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Jon Osburn and OOIDA’s Tour Truck, the Spirit of the American Trucker, are at the TA in Wheeler Ridge, Calif. That’s located at Exit 219 on Interstate 5. Stop in, say hi to Jon, and join OOIDA for a $10 discount. See the full Spirit Schedule. Air date: Jan. 23, 2018.

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Land Line Now Blog

The King, the Duke and Jim

Jim Johnston was an Elvis fan. Knowing this, our chief sound engineer, Barry Spillman, made it his mission to work some Elvis music into the show whenever possible. You could hear it if you listened closely, slipping in and out of the background like an extra in “King Creole.” It was only appropriate, then, that if Jim had to leave us, it happened on the King’s birthday. As much as we are saddened by his loss, it somehow fits in a cosmic kind of way. Long live the King.

I sometimes passed Jim in the hallways and occasionally interviewed him on Land Line Now. He always had a wink and smile and more than a few words of wisdom. We didn’t use Jim often on the show, but when we did we called it “bringing out the big guns.” He weighed in when it mattered most but was otherwise content to stand back and let us do the jobs he hired us to do.

And when he did weigh in you can bet everybody out there listening knew it. When he spoke it always seemed like he was two or three steps ahead of everybody else in the room. That’s probably because more often than not, he was. I like to imagine the show playing in truck stops and truck cabs across the country and when his voice came through the speakers everything else just stopped. “Shh. Listen. Big Jim’s talking.”

We know he liked the work we did with the show, but there were also those rare occasions when we did something he wasn’t crazy about, and he was never shy about letting us know. He never yelled or got angry. It wasn’t his way. He’d just smile that smile of his and say “Maybe we shouldn’t do that anymore.” And we didn’t. There was no doubt that when Jim spoke, we listened.

So, too, did the listeners to our show. And the politicians in Washington. And the bad brokers and shady trucking companies and anyone else who sought to do wrong to truck drivers. His voice echoed loud and clear through the last 45 years of the trucking industry for all to hear.

It’s silent now, but the echoes are still there. It echoes through the Association he helped build from a bunch of guys at a truck stop to more than 160,000 members. It echoes through the changes he helped engineer in the trucking industry – fighting for the rights of truckers through the courts and the legislature. And it echoes through each and every employee of OOIDA who continues to work and to fight to keep that mission alive every single day.

When I first came to OOIDA, we were in the very early stages of starting the radio show. During one of those meetings as we tried to determine the image of the Association and the best way to put it out over the air, someone asked how our members saw Jim Johnston. I don’t remember who said it, but there was only one answer: John Wayne.

I always thought of that when I’d see him in the hallways with his blue jeans, white hair and blue shirt. He had that swagger. He had that true grit. He was one of the last great American cowboys.

John Wayne once said “A man ought to do what he thinks is right,” and that’s just what Jim did every day of his life. And you can rest assured that all of us here at Land Line Now, Land Line Magazine and all of OOIDA will do our damnedest to live up to that.

It’s what Jim would have wanted. And like the old song says, you don’t mess around with Jim.

You can still depend on truckers in a time of need

I drove to Walcott, Iowa, today to attend the Truckers Jamboree at the Iowa 80 for the first time in years.

I went to one several years ago, but since then, I have had one crisis after another that prevented me from going. Sickness, a death in the family, some type of emergency that came first. And well, obviously, since priorities dictate that you do what you need to do, I have missed going to the World's Largest Truck Stop and the show that takes place there every year.

For most people going from Kansas City to Walcott, the route would be Interstate 35 up to Interstate 80 and then straight across to the east. But I'm traveling a different route. The reason? I got advice from some truckers.

The first year I went to the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, I ran into all kinds of horrific traffic on 35 and 80. That plus construction zones across two states. It was a difficult and exhausting drive.

You expect that going through big cities and highly congested areas. You don't expect it going through rural northern Missouri and Iowa, which has a reputation of being overwhelmingly rural and not very densely populated.

