Mechanics Log 8-18

August 25, 2018

Saturday:  The day started off like most Saturdays do for me during my hitch.  I woke around 7 am and headed to the shop shortly after stuffing my usual breakfast of a bagel slathered with cream cheese down my throat.  After clocking in at the dispatcher office I proceeded with my usual morning routine.  I checked the “down line” to see what vehicles were parked there overnight.  I then prioritized the repairs and sent an email to my boss, the yard manager, and the field coordinators so they know what equipment they have to work with. 

Sergio, my partner in crime on the weekends, was already working on a semi-truck with a laundry list of needed repairs.  Our trucks work hard and drive on very rough roads.  Often when a driver brings us a broken truck there are many more small items that need to be addressed along with the driver’s complaint.   Other than the truck Sergio is working on we didn’t have much to do so I remained in my office to catch up on some much needed paper work.  This is part of my job that becomes tedious at times.  Every repair requires a paper trail.  The Department of Transportation could audit my files at any time they please, although this is unlikely.  My boss however, does like to make random checks to ensure I am doing my job properly.  I also am in charge of keeping plenty of spare parts on hand.  We are a 24 hr. a day, 365 day a year operation.  We never know when or what will need to be repaired.  “I don’t have the part to fix it” is never an acceptable excuse.  Along with the parts ordering I must keep the accounting people happy, especially now that the company is publically traded there are many procedures that I must follow.

Around 9 am Sergio came into my office and informed me of an issue in the field.  Dispatch called him instead of me, but he passed the job onto me so he can continue with his project.  I gladly took over the task.  A driver is complaining of a “check engine” light on a location south of Midland Texas near the community of Midkiff.  I quickly load my lap top and connector device into my pickup.  I try to stay prepared for these road calls so I always carry a few simple parts and five gallons of anti-freeze just in case they are needed.  Next I drove to the dispatch office to pick up directions to the location and phone number of the driver.  Within 30 minute’s time I was on the road headed west from Sweetwater. 

I turned south on highway 137 at Stanton Texas and after a few more turns I arrived at my destination around 11 AM.  I rousted the driver from his nap in the sleeper of the truck and proceeded to connect my computer.  I discovered the truck was low on coolant and needed to perform a “parked regen” to clean soot from the emissions system.  The truck has a “low coolant” sensor and will not allow a parked regen to be performed when low on coolant.   I quickly tipped the hood forward and poured about 3 gallons of coolant into the reservoir.  I then started the truck and proceeded with the parked regen. 

Finally, the regen is completed about noon and the engine codes cleared which turns off the “check engine” light.   I packed up my computer and implored the driver to be safe on his way back to the yard.  As I made my way east toward the highway I received a phone call from Sergio.  I am informed there is a pump trailer south of Big Lake that needed some attention.  A crew from our South Texas yard came to help out with a job and discovered one of their axle hubs was leaking oil.  I was not prepared for such a repair, but since I was about 30 miles from the location I needed to go take a look at the issue. 

I drove passed the ghost town of Stiles and on to Big Lake.  I found the only auto parts store in town was closed.  I proceeded to a truck stop and purchased a tube of silicone and a bottle of gear oil.  The only tool I had in my possession was a pair of pliers.  If I needed much more I hoped I could borrow it from the drilling rig mechanic.  While at the truck stop I grabbed a sandwich and drink to eat on my way farther south. 

I arrived at the second location around 1:30 PM.  The crew was still pumping the job, but I was able to perform my task safely without interrupting them.  I found the hub cover that retains the oil in the hub was loose which allowed all the oil to drain out onto the trailer wheel.  I checked the bolts and found three were loose which would allow the oil to escape.  I quickly removed the remaining three bolts and cleaned the cover and mounting face with some brake cleaner I always carry in my pickup.   I applied the silicone I purchased to the mating surface and re-installed the hub cover.  I couldn’t refill the hub with oil until the silicone dried so I found the supervisor and explained what I did and what he needed to do before leaving location.  He was appreciative of my prompt response and thanked me for fixing the issue.  Before I headed out I cleaned off the excess oil that had spilled onto the rim so any future leaks could be spotted easily.  I was back on the road headed north in less than an hour.

