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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Bakken Boom in North Dakota

With the temperature at 22 below zero with a minus-50 windchill, it was
 hard to find the beauty in the brutal weather in Bismarck, N.D. Sundogs,
 a ring of light visible around the sun or moon when light is refracted
 through ice crystals in the atmosphere, are quite beautiful along
 Highway 83 north of Bismark.
Another winter is almost here, hopefully it won't be as bad as the last. The big oil boom is still going on in North Dakota, here's an article from this past January thanks to Tom Berg and Links provided:

Jan 7, 2014
North Dakota’s Cold and Hot, Thanks to Weather and the Bakken Boom

The Great Plains and Midwest are one big ice box right now, but the economy's so heated up in North Dakota that unemployment's nil.

Gadzooks, it’s cold! A “distorted polar vortex” with frigid air has pushed its way well into the United States, chilling us to the soul and bringing a lot of activity to a halt.
But wherever you are, it’s probably colder in North Dakota, where a brave photographer snapped this picture: A writer at the Los Angeles Times probably shivered as he looked at it, then posted it on the newspaper’s website.
The scene is typical for the Great Plains and Midwest this time of year, with a frozen, snow-covered landscape punctuated by a cluster of grain elevators and bins. In the lower center of the photo is a lone semitrailer, a van, parked perhaps with a load of processed feed, waiting to be offloaded.
The caption says it was 22 degrees below zero with a wind chill of minus 50 when the picture was taken. That got me wondering how stubborn that trailer will be when a driver backs his tractor onto it. Will the trailer’s wheels even roll?
I sent the photo to Dick Johnsen, president of Johnsen Trailer Sales in Bismarck, and asked him what he thought. “Two things,” he answered. “If it just came in off the highway and it was parked there, yes, the brakes might be froze to the drums.
“The other thing is to get the park-brake valve to release. Once it gets to 75, 80 pounds, it will release and send air through,” assuming air in the lines and tanks are dry. “But if the brakes stick, you have to get out with a hammer and beat on the drums to crack the ice” that’s holding the linings against them.
Cold weather does send vehicles to Johnsen’s service department. “A lot is nuisance work -- brakes don’t release or they can’t get the lights to work,” he says. Coating electrical connections with dielectric grease makes a big difference. “Do this whenever service work is done, like when you replace a light.”
Praying for an early spring might or might not help, but would be much appreciated, Johnsen says, because the last spring came late, and it was a wet one. That kept farmers from getting into their fields to plant and crops were therefore late.
“They’re harvesting corn right now,” he says. “Most of it goes to making ethanol," which boosts corn prices.
Then there’s the Bakken oil boom, which has further heated the economy in the midst of this cold. The Bakken boom has pushed prosperity throughout the state. Johnsen is selling about 400 semitrailers a year, out of the main location in Bismarck and a branch over in Fargo. Together the two locations employ 33 people.
The boom has also sent business to his shop. “It’s service work and equipment repair, some wreck rebuilding, though some of the equipment isn’t worth the effort we put into it, I think.”
Trucks and trailers slide off icy roads and some are badly damaged, and repairing them is quicker than waiting for badly needed replacement equipment, evidently.
“Sometimes a trailer’s in for 10 days for a wreck rebuild, but the average turn is 65 to 70% daily,” he says. The shop has nine work bays and they’re all usually full.
“We’re outside the (Bakken) range area, but the city of Bismarck is getting a big effect from it,” he says. “A lot of big oil companies have offices in Bismarck. Unemployment is at 2.5%,” compared to national joblessness of 7% or so.
“It looks like this level of (oil) production will continue for at least another 10 years.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Benefits of Low-Rolling-Resistance Tires Explained
Article thanks to Jim Park and Links provided:

July, 2014  Most of us now acknowledge there's some benefit to running low-rolling-resistance tires. They are supposed to improve fuel economy, right? That's the idea, and for the most part that's exactly what they do. But are they all they are cracked up to be? Well, that depends on the specific tire and to a large degree how well it's maintained.
A so-called low-rolling-resistance tire inflated to its optimum pressure for the load and wheel position will deliver better fuel economy that a standard or non-LRR tire because the standard tire absorbs more of the energy used to roll the tire. Energy is consumed by internal friction in the tread and casing, traction and even squirming and wiggling of the tread or lugs while the tire is in motion.
How well a tire resists internal friction and energy loss is very much a matter of the rubber compounds used in the tread and casing construction, the tread pattern itself and the depth of the tread. Tire manufacturers offer a variety of designs, each boasting certain attributes, some of which are tied to rolling resistance.
Not all low-rolling-resistance tires are created equal, so some tires will perform better than others. Some start life with a thinner tread (which gives rise to the sense that you're giving up tread life for fuel economy), some use firmer compounds with less internal friction, and still others claim to be low-rolling-resistance tires but their pedigree is sometimes questionable.
Bridgestone tells us that tire casings (including belts) contribute about 50-65% of tire rolling resistance. The advent of the low-profile sidewall back in the 1980s produced significant reductions in sidewall flex, and hence, fuel efficiency. They weren't called low-rolling-resistance tires at the time, but they were the precursors to today's more fuel-efficient designs.
Today's casings are further optimized to lower rolling resistance by refining stress distribution and minimizing internal friction caused when the sidewall flexes under load. And in the case of wide-base single tires, two sidewalls per wheel position are eliminated, further reducing the tire's overall rolling resistance.  
The remaining percentage of a tire's rolling resistance comes from the tire tread, so much of the focus in developing fuel efficient tires has been on tread design.
"Some compounds, especially those incorporating silica, or using formulas that combine natural and engineered synthetic rubber, can reduce tire rolling resistance significantly," says Guy Walenga, director of engineering for commercial products and technologies at Bridgestone.
Despite the fuel savings benefits of these tires, there's still some reluctance to embrace the product. Fleets can expect modest reductions in miles-to-take-off in many cases, and fleets that operate in northern parts of the country have expressed concern about traction on snowy or icy roads -- and even in rainy weather.
According to Larry Tucker, marketing manager for commercial tires at Goodyear, the economic argument against shallower tread is moot today. He says the fuel savings over the life of the tire more than offsets its shorter life. 
"With rising fuel costs all fleets are looking at ways to improve fuel economy, even fleets that were once concerned only with tread life," he says. "With the proper tools we can calculate exactly the cost per mile and operating cost of each tire and determine the tire that is the most economical to use in their application. We can show fleets that even though they may sacrifice some tread depth, they are offsetting that with improved fuel economy. In a majority of the cases the fuel-efficient tires are always more economical to run than deeper tread tires."
Having said all that, does low rolling resistance really make a difference? To demonstrate how much of a difference, we have a video produced by Goodyear, starring Tim Miller, Goodyear's national fleet manager. It's a short and simple explanation of how low-rolling-resistance compounding can affect the amount of energy -- diesel fuel -- needed to keep those tires rolling. In the video, Miller compares the company's Fuel Max tires to standard tires. The results are graphically hard to argue with. I suspect if any of the other top-tier tire manufacturers had done a video like this, the results would be similar.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What to Know Before You Tow a Fifth-Wheel Trailer
You would think that of all people, truck drivers should know that before they buy that fancy new fifth wheel RV trailer, they need to have a stout enough vehicle to pull it with. I've seen a couple guys that regretted their decision afterwards. They bought a big, heavy trailer that was way too much for their vehicles. It can be an expensive mistake.

Article thanks to Stephen Elmer and Links provided:

There’s a good chance that the computer you’re reading this article on and the food you had for breakfast this morning came off the back of a truck and that’s why the fifth-wheel hitch is so important. It is the primary link between tractor and trailer.
But you don’t have to be a big rig driver to use a fifth wheel. The most common personal use fifth-wheel trailers are for recreation, including horse carriers and travel trailers, meaning plenty of people are hitching up fifth wheels every day.

Why go Fifth-Wheel?

A fifth-wheel hitch is all about optimal weight distribution.
As you add weight to a trailer hitched to the rear end of a vehicle, the front wheels will begin to lift because the rear axle acts as a pivot point. On top of that, the majority of the weight will rest on the rear suspension, increasing the risk that something will break or wear out.
Ultimately, the dynamics of your tow vehicle will be increasingly compromised as the load on your rear-mounted hitch gets heavier. With a fifth wheel, the weight placed on the truck is between the rear axle and the cab, eliminating the pivot point and helping to spread the load,  although the rear end still bears the brunt of it. This makes sure that the dynamics of your tow vehicle are affected less as compared to a trailer hooked up to the rear.
Another advantage to towing with a fifth wheel is the increased turning radius. The front end of the trailer sits above the truck bed helping to reduce overall length. This setup also allows you to turn the trailer up to ninety degrees and even a little more in some cases, making it easier to back up.
And once your rig is backed into its spot – whether it be a motor home or a trailer – a fifth-wheel hitch allows you to unhitch your trailer quickly and easily so you can use your tow vehicle independently.