When I was in Walcott that first time, I talked with several truckers about that terrible drive and expressed my sympathy that they had to go through that all the time just to do their jobs.

One of the truckers asked me, well, why don't you use Avenue of the Saints?

Being who I am, I immediately asked him, what is this Avenue of the Saints you speak of? Frankly, I had never heard of such a thing, and if it made that drive easier I was going to be interested.

The Avenue of the Saints is nothing new. It was developed many years ago as a solution to a very basic problem. No four-lane interstate highway existed between St Louis and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area.

So planners decided to create one.

However, interstates are far more expensive than other highways. So they explored a solution that would give them mostly what they wanted, but would cost less. And that is a lower federal standard called an expressway.

The traditional interstate in the federal standards is referred to as a freeway. There are no cross streets as we all know. You have to use an interstate exit or entrance in order to get on the highway or return to regular streets.

However, the expressway has a combination of Interstate style exits and crossroads. Because of that they can give locals in rural areas access to the highway without creating expensive exits on a frequent basis.

So they traced a group of two lane highways that went from St. Louis up to St. Paul, including U.S. 61 in Missouri and some state highways in Iowa.

At first, it was a little hard for me to tell when I was still on the Avenue of the Saints or if I was on some highway divided off of it. Now, they all use a common numerical designation of Highway 27 so it’s much clearer when you are on the Avenue.

The same thing has been done to U.S. 36 across all of Missouri. It is also an expressway, but it has a number of advantages as does the Avenue of the Saints.

For truckers, if you’re someone who is watching their fuel economy carefully, you probably don’t want to go at top interstate speeds. And many places now, that is 75 miles per hour or above. However, both U.S. 36 and the Avenue of the Saints have a 65 mile-an-hour speed limit, so you can move at a more reasonable speed for fuel economy without getting run over.

For both truckers and four wheelers, another advantage is the relative lack of traffic. Let’s face it, I-35 is crowded and I-80 is worse. Having the highway at times pretty much to yourself and not having to share broadly at other times is awfully nice in this day and age.

When I first learned how to drive, my father told me that if I was ever in trouble or needed advice to ask a truck driver. He always regarded them as people you can trust, even to the point he was willing to trust his own children to them when they were in need.

Many people these days are simply afraid to do that. It’s nice to know that even in this day and age, when I need some advice about how to get from point A to B in the easiest way possible, if I need help at roadside, or if I’m in an emergency situation, I can still count on truck drivers.

One size doesn’t fit all

We all know the ELD mandate has been a bad idea from the get-go. Well, those of us who aren’t working for the FMCSA or the ATA know it, anyway. But a growing number of exemption requests would seem to suggest others are catching on as well.

One of the more notable requests came a few weeks ago from none other than mega shipper UPS. UPS, it should be noted, has been very much in favor of the mandate from the beginning and now that we’re just a few months away suddenly wants an exemption. And doncha just want to know why?

Well, it’s partly because they have a whole slew of trucks that are already equipped with Automated On-Board Recorders – not to be confused with Electronic Logging Devices – that would not be compliant under the new mandate. Why they bought these trucks knowing that a mandate they themselves supported would render them obsolete is anybody’s guess and a question for another time.

In their exemption request UPS raised some very good points about how drivers who work for them will be forced to use different vehicles equipped with AOBRs and ELDs and therefore would not have a single, complete log reflecting that driver’s hours of service. They also asked for an exemption for yard moves – wherein a driver is simply moving a truck from one part of a shipping or receiving area to another. Something that no doubt happens hundreds of times each day at every UPS facility in the country.

These are all valid points, but the thing is they don’t just apply to UPS. They are only two of the numerous problems that will hit the entire industry should this mandate be allowed to go into effect in December.

We’ve also seen requests from companies that use vehicles with single-passenger cabs to haul oversized loads, and pipeline haulers – not to mention the concerns we’ve heard voiced numerous times by livestock haulers that could literally put the lives of the animals they’re hauling at risk.

