Feature Article: Trucking around the world

new-globeAustralia has its heavy-haul roadtrains that rumble across the Outback.

In South America, the “death roads” of the mountain regions separate the haphazard-style trucking from the more modern regions of the continents. Nepal’s mountainous treks are no less diverse for excitement with horn-honking truckers navigating narrow streets in less-than mechanically sound rigs that often give way to human pack-mule to complete the movement of goods.

In Europe, a heavily regulated transportation industry is still embraced by those drivers who enjoy the diversity of cultures. And then there are the Middle East “jingle trucks” that boast the pride of locals haulers despite the war-torn realities of Iraq and Afghanistan, where American truckers supporting the war effort form special bonds with fellow drivers.

Our look at commercial transportation in various regions of the world proves there is no such thing as typical when it comes to trucking.



Down Under

Inspired by U.S. trucking culture, Australian haulers navigate a regulatory and literal landscape in many ways similar to their U.S. counterparts

By Todd Dills


The Australian trucking industry has been influenced by both European and U.S. industry culture. But Paccar Australia Product Development Manager Brad May admits that “almost everything considered cultural about trucking in Australia is influenced by the U.S. market far more so than any European nation.”

Nowhere else in the world is this as true. Kenworth and other American-style conventional trucks are common and sought-after, for instance, though the cabover remains very much alive there. Among Australian drivers and owner-operators (or “owner-drivers,” as they’re commonly known), as in the United States, there’s a strong component of “last cowboys” culture trucking the wide-open spaces that remain in greater area down under.

All the same, Paccar Australia Marketing Manager Neil Willox says, there’s “definitely a change occurring in driver demographics as the industry looks outside the pool of drivers to fill the void” in recent years.

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But “in rural and Outback regions,” Willox adds, “the iconic Australian long-distance driver … is still alive and well.” His navigation of the roads in the wilder parts of the country and continent holds the unique obstacles of kangaroos and emu. It also has familiar concerns, like emissions regs and a growing attention to the enforcement of hours regulations.

But Australia runs behind the U.S. with respect to emissions, says Willox. “Australia adopts its own standard. Currently, the Australia Design Rule, broadly speaking, accepts compliance to either of the relevant European or U.S. compliance standards.” Introduced in 2008, the ADR is roughly equivalent to what U.S. truck manufacturers and the industry were dealing with in the 2004 regulations. And, Willox adds, the rule even “triggered a major prebuy in the lead-up in late 2007.”

As hours go, Australian regs are codified, though there is variability in the system for team drivers. Generally, max driving time for single drivers is 11 hours in a given day, with two mandated 15-min. rest periods every 8 hours. Extensions of the hours are granted to some haulers, though, and keeping up with the different approaches to the regs in the five states and two territories that make up the Australian political landscape is confusing enough to keep some haulers confined to intrastate moves.

One such is Robbie Rose, who hauls bulk liquids for McColl’s Transport (www.mccolls.com.au) as a company driver. Before he confined his travels to Victoria, Rose, also a freelance photographer for the top Australian truckers’ magazine Truckin’ Life, chronicled his second trip across the Nullarbor plain (as some call it, though others refer to it as a desert) with a load of milk from Geelong in Victoria to Perth in Western Australia. The main southern route across the continent, the Nullarbor often is likened to old U.S. Route 66, but the trip across Australia is one of decidedly more wildness and open space than can be found on most U.S. roads today. As Rose, known among drivers as Dingo, describes it: “a few days and nights of avoiding kangaroos, emus and even a dingo or two.”


Truckin Life

Truckin-LifeAustralian magazine Truckin’ Life’s founder, Malcolm B. Johnson (pictured), suffered a heart attack July 31 and passed away in early August. According to former Truckin’ Life managing editor Jim Gibson, writing Johnson’s obituary in the magazine, whose tagline has been “The Voice of the Australian Trucker” since its first May 1976 edition, Johnson was inspired by none other than Truckers News’ sister publication Overdrive. “Malcolm got the idea for the magazine while enjoying several large drams of amber fluid at a Brisbane truck show,” Gibson wrote. “He mag-coverwas leaning on the bar at the show listening to drivers’ beefs. A few days later he got his hands on some copies of an American truck magazine called Overdive, courtesy of one of those drivers. He studied its editorial policy and found the conditions Australian drivers worked under were similar to those of their U.S. counterparts. Its tagline was, and still is today — The Voice of the American Trucker.”