About the time I reached Big Lake the coordinator named Zach called with an issue.  He had a pump headed to the yard that needed repaired immediately.  Sergio was in the middle of another repair and needed my assistance as soon as possible.  My pickup was thirsty so I filled up with gas and made a bee line north through Big Spring and then east to my shop in Sweetwater.   I arrived at the shop around 5 pm and quickly started assisting with the repairs needed. 

I was elbow deep in a welding repair on a pump trailer when my phone rang at 8 PM.  On the other end of the line was the south Texas coordinator.  He had bad news.  The pump I repaired earlier on location did not make it very far down the road before leaking out all the hub oil.  For some reason the hub cap came loose again.  And to complicate the situation further, the pump was scheduled for a job near Gonzales Texas in about 5 hours.  The drive alone would take 5 hours, not including the time it would take me to go repair the hub again.  I ended the phone call with a promise to be headed that way as quickly as possible once my current project was completed.

A few minutes later, my phone rang again.  Once again, it was the coordinator from South Texas.  He was scrambling to resolve his predicament and came up with a plan to have a mechanic from a truck stop repair our pump trailer.  However, he needed me to send him the parts somehow.  This did not set well with me because we rarely contracted any of our mechanic work, and even much less to someone we did not know.  The coordinator’s boss had decided that this was what needs to happen and I was told to get the needed parts to the broken pump somehow and the call was ended.  I made a call to my dispatcher to see if there was anyone available to take the parts to the broken pump.  I was informed there is no one available.  The only solution was for me to take the parts myself, and in that case I might as well perform the repair.  

At 9 PM I called my boss to inform him of what was going on.  This was not something that I normally did that late at night, and rarely on a weekend.  I normally made all these kinds of decisions myself, and I pretty much knew what the answer to my question would be.  But I needed his backing when dealing with a different yard and the South Texas District Manager.   I apologized for disrupting his evening, but he did not mind, like me, he knows this is a nonstop industry and he knows that I only call when there is no other alternative.  I quickly explained the situation and he agreed with me that we didn’t need someone else working on our equipment.  Immediately following our conversation I called the South Texas coordinator again to inform him of how we were going to proceed.  I told him I would get to his broken pump as soon as possible.  I then called the supervisor of the broken pump to inquire of their exact location, which was about 30 miles south of Big Lake, Texas.

I quickly wrapped up the project I was working on so the pump could catch another job near Midland.  Sergio was wrapping up his repair also and helped me gather parts for the field repair.  I needed to take the shop’s service truck because I needed the air compressor mounted in the bed.  I loaded up a 30 ton jack, a brand new axle hub, oil, and all the necessary tools for the repair.  Finally, about 10:30 I was ready to hit the road. 

The two and a half hour drive to Big Lake was uneventful.  However, I could not keep my eyes open any longer.  My company has strict policies against driving while sleepy and I had no problem following them.  I found a dark dirt parking lot just south of town and pulled over.  Several oil field semi-trucks were also parked there grabbing a much needed break.   I tipped the seat of my truck back and closed my eyes, but not before setting an alarm on my phone for 30 minutes. 

I am awakened from my sleep by the piercing, incessant beeping of my phone.   I couldn’t believe 30 minutes had already passed.  I rubbed my eyes and verify the time was 1:30 AM.  I was still sleepy, but I had a job to do.  I climbed out of the truck to stretch and walk around a bit to wake myself up.  After a minute or two I jumped back into the driver seat and pointed the truck farther south.  I reset the trip odometer and begin to count the mileage to the broken unit. 

