Exercising Your Copilot

A few years ago, Lady Tumbleweed posted a video on her YouTube channel, which I recently spotted again, about how easy it was for drivers to find ways to exercise at truck stops.  As a retired owner-operator, and now a professional dog trainer, that got me thinking about our canine copilots, who ride (and sit) for the same number of miles each day that we do. Are we meeting their exercise needs?

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Since truckers often find themselves at unfamiliar locations that usually border roads and highways, exercise for their dogs is dangerous if not handled properly. A dog that gets loose and wanders is unable to easily find its way home, may be picked up as a stray (and the trucker may be forced to move on before locating the dog, or lose the job that feeds his/her family) or worse, the dog could enter a road/highway and be killed by a vehicle. Thus, in my opinion, all truckers’ dogs should be microchipped, and the owner’s info must kept updated in the chip company’s database. That way, animal control personnel, shelters, or veterinarians can get in touch, should the dog come to their facilities and be scanned.

Before starting an exercise regimen on the road, drivers need to do some preparation. Dogs  must wear sturdy equipment they can’t wriggle out of, to which is affixed their identification tag and license. The best collar, in my opinion, for a truck dog, is a plain cloth martingale, or “limited slip” collar with the driver’s cell phone number embroidered on it. Martingales go on over the dog’s head, and are then adjusted for fit, so that they don’t choke the dog, but do prevent the dog from slipping out of the collar if he pulls backward.

In addition, because exercising is going to require that the dog be on a long leash, a non-chafing, no pull escape-proof harness is also recommended. To that, the training lead can then be attached. Training leads come in longer lengths than the one linked, or several can be tied together using a non-slip knot.

Now that the dog is outfitted, how do we exercise? One of the best ways is to just use the dog’s regular food (so no extra calories) to teach him to play a “find it” game. You can also use games to help build attention, too, so that your dog learns to want to stay with you, instead of running  off, in the event that you ever accidentally drop the leash. Another exercise option, for dogs that like it, are fetch games with balls or discs, or even flirt poles.

For dogs whose environment is limited (a truck cab is a very small space, even if you love the person you’re riding with), mental stimulation is quite important, too. Puzzle feeders and toys are much better than plain old boring bowls! Only caveat – dogs need human supervision whenever they are playing with toys or puzzles. Training is also good for mental exercise, and has the added benefit of keeping your copilot safer, so you can enjoy many more miles together!

The Gender Gap

I’m pretty old. I lived through being at left home when the boys went off to little league, and having to take cooking class when I was more interested in building things, just because I was female.

I lived through a time when a wife couldn’t get a credit card without her husband’s signature, and through a time when classified ads were labeled “male” or “female” instead of “professional” or “medical” or what have you. On the bright side, I also remember when employers fully paid for your health insurance and when you went to the doctor, you had no balance left to pay after your visit.

I’m the daughter of a conservative mother and a very politically liberal dad. A critical thinker, principled to a fault, he managed to convince me, against a lot of stacked odds, that I could be anything I wanted to be. I lost a lot, and I gained a lot in that struggle, but when I found myself divorced in my early thirties, I didn’t fold, I literally chased one of my dreams down the highway. I spent more than a million miles in this male dominated profession and did my job as well as anyone. When people taunted me, I still called them “hand” and rolled on down the road alongside them, keeping up the unspoken “old school” rules of how you do your job. I chatted on the CB, helping the same drivers who might have taunted me the day before to stay awake and make those last few miles to a safe haven with the shiny side still up. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of a free meal, a roadside repair, and a ride to the nearest truck stop.

It’s a personal moment of joy for me every time a new woman driver says that she’s gotten her CDL and can now look forward to being able to be independent and feed her family. I know what it’s like to confront gender inequality and would love to see a woman in the White House before I die. But, I will not, and cannot, support voting for (or against) someone based solely upon their gender, or their race, or religion, for that matter. The real goal of equality is to reach a point where there’s no discrimination, and therefore no reason to either hire, or deny hiring, elect, or not elect, someone on that basis. We should vote based upon the person whose positions most closely match ours, and forget the labels others attach to them.

