Thursday, December 09, 2010

Knot On My Head

As I was writing yesterday's post, I was reminded of a story:

Back in the day, I pulled a hopper bottom for this gentleman. He basically turned me over to a local grain and cattle company that kept me pretty busy. I worked my way up to a pretty decent run - a "gravy" run. It paid well and often. I had to haul protein supplement pellets that were used as ingredients in the cattle company's feed at their commercial feedlots. They owned a feed mill at Emporia, so I would load with wheat, soybeans or both in succession to get there, load the pellets, and come home. The next morning found me at one of their local feedyards unloading.

But, in order to cut costs, the feed mill really put out a nasty handling product. One of the ingredients was dehydrated alfalfa, which is expensive. Enough dehy, and the pellets would be firm and slick. Not enough, the pellets would be soft and rough. What this meant was that the loads would "set up" in the hoppers. I'd open the door and nothing would fall out. It was the same for the mill operators - it would set up in their cone bottom storage tanks.

I used a variety of methods to dislodge the load - often some judicial pounding with a dead blow mallet would be enough to start the flow. The hoppers had "knock rails" that one was supposed to strike - if you were to smack the actual hopper surface, it would become dented and interrupt the smooth flow for commodities to drop. Plus, it looked like hell.

Normally, that was just step one. I'd generally have to lie on my back with a broken broom handle sharpened at one end and start poking from the bottom up. Creating a large pocket sometimes had positive results. But then there were days....

So, the feed mill had a long chunk of wiring conduit about fifteen feet tall. I'd climb up on the trailer and walk down the edge to a point over the hopper opening and start pushing the pipe down until I found the hole. Working it around and starting new holes would generally at least open up the center. I learned NOT to climb in the middle - I had several tons of feed stuck to the front and rear of the hopper, and stood on the floor of the mill right in the middle of the hopper opening once to dig out the large chunks from the bottom. I had the whole wall come loose and fall on me that day - it broke apart into the little pellets that made it, but I swirled around like toilet paper in the bowl. Luckily the other side didn't let go, or I'd have been buried.

We ran Wilson grain trailers. I've got a soft spot in my heart for them - IMHO they make the best grain trailers, period. The boss was looking to upgrade and buy me a new trailer, and we were going to order it with a built in vibrator. Haulers who specialize in feed ingredient transport usually have those installed - things like mineral, wheat middlings and such hang up about as bad as those feed pellets, and it's pretty convenient to just hit a switch and watch the load fall into the pit. They are nothing more than an air powered motor with an offset weight at the end, mounted to the hopper so the vibrations are transmitted to the hopper surface.

So, the trailers showed up and no vibrators. Why? Because the salesman convinced the boss that they would not be necessary. Apparently the hopper traps were about a foot or so longer, making the hole larger. This was going to eliminate the need for vibrators, period. I expressed my extreme doubt that the salesman had ever unloaded anything of a similar nature and was talking out his buttocks, but the deed was done. I took the new trailer out, and loaded with pellets, came home on a Friday.

Saturday morning found me at the feedlot mill busting my hump to get that load off. I opened the trap and about three pellets fell. Oh yeah. The larger hopper hole was gonna cure all my ills. I went to pounding. Nada. I dug out a hole from the bottom. Nada. I found the conduit and leaned it against the back of the trailer and started to walk off to do something else for a moment when - WHAM - I was driven to my knees with darkening vision. The pipe had fallen towards me and struck me right on my hairline on my forehead.

When I finally was able to continue, I climbed up to the top of the trailer and finished unloading - a hour or so of hot, sweaty, muscle pulling work. I got back to the shop, dollied the trailer down, and parked the tractor in a bay for my weekly service. While sliding around underneath, I discovered I had a drive axle wheel seal leaking. This day had just been officially shot to hell. I got out a jack and had the brake drum off, ready to change out the bad seal when the boss, clearly in a good mood, came be bopping in.

He wanted to know how my day was going. I let him know. I let him know the salesman didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. I let him know I got beaned and about knocked out. I let him know he'd been pretty lucky with me not falling off the trailer having to mess with that (redacted)(censored). And to top it all off, I had a bad wheel seal and the day just couldn't get much worse, as far as I was concerned.

He informed me that I'd been looking for a job when I'd found this one, and maybe I should just get to looking again if I felt that strongly about it. I informed him that I was merely trying to make this job better. He retired to his house, probably kicking any cats that were in his path, since I'd done such a good job of spreading the wealth of my great mood.

That pipe hit my head hard enough to kill the hairs in the scalp. I had a small bare spot there for years, until the ol' hairline receded past the mark.

That was about the only argument we'd ever had - we'd had a few cross words over the years, but nothing like that blowout - and clearly he was pretty much defending himself against my tirade.

I'd still like to kick that salesman in the family jewels, then make him dig a load out of a jammed up trailer. With a spoon. With a broken handle. I'd provide the cattle prod for stimulation.


drjim said...

Great story! Most salesmen can't find their rear-end with both hands, let alone understand how the product will be used, and work or not work, out in the field!

Jeffro said...

I think it's in their genes and can only be cured by severe beatings.

Jinglebob said...

Ain't it handy how all them "experts" are never around when the excrement hits the air blowing device?

Lisa Paul said...

The experts are always the people on the scene where the "rubber hits the road". Which would make truckers our top experts. Love your posts on trucking. It's so fun to peak into others' lives.

But forgive me for having a weird brain wander while reading this. I kept wondering how many degrees you were from Kevin Bacon:

•Jeffro hauls high-quality feed grain.

•Grain goes into steer destined for premium steak.

•Kevin Bacon eats premium steak at Hollywood restaurant.

Unless, of course, Kevin Bacon is a vegetarian.

Jeffro said...

And ol' Kevin was in Wild Things with Denise Richards, which is the kind of degrees of separation I can relate.