HAULING-HEAVYThis load is being carefully managed by Queensland-based Heavy Haulage Australia — “20 Tonnes or 300 Tonnes Delivered” is the tagline on the company website, www.hhagroup.net. Heavy Haulage is known not only for its specialized loads; according to driver Robbie Rose, who has photographed its trucks extensively, the company has had two rigs chosen as magazine Truckin’ Life’s Rig of the Year.

Size and weight regulations for Australian roads are more liberal than U.S. limits. Double, triple and even quadruple trailers are common, and generally, says Paccar Australia’s Brad May, a tractor hooked to a single trailer, commonly with three axles, will gross around 95,000 pounds. “If you consider that a larger percentage of on-highway Australian trucks are two-trailer units with an additional triaxle set on the second trailer, then we get to a gross combination weight of 63 tons,” or almost 140,000 pounds, he adds.

With dollies between the units in three- and four-trailer “road train” configurations, gross weights can then range up to 90 tons, or almost 200,000 pounds, in a single road unit in special cases in certain states.


globeSouth America

Diversity Training

South-AMEricaThis bridge allows haulers to traverse the Tapajós River in the Amazon city of Marabá, ­Brazil. Its height accounts for the varying levels of the river at flood stage.

By Todd Dills

Arrow Truck Sales President and CEO Carl Heikel says if you draw a line across northern South America, separating Venezuela and Colombia from the rest of the continent, you can make the division between the areas where the American-style conventional tractor and more European-derived cabover trucks are predominant.

But that pretty much sums up all you can say about trucking on the continent broadly. “The conditions of trucking change very much from country to country,” says Heikel, formerly in various management roles in South America and Mexico for the Volvo Group. “Argentina is mostly flat, which lends itself to lower-horsepower trucks. Chile prefers a very European truck.”

In Peru, Heikel adds, truckers typically spec planetary hub reduction on the drives, which “gives you much higher torque in a country where they tend to carry at least what is allowed. Most of the population lives in Lima on the coast … and then they have the Andean mountains to cross from Lima to the jungle area where everything grows.” The mountain passes take the trucks from the desert-like dry flatness of western coastal areas up to more than 14,000 feet in places.

And then you have countries with pretty modern truck fleets like Chile, Brazil and Argentina, where Paulo Caleffi, if he had to, might divide the continent and its trucking cultures. “Latin America is made of much diversity,” says Caleffi, secretary general of the Interamerican Transportation Chamber (www.citamericas.org), an organization devoted to gathering transport federations and associations of drivers and companies from all transport modes, today centered primarily in Latin America but with outreach into North America as well. “The reality of Andean countries, for instance, is far away from the reality of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, which belong to another context.”

Heikel saw the diversity of South America firsthand when in charge of exports from a Volvo factory in Curitiba on the Brazilian southern coast. “Out of the factory we would deliver to importers in Bolivia and Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador,” he says. Piggybacking trucks across the continent might not sound like a job for a truck manufacturer’s management personnel, but Heikel took many of the opportunities he had to “jump aboard with some of our drivers to travel and live the life of truckers in those countries. … Those were trips that might take four or five days — I got to see a lot of the continent and the people and the truckstops — and geography that was just incredible.”

He describes running up into and across the southern Andes from Argentina and dropping off into Santiago, Chile: “What a change in temperature, starting off by the sea to such altitudes where they have snow year-round …

“Traveling in Bolivia is fantastic. So many mountains, and the roads are really narrow.”

Along the storied “death roads” in Bolivia sheer cliffs are often what lucky haulers will remember seeing just outside their windows, mere feet from the steers. “Look down,” Heikel adds, “and you’ll often see a few trucks” that weren’t so lucky down in the valley.

