Welcome to The Hobo Life site. My name is Phil Shuart, and I am a Professional Driver. Unlike most truck drivers, I’m not interested in “Home Time.” I’m interested in time to live. I don’t have a house or an apartment that sits empty while I’m out exploring the lower forty-eight. I make my life out here on the road. I stop in different places around the county for my down-time. Sometimes I park my rig and stay in hotels. I hike, fish, or explore wherever I happen to be. When I wake up and look out my “office window,” there’s no telling what I might see.
Spending close to 345 days a year out on the road gives me an enormous amount of free time. Now I could waste that time staring at my phone or watching the new whatever on Netflix. Many an hour has been wasted in such pursuits. For the new year, I’d like to do something that makes my brain work and might be useful to my community of drivers. So, start a blog Phil. You’re only 12-15 years late to this party.
I hope to create articles that will be useful for OTR drivers. Hopefully to help make them think about new ideas, tricks, and concepts they hadn’t considered. I will slowly populate the Resources page with actual resources to help you. (It’s empty at the time of publishing this post) Cut me some slack…we all have to start somewhere and there’s no staff here. Just me and a laptop.
I hope you will find these articles, well, at best educational. At worst entertaining. Use the comments or the Contact page to suggest new topics. Please. I am wide open to suggestions for things to write about.. (See above…just me here)
Professional Drivers work 14 hour days, 11 of them spent sitting behind the wheel. Inactivity is just one of the many challenges facing truckers today. Over the next few months, I will be addressing each of the challenges facing us out here on the road.
limited physical activity
irregular work/sleep schedules
restricted access to healthy dietary options
increased stress levels
This article will focus on the need to MOVE our bodies and teach us to recognize how little activity we experience on a day to day basis.
Battle of the Bulge
In 2015, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) surveyed OTR truckers. Their findings were upsetting, but won’t be surprising to drivers out on the road.
The survey found that over two-thirds of them were obese (69%), as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, and 17% were morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or higher). In comparison, only one-third of U.S. working adults were reported to be obese, and 7% morbidly obese.
The data above is more troubling than it appears. The data is five years out of date. It will only have gotten worse, today.
Many different wearable tech devices can help you track your fitness. Movement (steps), exercise, stairs climbed and standing. Most of which are a good deal cheaper than my Apple Watch. I use an Apple Series 5 Watch because it does a lot more for me than track my fitness. It’s also the device I own and understand (which makes it particularly convenient). Everything you will find below will easily translate to another manufacture’s device. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss only the functions I think are essential for improved driver health.
When I first purchased and set up my Apple Watch, I decided to change nothing in my daily routine for two days. What I learned was troubling.
I walked less than 2,000 steps each day and stood for more than five minutes, only three hours a day. I knew from the size of my waistline that I wasn’t getting enough exercise, but I never imagined how bad things were.
The Apple Watch won’t force me to get up and move around, but it will remind me to stand up and move. It tracks my movement visually, providing me with something that I didn’t even realize I needed. Data. Without information, you can’t make any intelligent choices.
Move your body!
You need to find reasons to get up and move your body. It is far to easy to curl up on the bunk and watch TV or even sit in the driver’s seat, and people watch. How can you create reasons to walk? You can park in the back row of the truck stops. Go inside and walk around the truck stop if the weather outside is terrible. In good weather, walk around the parking lot. Walking vigorously, you can cover two (2) miles in 30 minutes or so. Walk to nearby stores and shops. You don’t have to spend money. You need to keep moving. The movement will raise your heart rate. (This is the other half of the equation)
How’s your heart?
The Apple Watch tracks my heart rate. When I’m exercising, walking, and resting. In my first two days with the device, my heart rate barely got over 90bpm (beats/minute). Every doctor will tell you this, coupled with bad diet and obesity, is an excellent way to end up dead. At a vigorous walking speed, you can quickly get your heart rate to over 120/130bpm while barely working up a sweat.
The Apple Watch won’t solve your problems for you. It won’t make you thin. It won’t lower your blood pressure. It won’t reduce your risk of diabetes. It will provide you with the information you need to combat each of those issues and more. If I employed company drivers in a fleet, I would give each of them some form of wearable fitness technology at no charge to them. If for no other reason than to extend their useful life to the company that has already invested an enormous amount of time and money training and equipping these individuals.