Thirty miles later I found the broken pump and supervisor pickup right where they said they would be.  They managed to find a very nice place to pull off the highway that gave me plenty of room to work.  Without waking the operator or supervisor I went right to work.

I set up a light and donned my head lamp.   Next I fired up the air compressor and jacked up the extremely heavy trailer.  Our cement pump trailers and semi-trucks weigh in at a combined 93,000 pounds. The wheels were removed next followed by the axle hub.  After inspecting the axle spindle I began to reassemble the axle hub with the new parts I brought.  I took great care to install everything to the proper toque specifications.  I didn’t want another break down to be on my head.   I then wrestled the large heavy semi-truck wheels back on and secured the lug nuts with my large 1” drive impact gun.  I then lowered the jack and refilled the hub with new oil. 

After packing up my tools I woke the supervisor who was asleep in his pickup.  I informed an extremely groggy man that I had completed the repair and that they should be good to go.  I asked him to keep an eye on the new hub because I did not know exactly why the previous one failed.  

While I was repairing the pump trailer I received a text from one of the supervisors based in my yard.  He needed assistance with a truck on his location south of Midland.  I informed him of what I was up to and told him I would get to him as soon as possible.  He wasn’t in a rush as they were still waiting to start their job, but would need a mechanic before they could leave location when the job was completed. 

The clock showed 4:15 AM as I headed north toward Big Lake once again.  My stomach had been growling for several hours so I stopped for a gas station pastry and a large cup of coffee.  I checked my phone to find a text with directions to the next repair. 

I arrive on the location south of Midland around 6:30 AM.  I can see the crew is still pumping the job and I don’t want to interfere.  My eyes are not cooperating once again, so I pull over on the access road and tip my seat back once again.  I sent a quick text to the supervisor telling him that I was outside the location and to wake me when they needed my assistance. 

I was awakened from my sleep by knocking on my window.  The job was complete and they were ready for my assistance.  I glanced at the clock again, it shows 7:45.    The semi-truck that pulls the cement pump had a check engine light and showed to need a parked regen.  Thankfully, I brought my computer even though I didn’t know I would need it.  I had the habit of throwing it in my truck on all my service calls. 

I retrieved my computer from the back seat and proceed to connect it to the errant truck.  After a few minutes of diagnostic work, I determined a parked regen is all that is needed.  I then used my diagnostic software to force the engine into a parked regen.  This is a minimum of a 45 minute process.  So the operator, supervisor, and I stand around a shoot the breeze. 

After what seemed like an eternity, the parked regen is complete.  I verified the codes cleared and the check engine light turned off.  I unplugged my computer from the truck and we all hit the road quickly.  The crew headed to Midland for food, fuel, and a shower at a truck stop.  They were already scheduled for another job in just a few hours.  I needed to head back to the yard, and thankfully no one else needed my services at the moment. 

In June of 2017 I quit drinking Dr. Pepper.  But with more than 26 hours on the clock I needed some caffeine!  So I grabbed a drink at a truck stop in Midland and headed east for the 100 miles back to the yard in Sweetwater.  My body was tired and sore, but the day was not over yet.  I arrived at the yard just before noon.  Sergio was hard at it, working on several repairs simultaneously.  He hadn’t eaten lunch yet, and my stomach had been growling for quite some time so we both headed out to lunch at Whataburger across town.

We returned to the shop after lunch and continued to work.  There was never a lack of work for us.  Finally, my body raised the white flag.  I could go no further.  I had been functioning fueled only by junk food and caffeine for more than a day.   I needed a shower and I needed to sleep.  I decided to call it a day.  Upon clocking out I saw I had been on the clock for 34 hours straight.  I had worked nearly the same number of hours in two days that most people work in a week.   I returned to my camper and after a shower and more food I crashed hard. 

My job is challenging and difficult.  But it is also rewarding to me.  I enjoy pushing the limits.  It is amazing what our bodies are capable of accomplishing when we put our minds to the task. 

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