SA2This convoy is being escorted by private security vehicles. Cargo theft is a much bigger problem in many South American countries than in the United States. Note the tracking devices atop the lead cars, commonplace even on many trucks in Brazilian fleets and among owner-operators and elsewhere in South America.

Caleffi says, like the Canadian ice-road haulers, truckers in the extreme regions of the country are well-adapted to their geography — danger is all in a day’s work with the right equipment. “There is a natural compatibility between a bad narrow road and a small truck capable of using it,” he says. “In snowy regions the authorities have learned to live in such hard weather. When snowstorms are stronger, they block roads until the situation is normalized. Sometimes drivers stop for days. And this is already seen as part of the cost of transporting through these routes, especially in wintertime.”

Caleffi describes road infrastructure in South America on the whole as “incomparably inferior” to that in North America, composed of three countries rather than 13, a big advantage in the ability to focus on the entire system and the connections between countries. Brazil, by far the largest country in South America, over the past decade has opted for the introduction of privately funded, tolled highways in several areas. They’re just as controversial there now as they’ve been in recent years here, though Ray Kuntz, former American Trucking Associations chairman and president of Watkins Shephard Trucking, says that, unlike in the U.S., the industry was behind the move at first. Brazil’s main trucking association, he says, “bought into it because it was a choice between a highway or no highway.”

Caleffi adds that problems quickly rose with the tolls truckers paid to use the new highways: “The problem has been the greed of toll providers, who charge high prices, three to five times more expensive than the ones in the U.S. In some Brazilian states, the cost of tolls is in some routes higher than the cost of fuels.” Fortunately, efforts by federal and state governments to reign in toll providers and renegotiate contracts have seen some success of late, he says.



No Cowboys Found Here

Variety is the spice of the European trucker’s life

By Max Kvidera

cowboyAndreu Escuain prepares to eat a meal he’ll share with his driving partner and trainer in Madrid, Spain.

For four-and-a-half years Roger Escuain has been a company driver in Canada. Before that, he drove for four years in Europe. The Spain native, who has dual citizenship in Spain and Canada, says driving conditions may be better in North America, but he misses the trucker’s life in Europe. Though he says “you’re a third-class citizen” there, it’s worth it for life’s constant variety.

“There are a lot of cultures, even in the same country,” Escuain says. “You have an endless variety of people and cultures, different food, different weather patterns. In southern Europe there’s a lot of passion for food. Truckers, especially Portuguese and Spaniards, we’ll have a cookout beside the trucks. There’s a lot more social life on the road.”

Europeans don’t have the same attitude toward alcohol as in the United States. Before leaving on his trips from Spain, Escuain would load beer and wine, along with his eggs, onions and potatoes. When truckers, especially those from the same country, would gather during a 24-hour break, they’d cook and drink a few beers and wine. That could never happen in Canada, he says.

Most services along European roadways are geared toward cars, and truckstops are less frequent. In Germany you’ll find autohofs, which are similar to U.S.-style truckstops, while France has routiers that have parking for trucks and cater to truckers, Escuain says.

Andreu Escuain, Roger’s brother, who’s a company driver based in Spain, says after he leaves his headquarters he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to shower again because most truckstops don’t have suitable facilities. “It can be a week,” he says from the road in Norway. “A lot of times I have to wash my hair in a sink because some so-to-say truckstops or companies where you unload don’t offer shower facilities, or they are so filthy and smelly it’s impossible to do so.”

In Spain, Portugal and Italy, the preferred places for truckers to eat aren’t truckstops but family-run roadside restaurants. They don’t have parking for trucks, so you park your rig nearby. “These are probably the best places in the world for a trucker to stop and have a great meal for very little money,” Roger says.

An exception is England. “England is probably the worst nightmare for truckers,” he says. “Truck parking is non-existent. Police and rest area owners really clamp down on truckers. What I’d do when taking a load to England, I’d go directly to the customer and sleep right there. At rest areas they’d charge you to park the truck for the night.”

