Thinker-tinkering: Inventors among the trucker set

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Charlotte, N.C.-based Chris Barbeau and his Dudad deviceCharlotte, N.C.-based Chris Barbeau and his Dudad device

This week and last, installments in the “Roads not taken” series, which I put together for the January issue of Overdrive, have taken a look at the immense variety of pathways drivers follow through the trucking industry after, for whatever reason, coming off the road.

Find Part 1 in the series at this link.Find Part 1 in the series at this link.

While doing that is unlikely to be the primary goal of this audience, it’s certainly true that driving’s not for everyone, of course, and with age and medical issues it can become a necessity. If you haven’t had a moment to check it out, the series tells the stories in part of various owner-operators and drivers now working in brokerage and/or dispatch, recruiting, site management, operations, training, safety, maintenance or other roles at carriers. Catch part 1, from which you can get to the other parts, via this link.

Sometimes, it’s not another job, so much, that a driver goes after, however. Case in point: Owner-operator Robert Jordan, Overdrive‘s 2006 Trucker of the Year and the man that invented the Idle Free reefer link to allow a reefer hauler’s reefer unit to provide power to an APU on the truck.

Anybody running an Idle Free unit today? The company has grown well beyond Jordan’s reefer link solution.

The man pictured at the top of this post, Chris Barbeau, a driver for Mig-way Inc. based in Charlotte, N.C., is on a similar if much less far along trajectory, if he has his way.

You may recall his Dudad wireless dock-green-light alert device built in order that drivers might rest during long load/unload periods and get an automated wake-up call or otherwise be alerted, rather than having to rely on line of sight, a shipper/receiver or someone else. I wrote about the device last year when he floated the idea via the crowd-funding site to see if he might be able to raise a good amount of seed money to fund moving into more automated production.

Though that funding campaign was a failure, he’s begun work on making molds for the parts that make up the Dudad now, he says, and until that’s done he continues to fill individual orders he’s bringing in from operators utilizing a Da Vinci make 3-D printer, more commonly used for rapid prototyping than full-scale production but capable nonetheless.

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You can read more about the device in this prior Channel 19 post, likewise at Barbeau’s website,

Barbeau,who started driving more than 25 years ago in the moving industry and has likewise hauled as part of the NASCAR tour, has been with Mig-way for around three years. When he made the move there, it was the “first time in my career I had to really go to distribution centers. I was always told to back up and wait from the green light.” In most every sleeper, he adds “you can’t just open your eyes and look at the mirror. For a while, I thought of putting another mirror somewhere. Then I started thinking that there’s got to be some kind of light sensor.” Ultimately, the Dudad was born.

He’s formed the Improv Innovations LLC to cover his work on the Dudad, meantime. He’s got other ideas for the industry as well, he says. Ultimately, “I would like to get out of the truck and be able to work on this full-time. I think I have a lot more potential than just driving. I’ve always been a fabricator, all my life. I put together a special hand-truck for NASCAR, built some things to help with loading go-carts.”

Of the work of driving, he says “it’s tough” to keep up with everything otherwise when you’re on the road full-time. Nonetheless, “you get a lot o time to think.” I heard a recent radio broadcast essay extolling the virtues of being bored, or otherwise nondistracted by gadgets and/or reading, when it comes to human creativity. It’s people like Barbeau that lend credence to the notion of the creativity-inspiring quality of the open road. Keep thinking, keep building, operators.