Mike Erskine, senior vice president of the van division for diversified 2,400-power-unit fleet Western Express, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.
Battling the Big Road With Western Express Driver Derek Dorsey
I set out Sept. 21 for a round-trip from Nashville to Atlanta with Western Express driver Derek Dorsey. We left Nashville just prior to noon.
An hour and a half later, after a brief stop at a Murfreesboro Pilot to refill the diesel-exhaust-fluid tank in the 2011 Freightliner Cascadia, we started the climb up Monteagle Mountain on I-24. Unsuspecting heavy-haul drivers worked their way to the slow lane, some even to the right apron. Dorsey was well-prepared and moved into the right lane early, knowing it was prudent.
Battling congestion, after all, is not only a productivity issue. His 43,000-lb. load of waste paper from a magazine printer bound first for a Western drop yard in Conley, Ga., then to the WM Recycle America facility in Augusta, Ga., would necessitate a slow run up the mountain. The safe choice, Dorsey said, was to drop his 10-speed transmission to eighth gear and take it easy, even as he gained speed on less significant grades along the climb. The gearing choice allowed him the power flexibility to be able to pass, twice, when he needed to, and avoid creating major congestion problems for drivers behind him.
“When you’re going up this hill, there are trucks that can climb the hill, but other trucks will bog down,” he said. “It causes congestion as lighter trucks and cars try to get around them in two lanes of traffic.”
Dealing with congestion is all about watching your own movements and those of vehicles around you. Patience is often a useful virtue, evident in Dorsey’s motto — “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” Also a driver-trainer for recruits at Western Express, Dorsey routinely passes the motto along to his students. “Stress leads to carelessness, which leads to accidents, and sometimes that can lead to a fatality,” he told me. “I treat everybody on this road, regardless of race, creed or color, just like that’s my family member and I want to see them at Christmas … like I love them with all my heart. It takes a lot of care to be out here.”
After a brief slowdown at the I-24/U.S. 27 connection in Chattanooga, Tenn., we experienced no significant issues before Atlanta. The Western Express drop yard, shared with several other carriers, is at the south end of the city. To give me an opportunity to see the city’s congestion problems, Dorsey chose the eastern portion of the I-285 loop as his primary route.
Approaching the I-285 junction on I-75 before 5 p.m., northbound traffic out of town was crawling. As we merged onto the loop road, we were crawling ourselves. “On the bypass,” Dorsey said, “typically in any major metropolitan area, the two right lanes are for trucks.” That was the case here, and Dorsey, as he does elsewhere in traffic, chose the left of those two. “The rule of thumb is you always want to have a way out.”
Choosing this lane, as four-wheelers darted into and out of the two-tractor-trailer-length space he tried to leave between his front bumper and the vehicle ahead of him, “I can go left or right to avoid a hazardous situation,” he said, “particularly with 43,000 in the box, which slows me down on maneuvering the truck even faster. I let them have their way, let them have the road.”
We were well ahead of the scheduled 9 p.m. pickup time he had at Custom Building Products just west of Atlanta in Lithia Springs off I-20. After dropping the paper load for another Western driver at the yard in Conley, we made it by 7:30.