While Roger believes truckers in North America are still regarded by some, especially children, as “cowboys of the road,” European truckers don’t enjoy the same status. “In North America there’s a conception of the nomad worker, whether it’s a salesman staying in a motel or a trucker on the road,” he says. “Europe is so compact they don’t have this mindset of truckers having to deliver loads from southern Spain to London, for example.”

Andreu says many Europeans look down on truckers, much different from how he was treated as an industrial draftsman before becoming a driver. Trucking jobs, which are highly unionized, generally pay better than many other jobs. “A lot of young people with titles, like me, are joining the ranks of trucking because it’s a well-paid job — better paid than the usual office worker,” he says.

The pay varies among countries. In Spain Andreu’s company pays a base wage plus mileage. French drivers get fixed monthly pay.

The way governments show their regard toward truckers is by heavy regulation, Roger says. “Most countries don’t permit truckers to drive on Sunday, for example. Many places in Europe, you can’t pass if you’re driving a truck.” Since trucks are limited to 90 kilometers, or 56 miles, per hour, they navigate in the far right lane of thoroughfares, often traveling in multiple-vehicle caravans.

Carl Heikel, president and CEO of Arrow Truck Sales and working for Volvo since 1976, including many years as a manager in Europe, says owner-operators are a smaller share of the trucker population in Europe, compared to the United States. For the most part, owner-operators usually perform regional hauling in their home country, while company drivers work for trucking firms that transport across Europe.

Many operators are members of associations that manage freight and provide business and repair services. “Truckers would come in and get their loads and work for the week,” Heikel says. “They get help doing their accounting and can buy repair and maintenance services at better prices. Associations also get better prices for new trucks.”

Bigger Combos allowed

European trucks weigh less than U.S. tractors, but the tractor-trailer combined weight is greater.

The standard tractor-trailer can weigh 40 metric tons, or a little over 88,000 pounds, and extend 18.75 meters, or 59 feet. To maximize the length limitation, most companies use shorter cabover-model tractors.

When they joined the European Union, Sweden and Finland received exemptions to pull heavier weight and longer combinations — up to 60 metric tons, or 132,000 pounds, and 25.25 meters, or 82.8 feet. Trucking companies in other countries complained, leading to approval of what’s known as the EuroCombi. These are combinations of different gross weights assigned to axles ranging from four to six.



Driving Asia

One trucker’s journey from the relatively placid streets of Bangkok to the rugged, chaotic heights of Nepal

By Deirdra Drinkard

Asia offers travelers a unique experience with its varying terrain, ranging from the coastlines of Japan to the highest peaks of the Himalayas in China and Nepal. The simple act of driving, for truckers and motorists alike, can proceed from opposing perspectives In Nepal, vehicles are driven on the left side of the road, and 18-wheelers are uncommon because of the narrowness of roads.

nepalAdd to that a lack of traffic laws, weight limits and daily wages. Ed Main, 62, of Knoxville, Tenn., a 35-year trucking veteran on U.S. roads, recently drove across parts of Asia to visit his daughter in Nepal. Main’s flight landed in Bangkok. “I felt I could drive here without any problem,” he says. “They did have semi-trucks, just smaller and of course they drive on the left side of the highways.”

menAmerican trucker Ed Main’s personal snapshots of the crowded streets around Nepal and Nepalese truck drivers.

Continuing to his destination of Kathmandu, Nepal, Main says traffic was indescribable. “It’s every man for himself,” he says. “Calling these lines of traffic ‘roads’ is often too kind. They are more like an endless line of pot holes. … Everybody just looks forward, not right, left or behind. They make turns across traffic by just turning, forcing oncoming vehicles to either stop or hit them.”

Main says all drivers in Nepal rely heavily on their vehicles’ horns to get the attention of other drivers. “They honk to announce their presence as they pass, turn or for what seems like no reason at all,” he says. “I’ve asked people there this question, ‘If your horn and brakes are busted, which one do you fix first?’ They all said, ‘Fix the horn. You can’t drive without a horn.’”