We need to get to a point where, for all Americans, your gender, age, race, or religion matters much less than your integrity, positions on important issues, or ability to do your job. I’m no Pollyanna, and we may not be there yet, but let’s push forward, and realize what “the better angels of our nature” make possible. No racism, no religious intolerance, no ageism, no gender inequality.

Giving a Dam(n) for Oroville

I never intended to politicize this page. I’m just an ex-trucker turned dog trainer who decided to blog very occasionally on my adventures behind the windshield and other things. To be totally transparent, I’m pretty liberal, but that’s a view not held by a majority of truckers. I really did want them to enjoy this place once I started posting here in earnest. While I still feel that way, I just can’t avoid my activism creeping in and taking this place over.

Last night, something happened that I can’t ignore, and which could change the tone of the page in the future. An order was issued asking nearly 200,000 of my fellow Americans to evacuate their homes because the Oroville Dam in California is in danger. While most social media activity was in support of the affected area, something very troubling was also occurring in a parallel universe that I hoped I’d never see in America. Twitter was suddenly ablaze with Trump supporters virtually laughing over their fellow citizens’ misfortune in the most despicable display of anti-American values that I’ve ever seen. They were commenting about how Hollywood liberals should fix the dam, about California being unable to fix the dam because it supports sanctuary cities, to blaming Obama for no stimulus money going to fix the dam, etc. These heartless tweeters seem to  have as little compassion for their own countrymen, the REAL PEOPLE affected by this, as they have for the “wretched refuse” of the “teeming shores” of other lands. Many of them seemed amused that this misfortune was happening in a blue state (it was completely lost on these often self-described “deplorables” that the affected district actually voted red, not that it should matter).

Meanwhile, one of the very first offers of help came from the Sacramento Sikh community. Mayor Darrell Steinberg (@Mayor_Steinberg) tweeted seven temple addresses and said they were ready with food and “any in need” were welcome. THAT is a typical American response during a neighborhood, state, or national disaster. I’m embarrassed for my country that the first thought that crept into my head was how many times these generous people have probably heard the sting of the word “towelhead.” How many times has that word been uttered by the same type people who are busily spewing hate from their keyboards today as they simultaneously fail to provide any support or information that could be critical to real people finding shelter or resources for themselves or their animals.

Did any of these narrow minded fools even consider that truckers headed to California last night might benefit from a word of warning, rather than another 140 characters worth of vitriol against immigrants, or liberals, or the poor? Instead of tweeting hate, could they not have reserved using hashtags about the dam to further their own political agenda for just one day, instead reserving them for useful info? One of the last things I tweeted last night on @extruckerlady was the Caltrans information about which highways were impacted. I hoped with all my heart that no trucker would come to harm because they remained uninformed. That, my friends is the highest best use of social media – keeping people safe from harm.

We can never agree on everything. I’m always going to be at odds with my conservative friends on some issues, and they with me. But when we allow the greediest and basest factions in our country to divide us to the point where we’re so busy trying to be right that we forget how to be considerate about the fate of our neighbors, then we’ve lost what it means to be Americans. We simply have to keep giving a damn about each other. Black, white, red, yellow, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, male, female, trans, LGBTQ, young, old, rich, poor, landed, homeless, veteran, conscientious objector, liberal, conservative etc. etc. If you say “America First” that implies EVERY American deserves the same care and respect. That doesn’t mean we have to agree, it just means we care for each other enough to know that politics shouldn’t overshadow pulling together in a crisis. We simply cannot let the greed at the top translate to dismissing the suffering of our countrymen, or worse, laughing at it.