What kind of truck do you need?

So the advantages are clear, but where do you start when looking for the appropriate tow vehicle and fifth-wheel hitch?
First, you need a truck. While a half-ton, like a Ford F-150, Ram 1500 or Chevy Silverado 1500, is enough to pull a fifth wheel, most people who spring for a trailer big enough to warrant a bed-mounted hitch will likely need at least a three-quarter-ton truck like a Ram 2500, Ford F-250 or Silverado HD.
You want the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the truck to exceed the weight of the truck and trailer tongue weight combined, by at least 10 percent, which is a much easier rule to follow with a larger truck. The payload of your pickup also needs to be suitable to handle the tongue weight placed in the bed. Curb weight is also important, as the heavier your tow vehicle is, the better it will handle the weight. And when it comes to hauling a big fifth-wheel, the last thing you want is to feel your trailer overpowering your truck.
The configuration of the truck is also important, mainly for the bed length. An eight-foot bed, the longest you can get on any pickup, is always your best bet when pulling a fifth-wheel mounted trailer, because you need space in front of the hitch itself for the trailer overhang to clear the back window of the truck cab.
A short-bed truck is useable, but you need to take extra precautions to be sure the trailer is secure. One answer is the use of a slider hitch. This allows you to move the actual connection point of the trailer and hitch forwards and backwards. It is placed forward while the vehicle is in motion to make sure the weight is centered on the truck, and it is pushed back when you need to maneuver through a tight space to allow the front of the trailer more space to swing.
You can also install an extended pin box on your trailer that moves the kingpin connection forward, creating more clearance for the front end of the trailer. Keep in mind, an extended pin box will place more stress on the frame of your trailer.

Time to Install

Once you have your truck and trailer matched, it’s time to install your fifth wheel. You can do it yourself, but if you buy a one-size-fits-all kit, odds are you will be doing some drilling or welding that isn’t necessary. Getting your hitch straight from the manufacturer will save you time and stress because the frame rails come with preexisting holes that are ready to accept a fifth-wheel.
Strong anchor points are the key to a solid fifth wheel. A set of brackets hook up to the frame of your pickup and act as an anchor for two hitch rails that are located in the bed. Those rails then anchor the actual fifth-wheel hitch receiver, which is fitted with a set of jaws. When hooked up, the jaws close around the kingpin on the trailer and lock it in.
Drop-in bedliners are one thing to avoid if you plan to install a fifth wheel. To fit the hitch rails in the bed, you must cut out sections of the liner. If you install them on the liner, the plastic caught between the hitch and the bed will eventually wear away, leaving you with a loose hitch connection. And even if you take the proper steps and cut the liner away, the hitch rail connecting points will be much harder to access because of the encroaching bedliner, which is sometimes left with sharp edges. If you’re going fifth-wheel, choose a bare bed or a spray-in liner and save yourself the pain later on.

Hooking Up and Hitting the Road

The hitching process is another reason to consider a fifth wheel, because in a lot of ways it is much easier than a rear-mounted hitch. First of all, you don’t necessarily need a spotter, though having a second set of eyes is always better for hooking up. By looking over your shoulder, you can clearly see the both the hitch jaws and trailer kingpin. Start by dropping your tailgate, and backing the hitch towards the pin to first determine if the two are at the right height. If they don’t match up, you may have to raise or lower your trailer using the front jacks.
Some fifth-wheel hitches can pivot front to back and side to side, which will allow you to hookup even if the angle of the truck and trailer don’t perfectly match. If yours isn’t this type of hitch, the angle of the kingpin must be lined up with the hitch receiver. The easiest way to do that is to adjust the trailer jacks individually until you find the right spot.
Before you finally make the connection, you have to make sure the jaws on the receiver are open and set to receive, which is something you can control with a long arm that comes out of the side of the hitch. If everything is correct, the last step is to back the truck up to the trailer so that the kingpin fits directly into the cradle on the hitch receiver. You should hear a loud clicking sound, indicating the jaws have grabbed the kingpin.
Before you take off, there are a few more things to remember. You must lock the jaws shut and that’s usually done with a cotter pin to keep the control arm in place. Next, almost every fifth wheel is equipped with its own brakes, so you must connect the emergency breakaway line to the hitch. It can usually be attached to the control handle and will make sure that if the hitch jaws somehow let go of the trailer, the trailer brakes will lock up and stop the unsecured load.
Next, raise up your trailer jacks to the fully retracted position, so that the front of the trailer is fully supported by the truck. Don’t forget to connect and check the trailer lights and finally, make sure you close the tailgate before you pull out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Oka Incident!
Oldie but Goodie Post from July 4, 2012:

