It felt like 2015 was all about retirements and departures for the people who had been a regular part of my adult life. First, it was my banker who retired on December 31st, 2014, after working at the same place for forever. Then my Uncle Phil lost a battle with cancer. A few weeks later, my barber called it quits after a brief 56-year career at the chair. That was soon followed by a beef industry friend and another executive at Medtronic, the maker of many of the technological gadgets that keep my bionic carcass running, both hanging up their cleats after long and storied careers in their respective fields.
There was one other friend who left my team toward the end of 2014. He didn't get a column as a send-off, but he was part of one of my favorite stories from years ago. That story dealt with me delivering some hay to a customer and having a flat tire throw some fun into the mix. Please take a moment to read that story now before you continue. farmindustrynews.com/forage-flat-tires-and-flames
Steve STEVE had a heart attack and died a few days before Christmas 2014. He had been the guy running the service truck at the tire shop for as long as I remembered. It took a few months to find a suitable replacement for Steve.
As I made my way down the highway one day with a load of corn on my way to an ethanol plant, my phone rang. Being a law-abiding driver, I wear a hands-free headset so that I can talk without holding a phone to my ear. The headset allows me to poke a button and answer my phone, which is what I did when this particular call came in and alerted me.
The caller was a guy I've known for years. He works in agronomy sales and had some questions for me. Actually, they were for Guy No. 1, who handles all of the agronomy stuff we do, but a lot of people in sales will call me first to chat before they call Guy No. 1 to actually deal.
Sales Guy and I covered a few things before something caught my attention and I had to let him go. I had just driven by a bank and noticed a vehicle parked in what looked like a regular parking space. It was actually the street next to the bank. The vehicle was now following me.
Oh, PS, the vehicle had its flashing lights on as it pulled away and followed me! It was an Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement SUV. They are more commonly known as DOT officers, or blue jackets, from back in the day when they all drove robin's-egg-blue cars and wore blue uniforms.
Coincidentally, the caller I had been chatting with let me go, in large part because we both assumed the guy in the SUV could very well make this a family reunion of sorts. My caller is related to a DOT guy.
A chat with DOT
I pulled over to the side of the road and waited as the officer made his way up to the cab to visit with me. He didn't really look like the guy I was expecting, from what I remembered of my last interaction with that officer a few years ago. That interaction also plays a role in this replacements connection.
Most of the hay we raise has been sold to a broker for several years. When he pulled in for a load a couple of years ago, there was a DOT car right behind him. I walked over to the semi and said to Ted, the broker, "So you brought company with you today, huh, Ted?"
Ted just laughed and started to climb out, clearly not realizing anyone was behind him.
"Just park over there (pointing to a spot on the other side of the round bale lot) and I'll be taking bales from this row right here to load you."
That was when the DOT guy walked up to us.
"Hi, Kevin. How's it going today?" I said to the DOT guy as I headed for the loader tractor. I was under the assumption he was there to see Ted and not me. Ted was more than surprised to see the blue jacket behind him.
It took a couple of minutes for Ted to get his truck into position for loading. Kevin sat in his car and did paperwork while Ted and I got the bales loaded and started to strap them down. That's when Ted was called to Kevin's car for a confab.
Upon his return, Ted informed me that Kevin met him on the highway and had him going 65 on his radar. Ted was pretty sure he was doing 60 or 61, not 65. Regardless, he turned onto the gravel where I live about the time Kevin used his radar gun. That looked like an elusive maneuver to Kevin, so he immediately followed Ted right into my driveway and was ready to throw the book at him.
Ted informed me that he got by with a warning, mainly because I had given him instructions as soon as he climbed out of his cab. That removed any doubt about our intent, and not something we concocted as a way for Ted to get away from Kevin.
"Plus, when you called him by name as he walked up to my truck, I think that helped a lot!" Ted said with a sly smile.
Hey, it never hurts to know enough people. I didn't suck up to the guy at all. It was just a friendly greeting as he went about his day. I was simply an innocent bystander.
Discovering the real problem
Fast-forward to my recent interaction with the MVE guy. He wasn't Kevin, like I had expected. He asked to see my license and registration. I pulled everything out and gave it to him. Then he had me run through a whole bunch of tests to see if my lights and turning signals worked. That's when he asked me to get out and do a walk-around with him. We got to the passenger side of the semi and he immediately pointed to one of my rear tires on the semi.
"You've got a flat tire. That's why I pulled you over."
Well, the flat tire was news to me! I proceeded to explain to the officer that I had walked past that side of the truck before I got in to leave the yard at home, and that tire sure wasn't flat when I left. I also had not heard it blow on the way down.
The officer asked if I had a scale ticket with me, or if I had farm-loaded. He was clearly thinking I was way, way overweight and blew the tire that way. I told him I had loaded at the farm. He suggested I go to the ethanol plant and he'd meet me there to look at my scale ticket instead of getting his portable scale out to weigh me.
"I mean, I assume you're headed to the ethanol plant, aren't you?" he inquired.
Yes, sir, that's where I'm headed.
"I'll just wait for you by the scale house and we'll do the paperwork when you're unloaded then," he informed me.
The whole situation was quite pleasant, actually. He wasn't hostile or vindictive at all. Before I headed to the plant, I placed a call to the tire shop to see if they could send Steve STEVE'S replacement down to get my tire fixed. He could be there in about an hour or so. Based on my experience with the hay-loading DOT incident a few years ago, I figured it would take about an hour for the whole law enforcement deal to finish.
When I got to the plant, I got in line and drove onto the scale a couple minutes later when it was my turn. The MVE officer had pulled up to the scale house and gone inside to talk to the staff. He had at least done me the favor of not leaving his flashing lights on while he drove in and parked.
