6th August 2018 St Paul Minnesota

Goodaye all. The PACCAR Technical Centre and test track are a marvellous facility to make Kenworths better and stronger for the road. I was not allowed to take photos inside, but what toys they have, including trucks. Things I still can’t pronounce, that do not only stress testing of components, but to a near cell level and a number of engine test beds, jigs for accelerating stress and mileage on trucks and a test track.

It would cost a fortune to test a new truck and or engine for a million miles on the road, drivers, fuel and even running 24 hours a day, a long time indeed. But not only can they run engines under very consistent conditions continuously in bays, to ascertain fuel use, parts life etc, they can alter those conditions from I think it was 30 below to 55 above. They can also change the air intake to reflect operating at altitude and run trucks on dynamometers to again confirm specific outputs and component life.

It was suggested they could do a million miles of testing on the test track in 3 to 4 months and for structural parts, in 3 to 4 weeks on a jig. Of course on the road you do not hit the dips and potholes every inch of the way and so on the test track and then even more on the jigs, they can replicate very harsh conditions not only consistently, but at a much accelerated pace than would occur on the road, hence saving costs, reducing testing time and supplying a product meant to last.

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You might not think these offset bumps look too bad and maybe not much worse than some culverts on the Newell, but they do test them pretty hard here.

After the tour I headed back down towards Seattle and stayed on the other side at Smokey Point Rest Area again for the night. I then travelled into Everett and visited the Boeing factory. I spent some time on the deck and saw one of the DREAM Lifters land, bringing a set of wings from Japan and then did the Boeing Factory Tour.

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The plane in the foreground picks up the engines which are too heavy for the Dreamlifter to carry. Then it was time to head east. I drove into the night up and own through the mountains with chaining up bays until finally another rest area, they got thin and far apart here.

In the morning I took some photos and video and watched a fellow drop his trailer in the rest area. I walked over and he had some ramps down and was backing his 3 wheeler trike up onto the gooseneck. His wife had been riding it as he was too heavy on the drive (the trike weighs 800kg he said) for the scales I stopped at the night before, but his wife was suffering from the heat as she had the day before. When his wife first started travelling with him, they had rented cars and it had cost a fortune, so the bike was bought and carried and when they are held over, they go sightseeing and his wife “drives” the trike.

He detailed her first trip, hearing all these gasps and wondering where and why. He looked and it was his wife, saying “Did you see that car driver cut you off and the other one?” “Yes” he said, “Welcome to my world” and so I asked him to do a video and he told his wife, we are having a 30 minute break now.

After I offered where I am from, what I am doing etc, another driver answered my introductory question, “What is your biggest road safety concern on the highway?” with other drivers in cars. This has been consistently the biggest response, but there have been a few who have said other truck drivers. He also explained the lift axles you will see on many trucks are to comply with US laws after loading in Canada where the laws are more lenient for weight. Lift axles cannot be used in Canada and must be chained up if you go to California. One driver had a sticker on his truck, “I refuse to travel to the Republic of California”. Few like going there it seems.

I visited my first “Loves Truckstop” where there is a wall of coffee, a wall of soda (softdrink) a bay with 10 different sausages cooking continuously and tried 2 for $3.99, each on a bun and including condiments and tax, $4.29 and a large (read bloody big) Pepsi for $1.69 and tax, $1.82. I did not find another Loves till Saturday night and they all have Subway (like we do in Australia) linked to their shop, but no restaurants of their own anywhere. This photo from a Pilot/Flying J I think, but they all have serious coffee issues.

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While eating my dogs, the store manager was interviewing a lady for a job there and not only was he very passionate, he would have nearly convinced me to apply. I then stopped at my first Flying J Pilot truckstop. Had a sticky beak (and every time I said this I got strange looks and was asked “What”, then parked on the shoulder and walked up and got some footage from the overpass.

I am in St Paul Minnesota now and going for a tour with 3M tomorrow in their Transport Safety Division. It has been a long drive across from Seattle, stopping at many truckstops and rest areas and speaking with drivers, taking photos and a few videos. In the first few days I could not find a truckstop with its own restaurant and even last night used one in the same complex, but not part of the chain

Some do have good parking and there are some rest areas we would kill for, but I do wonder about the problem and the solution. Whilst in the first couple of days across Washington and Montana, there were signs for each rest area and then another sign saying next rest area 86 Miles for example, show there are some big gaps. Signs at each exit listed Lodging and if too many choices, another sign showing who for gas and food. There were truckstops too, but having been reasonably frequent, when they disappear without notice and you just have to keep driving, it can be a big gap.

I pulled into a weighbridge in Montana late the first night out from Boeing and spent nearly an hour chatting with the fellows there and of course, one of their staff is a big “Outback Truckers” fan. My first turnpike triple rolled in while I was there and they said, “We can stop him for you” but I doubted the driver would be so happy to be stopped just for me. They were good to talk to and I left them with the thought of our sausage sizzle weighbridge days and they had done similar things but 15 or more years ago and vowed to check my website and follow up with the discussion we had.

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Now into my seventh day here and travelled some miles, that is the only weighbridge I have seen open. The signs change for rest areas as do the speed laws in different states, the roads have been terrific with the odd bump, but I have been mostly on Interstates. Road works that go for miles with no work on the week ends as I have travelled here, but still the speedlimit only drops to 55 MPH unless there is a narrow part and then to 45MPH, but there are signs saying the penalty doubles if workers present.

Whilst I was told there is meant to be a national road transport agreement across the US, Canada and Mexico, each state still has its’ own laws, sound familiar? I think we have made a good leap from where we were with our just 7 sets of laws, to now really two.

But Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) have impacted some more than others and a driver today, when asked the standard intro question, complained about truckers simply stopping on the side of the interstate for their half hour break, which they never had to have till the last rule change and that it was legal to park on freeway ramp shoulders.

There is a booming market here for new trucks with a record number on order this month, over 50,000 with 41,800 and 18,000 trailers ordered last month, but it was said some may be over ordering just to get trucks, as the delay can be up to 6 months. Another radio interview said the whole transport industry here was under stress, lots of freight, a driver turnover rate of over 100% for some fleets, difficulty getting new trucks, the ELDs and a lack of rest areas. But who is there for the drivers?

I have just done an interview for a Truckers Podcast radio show and have been confirmed a stand at the Great American Truckshow, so will be able to put all the TIV banners up etc. Sorting visits now to Cummins, Kenworth and a couple of smaller truckshows, along with a visit to Toronto if all goes to plan. Till next we chat, Safe Travelling, Rod Hannifey.

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