Sunday, April 29, 2012

Take Me For A Ride: Episode One

Take me for a ride in your Mack  truck,
Take me for a ride in your truck, Mack.
Take me for a ride, take me for a ride,
Take me for a ride in your Mack truck, Mack.
--Woody Guthrie, as sung by Peter, Paul and Mary

I’d like to insert a you-tube video of Peter Paul and Mary singing “Car Car,” but there doesn’t seem to be one available.  It’s a song I love, especially when Mary puts on her sexiest voice to sing about the 3.2 liter Ferrari with the torsion bar suspension and the ported venturi carbs.  She makes it sound as lubricious as Monte Python’s “wankel rotary engine.”  So run, don’t walk, and grab yourself a copy of the Peter Paul and Mary In Concert album, or better yet, get someone to take you for a ride in their car car.  (As an alternative, you can buy the album from, or even just download “Car, Car” for only $0.99.  I’ve put a link below.

 2007 Navistar International Eagle 9400i
Taken in Missoula, Montana 4/24/2012

And for the record, no, it’s not a Mack Truck.  Officially it’s a 2007 International Eagle 9400i with a Hi-Rise sleeper and a Cummins diesel engine.  Owned by Kevin Sept Trucking of Miles City, Montana, and driven by non-other than my own Kevin Kerr, the truck served as my home away from home for most of the past week as Kevin (my Kevin, not owner Kevin—it gets confusing at times) took it on its inaugural run for owner Kevin.  Last Monday morning (April 23, 2012), Kevin drove his Expedition, a vehicle I used to think of as large, from Missoula to Miles City where he traded seats and returned to Missoula in the Eagle.  He pulled up outside the house sometime after midnight and parked where I normally park the Volvo.

 Interstate 90 through the Bug Screen (er Windshield)
Taken along Lake Coeur d'Alene Idaho, 4/24/2012

Our goal was to get to Orting, Washington where we would pick up a trailer and then, with any luck, load it up for the trip back to Miles City or some other destination off the West Coast.  It’s my understanding that owner Kevin had just recently purchased this particular Eagle, and had not, as yet, put it into service.  He did put his distinctive logo decals on the cab so it’s not a truck you’re likely to confuse with any other 2007 Eagle you might find in your parking lot.

Understand that with the exception of a ten-mile jaunt down Interstate 90 some twenty years ago, I’ve never ridden in a big truck.  Oh I suppose, wordsmith that I am, I should use the technical term.  It’s not a truck.  It’s a semi-tractor, or semi for short.  About noon, we had our gear loaded inside the cab and we were filling up the tank—topping it off actually, for a mere $700+.  Talk about sticker shock.  Heading west, the Eagle handled beautifully, although Kevin kept mentioning how much better the ride would be once we had a loaded trailer to pull.  We stopped for dinner at a truck stop in Ellensburg, Washington.  You don’t just pull one of these up to the valet parking at your typical five-star restaurant, or even your local McDonalds, for that matter.  Up and over Snoqualmie Pass and we were into the Seattle metropolitan area and parked at the King Oscar Motel in Pacific, Washington by ten p.m.  (I have no idea who King Oscar is or was, or why he owns a motel in Pacific, Washington.)

 The Columbia River and Interstate 90 Bridge
Taken at Vantage, Washington, 4/24/2012
Wednesday morning we drove the remaining ten miles to Orting where we picked up a fifty-three foot long four-axle flatbed trailer.  If maneuvering the semi is tricky, imagine what it’s like when you have another fifty-three feet behind you.  City corners can be a real pain, so we didn’t drive to an Orting restaurant for breakfast.  Kevin assured me we’d stop at a truck stop along the way—the way to where we still we not sure. Owner Kevin called and suggested we head to Blaine, Washington, where we would pick up a load of 'bins."  Someone would be calling us with instructions on just where in Blaine these bins were located.

Blaine is about one hundred miles north of Seattle, right on the Canadian border.  It's where the famous Peace Arch is located.  Exit 275 is the last US exit from I-5, and all commercial vehicles are required to take that exit.  We did--we would have even if it weren't a requirement, for neither of us had our passport along, and you don't get into Canada these days without a passport.  Kevin wanted to weigh this rig, so we headed to the only truck stop we could find and yes, they had a scale.  I won't go into the details, but weighing something as long as our outfit is quite a process--a process made more difficult in that the venue's scale recorder wasn't working properly.  Eventually we figured out that we weighed about 36,000 pounds.  That's empty, remember.

 The Cascade Mountains
Taken west of Ellensburg Washington, 4/24/2012

During the weigh in, my Kevin got a call and learned that we had overshot our destination by about ten miles.  So back on I-5, heading south, till we turned off the interstate headed for an industrial complex I won't mention by name.  What I will say was that there was a major security fence surrounding the property, and a sign courtesy of Homeland Security telling us (warning us?) that we were about to enter a "foreign enterprise security zone."  Now if I used the word "security" three times in the last sentence, there's a reason.  I've never been through such strict scrutiny, nor have I ever seen the kind of barricades Kevin was forced to manoeuver that rig through.  We both had to turn over our photo IDs, and we were issued name badges, protective glasses and hard hats.  After that, the drawbridge was lowered and we were allowed to cross the moat into the castle.  Well, that's what it felt like.  While our cargo was being loaded on the trailer, I asked if I could take a few pictures.  The response I got. while positive, had enough caveats in it that I chose to leave the camera in the rig.  No sense in losing my equipment because I'd fallen afoul of Homeland Security.  The picture of the loaded rig, shown below, was taken much later, after we had left the facility.  I don't believe there is enough information available to give anyone a clue as to what we were hauling or where we picked it up.  I don't even know what exactly it is, and I've read the manifest.  Maybe I should have spent more time with my least favorite college subject, organic chemistry.  What I do know is that it's some kind of catalyst used in the oil business, and that's why we're taking it to the Bakken.  I can also reveal that the eleven "bins" on the trailer weigh a combined total of 43,000 pounds.  Add that to the 36,000 pound weight of the tractor and trailer and we're talking 40 tons of weight going down the highway at 65 mph.