A significant challenge that all commercial truck drivers face today is finding a safe place to park. With driver numbers at an all-time high, finding a safe and legal place to park can be a real challenge the later in the evening it gets. Add to that the current trend of corporate-owned truckstops (i.e., TA/Petro, Loves, Pilot, etc.) converting formerly “free” parking spaces to the “Reserved” parking spots. Both of these situations can leave drivers in the uncomfortable position of having to “create” a parking spot on their own, where and when they can.
Not All Truckstops Are Created Equal
Every driver on the road has found their “favorite” truckstops. Some drivers are partial to the TA/Petro chain. Others prefer the Loves or the Pilot/Flying J chains. Still others like to sleep in out of the way spots and rest areas. Whatever your preference, it is safe to say there are more trucks looking for spots at the end of the day than available spots out here.
Too Many Trucks, Not Enough Spots
I don’t believe it’s possible for any driver running at night, not to find that truckstop after truckstop is full when it’s time to park. Since the implementation of the ELD’s, this has made it difficult for some drivers to get shut-down before the dreaded clock ticks to zero. There is a fix. Finish your day by 4 PM. I realize that for many drivers this isn’t feasible.
Smelling blood in the water, Travel Centers of America (TA/Petro) was the first of the Big 3 to offer “Reserved” parking accommodations. Reserved Parking is a pleasant name for a parking spot that costs between $14 and $18 dollars for one night (Check in @ 4pm, Check out by 3pm the next day).
At first, this seemed like a useful option in a pinch. Most of their sites had between 4 and 10 Reserved spaces. At first. Now there are sites with nearly a third of the parking as reserved. Pilot/Flying J followed shortly after. In their defense, i have never been to one of their sites that had more than 10 paid spots. It’s only been recently that Loves has started too get into the game. I have been to 2 Loves locations with paid parking. I think it is safe to assume that all the locations that can, will follow suit.
Reserved Parking vs. Paid Parking (Is there a difference?)
Paid parking is not a new concept. Most truckstops in close proximity to major cities (especially in the northeast and around Chicago, Houston, Dallas, etc.) have paid parking. $15 to $25 per night. So, not different than these reserved spaces, right? Wrong. Nearly all the sites that require money to park will accept a receipt for 60 gallons of fuel or money spent inside the truckstop. This is manageable because drivers can often spend some money on dinner or snacks or get fuel (they do this normally).
Reserved parking is a flat fee upfront to secure the space. TA/Petro has amended their system to accept shower credits and points earned for parking fees. To use the Ultra-one credit for parking a driver must fuel up 1250 gallons the previous month (Gear Lvl 4). Pilot/Flying J and Loves only accept money. The sense from the truckstop employees is if you get here early you can park in a free spot, if not…
I personally don’t have an issue with paying to park. It’s a tax write-off and based on what I see happening to these truckstops, it’s going to get worse. This is not a popular position at the lunch counter, I can assure you. My feelings are conflicted. On the one hand, it feels like one more hand in a driver’s pocket. On the other, if I owned a truckstop, I would definitely be charging people to park on site. I know first hand how disgusting some drivers are. The maintenance costs for keeping the lot cleaned and trash collected alone would make me charge rent for the evening. All that said, Paid Parking and Reserved Parking are two separate animals because one can be mitigated by spending money a driver would normally spend and the other cannot.
Unused space on your trailer is lost potential revenue. I’m not suggesting that finding the perfect partial will happen each time. I am merely suggesting that I fear we “talk” ourselves out of even looking. “It will add time,” we say. “I rarely find one dropping on my route,” we say. Both of these statements are true, but they are also excuses not to try. That breeds complacency, which in turn breeds laziness. Be mindful and beware of laziness. Laziness is so insidious that it doesn’t just show up in your life. It creeps in, slowly.
The term “partials” can have a negative connotation in our business. Some brokers are more than happy to lists loads as partials, but most assume they are “paying” for the whole truck. In truth, I don’t often bring it up with anyone I’m working for. We’ll start with a real-world example.
Take this CASE 580 Combination Backhoe (pictured above). The team back in the office negotiated an excellent rate from southern Michigan to Idaho Falls, ID
When I get empty…I’ll still be in Idaho Falls, ID.
I don’t mean this as a slight to the fine people of Idaho. It is truly beautiful country. It is not, however, a hotbed for specialized open-deck freight. You now find yourself stuck with the two terrible choices of sitting in Idaho hoping to get lucky or driving empty (for free) to another location.