Main says most of the trucks he saw in Nepal were 6-wheelers, some tankers and some open-top vans covered with canvas. “I don’t think that they have any large reefer trucks there; produce and even meat is delivered without refrigeration,” he says. “The drivers don’t own the trucks they drive. They work for men who own them.”

Nepali truck drivers work six to seven days a week year-round in trucks without heat or air-conditioning. “I think truckers there make about $2 a day, which is a good wage there,” Main says. “And they get a $1 per day extra to buy food and pay travel expenses.” Main says the drivers do not have any holidays or sick days and receive no benefits.



Main says he declined trying his hand at trucking in Nepal. “In a group of truckers there, I was at least twice the age of the drivers, the only one not skinny, and of course the only bearded one,” he says. “I had several offers to experience Nepal trucking firsthand by driving one of their trucks. I passed on that. The trucks are in such bad condition, I was afraid that I’d break something.”

As the elevation rises in Nepal, the state of the roads declines. At the highest points, the Nepali people depend on themselves to carry goods. Main says it was not uncommon on his trip to see women and young men lugging 50 pounds of goods strapped to their back and forehead, earning themselves the equivalent of $2.20 a day for eight hours of walking dirt trails.

“All I can say is God bless Mr. ­Peterbilt and Mr. Kenworth for giving us trucks to transport cargo,” Main says.


globeMiddle East

Trucking in the Trenches

Hauling in war-torn Middle East leaves lasting impression on drivers

By Randy Grider

Middle-EastThere is no other place in the world where camaraderie among truck drivers is as important as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having other drivers in your convoy watching your back can be the difference between coming back from a mission alive or becoming a statistic.

Truckers who support the U.S. military’s vital supply lines in the ongoing war may have their differences with respective employers or on how things operate as a whole, but few have anything negative to say about their fellow drivers.

“To tell the truth, it was the best time I ever had driving a truck,” says 50-year-old Frank Saey of Titusville, Fla., who hauled in both Iraq and Kuwait during a 16-month stretch in 2004 and 2005. “It just seemed like everybody helped everybody. No one took off to go eat at the end of a mission without helping someone with unloading.

“You don’t see that kind of thing much here [in the United States] anymore. Someone breaks down on the side of the road and everyone just passes them by.”

Of course, on the road, coordination and coming to the aid of another driver makes even more of a difference. With the constant threat of small arms fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket fire and even rocks hurled at trucks by locals, truckers learn to rely on each other as much as the military escorts.

“Drivers get along because they have to watch each others’ backs,” says 50-year-old Tim Gipson of Cincinnati, who made convoy commander during his stint from 2005-07 in Iraq that concluded with 440 missions without an injury. “They are like your family. It is tough to find out a buddy got hurt or see someone in your military support get hurt. If you see someone in trouble, you pull over to help or protect them with your truck.”

Saey, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1979 until 1986, jokes that he saw hostile action while in the service “but had to become a civilian to get shot at.”

Many of the drivers who were among the first to sign on after 9/11 with contractors like KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, did so as much for patriotic reasons as the earning potential, which is tax-free up to a certain amount. Some left the country after their civilian tours a little disillusioned with the system they felt failed them when it came to injuries and illnesses such as post-traumatic-stress disorder.

“We were told a lot of lies by our employers,” Gipson says. “They talk about safety, but you get over there and find out a lot of things they shouldn’t be doing. You have to try to make it better yourselves.”

In the early years of the war, trucks had little or no armor. Drivers were given bullet-proof vests and ballistic blankets. Windshields lacked bullet-resistant materials. “Drivers began using whatever they could to armor their trucks,” Saey says. “You would find a piece of metal and use it. Pretty soon, trucks looked like something out of Mad Max.”

T.J. Graff of Phoenix, who did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, says some of the equipment improved greatly from his first tour in Iraq from 2004-05. After a tour in Afghanistan in 2006, he returned to Iraq in 2007. “The trucks had improved a lot as far as the armor,” Graff says. “You didn’t have to worry as much about small arms fire like during my first tour.”

