Monday, March 31, 2014

Valves Out, Valve In

On Thursday evening, we loaded two valves at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant on Hutchinson Island, Florida. We were to deliver immediately to a testing lab in Huntsville, Alabama, placarded as a Radioactive load.

En route, we were offered the job to return the valves back to the original shipper at St. Lucie NPP. The total compensation was generous, so we happily accepted.

After the drop, we waited at a Walmart parking lot near the testing facility for about 24 hours. Ultimately, only one valve was ready to return to St. Lucie. The other would have to wait.

By the time we'd delivered, we had fielded a dozen phone calls about the load - from multiple people each at the broker office, the shipper, and the consignee. As we drove the single tested valve back to St. Lucie, the next dozen calls occurred, five occurring in the last two hours. Where were we? What mile marker? What traffic conditions did we expect? What route did our GPS have us taking?

As time-based contractors, we are well versed in expedited shipments. When the calls come from dispatch and the Qualcomm beeps incessantly, it's usually the carrier freaking out. The shipper and or cons might not give a wet fart whatsoever, but dispatch has been told to crack the whip and push that load to the destination as fast as possible. Why? Because that's their market niche. On time, every time. Whether you want it that early or not.

Landstar? Quality over uber fast. Every time. They may call for an ETA every few loads because the cons is curious,  or the cons may call directly because the guy in Receiving is supposed to show up for a few minutes to unload us after hours and he doesn't want to hang out there more than necessary. But this was different. The level of communication was deeper and more analytical, the import of our ASAP arrival was clearly indicated - we were even told with a nervous laugh how many people were standing around on the Receiving dock awaiting our arrival.

We were hours ahead of schedule, yet the inquiries still came. 

Finally, we arrived at the Cons and were waved into the delivery area by an anxious employee. 

Eight men in hard hats and safety vests descended upon the truck. There were dry jokes and nervous laughter between them as a colleague ran a Geiger counter around the truck box and swiped the crated valve with indicator wipes. Finally, he waved the high - low toward the pallet and slowly, carefully, the valve was removed from the truck.

Watching this from the ground, surrounded by nervous engineers, I asked the one to my left, "I take it this part is holding up something important?" 

He chuckled, nodded a bit, and said "Yeah. The plant's been offline since you left Thursday. It's not coming back online until that valve is reinstalled."

So I apologize to the residents on Hutchinson Island who may have experienced a brownout while I sat in a parking lot sucking down a juicy Southern Chicken Breakfast Biscuit. I was uninformed.

And hungry.

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