Just to keep things interesting, and to keep my pulse from cratering, I had to wait a bit before I could pull off the scale once I was weighed full. (Totally kosher, by the way! I had about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds to spare. That was not one of those days when you wanted to be a thousand pounds over the legal limit.) The line to get to the pit area to unload was backed up all the way to the scale. The semi in front of me had to physically move before I could get off the scale. That wasn't going to put me in touch with the officer again for about an hour, based on my past experience with lines at this plant.
Sure enough, about 55 minutes later, I came back to the scale office and weighed empty. My buddy from MVE was there waiting for me. He told me to wait for him out by the road and we'd do the paperwork. There's a special gravel lane on the road into the plant right before you get to the highway. Drivers can pull over there to do whatever they need to do without blocking traffic coming and going from the plant. I parked there and then walked up to the MVE SUV to hop in and get my cards dealt to me. Most of that time walking from the semi to the SUV was spent by me doing the math to calculate how many bushels of corn it would likely take to pay the fine that would be handed down to me in the next few minutes.
Scale time concern
My delay in getting back to the scale house had not gone unnoticed. The officer was beginning to think I'd gone past him without stopping on my way out, so he had gone back to the scale house to see if I had already left. Turns out he normally works in an area closer to a different ethanol plant. That one has, how shall I put this, a different tendency when it comes to lines, operating hours and trucker satisfaction with same. He and I agreed that the two plants are, um, different.
Since I had not been blatantly overweight, and since I had explained that I walked right past what the officer originally felt may have been an obviously-flat tire blown out by excess weight back at the home place, he decided to let me off with a warning. He had noticed a tail light and turn signal that were out on the right rear of my semi, though, so he suggested I get those fixed.
That was fine by me. I was just thrilled that the word fine wouldn't be a verb in this discussion!
"That tire's not that bad. Looks like you just popped a bead, so I'm not going to put you out of service and make you get it fixed right here. You can drive home or wherever to get it worked on," the officer informed me.
That's when I told him that my regular tire guy would be here in the next few minutes, so I'd probably just wait for him.
Sure enough, it only took a couple minutes before New Steve STEVE showed up. He got all of his supplies and tools out and proceeded to get the truck jacked up and the tire fixed. We tried using his Bead Cheetah to get it back on the bead while it was still on the truck, but that didn't work. It had to come off. We tried getting it seated again. As the air was going to the tire lying on the ground, I heard a slight noise. That's when New Steve STEVE very calmly turned to me and said, "We should probably step away."
Do yourself a favor to maximize your understanding and enjoyment of this story. Google the term "tire zipper failure" and then put it in the search window of YouTube. No, let me do it for you.
Here is the definition. tirebusiness.com/article/20031013/NEWS/310139972/zipper-failures-not-only-embarrassing
And here's the video that Daniel Tosh would love. youtube.com/watch?v=eFXVOa44oSE
To put it simply, a tire that has been run flat in a dual-wheel position like you'd have on a semi, frequently explodes when you air it up. Right before the blast, you'll hear what sounds like a zipper.
We heard the zipper right before New Steve STEVE very casually suggested to me that we move to the side. Had he not said anything, I'd probably be telling this story to Original Steve STEVE in the great beyond right now instead of telling you in this world.
New Steve STEVE was thinking ahead. He had a new tire with him. That one was removed from the back of the truck and put on the rim. It went much better than our previous effort. No giant blasts, no mushroom clouds, no shrapnel, nothing.
Fixing that light
I headed down the highway for home and got to thinking about the lights I needed to get fixed. That's when I tried to reach The Chairman Emeritus and see if he would be available to pick me up at the truck repair shop. I knew he was in Decorah, and the repair shop is a few miles northwest of there, near Bluffton. He didn't answer his phone, so I tried Sherill. She was in Ridgeway at the shrimp ranch and would gladly meet me. One problem. Bluffton is one of the most beautiful areas of Iowa. It's not easy to find, especially if you're not from the area.
That's when I had an idea. Rather than try to tell Sherill how to get there from Ridgeway, and have her get lost (along with a cellular signal for directions when she would get lost), I would have her meet me at the intersection of two major highways just outside Decorah. She'd then follow me to Bluffton and my problems could be solved.
I was about 15 minutes away at the time. Sherill was about ten minutes away, so I figured she'd get there before me. About the time she called to see how my schedule was, I met a fellow trucker in another small town. It was Billy, the guy who usually hauls a a lot of my hay to the weekly hay auction in Fort Atkinson. A lot of his business had been replaced by Ted when Ted started buying most of my hay. How ironic that all of these replacement people were crossing my path that day.
I began my descent on the hill going into Decorah and pulled up to the intersection where Sherill would meet me. The ever-so-subtle ShrimpMobile was ahead of me on the shoulder of the highway, parked where the MVE officer frequently parks when he's looking to fill a quota, er, uh, keeping the roads safe for all motorists.
This is a four-way-stop intersection. Of all the people who could randomly arrive at the stop sign at the same time as I did, who do you suppose would be there? I recognized his vehicle and then his license plate number as I came to a stop.
It was the loan officer at the bank in Ridgeway . . . who had replaced HelloDennis the year before. We call him HiMark.
We waved at one another and proceeded through the intersection. An email from HiMark showed up a day or two later. "By the way… I saw you and Sherill the other day trucking… Wasn’t sure if she was running interference in the ShrimpMobile for you, like Smokey and the Bandit! Didn’t see Roscoe P. Coletrain chasing you though so must have just been a coincidence!"
Don't worry, I don't know how I keep putting together the regular cast of characters in my life, either. Even the new ones seem to fit in quite nicely in short order.
Guy No. 2