I found this very funny story from north of the border on the internet posted in originally in 2002. Thanks to B.J.!

by B.J.Rhodes
When Frank and Percy Muska ordered their new truck, they spared no expense, and from the tips of its chromed stacks to the custom velour interior, the long-nose Peterbilt was pure class. After seeing the movie 'Smokey and the Bandit', they figured it would be a neat idea to have their purebred Bassett hound "Piglet" ride along on every trip. Piglet had no class. What he did have was an appetite like a crocodile, with jaws to match, but the Muska brothers treated the thing like royalty. Piglet ate only 'Muska' food; the two fools claimed dog food made him stink. Naturally it wasn't long before he started to look like the Graff Zeppelin.
They hauled freight out of Winnipeg to Montreal via the States for the same company that I did. On one trip to Quebec, they decided to stop in the town where Oka cheese is made - they were crazy about the smelly stuff, and purchased a ten pound wheel. They were soon in hog-heaven, gorging on cheese and carefully trimming off the rinds which they fed to Piglet, nearly losing a finger or two in the process. After a thorough stuffing, they concluded that it would be a darn shame to eat another bite of the delicious cheese without the benefit of good rye bread and perhaps a fine garlic sausage, which, as far as the Muskas were concerned, could only be obtained back in Winnipeg. They bought a cheap styrofoam cooler and some ice to keep the valuable cargo fresh, and to ensure no aroma could escape to tempt them with its delicate boutique, they sealed the cooler lid with duct tape.
After stopping for supper, having left Piglet on guard as usual, they returned to find chunks of styrofoam scattered about, and a bloated Piglet flopped out like a beached walrus. The little monster had devoured the whole wheel of cheese - not a trace remained, even the label was gone.
After the initial shock had worn off, and despite the loss of their precious cargo, the big worry was what effect an estimated eight pounds of Oka cheese would have on the little glutton. He'd be okay, they reasoned, after a bit of exercise...but Piglet was way too full to move, and walking was out of the question. He'd growl like hell if anyone tried to disturb him.
When they reached Chicago, Piglet was starting to move around a bit. At Belvedere, they stopped to eat, and managed to hoist a cranky, snarling Piglet out for a much-needed and hoped-for bowel movement. No way...Piglet was moving, but nothing else was.
By the time they reached Minneapolis, the infamous cheese had Piglet bunged up for nearly three days...something had to be done! They figured that Ex-lax would do the trick, and Piglet eagerly gobbled up the little treats. In Fargo, they stopped for supper and again they waddled the bloated Bassett around...still no back into the truck he went, as heavy as a wet sand bag. An hour later they returned to the rig, and upon opening the door, they were greeted by the most horrid mess and stench imaginable. Poor Piglet had literally exploded in the truck. In his frantic efforts to get out, he'd tracked and sprayed the disgusting mess everywhere. They bought paper towels and cleaned up as best they could. Blankets, sheets, the mattress...all had to be thrown out.
As Frank tells it, " Lucky nobody saw me and Percy stuffing that effin' mattress in the garbage at one of those roadside rest stops. We were damn tempted to stuff Piglet in as well. Finally all we could do was put on our coveralls, roll down the jeezuzly windows, and tough it out. It was a long, cold, stinking trip home but we cleared customs in record time!
If you ever want to smuggle something across the border, a cab smeared with dog crap will discourage even the most zealous of customs officers."
Even after a thorough clean-up, and a half-dozen of those little pine trees hanging everywhere, the offensive odour would return as soon as the heater was turned on. The Muska brothers lost all interest in Oka cheese after that, and Piglet's long-haul days were over for good.
- B.J. Rhodes