All agree that the time spent in the Middle East changed them. In Iraq, trucks drive in convoys in the middle of the road because of the threat of IEDs, which can be concealed in any kind of debris along the shoulders, including animal carcasses.

Saey, who drives flatbed for Hunt Transportation, still notices everything he sees along the roadways. “Every day, I find myself fighting the urge to veer over to the middle when I see something on the side of the road. I don’t do it, but it’s in the back of my mind. I’ve had to re-educate myself on how to drive over here.”

Surprisingly, all three drivers have considered going back to the Middle East, partly for the camaraderie they enjoyed while there, but mostly for the money. Graff said in October he was thinking about heading back with the new year. “It’s a little safer in Afghanistan because you haul within the camps,” he says. “But it’s still dangerous because it is a war zone. The money is good, but then sometimes you think to yourself that all the money in the world is not enough when the bullets start flying.”



Jingle trucks are music to the ears of local drivers

Randy Grider

Commercial transportation in the Middle East is about as eclectic as it gets anywhere. Everything from modern Euro-style tractors to almost-forgotten American cabovers to precariously loaded pickup trucks is used to move goods throughout the region.

“They are not real strict with regulations,” says Frank Saey, of Titusville, Fla., a trucker who spent 16 months in Iraq supporting the war effort. “Securement is a joke. You see steel I-beams tied with ropes. They use pickup trucks stacked with cargo using any available space on them.”

jingBut that is not to say that many local drivers are not proud of their rigs. So-called “jingle trucks” are found throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia. The term comes from sound the trucks make because of chains hanging from the bumpers. Many of them are colorfully decorated with murals and intricate design patterns that locals spent a great deal of money to add to their trucks.

The practice was born out of high illiteracy rates in the Middle East in the early part of last century. Drivers used the intricate designs to identify themselves as they sought to build a reputable hauling business. Today, the trucks reflect the beliefs, aspirations and personal tastes of the truck owners. The practice has become as much about competition as pride as many drivers try to out-bling others in the transportation industry.

“Some of the motifs you see are very impressive,” Saey says.

American driver T.J. Graff of Phoenix says he saw a lot of jingle trucks when he was in Afghanistan in 2006. He also interacted some with local drivers who helped support the military by hauling supplies.

“A lot of these guys are just like truckers back here,” Graff says. “They are just trying to make a living to feed their families. Unfortunately, they are doing it in a war zone.”



Out of Africa

Vast continent offers both challenges and opportunities

By Misty Bell

AfricaThe African continent provides drivers likely the most challenging yet diverse opportunities on the globe.

“The challenges are the deteriorating roads [in Africa],” says Malcolm Gush, product manager for Volvo Trucks, Southern Africa. “It is difficult to pass from one country to the next at the borders due to manual processing of export documents and the lack of facilities for truck drivers. Most countries have their own unique duties, which makes customs documentation complicated and time consuming.”

Of Africa’s 53 countries, 15 of those currently are involved in war or post-war conflict, the Africa Sun News reports, and many of these wars revolve around key transportable goods — diamonds, timber and oil. In a politically tense environment, this has, in some cases, led to high road tolls, bribery and massive delays in ground transportation of goods. According to Tradewinds, road transport, specifically in West Africa, is prohibitively costly. For importers and exporters, a whopping 70 percent of their costs come from paying to move the goods.

Gush says African truckers face their own challenges. “There is no policing of driving hours,” he says. “Theft of diesel fuel, tires and parts off the trucks are a major problem as there are limited workshop and service facilities in countries bordering South Africa. Availability of fuel of good quality is also limited, [and] that makes re-fueling planning challenging.”

While trucking in Africa may be challenging, at the same time it offers some of the most interesting hauls: diamonds, humanitarian aid, a wide range of produce native to the continent. African countries report their top exports to be an array of goods, including oil and diamonds, cocoa, coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco and various metals.

Gush says the most commonly driven trucks in South Africa are 6×4 truck tractors in a six- or seven-axle combination. He says about 30 percent of African truckers are independent operators, while several large fleets run between 450 and 600 units each.

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