In this case length matters

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With Adam getting his ears adjusted I got the chance to ask the Truck Stop Question the last couple of months. My girlfriend lives in Milton and the assignment gave me the odd opportunity to have dinner with her during the week a couple of times and hang around the Fifth Wheel with my tape recorder. If they weren’t in a hurry, most drivers didn’t mind giving their opinions on most any topic, and the ones I talked to were mostly waiting overnight to load somewhere in the GTA the next day– they had lots of time to kill.
So this month’s TSQ was about their thoughts on WalMart’s new 60.5 foot SuperCube trailer and the results were pretty much what I would have thought. Some drivers seeing this as a ploy to get more work out of less drivers for less pay, but others genuinely interested in the idea.
I can see both sides. Genuine truck drivers love heavy equipment and are keen to see new technologies introduced. After all, Walmart has created space where there wasn’t any before, and not gone over length in doing so. Contrarily, I don’t think many drivers who do LCV work currently are compensated well enough for the extra responsibility and the extra freight they are hauling, and I can see the same thing in the cards for these trailers..
WalMart kind of did an end run around the OTA by promoting the prototype without asking for the blessing of the OTA, and that certainly ruffled the association’s feathers. The OTA and the other provincial associations are profoundly influential beings who have lots of sway with their corresponding transportation ministries. But WalMart is a world-class monster of a retailer whose economy probably outranks or at least out performs Greece.
So a showdown between WalMart Canada might have been as good battle between Godzilla and Mothra, but it didn’t happen. The MTO revised the permits under which the supercubes will operate, and five qualified carriers will be operating the experimental configurations, each operating four permits.
My understanding is that WalMart operates its own truck fleet in the US, but in Canada uses a bunch of carriers to fulfill its needs. Several trucking companies operate LCVs for them and this was also a bone of contention with some large carriers who only have a limited number of long train permits. The second round of Ontario’s LCV program opened up the field and WalMart brought several carriers and their LCV permits under their shipping umbrella.
Anecdotally, they may have cheap prices but their shipping network is failing the produce section. When buying produce from WalMart always check the expiry date. I suspect the lag time of getting the products from the farms to the floor, and there are kinks in their shipping chain when it comes to perishables. It remains to be seen if Target can do any better. Their new shipping hub in Milton certainly looks state of the art. I’d love to have a tour of it when it’s ready.
But getting back to extra length trailers. I didn’t like the 53s when they first appeared. The first ones had a permit to run Canada between Detroit and Buffalo, but soon enough we were hauling them in the mid-1980s. I get my back up when I see the rules changing. But where else can we go with this? How do we get more capacity and still run down the road safely without scaring the public? There’s a limit to what one tractor can haul, or is there? Maybe we should let triples run up and down the 401 at night. Our brothers and sisters in the prairie provinces do all right pulling them, don’t they?
Oh yes, and about the glider kits with the older model engines that might not meet ministry standards. (see article by James Menzies in January’s Truck News). Maybe some of those cool cabover European tractors will work in this case, one of those Scanias, DAFs or Mans maybe?

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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.

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  • I would urge anyone in trucking to compare the proper accommodations made in NEW YORK state for oversized vehicles when looking to get it right. A little grading of land , aggregate , and asphalt at each exit of the New York State thruway is a small price to pay with big returns on efficiencies. The 401 corridor would need only about 6 of these to take us out of the LCV stone age. This observation could literally be made right under our Lake Ontario nose and yet , no one on this side of the border figured it out . We have many barren exits along the corridor that would be suitable for such an endeavour. We are either blind , stupid, bankrupt, or would have nothing to do with a successful American model that is tried and tested for 30 years now. Look for the devil in the details here or follow the money trail. Who will lose and who will gain by the introduction of proper LCV interchanges?
    In my opinion, the original intent of walmarts 60.5 ft van was to employ it to store locations and not terminal to terminal.

  • I have to agree with you for the most part Harry, concerning this Walmart sized truck. I think it would be great to have a chance to operate it, but on the other hand, a bigger truck should equal a bigger paycheck for the driver. That’s the way it used to be, but those days seem to be long gone. These are going to be harder to manouever on city streets and in parking lots, truckstops etc., even though the overall length is the same. With that big front overhang you are going to see the front corners of the trailer getting smacked in tight situations. And they will be getting into tight spots if the trial is a success and they are approved for general use. I can remember when the 53’s came out and a previous Truck News editor said something to the effect that you would never see 53 ft trailers in downtown Toronto. Of course they are everywhere now and these will be as well.
    I think it looks good on the OTA that Walmart did an end run around them. Maybe they will realize that the corner of Dixon & Martingrove is not the centre of the trucking universe, and that you don’t have to be in the OTA to have some brains.
    I also think that your boss James Menzies is getting too worked up over the fact that the engine does not meet current emission regs. It’s only an experiment James. If they are allowed to expand it into regular useage, I am sure one of the manufacturers will be able to supply new cabovers
    with the approved engines.
    That brings me to my final point. Some people are already bitching about it being a cabover and how uncomfortable they are, bad riding, etc. One guy on James Menzies blog is bitching because it has no sleeper. I bet most of these guys have never even driven a cabover. One of the best riding trucks I have ever driven was a 1984 International cabover. And not every application needs a sleeper. If you do happen to run out of hours on the road with this thing then you would park it and get a room. Again, just like the “old” days. Not a problem.
    I would love to see some of the modern European cabovers brought to North America and give the tired U.S. designs a run for their money. I would be first in line for a test drive.
    Have a great New Year Harry.

  • Harry, regarding your “end run” comment> Who made the OTA GOD as far as the trucking industry in Ontario is concerned?

  • I’m just glad I’m not on the highways anymore. I see bigger and better, yet the quality of new drivers gets worse. It seems like anyone can get a job now, and I know from training so many on 53 footers, that 60.5 in a cabover is going to be fun if it catches on.

    I guess I don’t have a say in it anymore, so I’ll just leave it at that.