Sunday, January 29, 2012
You can probably tell where this story is going, but oh well....
Last week, I made a trip to Evans, CO, as I have done many, many times. I hauled one 6'x15.5' 210bbl frp water tank on the top deck of a drop deck, plus two 10'x15.5' 315bbl steel crude tanks to the usual suspects in an oilfield supply yard. That particular load is one of our hardest pulling evah - a side wind will catch each tank and just multiply the effect. It was a windy day, but not as bad as some in the past. The trip itself takes about twelve or more hours to drive, so I don't even try, since eleven hours of driving is the legal limit. Ten or so hours finds me in Colby, KS on the way back, and there aren't many choices between there and the shop. I also usually fuel there, too. I could make it back to Garden some days, but it's best to be safe.
The Mighty Binder has two one hundred gallon fuel tanks, rated at 95% draw, which figures to be 190 gallons I should be able to rely on, correct? Uh, no. That would be if the tank had the cap at the very top, rather than tilted to the side so I can actually put fuel in the damn thing. Were the tank rolled perfectly vertical, the cap would be under the cab and inaccessible. However, the tank itself is designed and all the welded on labels are level, so the manufacturer knows damn well that the tank won't be used where the max draw figure they post is actually accurate. Trucks these days have an audible alarm when the fuel gets low, plus a warning light on the dash is activated. Aaaaand, I've run 'er pretty close a few times and have an idea what it really "holds." The fuel gauge will run on "E" for quite a while and in fact drop a ways below, too. It should be noted that this gauge never reads completely full, either.
Like I said, you just know where this is going.
I could see that the fuel level was a bit lower than it normally was during the trip home. I even thought about stopping at Limon to fuel, but I had visions of relaxing in the motel room dancing in my head. The alarm went off about the state line, but hey, Colby was only about sixty miles away, and I'd run way further than that loaded before. I could have stopped at Goodland, but my gauge wasn't even close to what I'd seen it in the past.
When I pulled into Colby, I could have fueled then. It really isn't such a hot idea to park a diesel truck after running with nearly empty tanks, because the air inside the tanks will cool, and condense any moisture in the remaining fuel. If the tanks are full, not so much. But, I was pooped. So, off to the motel I went.
The next morning, the thermometer in the truck showed eighteen degrees Fahrenheit. The ol' Clatterpillar was kinda reluctant to crank, but she fired up. If one takes off and just starts driving when the motors are cold, one can count on popping head bolts or cracking heads - having all kinds of trouble. The 'puters are supposed to prevent that by derating the motor power until it's thoroughly warmed, but that strategy still seems to place trucks in shops with the heads removed. So, I let 'er idle while I got the ol' funny pages caught up. After she was showing some water temp, I eased 'er out on the street and headed for a truck stop. I had planned on going across town to my favorite - a Bosselman's - but all of a sudden I was losing power. Well, maybe I could make it under the Interstate to the other truck stop, so I kept easing along.
Nope, wasn't gonna happen. I had enough to roll all the way to the right on the shoulder and clear the fog line. There was nutting happenin' with the engine goin' round and round no mo.
I am a fat, lazy trucker. My first thought was to call someone and have them take care of it. Which would cost the company money. Money they shouldn't have to spend because of my stupidity. OK, scratch that plan.
I had rolled by a convenience store that sells truck diesel - maybe they'd have some fuel "cans." Turning on the flashers, I abandoned my ride and went to hiking. Six or seven hundred yards later and in the warmth of the store, I learned that they did not have anything like that at all. However, Orsheln's would probably carry them. At least a half mile away or more. Eighteen degrees.
As I was crossing the street, I watched a Kansas Highway Patrol car drive by on his way to his regional office further north on that street. Never even looked at me. Now I dunno, seems to me it's kinda like his job to make sure that truck doesn't sit on the side of the road and if it's gonna for a while, it needs the emergency triangles out for safety. I didn't put 'em out because they're a pain in the ass. I realize it's not the Patrol's responsibility to give me a ride or anything, but it chapped my buttocks that he never even made eye contact with me.
I finally got to the farm supply store, and sure enough, they had plenty of fuel cans - even the proper yellow for diesel variety. I bought two.Thinking ahead, I also purchased a can of starting fluid (ether). On my long trudge back to the convenience store, my caring cop drove by me again with no reaction from him. Guess my carrying the cans told him all he needed to know. Glad I could help him out there.
After I filled the "cans" and carried them to the front door, it occurred to me that they were pretty damn heavy. They were supposed to be five gallon cans. I filled them to the line that said "five gallons" on both containers. I put in 8.4 gallons. Either the can manufacturer was lying (huh, sounds familiar) or we need to start buying all our fuel at that joint. A guy in a pickup happened to be there, so I just out and out asked him if he'd ferry me and my fuel to my truck parked down thataway. Sure 'nuff, he did. I told him he didn't need to hang around, just drop me and the fuel off. Thank you, God.
While pondering my fate - did I mention it was eighteen degrees out? - it also occurred to me that perhaps fuel gelling might have something to do with my predicament. I always carry some fuel treatment with me, don't you? I figured that if I poured the whole bottle, supposedly able to treat several hundred gallons - why that might break up any slushy blockage. So, half the bottle in one tank, the rest in the other.
I poured one "five gallon" in the passenger side, then I took the other can to the driver's side. I was standing in traffic on that side, and in a hurry. But, these new fangled cans have special no spill spouts that slow the process considerably. Took freaking forever. I also quit on the last can before I ran out. I needed to check my fuel filters - if they were empty, I was gonna have to fill them, too. This truck has two - one mounted on the firewall and one under the fuel pump on the motor. That one is a bitch kitty to change. Like most CATS, that filter has a manual fuel pump to help fill the filter, but for some reason there is no bleed screw on the housing anymore. One used to crack open the screw to let the air out when pumping fuel in. Seems to me the new fangled way just pressurizes the air in the filter rather than fill the thing with fuel, but maybe that's just me (and every other CAT drivin' trucker I know).
I also carry extra filters and a filter wrench, too. Luckily, the primary filter was still full. I finished off the last can, and crossing my fingers, I rolled down my window so I could hang off the steps, reach inside for the starter button, and reach the air filter with the ether can. I went to spraying and cranking. It took a while, and the cranking was slowing, but she finally fired. Shut the hood, put all the stuff away, drove to the truck stop and filled 'er up (less than 175 gallons total - including the 8.4 gallons, and I've put in right at 180 before), and removed my head from my buttocks and drove home.
I think the KHP has a policy of not giving anyone any rides, and maybe now they have a policy of not helping stranded motorists. I dunno. I just know that back in the day, the Patrolmen I knew would have at least stopped and asked me what was up, and if there was something they could do, even if they couldn't give me a ride. Some of the more legendary cowboys among them would have done what they damn well pleased. Things have changed for the KHP, and In My Humble Opinion - it's not for the best.