Mr. Wizard

FAMILY: Wife, Jean, married since 1976; children, Matthew, 25, Mary, 23, Laura, 16
RIG: 1997 Mack CH600
CAREER: 18 years trucking,12 years as an owner-operator
FREIGHT: Cheese and dairy products
ACCIDENT-FREE: 18 years
INCOME: $72,000
LEASED TO: Caine Transfer, based in Lowell, Wis.

Robert Jordan has rigged his truck so that it never has to idle. “If my wheels aren’t spinning, my engine’s off,” says Jordan, 49, of Juneau, Wis.

And he’s not torturing himself during winter and summer, either – he has plenty of power for heating, cooling and other needs when he’s shut down.

“I started all this in 1997, when I spent $85,000 on a truck, and I wanted to see if I could go a million miles without doing any major servicing,” he says.

Thanks to no idling and careful maintenance, the truck has gone more than 1.5 million miles without any major tune-up work. The original heads and oil pan are still on the truck. “I’ve only replaced the starter and alternator,” says Jordan, who now wants to hit 2 million miles with no major service.

Jordan developed two systems that allow his truck to be idle-free. He and his father-in-law, Gerald Pankow, designed and installed an insulation kit for the truck. The major component is a 2-inch layer of polystyrene foam lining the cab and bunk, but Jordan and Pankow soon found they had done their work too well. The interior became too hot.

“We took bathroom exhaust fans and placed them in the ceiling above the bunk and got that to exchange the air,” Jordan says. All the air is circulated every three minutes, and the fans require less than 20 amp hours per night, he says.

The truck gets 47 miles per engine hour, Pankow says. “Most only get 27. That tells me a big story. He’s saved a lot of money.”

The second system Jordan created supplies electrical power with the engine off. He connected his truck to his trailer with relays and switches that use the trailer’s power to charge a long-lasting glass-mat battery in the cab. The system works so well that Jordan has applied for a patent on the linkage.

Since the reefer has to run when the truck isn’t moving, and since reefer fuel isn’t taxed, Jordan decided to leech some of the reefer’s power into the truck.

“My truck makes or accepts electricity through charged batteries or with reefer alternator, or with shore power,” Jordan says. A Xantrex 2000 inverter converts the stored battery power into a 120-volt electrical circuit that powers the truck’s outlets.

The insulation and the reefer connection keep Jordan from idling during rest stops, but he even installed tinted windows as a further anti-idling measure. “They are normally used for patio doors to reflect and absorb heat,” he says. Jordan also put in a 12-volt pump that continues to circulate water to cool the engine once it is shut off.

Besides being inventive under the hood, Jordan also is great behind the wheel, says Steve Caine, president of Caine Transfer. “Robert Jordan understands that we are dealing in a customer service environment,” Caine says. “He makes all his deliveries on time.”

“I do not require that customers treat me right,” Jordan says. “Instead, I make them feel guilty if they don’t. I am always on time and understanding when they are not.”

His wife, Jean, is just as understanding of Jordan’s work, and she is the reason for his children’s success, he says. One daughter is a master’s student in music therapy at Alverno College in Milwaukee; his other daughter is in high school. Son Matthew, a high-functioning autistic, works at a day care center and a grocery store.

Jordan has a second job – his Idle Free business (www.idlefree.net), which offers his idle-reduction equipment and installation service. While the website hasn’t generated much traffic, Jordan says he’ll keep improving his truck to get a better miles-per-engine-hour ratio even if he helps no one but himself.

“I’ve been gifted with a lot of common sense, and I’m not afraid to apply it,” Jordan says. “Nothing intimidates me under that hood.”

FIRST TRUCK: A 1970 Pete cabover. I paid $5,000.

HOW I GOT STARTED: I managed restaurants from 1974 to 1987. It became harder and harder to get people to give the commitment needed. I wanted to work in a job where I depended on myself and not other people.

LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Anything going to Chicago, because I’m paid by the mile and load, and that does not coincide with the tolls and the traffic you have to put up with.

FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Wisconsin or Minnesota, because I grew up in the Midwest. I know the alternate routes other than the Interstate.

WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: The farther east you go, the worse it is, because of the traffic.

WORST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: The cost to do business increases faster than the revenue. Price increases come up fast with no warning.

BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: Ability to get up and truck whenever you want.

HOW I MET MY WIFE: We worked at the same restaurant in high school, the Pine Knoll Restaurant in Lake Mills, Wis.

WIFE’S BIGGEST COMPLAINT: My head isn’t always off work when I’m off work.

KEYS TO GOOD MARRIAGE: My wife and I talk every day, whether I’m home or not. Sometimes it’s easier over the phone, since there aren’t so many distractions.

BEST VACATION: When we go camping as a family in the Dakotas.

BEST MEMORY: Aside from the family memories, I’m most proud of the awards I’ve won at the Minnesota Inventors Congress.

FAVORITE FOOD: Salmon, shrimp and lobster.

PET PEEVE: Trucks that tailgate cars. It is a pathetic thing to do to these poor drivers.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Being married as long as I have been, and the kids, and putting a truck together that never has to idle.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: When I asked friends when they were expecting the baby, and they weren’t.

IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER: I would go to school to be an electrical engineer and concentrate on alternative energy.

DREAM JOB: To head up a laboratory where I experiment with alternative energy.

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