The point of all of this is that the trucking industry comes in so many shapes and sizes and loads and specialties that there is no way a blanket, one-size-fits all regulation like the ELD mandate is possibly going to work for everyone involved.

Sure, it works for the big carriers who already have the things installed. But let’s not forget that as big as they are they do not make up the majority of the industry. There are as many different types of trucking operations as there are loads to haul. What works for one isn’t going to work for the next one down the road.

So maybe instead of granting all of these exemptions, the FMCSA should at the very least delay the implementation of the mandate until these problems can be sorted out (yeah, I know ideally it should be gone altogether but unfortunately that’s not really up to the FMCSA – it being a congressional mandate and all). The alternative is a nation full of trucking operations struggling to comply with a regulation that doesn’t really fit their business. It will be hard for some, while others likely won’t make it at all.

In other words, it’ll be a mess. But it’s a mess that can be avoided if only the FMCSA will put down its shovel and pick up a broom. Stop piling on the dirt and help clean it up for a change.

Road train comin'

Drivers on the Ohio Turnpike have been witness to an experiment in what some people think is trucking’s future.

Uber’s division for self-driving trucks, Otto, began testing truck platoons in Ohio months ago, and soon Peloton Technologies will test semi-autonomous trucks on the highway.

Platooning uses a lead truck and several following trucks. The lead truck controls the acceleration and braking of all the trucks. In some platoons, each truck has a driver who controls the steering. The idea is that the trucks can run closer together, so each following truck can take advantage of the “drag” of the truck in front of it.

Supporters of the idea said at one time that it could be just one driver, even controlling the steering, which would cut labor costs. Since then, they’ve claimed that platooning will increase fuel economy, although some studies have suggested that to make a significant gain, you’d have to be so close that even with the lead truck controlling braking, it could be too tight for comfort.

However, the tests in Ohio – at least as presented – involve slightly longer following distances and drivers in each truck.

The technology people are convinced that platooning or their more frequently mentioned cousin, automated trucks, will work, that they are nearly ready to take to the roads – although their public statements are frequently laced with comments indicating a complete lack of understanding about what is involved in trucking.

Any time you discuss that idea around an actual truck driver, someone who intimately understands all the conditions a truck will encounter, you get a very different response.

Count OOIDA Life Member Dale Kirschbaum of Hendersonville, N.C., as one of those truckers. His response to platooning is classic.

“I’m going to depend on that guy up there in the front truck to do all my accelerating and braking?” Dale asked. “I don’t think so.”

In fact, Dale went a step further, pointing out a particular flaw in the thinking of those who promote platooning – the fact that the following trucks will still require drivers.

“If you got to have drivers in those back trucks to steer them, what in the world is the use of all this technology of platooning when you’ve got to have a driver in a truck anyway?” Dale said.

Dale has a lot of good questions – and I have many of the same ones, although truckers such as Dale obviously see the issue with more first-hand insight.

The obvious answer regarding the additional truckers is two-fold: First, the developers of this think that platooning trucks will get much better fuel economy; and second, they plan to pay the others drivers far less than they pay drivers now.

I’m dubious about the fuel economy effect. The science backs it up, but it was done before we had all the trailer tails to reduce the very effect platooning is designed to take advantage of.

Add to that the increases in fuel economy achieved by recent truck models, and the frequently unacknowledged but proven truth that the best way to increase fuel economy is to train the driver in techniques that will increase efficiency – something shown to add up to a 35 percent increase, beyond the capability of any single technology. So I’m in the “we’ll see” category.

I think once those trucks are on a busy highway with lots of inconsiderate and somewhat insane four-wheelers darting in and out and back and forth, frankly, all bets are off.

So sure, go ahead, test your platooning. Will it work someday? Maybe, probably even. But without understanding the challenges you’re trying to overcome, it’s pretty hard to overcome them.