What a Lovely Couple

It’s scary, but people like me are now considered “old school.” Partly, that’s because we drove during a time when there seemed to be much more of a genuinely helpful camaraderie between drivers. Sure, we’d tease the hell out of one another for screwing up. But, back then, you knew that if you broke down, it wouldn’t be too long before some hand would pull over and help you out of whatever jam you were in. On more than one occasion, I was rescued thusly, and on more than one occasion I was the rescuer. As the years passed, perhaps because of the ascension of some of the mega carriers with their corporate rules, perhaps just because nothing good lasts forever, we heard more and more CB chatter about how the “new breed” (today they’d be called “steering wheel holders”) just didn’t get it. They’d breeze right by you sitting in a ditch or trying to change a frozen up filter. It felt sad, and there’s a movement to put the CB radio, and its unique ability to put drivers in touch with one another, back in to trucking.

Those old days, though, had their drawbacks, too. Then, as now, there was a lot of bad advice floating around that was taken as gospel. Perhaps the biggest was the removal or disabling of front wheel brakes. Pre-1987 or so, many drivers did this, thinking that they’d retain better control of their trucks during panic stops. The conventional wisdom was that it prevented the steers from locking up. I’d be willing to bet some old timers still believe it.  Testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that we were actually safer with brakes in front than without, and the DOT ordered all trucks to have properly functioning front brakes by early 1988.

That brings me to today’s topic. It concerns the trailer hand brake. Then, we called it the “trolley valve” (really old timers called it “the Johnson bar”). It’s function is to allow the driver to tug and test the coupling of tractor to trailer (though a really safe driver will do a visual check of the pin as well), not for use while the rig is in motion.

Just as drivers didn’t believe science when it came to front wheel brakes, many of them, especially owner operators with a vested interest in giving preferential treatment to their own equipment, used the trolley to slow the rig, thus saving some life on the truck brakes. Unfortunately, the practice led to quite a few mishaps, too, as trailer brakes wore out exponentially faster. Today, many fleets don’t order their trucks with trolleys, just to keep drivers from using them that way. Sad, because the one time that a driver might actually prevent a problem was if he or she very skillfully applied the trailer brake as an anti-jackknife maneuver, slowing the trailer just enough to get it following the tractor again. Even that is risky business for a newb. Prevention on slick roads and downgrades goes so much farther.

Years ago, sans witnesses, no one had anything but the driver’s word if something bad happened. Drivers would almost always be blamed for any uncoupling accidents that occurred, as if equipment failures were somehow impossible. Well, now, there’s a handy dandy way to assess blame, or actually exonerate, drivers. If you drive for a large fleet, you may already have one installed on your truck and not realize it. A small device, called the TRAILER-SAFEGUARD™ may be monitoring your behavior already. It can tell whether you actually performed a tug test when coupling tractor to trailer, and how you have generally been using the trailer hand brake. Even if there’s no “big brother” device watching you, though, tug testing, doing a visual inspection, and keeping all brakes working together, is the right way to keep safe.

Have fun on your run, everyone!

 

Tornado Time

We’re already in tornado season, which lasts from April through June in America’s heartland, the Midwest. These storms, which can generate winds of up to 300 mph and cut a swath of damage a mile wide, are often spawned by so called “super cell” thunderstorms that occur when warm moist air from the south meets cold dry air from the north.

Tornadoes can be enveloped by rain and difficult to see, which presents a clear danger to truckers who may encounter some heavy rain or hail, yet not realize that a tornado is forming or already on the ground. So, to stay safe, it’s imperative that drivers keep updated on the weather that’s expected along their travel route and observe all alerts and warnings.
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If a threat is imminent, compatible mobile devices can warn citizens via the Wireless Emergency Alerts system. Once there is an alert, WEA suggests seeking more details from local TV or radio stations, NOAA Weather Radio, news website, etc.

If you are caught in an area where a weather report is unavailable, perhaps because of poor signal, there are some signs to watch out for that may indicate that a tornado could form, such as a dark greenish sky or the presence of hail (especially if it’s not raining).

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According to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), there is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a car or truck, just slightly less-dangerous ones. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, NOAA says, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If you are already caught by extreme winds or flying debris, park as quickly and safely as possible. Stay in the truck with the seat belt on and keep your head down below the windows. If you can, cover your head with a blanket, coat, etc. If you think you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, leave your vehicle and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Also, NOAA suggests NOT seeking shelter under highway overpasses, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.

