October 2001

Truckers pitch in to help after terrorist attacks

After terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon on Sept. 11, truckers and fleets donated time and equipment to the relief effort.

Jerry and Judy Reese, owner-operators leased to the Center for American Jobs, had just shown their truck in the Pride & Polish competition at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas and were on their way to another truck show in Michigan when they heard the news.

“We took it to the sheriff’s department in Pontiac, Mich.,” Jerry Reese says. “We loaded it up with water, batteries, flashlights, drinks, food and medical supplies. It only took us about five hours to get it all together.”

Fully loaded at more than 85,000 pounds with items donated by the Center for American Jobs and DT Energies, the Reeses arrived at the staging area outside Manhattan the day after the attacks. The Reeses rested as volunteers unloaded their cargo, guarded by military police. “There’s so much water, I’m maxed out,” Reese says. “It busted my wheel seals.”

“I sent out a call to truckers, and 25 independent truckers showed up with lowboys,” says Barry Heffernan, sales manager of Hoffman Equipment in Piscataway, N.J., the day after the attack. “It’s just a response from the heart.”

“Hoffman called and said they had donated equipment, but had to get it there,” says owner-operator Kevin Kolodziej of KTS Heavy Hauling. “There were 12 companies who responded. There were about 25 tractors in all. We got in a convoy and were escorted to New York by our local police.”

Piscataway is only about 25 miles from the World Trade Center. “Everyone pretty much knows someone who was lost,” Kolodziej says. The drivers worked until after 1 a.m. the night of the attack, hauling machinery to the staging area.

Bill Joyce of the New York State Motor Truck Association, which canceled its Sept. 12 annual convention, says his group had a lot of offers from truckers anxious to help.

Mike Allain, safety manager of Wal-Mart Logistics in Marcy, N.Y., coordinated the shipment of water and medical supplies from Wal-Mart distribution centers nationwide. “Out of 210 drivers, I have 190 volunteers,” he says.

When the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut sent out a fax the morning after the attack asking for help from the trucking community, “We got 15 responses in 15 minutes,” President Mike Riley says.

“Seeing what the world is going through, we wanted to do whatever we could to help,” says Kathy Civarella, president of J.R. Christiano and Sons Trucking in Connecticut.

The New York Department of Transportation suspended hours-of-service regulations for truckers involved in the relief effort.

At Rock Solid Stone Belt Inc. in Shoals, Ind., which trucked the Indiana limestone used in the part of the Pentagon that was hit, President Ted Benckart canceled the company’s [Sept. 12] 50th anniversary celebration. “I’m going to take the money we would have spent and give it to the Red Cross,” Benckart says. “They need it more than I do.”

Reese says he had been to New York City many times before but never saw it looking as it looked Sept. 12. “It’s total chaos,” he says. “You see fear and tears in people’s eyes. Smoke is still in the air, stuff you don’t want to breathe. It’s something I’ve never seen before. God be with us.”

Staff reports

Fuel – and panic – spike after attack

The price of diesel fuel jumped nationwide mere hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but the largest increases were scattered and short-lived.

Truckers formed lines at the pumps amid rumors of imminent fuel shortages and unheard-of prices. In some instances, they watched with dismay as the price went up even as they filled their tanks, at some locations to $4 a gallon. Four-wheelers at some locations suffered, too, as the price of a gallon of unleaded at some stations passed $3 in North Dakota, $4 in Illinois, $5 in Oklahoma.

The average retail price of diesel increased 8 cents a gallon between Sept. 10 and Sept. 12, only to fall again later in the week, says Mark Derks, spokesman for fuel service provider T-Chek Systems. The increase was much higher at some truck stops – as much as 65 cents a gallon – but diesel prices stayed beneath $2 a gallon at the vast majority of locations, Derks says.

The nation’s largest oil companies announced price freezes Sept. 12, and the American Petroleum Institute said the price increases were unnecessary, as there were no fuel shortages other than those caused at individual stations by panic buying. “API and its members do not condone and, in fact, strongly denounce any attempt to use this crisis to take advantage of consumers,” the association said in a statement. “If there is any illegal activity, those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The American Trucking Associations urges state trucking organizations to report instances of price gouging. “We’ll let you know when we no longer need your reports,” the ATA says.

Fuel experts at Equilon, a Shell-Texaco joint venture, say truckers could help stabilize prices during crises by sticking to their normal fuel-buying habits, so that artificial swings in demand and availability don’t occur.

Derks says the price increases, even if they proved premature, were understandable given the closing of U.S. borders, the disruption of terminal traffic and the general uncertainty in the hours after the attack.

Panel explores options to idling

Truck stop electrification is moving closer to reality, and a state pilot project shows one vision for the future, according to speakers at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency workshop on truck idling during the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

“Truck stop electrification is finally happening,” says Rick Tempchin of the Edison Electric Institute.

“We really believe the long-term solution is shore power,” says Al Haimback of Cabcomfort. “Idling is going to disappear completely.”

In a $500,000 pilot project that began in May, the New York Thruway is installing IdleAire units at 27 travel plazas. Donald Hutton of the Thruway Authority says the system offers a window-mounted unit for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning that is also wired for telephone, high-speed Internet and cable television. Truckers swipe a credit card to pay about $1.40 per hour, less than the cost of the gallon of diesel an idling truck burns each hour.

While truck stop electrification can eventually benefit everyone, the expense of installation is a problem, says George Strickland of Travel Centers of America, which manages 20,000 of the 200,000 truck parking spaces available at the nation’s truck stops. At an estimated $5,000 per space, electrifying all TA’s lots alone will cost $100 million.

