Watching the Road

I don’t know what other truckers use, but on my first Trainer’s Truck I had Navigo, (which is the company-mandated Qualcomm Navigation) and TomTom, which is not meant for truckers but can still navigate a plan fairly well. When I say not meant for truckers, I mean that car navigation systems do not take into consideration the things that truckers need to be concerned with, like low clearances on bridges and overpasses. A car atlas won’t even list the low clearances, because cars don’t have to worry about such things. This low clearance of bridges and overpasses is a serious issue and always has to be a part of the navigation equation in trucking.

My truck and trailer height are 13’6”, and sometimes, that’s all the bridge is too. Best to avoid that, even if I think I can eeeeek underneath it. I had one old-timer trucker tell me that before all of this GPS stuff came out, he had gotten up to many a bridge and he’d have to stick his head out the window and watch to make sure that he was going to fit. Yikes. Aside from his story, I don’t know why anyone would take the chance of popping their top off, which is especially dangerous in the wintertime. They warned us repeatedly and severely in school, that any snow or ice pack on the road will completely mess with your clearance, as will your load weight. I might be able to get under a bridge fully loaded, but then if I unload and have an empty trailer, I’ve just risen
I-don’t-know-how-many inches, and eighths of inches matter with clearances.

Every state except Oregon has at least 2, if not more, low clearances. Texas and New York are the most problematic states with 11⁄2 columns of low clearances each in the atlas. Yikes. The top 5 lowest clearances in the U.S.: tied for first place are Wheeling, West Virginia, and Jamestown, Pennsylvania at 8’. Henning, Tennessee is second at 8’2”. Bailey, North Carolina is third at 8’6”; Newark, Delaware is fourth at 8’7”; and Trumann, Arkansas and Branford, Connecticut are tied for fifth at 9’6”. There’s a bunch of 10’, 11’, 12’ and 13’ clearances all over the United States, and if I go into Canada, I need at least 4.2 meters, which is 13’10”, with no snow pack, just to be safe.

My Trucker’s Atlas also has a list of Restricted Routes. Like in California, some say “HazMat only”, because all Hazardous Materials loads get routed around the cities, and should never go into a city. Most routes don’t say why they’re Restricted, just that they are Restricted Routes. So when planning any of my trips, I have to factor all of this info into the Navigation equation each and every time.

I will say that TomTom has taken me off into the bushes a few times, and I can always tell when that’s going to happen. Not only will I get a verbal warning that I’m out of route and/or that TomTom is recalculating the route, but the little purple Barbie-looking truck on the screen will head off the road, into the cornfield, and start cutting cookies in said cornfield. Around and around and around goes my purple Barbie truck, only getting back on the road when it finds a new calculation point, which has taken over 15 minutes at times.
Not helpful.

Navigo, on the other hand, will lose satellite signal at the drop of a hat, and takes even longer than TomTom to recalculate the route. It also can not be used while at a standstill, which is highly annoying because I’m supposed to be driving, not fucking with my route. However, the best thing about Navigo is that it is preprogrammed to avoid any and all low clearances, and Restricted Routes. This preprogramming saved my job last week when I was driving from Alliance, Nebraska to Kimball. There was a 13’6” bridge on a Route that my first Trainer had taken before. She assured me that it was “just fine” to take. I questioned her about the snow, and said that they warned us in school about snow and low clearances, and she said that “they’ve probably plowed the snow from the day before.” So no guarantees there. Then she said, in a snotty sort of way, “Well I’ve taken that road before, and A. [her 3-million-miler friend] has taken that road before, so I’m sure that it’s just fine.” I said, “Sorry, I don’t feel like popping my top today! I’m gonna do what Navigo says to do, and TomTom is saying to do the same thing.” So this Trainer, who’s supposed to be knowledgeable and trustworthy, set me up for another “lab rat test”! If I would have been stupid enough to have trusted her, and even slightly scraped my trailer top, it would have been on my head, and it would have cost me my job.

Any accident and you’re done at this company. I’m still super fucking pissed that she thought it was OK to set me up like that, take chances with my entire career, and that it was OK to possibly damage company equipment too. So I’m glad I got Influenza-A, which took me off of her Truck, and I hope I never see her face again. I’m thanking every star in Navigo Satellite Space that was on my side, and rerouted me around this low clearance.

Needless to say, all of this electronic gadgetry is super helpful at times. But when it goes off into the cornfield or into satellite space, I have to refer back to the good old fashioned Atlas, with my lists of Low Clearances and Restricted Routes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless you’re driving and looking at your map like I saw one Trucker guy doing. He had this huge map, completely unfolded and right in his face. He could not even see the road, let alone his instrument panel! JFC, buddy! Pull over or lower the map and watch the damn road!

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