By 3:30 we were loaded and back on the highway BUT we still hadn't had breakfast.  Kevin's plan to stop at a truck stop along the way was thwarted by the mere fact that there were no visible truck stops along the way.  His position, and watching him handle this rig makes me understand it very well, is simply this.  If no truck stop is visible from the highway, then there is no point in getting off the highway and facing the possibility of having to back this mess up because there is no place safe to turn it around.  The place in Blaine where we weighed the truck was called a "truck stop" but its people fuel was limited to grease and carbs--most of them pre-packaged.  Nothing that appealed to me.   

 Anyone Need an Extra Large Copper Top Battery?
Taken at Mount Vernon, Washington, 4/25/2012

We had seen an International dealer/shop in Mount Vernon on the drive north, and as Kevin was concerned about some readings he was seeing on the dash, he directed me to look up the phone number of the place and call to see if they could look the rig over.  Aren't smart phones amazing.  Using my phone, I went online, found Motor Trucks of Mount Vernon, and gave them a call.  With Kevin telling me what to say, I described his concerns and yes, they would be able to schedule us in, sometime after 6 p.m.   It was now 4.  We pulled into their lot, left the rig, took the loaner they graciously supplied, and went in search of food.  By the time we were out of the shop and at the restaurant, it was close to 5 pm, but I insisted that the delicious London Broil I ordered (with a chicken peanut satay appetizer) was really breakfast.  After eating, I suggested that we stop at a grocery store and fill the rig's refrigerator with something other than water.  I didn't want to be caught again in a situation where there were no visible truck stops and nothing to refuel my own belly.

The Motor Trucks guys gave us the bad news that the radiator was clogged and would need flushing at some point, but other than that, they saw nothing terribly wrong, so by 8:30 we were back on the road.  Turning off I-405 onto I-90, we started the climb toward Snoqualmie Pass and immediately noted two things.  First, the semi had no power.  Second, there was a lot of black smoke coming out of our stacks.  Neither of these were good signs as we had six mountain passes to cross between Seattle and Williston.  I got back on my smart phone, called Mount Vernon, found out that they had a location in Seattle as well, and called Motor Trucks Seattle.  They couldn't see us until at least sometime on Thursday, so on to plan B.  As I mentioned above, the motive power in this rig was built by Cummins Diesel, so I called Cummins Northwest and described the problem.  They said bring it in (it's now after 9 pm, but these places stay open until midnight), so at exit 18, we turned the beast around and headed back into the city ending up just a few miles down the highway from the King Oscar.  Taking various pieces off the engine showed that the problem was more extensive than could be fixed easily, so we grabbed our bags and headed for a nearby motel, leaving the semi in the shop over night.  Thursday morning we found that the shop had ordered a part from Portland, a part that wouldn't be delivered until Friday, so we had a full day to ourselves.  I'll write up our day in Seattle in a separate post.

What impressions did I get from my seven hundred plus miles in the semi's cab?  Well, first, I have a lot more respect for the men who handle these things.  Watching Kevin negotiate city streets while towing a sixth of a football field behind him was awe inspiring.  Watching the idiots in the  Hyundais who think they can take on such a beast was even more impressive.  I've been accused, many a time, of intellectual snobbery, but all I can say is that there is an amazing number of really stupid people on the road.  Finally, while I've noted before that I really don't like taking photos from a moving vehicle, this is one ride where I can't ask Kevin to stop or turn around so I can get a good shot.  No driving into downtown Ellensburg so I can photograph the Kittitas County Court House, for example.  But you're sitting so high that the views are completely different from what you see in the Volvo, for example.  So I did take more than a few shots both through the side window and through the bug screen, er windshield.  I don't know why, but that piece of glass collects a lot more bugs than the Volvo.  I purposely left the second picture above un-edited so you could see what I was looking through.

Will we make it home?  Will we make it to Williston?  Will Kevin enjoy Indian food in Gig Harbor?  Stay tuned for further episodes of Take Me For A Ride.


High Anglican Hiker said...

When I worked for the Cling Peach Advisory Board the bins generally contained peaches. Except one night. Weigh this bin, and this one, and this one. Take an average. Now inspect this truck load and calculate the total -- 56,000 pounds of brown rot. Lesson: don't haul a truck load of peaches from Bakersfield to Oroville in broad daylight in late summer.

Elli Scrivner said...

Well now I'm waiting to find out if you made it home, if you made it to Williston, if Kevin enjoyed Indian food in Gig Harbor...

Lois Shreve said...

Wow you have covered alot of ground.....I wish I could have been to all of these places....some of them I have been to....I could have gotten you around Morgantown (lived there 7 years) and eaten Mexican at Wings Ole. fBeautiful pictures!! Liked the story of your being famous (just enough but not too much) to the car dealer! You have had some beautiful weather it seems. So glad you have come back for a visit but missed seeing how long you are staying...? Lois