Here come the Mules: North America’s three off road shunt truck mfgs go head to head
June 30, 2009
June 30, 2009
Two old champions shunts (Capacity and Ottawa) mix it up along with newcomer TICO just stepping into the ring.
I have a confession to make…while driving for an unnamed auto carrier from southern Ontario (now defunct), I hauled loads regularly into Utica, Mich., to a Ford Plant (just down the road from where Jimmy Hoffa disappeared at the Red Fox Inn). This must have been 1987, it was one of those Ford plants that dotted Michigan and Ohio in those days, where they put together seat assemblies or something like that. At night, long freight trains would come clanking in, blocking the crossing to the field behind the plant where they keep the empty trailers.
But one day I pull in and they’re parking the trailers on the infeild beside a test track. This is a test track where Ford would sometimes bring their cars for speed trials, a gigantic, banked cement bowl. Being young(er) and more demented, I took that load of Woodbridge Foam or Lear seats or whatever on that test track oval and ran her through the gears. It was a Lousville tractor, I’m sure with a Detroit 318, got her up to some good highway speed and rode up sideways so I was perpendicular to the ground, like a midway ride or a NASCAR driver. The faster you go, the higher you can ride up side of the bowl. Anyway after a few minutes of this, it dawned on me that someone could see me and my adventure would show on my tach card (posted speed limit in the yard was 10 mph).
I come from a generation that would smoke the brakes and tires on shunt trucks and day cabs at Canadian Tire in Brampton, working city night shunt. Back in the day, you’d drive them hard to get your work done ahead of schedule so you could go home, banging cans and slotting them into some narrow doorways. CTC management divided an hour into 6 minute increments so they could decimize each move in the yard and city.
Years later, with some of that same spirit of shunting still in me, I get offered a chance to test three off-road shunt trucks for the August issue of TN. Do I jump at the opportunity? Yes, indeed.
So last week, Mike Hignett of Capacity gave me a nice off road machine with 205 horse Cummings and let me roar around their trailer yard in Mississauga jacknifing trailers to my heart’s content. Yesterday, a somewhat nervous Aidan Bolger of TICO took me over to a “it-shall-remain nameless” yard somewhere in Anjou, Que., and let me spin and spot empty reefers with the funny-looking TICO amidst truck traffic at a tanker wash facility. And I just got back from Woodbine Truck Centre where John Uppington was waiting for me with a current model Ottawa off-road tractor that I pushed pretty hard, too.
Aside from writing the odd column for TN, my driving job still lets me try my hand at shunting when I want to, and I do like the discipline. Some drivers prefer shunting to other types of trucking, and a good shunter is worth double his or her weight in barrels of crude.
I have to admit that since I’ve been on linehaul, my backing skills aren’t as sharp as they used to be. Still, I know how to give these trucks a good work out, quick starts and stops and sharp maneuvers, smooth and articulate docking and spotting. And I know what I want when it comes to driver comfort. I’ll let you know what I think in the August Truck News.
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs