RAWLINS – On a cold, slushy Thursday morning, Tom Gambles walks out to his double-trailer FedEx truck, which sits idly along an otherwise desolate Airport Road.
The 53-year-old modest, working class husband and father, who gets paid by the mile, wants to make sure his cash cow runs properly, so when push comes to shove, he can immediately hit the road and continue to make his living.
The vehicle, packed with commercial goods from up to 14 various clients, isn’t alone.
Sixty-mile-per-hour winds closed U.S. Interstate 80 to high profile vehicles for a good, freight-less chunk of time this week, marooning the other 13 semi-trailer trucks, including 17 employees, in Gambles’ FedEx convey to a high desert, overnight stay in Rawlins.
“The wind was the worst part of it,” Gambles says, as he stands beside his truck, his bare fingers red from the morning wind chill, his standard purple and black FedEx uniform flutters in the persistent breeze. “It’s like driving a billboard.”
Worse yet, it’s like driving two titanic boxes with a forbidden reverse gear.
These babies are double-trailered semis, which means the back trailer will disastrously grow a mind of its own if a driver ill-advisedly decides to back it up. It’s almost like trying to get your boat into the water, except on a more monumental scale.
And unlike other semis, Gambles’ front cab consists entirely of driver and passenger seats, with no “sleeper,” so he can’t simply pull over to the shoulder and catch some roadside Zs.
Instead, truckers like Gambles must find the nearest lodging accommodation and somehow park a convoy of roughly 70-foot behemoths as orderly as possible.
So, lacking the luxury of reverse, before they could take refuge at the Hampton Inn hotel on the east side of Rawlins, Gambles says each driver in the procession had to cautiously make a U-turn blocks down the street and eventually park nose to tail in militaristic fashion.
By the end of it, the hotel itself looked as if it was partly surrounded by a moat of FedEx semi-trailer trucks.
But this freight battalion, says Gambles, doesn’t get paid to guard fortresses – or, in this case, hotels. Their objective is to make money via engine running.
“If the wheels ain’t turnin’, they ain’t earnin’,” Gambles says, almost as if it’s universal truckers’ credo.
Recent parades of inclement weather, however, have slowed the wheels of Gambles’ pockets.
According to the former oilfield worker, who used to work upwards of 100 hours per week in places like Colorado, North Dakota and Texas, he’s a part of a large crew of Rock Springs-based drivers tasked with a daily, 640-mile round-trip haul to Kimball, Neb.
Once that same fleet gets back to Rock Springs, FedEx employs another crew of drivers to take the trucks on a round-trip haul to Salt Lake City.
For Gambles’ shift, the more than 10-hour burn typically harvests about $400 per driver, per day. By the end of the week, he says, he’s usually able to cut a nice $2,000 paycheck, sometimes more.
But sound itinerary and its adjoining financial expectations have been less attainable over the past two months.
Since late December, says Gambles, high winds and heavy snows have forced him to seek sanctuary five times, an infamous occupational hazard in these parts.
“I haven’t had a full (work) week since Christmas,” he says.
At this point, Gambles notes he may not have the opportunity to hit the road until evening because the closure is still in effect. So, if he’s lucky, he’ll fit in a three-day workweek, which potentially slashes his two-grand payday by two fifths.
Gambles also says the delays sometimes cause his colleagues to take vacation days, which would perhaps otherwise be used to bury their toes in beach sand.
A void of “radar love” also burdens state tax revenues. Gambles points to a sticker slapped on the side of his door that reads “IFTA” – the International Fuel Tax Agreement. According to this border-crossing stipulation between U.S. and Canada, any vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds is levied a certain percentage for every gallon burned and every mile lapsed.
Any sidelined freight forestalls the collection of any such tax.
What the state loses in some revenue, however, Carbon County makes up for in the two-percent lodging tax. Say a crew of 18 each rents a hotel room at a standard $100 a night, that’s a cool $36, in 24 hours. In addition, a dash of sales tax revenue doesn’t hurt either.
Still, for Gambles, who now makes his way to start his vehicle, he gives a sort of a delirious laugh when he’s asked how much the overcast delays take a toll on him.
“It gets to be a burden,” he says. “I wish I was on my way to Nebraska right now.”