A Moose-juicin’ solution

by Matthew Sylvain

MOUNT PEARL, Nfld. – There is hardly a kilometre of road in Canada where a driver doesn’t have to worry about wildlife, but on the Island of Newfoundland trucking companies are taking special steps to reduce the risk of hitting a huge and plentiful animal.

The moose may be a Canadian icon, but the estimated population of up to 150,000 means that there is roughly one of them for every three people in Newfoundland. The result is a trucking industry that is quickly embracing protection bars or “moose racks” as a tool to help offset the great possibility of a costly and dangerous run-in with the beast.

“I’ve seen people ignore the warnings and get caught,” says Gerry Dowden of the Newfoundland and Labrador Carriers Association.

He says the risk is so large, attention-grabbing statues of the animal have been put up along the 800-kilometre length of the Trans-Canada Highway on the Rock.

“The living and breathing versions are so common they’re called, ‘The Newfie speed-bump,'” Dowden says.

Hillman’s Trucking Ltd. is based in Sydney, N.S., but its 40-truck operation specializes in running perishable products to Newfoundland via Marine Atlantic’s ferry terminal in nearby North Sydney. The company has 15 trucks operating exclusively in Newfoundland, and “the guys that live there, they pretty well all have a moose rack,” says general manager Edward Hillman.

Hillman admits many of his rigs have hit the animals that can stand as tall as 1.8 metres and weigh up to 534kg. As recently as a few months ago, one truck suffered $5,000 in damages because it didn’t have a rack.

Another collision saw one hit a moose “head on” – and only cost roughly $400 to fix the rack, “which was really bent up and twisted. It made quite a bit of difference,” Hillman says.

As Dowden explains, the costs associated with sharing the roads with the animals are many: Vehicle repairs, personal injury, loss of work and – perhaps most critical to a business’ livelihood – truck downtime.

Of course, much of Canada’s highway system runs through big-game habitat, and moose are found in every province.

But a quirk of history has made Newfoundland the home of choice for the animal.

Moose aren’t native to the island and were only introduced in the late 1800s. After six moose were released between 1878 and 1904 the population exploded, due to a lack of predators and an abundance of the species’ main food source of twigs, shrubs and water plants.

Now there are so many of them wildlife officers have had to pull them out of the harbor in St. John’s and the RCMP’s Placentia-Whitbourne detachment once counted 18 moose on roadways in a single work shift.

Winnipeg-based Ali Arc makes bars to shield tractors from a wide variety of animals, not just moose.

“In most cases, we can almost eliminate downtime for any kind of animal strike at all,” says Marc Daudet, a sales manager with the western company.

“Deer are a non-event; we’ve got guys that don’t even bother to slow down for deer and small animals anymore.”

Ali Arc’s products feature design elements it first pioneered in New Zealand and Australia, where “road trains” or tractor-trailers almost universally sport racks to protect against run-ins with sheep and kangaroos.

Ali Arc’s racks feature high-grade aluminum, extruded bumpers that are a half-inch thick, and are available from many truck dealerships as an option. The price tag is about $3,000.

Daudet says the bars are particularly popular on aerodynamic truck brands, such as Volvos and Freightliner’s Century Class rigs.

Many Newfoundland trucking companies go to local shops such as Curlew’s Mechanical and Welding Services Ltd. in Clarenville to get racks custom-made. Graham Curlew has been in business 12 years, building racks the whole time. Business is booming.

“The phone is ringing every day,” he says. The racks are popular because “everybody’s getting nervous driving, (especially) at night time.”

Curlew, who counts as his customers many of Newfoundland’s biggest fleets, notes that it only takes roughly two-and-a-half hours to install a rack.

“It just takes a bit of fooling around trying to get it to fit, with all these fiberglass bumpers and such.”

No Newfoundland moose-rack configuration is complete without a set of spotter lights mounted above the mirrors and angled to illuminate the shoulders of the road well ahead of a truck at cruising speed (vehicles are few and far between on the province’s highways, especially in the middle of the night).

Terry Dawe, who makes racks in his welding shop in Harbour Grace for between $1,200 and $1,500, tells the story of one owner/operator who hit two moose in a matter of months. One accident, without a rack, resulted in significant down time.

Within one week of getting back on the road the luckless driver struck another – but because his rig then had a moose rack he was back on the road in a matter of hours.

“As far as we are concerned, those tractors are far safer to operate if they have a moose rack on the truck,” says Roger Flood, president of Day and Ross Newfoundland Ltd. “Most of the O/Os will have them on … we have them insured through the company.”

He insists the fleet encourages every single operator to spec a moose rack, “Because it’s our experience that the damage to the truck is 10 times as great than if they hit a moose without one.”

Having the insurance provider backing the policy really helps, Flood explains.

“That’s a big incentive for us, and it’s far safer. If you have a moose rack on, you get a few dents in it – the average claim in fact is less than $2,000,” Flood says.

“It’s closer to $20,000 with the rack off, because all of a sudden the grille is beat up, the radiator is beat up, fenders are beat up, and you’ve got a much greater risk of putting the truck off the road. You have better control (in an accident) if the rack is on.”

As a result, Day and Ross splits the cost of installing a rack “50-50” with the O/O. The company also penalizes operators who insist on not going with the protection bars.

“So there is a big incentive as well. We’re saying that the major cost is there: If you’re not going to put the moose rack on, we’ll charge you more money on the deductible. Most of our trucks now – the vast majority – have the moose racks on,” he says.

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