Rather than wait for widespread electrification, some truckers are opting to buy fuel-fired heaters and auxiliary power units.

Martin Connolly of Rig Master says his company recently fleet-tested its independent auxiliary power unit. The fleet had been idling 56 percent of its operating time, getting 5.4 miles per gallon. Using Rig Master, it idled 7 percent of the time and achieved 6.1 mpg.

Eric Jessiman of Espar Heating Systems notes that engine makers are starting to tie warranties to the number of operating hours, giving fleets and owner-operators a powerful incentive to stop idling.

Nevertheless, “Nobody can see when this technology will be economically feasible” for fleets, Franz Neumeyer of Webasto Thermosystems says.

Max Heine

More than 33,000 people attended GATS.

Short hauls

Recent $1,000 winners in the weekly Money for Miles Sweepstakes at eTrucker.com include Jerry Benson of Princeton, Ky.; Frank Sullivan of Lantana, Fla.; Judy Moore of Irondale, Mo.; and Kevin Bacorn of Howell, N.J. One registered user of the site will win $1,000 each week through May.

Oregon’s governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed speed limit increases on rural I-5 and I-84 to 65 mph for trucks and 70 mph for cars. The limit remains 55 mph for trucks and 65 mph for cars, the lowest in the West. The bill’s sponsor says the governor lives “in a fantasy land.”

Trucker’s wife Janice Weninger of West Bend, Wis., won $10 million playing the lottery. She says she’ll retire from her third-shift job at a cell-phone factory; her husband, Virgil, says he might keep on trucking. Trucker Joseph Hensgen of De Pere, Wis., won $500,000 in the lottery a few weeks earlier.

Oct. 15 is the deadline to nominate a life-saving trucker for Goodyear’s Highway Heroes program. Visit www.highwayhero.net .

Malone Freight Lines of Birmingham, Ala., bought flatbed company E.A. Holder of Kennedale, Texas.

The I-40 weigh station near Alma, Ark., was the site of an unexpected delivery – a 7-pound, 9-ounce baby, Kassandria Childers, whose mom was en route to the doctor when her water broke.

A drunken driver on I-40 near Yukon, Okla., was apprehended by two truckers who trapped his four-wheeler in the middle lane between their rigs and flashed their lights to alert police. “It was kind of a rolling roadblock,” Yukon police Sgt. Ron Matthews says.

Using their CBs, two truckers helped save a woman whose Toyota station wagon left the Trans-Canada Highway in Glacier National Park and rolled 500 feet down a steep embankment.

Nevada troopers must dramatically increase the number of truck inspections, state auditors say. Nevada has 2,300 in-state carriers but no troopers assigned full time to inspect them.

Edward M. “Big Ed” Johnson, a contractor turned comedian whose albums such as Big Ed’s Funny Songs were popular at truck stops, died at age 70.

Great American Trucking Show lives up to its name

More than 33,000 people attended the Great American Trucking Show, Sept. 7-9 at the Dallas Convention Center, making it second only to the 30-year-old Mid-America Trucking Show as the largest show in the trucking industry.

“We were very pleased with the quantity and the quality of the people who were there, and the response from both attendees and exhibitors was great,” says Mike Reilly, president of Randall Publishing, a co-sponsor of the event. “We thank the Truckload Carriers Association and the Texas Motor Transportation Association for their partnership in this event, and we look forward to many more years of a successful GATS.”

There were 464 exhibitors at the show. “GATS 2001 was a real eye-opener for us,” says Tom Wickenhauser of Caterpillar. “The weekend traffic was unbelievably good for Caterpillar and the Caterpillar dealers who assisted with the show. I’m looking forward to GATS 2002.”

Joe Dennis of MAC Trailer Manufacturing says, “GATS has been a terrific show for us. We were very pleased with the traffic, especially since the market has been slow the past year.”

“GATS was fantastic,” says Jeff Mason, vice president and group publisher of Randall Trucking Media. “I heard numerous comments from attendees and exhibitors that everyone was very pleased. It definitely exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

More than 8,000 attendees preregistered at www.gatsonline.com , says GATS Producer Warren Sellers of Sellers Expositions.

Truckers at GATS donated $2,000 to Red Cross disaster relief, money sorely needed after the next week’s terrorist attacks. Randall Publishing combined GATS donations with those gathered during the Overdrive 40th Anniversary Voice of the American Trucker Tour to send more than $4,000 to the Red Cross.

Owner-operators looking for better ways to run their businesses packed a ballroom Saturday for the Partners in Business seminar, sponsored by Volvo Trucks and Overdrive. Business consultant and small-fleet owner Kevin Rutherford of Whiteline Business Services told the crowd, “The numbers last year for owner-operators were the worst in 15 years,” but he said they still can make wise decisions – and a profit.

GATS wasn’t all business. The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders autographed pictures Friday and Saturday, and country artist Darryl Worley performed Friday night. Free tickets were given out to a Saturday night oldies concert featuring the Monkees, B.J. Thomas and Mary Wilson and the Supremes.

Every trucker left GATS with valuable information and contacts, and plenty of promotional handouts, but some left with substantial prizes as well. Luis Franceschin of Boca Raton, Fla., won $1,000 from the Midnight Cowboy Trucking Radio Network. Alex Sinclair of Houston received a $10,000 Comchek gift card from Speedco and Baldwin Filters. David Howard of Cincinnati, a Gulf War veteran, received the first Student Scholarship awarded by 1-800-Drivers and MTA Training Centers.

Mark your calendars: Next year’s GATS will be Sept. 6-8, again the weekend after Labor Day.