A look at one truck parking project – was it worth it?

truck parking signTruck parking is a real crisis. And that’s not an exaggeration.

However, some places are trying to solve the problem – among them British Columbia.

The province announced several weeks ago that they plan to build a truck parking facility with 150 spaces just southeast of Vancouver.

Planners say it will feature washrooms, showers and a cafeteria as well as security fences and lighting – and cost about $30 million.

However, despite the shortage of spaces, the action in Canada is not receiving universal acclaim in the trucking industry.

One example of that is OOIDA Member David Caddell of Madison, Wis.

“I’m hoping that was a typo,” David said of the cost. “These truck stops that have 100 parking spots with showers, with restaurants, with fuel, convenience store and a bunch of other stuff don’t cost $30 million.

“That’s a total waste of money.”

The cost, however, was not the only thing that bothered David about the story.

“It’s going to be centralized at one spot,” he added. “We need parking areas spread out all over the place, not centralized in one area, two or three hundred miles apart. That won’t work for safety.”

While I’m generally in favor of truck parking being added anywhere we can get it, I did think David brought up some points worth exploring. So I started to dig.

I found one website that had many examples of actual business plans, including one for a truck stop. The plan said building a truck stop would run $2.75 million. However, that was just for a 6,000-square-foot building with gas and diesel fueling, scales and a restaurant. 

This has washrooms, showers and a cafeteria as well as security fences and lighting – so most of the facilities you’d see at a truck stop, except the fueling islands. I don’t think it should run the same $2.75 million, but I think $2 million is a fair figure for what they’re building.

I found pretty solid information indicating parking lots cost from $2,500 to $4,000 a space. But that’s for cars, not trucks.

An average car space is 9 feet by 18, or about 162 square feet. A truck space would be at least 836 square feet, or five times the size of the car parking space.

I would think a truck parking lot would need heavier pavement, due to the increased weight it has to handle. However, I see a lot of truck stop parking lots that clearly didn’t do that, so I stuck with the same cost per square foot of pavement.

What I arrived at was a figure of $12,500 to $20,000 a space a truck parking lot. So 150 spaces would be – and this is pavement only – $3 million. 

That brings me to $5 million. Adjusting for the difference between the Canadian and U.S. dollar brings that $5 million up to $6.75 million – still short of $30 million.

So I tried to look at other factors that could drive up the price.

One is land acquisition. We’re talking about Canada, and I have noticed that real estate prices there are far above prices here in the states. And I mean way higher. But that’s not a scientifically valid statement; that’s me watching HGTV.

Figures comparing U.S. and Canadian land prices proved elusive. However, rural land is cheaper than urban or suburban land, and it makes sense that this facility would be on the edge of a metro area, meaning land would be closer to rural prices. However, I don’t think it can be sufficiently different enough to account for the additional $23-plus million.

So David has a point. The numbers may not add up. This may not be a cost-effective solution.

So let’s look at this from another point of view.

An average blacktop parking lot – if maintained well – should give at least 10 years of service, maybe more.

So I took the total cost of the parking area, and divided it to determine how much it costs for each space for each day – and that’s roughly $59. Assuming that’s Canadian dollars, that would mean $43 U.S.

So let’s go back to David’s concerns – that it cost too much, and that all the parking from this project was in one location, whereas parking is needed in many places.

First, is it worth it to spend $43 dollars a day to ensure that truck drivers have a safe, secure place to park? In comparison with how the government spends some other money, I’m good with that.

Second, yes, this parking is all in one place. They likely need that number in that place. But look at Texas, which has created very nice rest areas with similar numbers of parking spaces in many locations. In my mind, that would make this what we call “a good start.”

And we have to start somewhere. I’d like it to be more cost-effective, and I would like more parking in more places. But for now, I’m willing to call the situation in British Columbia a win.

And I’m glad some truckers will have a safe, secure place to park.

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