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Massive Trucker Shortage Could Hit Your Wallet Soon
Article thanks to Kathryn BuschmanVasel and Links Provided:
August 22, 2014  Truck driver Anthony Plummer remembers when he was in the middle of the country on a long-haul delivery when he learned his daughter was sick in the hospital.
 “I was told to get back [home] as soon as possible. But there are a lot of rules that limit how much I can drive, so I told them I would get back as soon as I could.” It was after this incident that Plummer decided to make a career shift to become a regional truck driver. “It blew my mind if something were to happen and if I was way across the country. Every now and then I still go out there to long run because she is doing better, but it’s rare.”
Plummer isn’t alone with his career move as the trucking industry suffers a shortage of drivers across the board, especially among long-haulers. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry is about 30,000 short of qualified drivers. Over the next 10 years, that number is set to rise to 200,000.
The industry, which has an average 115-120% annual turnover rate, according to Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery, a logistics company specializing in regional trucking, also has an aging problem. Bob Costello, chief economist at the ATA, says the average age in the for-hire truckload market is about 49, and for less-than-truckload drivers (LTL) and private carriers the average is about 55.
The trucking industry is a vital component to economic growth, with trucks hauling 70% of all freight tonnage moved in the U.S., according to Costello. And as the economy continues to improve so does demand, which is good news for the industry and the economy, but there isn’t enough capacity to keep up. In fact, earlier this month, Swift Transportation reported in its quarterly earnings release that the “the overall driver market tightened more than anticipated."
“Ultimately everything moves slower which could delay parts not arriving” and back up the whole manufacturing process. I’ve seen construction projects get held up because there weren’t trucks available, that’s a small taste of it."
- Brian Fielkow, CEO of Jetco Delivery
Consumers could also soon start feeling the driver shortage. “Ultimately everything moves slower which could delay parts not arriving” and back up the whole manufacturing process, says Fielkow. "I’ve seen construction projects get held up because there weren’t trucks available, that’s a small taste of it."
While the shortage could cause prices on goods to increase, experts say it’s not likely it would be passed onto consumers. “It could mean higher prices at the stores, but we will have to see how much of the pay increases get passed along to consumers," says Costello.
The Great Recession provided a false sense of security with the driver shortage, explains Fielkow. “Demand died down when the economy cooled off so no one was really feeling the shortage. We took our eye off the ball as a country. The slowdown was purely masking an underlying generational trend.”
Experts cite other job alternatives that don’t require being away from home for long stretches, the age requirement (23), cumbersome regulations and the demanding work schedule for fueling the shortage.
“A company can’t get into a high school and recruit young men and women who don’t aspire to go to college,” says Lyndon Finney, editor at The Trucker. “There is a three-year gap where they can’t recruit and a lot of career decisions get made during that time.” He says there is movement to get insurance companies to come up with rigorous training standards to get young drivers behind the wheel earlier. “We let them go into combat and go over and face the enemy on the ground and fly a plane, maybe they are mature enough to drive a truck as well.”
Peter Latta, chairman and chief executive officer at regional truck driving company, A. Duie Pyle launched an in-house training academy in 2003 to help manage their turn-over rate, which is currently only around 5% in LTL for drivers with greater than one year of service. The eight-week academy is open to the company’s full-time employees who are interested in getting their commercial driver’s license. The company picks up the entire cost of the program, including meals and lodging, at about $20,000 per student, and has graduated more than 150 drivers.
“The shortage is very concerning and we are trying to combat it as best we can….we are making our investments in our people.”
The industry also has an image problem, says Finney. “We get publicity on the bad things and not on the good things. The image of trucking a lot of people have is when the truck went into the back of Tray Morgan’s limo.”
Pay has also been an issue when it comes to recruitment and retainment. “Drivers, as of last year, were making, based on real dollars, somewhere between 6-8% less than they were in 1990…and working 70 hours a week.” With that said, as demand continues to outpace driver capacity, pay has been going up. “Lately, we are hearing fleets every week increasing pay in the 10% to 15% range,” says Costello.
To deal with the shortage, the industry and shippers are getting creative to help lessen drivers’ time on the road. Fielkow says some companies are having drivers meet halfway during a long haul to switch off. “That means they can both get home quicker and help focus on the quality of life. Yet shippers have legitimate demands that need to be met, and sometimes there isn’t an easy way to figure it out.”
He adds that shippers are becoming more proactive and giving customers more notice about their needs. “It used to be a day or two heads up, now they are giving us one, sometimes two weeks.”
Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kathrynvasel