On the DC trips, I’d leave DC and head through Maryland to Breezewood Pennsylvania. At Breezewood there was a truck stop where I’d get a shower, fill with fuel, eat and head out. I’d do a nonstop to Minnesota from there. The Fort Riley Kansas trips were also one day affairs for me. I did take my time when I was sent south to Fort Polk Louisiana or the Florida Everglades.
Can’t tell you about all the beautiful scenery on those trips. I didn’t see it the way I look at it now. I was driving hard to make a living. But I do know it was a better scene in my minds eye to look out the windshield and see the changing landscape rather than a stale TV rerun.
I talked on the CB radio ala C.W. McCall and his hit single “Convoy”. I made it a point, though, to talk like I did all the time, not fake a Southern accent like I had a mouth full of marbles. I did say the mantra of trucker’s lingo though. That was, “Don’t worry ‘bout it!”, when other drivers would fret about the weigh station, smoky the bear or the price of diesel fuel. How the hell are those truck drivers doin’ it with todays prices? I can’t imagine.
I am sorry I didn’t take more time to stop and see more, experience the new surroundings. I have gone back to some of these places later in life, not the military bases or the government warehouses, but the different parts of the country where they were located. 
Since I travel a lot, I invariably go somewhere that I have been before. Sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose. It’s always a puzzle to remember when I was there, what was I driving, why, what, who, where did I eat and “was it good?”.
I chose to stay away from these "Supersized" truck stops

I have eaten in many places and found that the large supersize truck stops were the hardest to get in and out of and the food wasn’t nearly as good as the home cookin’ at a small diner along the highway.
The eats seemed much better at a small truck stop like this one

I was alone in the cab of a truck for hours and miles, and when the AM/FM radio and the CB weren’t my cup of tea, I found other things to do while I thought of getting home to my family. Once, in a Cincinnati Ohio truckstop, I bought a harmonica at a truck stop. I blew and sucked on that thing in the cab of my truck for mile after mile. I still can’t play much, but I can jam a little to an eight bar blues progression in either key, G or A. I even wrote a Country Western trucker song. Here are the words:
Load Limit Bridge
Joe Spado(man)
Album: “Live at Dux”
1980
I pulled out in the morning, headed East, the sun was shining in my eyes
The weather’s good the road is clear and I don’t see a cloud up in the sky
I drive all day and half the night, just to see that town up on the ridge
And then ahead I see a sign, it warns NO TRUCKS, it says Load Limit Bridge
I could detour another way , head north, but that would take another night
The better half done told me son, “Now don’t be late”, or there would be a fight 
On top of that the load I got is due up in this town up on the ridge
I gotta find another way to get across that damn Load Limit Bridge
Chorus
Load Limit Bridge
Comin’ up ahead
Gotta turn around
This is what it said
Load Limit Bridge
Gotta go another way
If I try to drive across
I better be prepared to pay
I heard once on the radio that water flows no more, this driver said
I had the crazy notion then, to drive my rig across that river bed
While going down that river bank I bumped my head and yelled “OH what a ride”
I crossed the dried up river bed, put the hammer down, went up the other side
Four hundred horses pulled me up that river bank and put me on the road
I went in to that little town, I had some lunch and then I dropped my load
I’m empty now, I’m headed home, I’m gonna go see Mama and the kids
I’ll never go back to that town , I’m never gonna cross that old Load Limit Bridge
Chorus
When I got home the boss man said He’s got another load for the Eastern mills
I didn’t want to leave so soon, but me and Mama got to pay the bills
But when he told me that the load was going to the town up on the ridge
I told him he could stick his job, I’m never gonna go back to Load Limit Bridge
Chorus
The thing about truck driving, and I guess about every day in a persons life, is that there is a new experience. On the road, the scenery changes. Each delivery, motel and meal in a diner is a chance to meet another stranger. Different regions offer a change of pace from the routine conventional cuisine of where you might be from. And depending on whether or not you like driving,  each day brings a new adventure. You might learn something. You might meet a new friend. You might see a sight that you have never been seen before. You might save a persons life or have your own life be saved.
For me, there is nothing quite like getting going in the morning, heading towards your destination, hot coffee in the travel mug, a bag of greasy donuts, a cigar to smoke for an appetizer, the road in front of you, and no-one around to tell you what to do. You see, I like it when you get to work and as soon as you arrive, you get into a truck and drive away from it.
Sorry, no pictures from the early 1980’s on the road. You’ll just have to take my word for it. The scenery is beautiful all over this country. I will take my camera on the next trip. I’ll be leaving soon enough.
Peace

6 comments:

Jeannie said...

Those warehouses you speak of - the stuff of movies! (Indiana Jones)

It takes a special kind of person to do long haul trucking. I think it's even harder now - not just gas prices but the log books and speed limits etc. And the expectations to deliver quickly are still pressing.

susan said...

I agree with Jeannie about the warehouses you described. Talk about a massive surplus and the waste was sure to be staggering.

It's always amazing to read about your journeys around the country and the jobs you had that kept you on the road. You really always have been a very special man. Nice you always got home as fast as you could and that you enjoyed the smaller truck stops.

Best wishes for all your travels - good there's no pressure now.

EG CameraGirl said...

You are very lucky you never got into a serious accident traveling at that speed! :)

I think when we're young _ even if we're NOT driving a truck - we often miss much of the scenery.

Paula Scott said...

Your stories are fodder for a movie you know. Love the lyrics to the song-I can almost imagine the tune.

Mel said...

I was humming along. That's after I got done chuckling about you not fairing well with the one rule you had to play buy Mr. Lead Foot. LOL

They're right you know--definitely movie material, this wonderful life of yours. But I think it's about what we do with the life we've been given, eh? And you've done well, Grasshopper..... ;-)

I'm back! :-)
(betcha noticed that, huh? LOL)

Cheryl said...

An old friend once tried to convince me I'd be a good candidate for the unconventional job of being a woman trucker. i oftentimes think he was right. I love being on the road. I love the adventure of seeing new/old places and meeting new people. It's a Zen thing.