Featured article: A doubles life

By John Baxter | October 01, 2009

He typically leaves his house at 6 p.m. The night delivery enables the company to deliver packages the next day. It also allows drivers to avoid heavy traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.

As I accompanied Geiger on a run one June night, I learned one of the few downsides of his job is assembling his rig.

The front trailer is engaged normally. To hook up the second trailer, the trailers must be almost perfectly aligned and a precise distance apart. It requires a converter dolly – essentially a fifth wheel mounted on its own axle that converts a semi-trailer into a full trailer. An A-shaped frame (the tongue) carries a drawbar eye forward from the fifth wheel far enough to create the needed clearance between the two pups. When the rig is fully assembled, the drawbar eye ends up fastened to a pintle hook bolted to the front trailer.

A yard assistant dropped the rear trailer by Geiger’s tractor. Geiger backed close to an unused converter dolly and picked up the front of it and hooked the drawbar eye over the horn of the pintle hook. Geiger then backed the converter dolly under the rear trailer and hooked it to its kingpin just as you would a tractor, making the standard check for secure hookup, and rolling up the landing gear.

Next, Geiger unhooked the converter dolly’s drawbar eye from the pintle hook on his tractor. Then he engaged the front pup to the tractor.

The toughest part came when Geiger backed the front pup toward the rear pup and converter dolly. With hand signals from a man working in the yard, Geiger aligned the two trailers and set them the right distance apart. The helper put the drawbar eye over the horn of the pintle hook on the second trailer. Geiger then finished with the second trailer. The upper latch was lowered, secured and checked for snugness. Finally, he hooked up the two safety chains, the gladhands for the brakes on both trailer and converter dolly and the electrical cable.

We headed east on Route 30, then took Route 202, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the New Jersey Turnpike and finally Interstate 95 to the Woodbridge exit for the local FedEx Ground terminal. With no traffic snarls on the 96-mile trip, Geiger was able to quickly get into 10th gear and cruise at 65 mph most of the way.

Geiger was quickly assigned a single trailer to haul back, and he attached a converter dolly to the rear to return to Exton. In less than half an hour, he was on his way, arriving at Exton before 2:30 a.m., where my ride ended and he began his second run. If it proved to be a typical day, he was home by 7:30 a.m., ready for a good day’s sleep – in his own bed. n

Pup trailer protocol

Doubles drivers can avoid getting into a navigational fix by being careful to pull in only to places that do not require backing to exit. John Payne, a senior vice president of FedEx Ground, offers some other pointers:

• Account for the extra weight by increasing the following and stopping distances.

• The heavier trailer should go directly behind the tractor to provide better control. The trailers’ shorter wheelbase and pivot points make doubles more maneuverable through turns.

• During pre-trip inspection, check the extra set of safety chains that doubles have for security in the event of an equipment disconnect. Also check the hook-up of the wiring harness to ensure proper lighting. Complete a test pull after hook-up to ensure proper pintle hook connections as well as the king pin connections in the fifth wheels.

• Avoid oversteering. The second trailer reacts more acutely to sharp steering.

Chuck Cole, manager of technical sales and product training at Utility Trailer, has these additional recommendations:

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