Then & Now, Ag Hauling. part 1

In early May, 1980 I “legally” became a commercial driver. I had actually been mastering the skills to operate a truck far sooner, when my leg was strong enough to push the clutch and I could see over the steering wheel. Hank Williams Jr may have been born to boogie. I was born to drive!

I have been a hired driver from the very minute I held a valid driver’s license. The truck I took my road test in was loaded with hay for me to deliver just as soon as the state certified me capable. Granted there may be a little looking the other way before then. Not a lot of questions were asked to country kids when they were being productive members of the work force.

Illinois alphabetically ranked skill training different when I first acquired my license. Class A now was a Class D then. When the federal government mandated the CDL program things changed. I didn’t qualify to drive semi when I was sixteen, I held a Class C. Youth drivers have always had a little difficulty obtaining a combination vehicle license, let alone using it. It may have been a little easier then.

I had military training to drive truck. In 1983, after my release from training duty, I visited the DMV. The State of Illinois granted me a civilian equivalent to my military license by my simple display of credentials. In all the years after that, I have yet to actually prove my abilities with a road test.

I finally started my semi truck driving career in 1988. Minus a short time, here and there, I have driven a truck for the past 31 years. My experience is vast working for many different companies and hauling a multitude of diverse product. I have experience with many specialty trailers. Agriculture holds my heart though, and a little under half of my driving career has been supporting that. A hopper bottom, end dump, and tanker are the most useful tools of the trade for Ag support. These are what I like to see following me in my mirrors.

Recieving a load of new crop corn

I have to admit to seeing change in the industry. For what’s changed there is also sameness. There has been some improvement and labor saving introduced, but the basic work really hasn’t changed. Lines will probably always exist as long as grain needs to be transported. A military terminology sums it up perfectly. “Hurry up! and wait”

Back when I was sixteen I started by driving heavy duty farm trucks. These were usually gas powered, slow and had a 4 or 5 speed transmission with a two speed axle. Top speed loaded was generally 50 miles per hour.

A typical farm truck

Grain would blow off the truck but most people didn’t think much to take time tarping. The trip to the grain elevator wasn’t usually that far anyway. I really didn’t start dealing with a tarp until I drove a semi truck. I’m glad to inform that covering the commodity has improved tremendously over the years.

The size, of the truck, and hauling capacity grew as my experience and skill level improved. The miles to destinations, of delivery, started increasing. Instead of the local grain elevators being the unloading facilities, I hauled to river terminals, train depots, and processing plants. A major part of hauling became dedicated to hauling from the elevator instead of to it.

End dump trailers are a versatile asset to Ag support. Hopper bottom trailers are limited to only hauling grain and feed. I have hauled some different, not typical, commodities over the years. Coal is not fun to unload from a hopper, it actually can be work getting out of a dump trailer. I’ve hauled sand in a hopper, which is very heavy.

Anything that goes in a end dump will come out the tail, once the trailer gets tilted.

End dump unloading dry fertilizer into a conveyor

Great care must be exercised with a end dump. Stability must be insured when pushing the nose of a wagon to great height. There is a respected knowledge among drivers responsible for maneuvering dumps. Not all situations can be optiman perfect. “Theres dump drivers that have turned one over, and theres drivers that are going too!” I am still on the going to possibility after 15 to 20 years experience.

Most waterways in Illinois have a gravel quarry near by to them. This optimizes return hauls for dump trailers cutting empty miles from half loaded and half empty. Many times to this day I haul grain to the river and bring back lime, or rock. Dry fertilizer will come in on a river barge and that makes a very profitable return haul as well.

Waiting for the quarry to open

River terminals and train depots also distribute liquid nitrogen to fertilizer plants. Liquid tankers will be called upon for the spring planting season.

28% nitrogen being delivered to a fertilizer plant tank farm

Ag support transportation has made some great labor saving advances. The drivers duties have become much easier, more efficient and most importantly safer. In part 2 of this article I will focus my observation mostly on driver duty improvements handling hopper bottom and end dump trailers.

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