Ho, ho, ho! Jingle bells are ringing and everyone is geared up for the season. Chicken lights and Christmas trees just seem to go together. I love all those bright and shiny ornaments – things like train horns, axle covers and hub caps. Oh, my bad, I was watching trucks go by under the street lights here in town. This may be a northern thing, but every year, after Thanksgiving, the towns around here get together and find another reason to throw a party, and they normally pick the coldest day of the year to do it (not really, but sometimes it does feel that way when we are getting ready to go).
Everyone in the community is invited to participate in this annual Holiday celebration. There is everything from tractor-trailer units to farmers with hay wagons and lawn tractors pulling the family pet. If you can put Christmas lights on it, then you are good to go. There are plenty of marching bands and convertible cars, too. The only rule is it has to have lights. Everyone meets at the local school parking lot and tailgates until it gets dark, then the marching bands lead this unusual and often unruly procession down the main street of town to the pure pleasure of all those lined up and down the sidewalks.
Of course, they are not driving, so some warm beverages are consumed, including hot cider and/or frothy mugs of hot chocolate. When my boys were in high school, they got into the spirit of this way too far when I came home to find one of my trailers had been converted into a mobile Santa’s workshop, which was complete with a fireplace and our living room furniture! That was also the year we built a 13-ft. high tree of lights, mounted on the sides of my wagon, and gift-wrapped the rear trailer doors.
Another year they got creative and deep when they built a Christmas scene, complete with a live tree and television, on the front half of a flatbed. We had family members riding along and acting as if they were in their warm house while my wife and I rode on the back, huddled behind a dumpster, warming ourselves around a burning trash barrel, dressed as homeless folks. The message was to bridge the gap and be generous to those who may be less fortunate than ourselves. It was truly an eye-opening experience for me, which gave me a new appreciation for this Holiday Season. Some families park these wonderful displays on their lawns and use them as yard art until after the holidays.
Drivers across this great nation, along with most of the drivers north of the border, are planning their time, to make sure they are home for Santa’s big night, but the next day is the real reason for the season. In our home, we celebrate the birth of Christ the Savior. Some of you out there may also be enjoying Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, as well. I would like to wish every one of you the very best this Holiday Season. I may not be politically correct, but you didn’t expect me to follow the rules, now, did you?
December may be the busiest month of the year, as freight is moving in every direction around the clock. Between companies trying to get the last of their inventory in before the new year starts and those shipping for the holidays, we are all running hard. The weather is turning cold and will stay cold now through the rest of winter. Are you and your ride prepared to take what Old Man Winter is going to send us? If not, now is the time to do it.
Some of you will get to spend the winter in warm climates, but most of us won’t. That means snow, ice, wind and maybe a nice mild zero-degree day thrown in, just for good measure. Are you swinging iron under your trailer yet? Do you at least have a set of cables in the side box of the cab? How about some air guard and fuel additive? Have you checked the air pressure in your tires or drained the air tanks of water? This is just a start on what is needed to keep you moving when the weather turns south, so to speak.
Anyone running north of I-10 will encounter cold temperatures and the conditions that go with it. This list is intended to jog the memories of the seasoned drivers, and for those of you who may be new to this industry, it may help you to avoid some common pitfalls. No one wants to freeze up and be stranded along the side of the interstate!
“Prepare for success and you will have less time to fail.” That is one of those little catch-phrases I use to remind myself to do the whole job and not to cut corners in an effort to save time. If this is your first winter or maybe you have never been in cold country, don’t panic – you are not alone.
The first bit of advice I would tell you is to use your head. And I mean that literally – think before you run off half-prepared. That load of high-dollar freight will not be very profitable if you need to be towed out of the ditch or into a warm shop because you froze up.
If you aren’t sure what to do, ask questions, but be sure to find someone who you know has experience (the truck stop may not be your best place to find the answers). Most trainers these days haven’t even completed their first year of driving. I would encourage you to seek out some old-timer who has the time to sit down and talk to you about real winter driving and how to prepare for it. The time to start preparing is long before you see that first snowflake!
Your truck will be easy to get ready, however the driver may take more effort. You will need to stock up on extra supplies for your comfort and survival. Many of the drivers out here today have military experience. When in doubt, search them out. They know all about survival, preparation and execution.
If you don’t do anything else, at least stock some extra food in the truck that can be eaten cold. My favorite is still pork and beans with Ritz crackers. I can’t count the times I’ve been stuck at a shipper or receiver overnight, when no one was around, due to the weather. Candy is something you should keep on-hand, as well, because it has sugar and will give you energy. Plus, if you’re stranded out on the highway, you can share with other drivers (or the occasional motorist) who didn’t prepare.
I try to keep extra clothes with me in the winter, so when I do run across that person who thinks it still summer, I can give them away, if necessary. Keep some extra blankets with you, too, for the same reason. If you have the time and are so inclined, stop at a Goodwill or any thrift shop and pick up a couple blankets or pieces of warm clothing to use if the road gets closed and there is someone near you who needs help. You never know when you will become an ambassador for the trucking industry. In the old days we were considered the “knights of the highway” and a group of people who could be counted on in times of trouble. Be prepared to be that “knight in a shining truck” to someone who might need it.
The time has come for this old man to find his night cap and put another log on the fire. Me and my companion, Penny, the family dog (shhhh, she thinks she is a people), are going to settle down for a long winter’s nap. The lights of my rig are shining brightly on the new-fallen snow, and there is a fog from my exhaust stacks that fades away into the night. Life doesn’t get much better than this. I will be dreaming of my home time and Aunt Barb’s home cooking at our homestead. I can almost smell the coffee and… well, till next we meet, I’m sending holiday cheer from my house to yours. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! 10-4, over and out!!