Is there a third choice?
What if we were to go back in time to last week when we loaded this load. It was a 1500+ mile run to deliver on Monday. Scheduled to pickup on Thursday we would be landing in Idaho Falls Saturday afternoon. This means a day in Idaho Falls sitting (Sunday).
How about we load an additional (and separate) delivery using up the 21 feet at the end of the trailer?
We could use Thursday to locate a partial. After much searching…victory. A piece of machinery going to a roof truss manufacturer in Wyoming. Just 70 miles from our Idaho Falls delivery.
The Customer Factor
Never forget that this business is all about customer service. Too many drivers don’t realize or won’t realize this simple fact.
This partial feels like a lucky break. Realize now that the partial load will need to come off first so the 580 can be driven off the rear. If the 580 is a firm 8:00 am, you cannot accept the partial. In this case, it was an open 8 am-4 pm FCFS (First Come First Served) delivery.
Educating yourself is going to be a recurring theme for me. You have to be creative all of the time. Think outside the box. If you see multiple items on another truck, go strike up a conversation with the driver. Is it multiple loads? How are they delivering? How much time did the driver lose collecting them all?
The real secret to success in life is to educate yourself about that which you are ignorant. The word “ignorant” inherently has a negative connotation. In my opinion, this is unfair. It is only negative if you don’t remedy your ignorance. Research the web. Read. Ask questions. EDUCATE YOURSELF. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to teach you. Everybody else is busy doing their own thing.
Anyone with a closed headache rack knows the frustration of tangled, bunched, and buried chains. A few years ago I made the decision to cut all my chains in half making them a bit easier to handle. So my 25′ 5/16″ chains with two hooks became two separate 12.5′ 5/16″ chains with one hook. My 20′ 3/8″ chains with two hooks became two separate 10′ 3/8″ chains with one hook.
It’s madness they cried! What do you do when you need hooks on both ends or longer chains, idiot? Im glad you asked.
A Midlink, as the name implies, allows you to “link in the middle” of two open (i.e. No Hook) lengths of chain. They are manufactured by grade and class (you want G70 and F16) and size (5/16″ – 3/8″ – 1/2″ depending on your chain size). They are available at most securement shops and some trailer repair shops that have a supply store as well. I got mine from Tri-City Canvas in Granite City, IL. It doesn’t matter where you buy them because the size, grade, and rating are stamped on the piece.
What Do I Need?
The Midlink will come with both clevis pins and the two cotter pins to secure them. You’ll need to buy one Midlink for each chain (approx $8.00 each). This list assumes you already have the chains. If not, you can forget the grinder/cutting wheel. Have the shop you buy the chains from cut them first. Most will do at no charge when buying new but, some I have heard of charge a “cutting fee”. Usually no more than $5.00 each.
Angle Grinder/Cutting Wheel
One Hair Pin (this is an open style of cotter pin)
Needle Nose Pliers
Stretch the chain out with the hooks sided by side. Find the middle link and cut through both sides. You lose one link and alacazam! Two chains.
Attach a midlink permanently to the end of half you new chain sections with one of the supplied “straight cotter pins”.
Connect the other end of the chain only when you need the longer chain.
Drop the other clevis pin through and secure with the hair pin. Line up the Chainlink and Midlink. Insert Clevis Pin. Secure with Hair Pin.
PROS AND CONS
There is always good with the bad. Lets start with good!
Chains are half the weight.
Easier to handle.
Much easier to drag out of the headache rack. I have had no bound or tangled chains since doing this.
I have noticed that the types of materials that commonly need more than 10′ of chain aren’t something I do often.
Less extra chain to wrap up after you secure your load.
It will take a few times for you to remember you have an extra 10 minutes of prep to secure. By this I mean after I cut my chains, I didn’t have to link them for months. When I picked up a load of cable reels (and needed 15+ feet of chain) I found myself scrambling to get them linked up instead of doing it while I sat in line waiting. (Duh)
Disconnecting them adds time. Not much with practice but still additional time. Our time is money as they say.
I’ll add this last item with an *. I picked up at an aerospace company that will remain nameless. They nearly refused to let me load because their “Safety Guy” had never heard of the Midlink. I waited an hour while he “Googled” it. Other than that I’ve never had a problem.