As you can see by the previous paragraph, and by this clip showing how a high profile vehicle fares in heavy wind such as that which tornadoes and severe thunderstorms can produce,  it’s very dangerous to get caught in your truck in one of these storms. No freight is worth your life. If there is a credible weather threat, take precautions early and live to truck another day.

When Bad Things Happen

Trucking can be a great life, but it can also be a hard road, quite literally. Truckers can face hardship many miles from home for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, there are people who care.

One organization, Trucker Charity Inc. is dedicated to providing help to people in the trucking industry, including family and those working in ancillary occupations.

Their mission is “to assist those in the trucking industry in need. We will do this financially, and with education. Our life coach and mentoring programs will work with those that need help one on one. We will raise money to help support people in the trucking industry who are in need and luck has passed them by. We will assist in making sure people are fed and safe in emergency housing. Including mechanics, truckers and their families and all jobs related to the trucking industry. We will be good stewards of peoples money and help our industry prosper with support and education. With our ability to bring the trucking industry together we will assist in disasters with coordination of equipment, logistics and manpower.”

One of their programs, The Last Ride Home, helps insure that truckers who lose their lives are able to be returned home to their families with dignity. They also operate a food bank at I-70, Exit 68 in Brownstown, Illinois. Open 7 days a week, drivers who need food can pick up three days’ worth. Contact them at info@truckercharity.org or call 1-888-523-0087.

Another organization that helps truckers is the St. Christopher Fund. The SCF helps semi-truck drivers and their families who have financial needs due to current medical problems. Assistance may be in the form of direct payment for medical services or prescription drugs, assistance with expenses while recovering from illness and out of work, and/or providing information on how to negotiate price reductions with medical providers and hospitals.  Contact them at http://truckersfund.org/. They also have an excellent resource page on their site.

Truckers or family members who are over age 60 can often find assistance from the ejder service agencies in their respective states. Some programs are free.  Contact the Elder Care Locator.

Having trouble affording care for your canine or kitty co-pilot? It’s best to have pet insurance, but if you don’t, find Veterinary Care Assistance or sign up for a pre-approved loan at Care Credit.

Safe travels…
Exladytrucker

Welcome!

Whether you’re a trucker, an ex trucker like me, or you’re just interested in trucking, I hope you’ll enjoy my new blog, Ex Lady Trucker. That’s exactly what I am – an “old school” former independent driver and owner/operator with more than a million safe miles traveled, who just happens to be female. I’m in another occupation now that I love, but you know what they say…you can take the girl out of the truck, but you can’t take the truck out of the girl.

Topics will vary. Sometimes I might wax poetic about an industry I truly loved being a part of, sometimes I’ll complain about it. More often, I’ll try to provide useful information, support, a shoulder to cry on, or a place where you can share your virtual happy dances from time to time. To help with that, I’ve established an associated Facebook page and Twitter account.

I want you all to feel free to comment on anything I write. You don’t have to agree with me on religion, politics, or anything else, but this isn’t exactly a democracy – I want families of truckers to feel welcome here, too, so I won’t approve comments that contain vulgarity, racism, hate speech, or promotion of violence against people or animals. I warn you that I’m very socially liberal, but I support the Constitution and all its amendments. I’m more a pacifist than a warmonger, though I understand when wars are necessary to truly protect freedom. I thank veterans for their service whether I agree with the war they fought or not, and I think if we send them into harm’s way, we have a solemn duty to care for them when they return. I believe in taking care of our elders, no matter what, and I believe in trying to leave the planet in better shape than we found it for future generations. If I could change one thing about education, it would be that we teach children, at a very young age, to be critical thinkers.

If you think you can stand it, I hope you’ll follow this blog and see where the road takes us. Till we meet again, stay safe and keep the shiny side up.

Exladytrucker

 

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