MR. FUEL MILEAGE: Cat's Phil Hook travelled North America teaching drivers how to maximize their fuel mileage.
FERGUS, Ont. – Phil Hook, Caterpillar’s fuel economy guru who helped train thousands of North American drivers on how to maximize their fuel mileage, is retiring.
The personable trainer who frequently visited Canadian fleets and truck shows over the last 22 years will be stepping off the throttle for good at the end of the year. But in a visit with Truck News at the Fergus Truck Show, Hook reflected on a rewarding career.
Hook was an owner/operator driving a double bunk cabover Kenworth with a Caterpillar 3408 engine in the early 1980s when he decided to enter a fuel economy competition hosted by Cat. It was a decision that would change his life. Hook won the regional competition in Baltimore and then went on to win the national competition that followed for the 3408 category.
He then went about with his business, hauling freight in the US until Caterpillar called him up three years later and asked if he would consider accepting a new position with the engine manufacturer, training drivers to better understand how to drive the engines for maximum fuel mileage. With the energy crisis of the 1970s and early ’80s fresh in everyone’s mind, Cat had the foresight to begin training its customers to get the most fuel mileage possible out of their engines.
“I was still an owner/operator at the time, so I put a driver on my truck. I got in on Friday afternoon and it went out on Sunday afternoon on the same run with a different driver,” recalls Hook. “I kept that truck for about three years after I started at Caterpillar but I never had a chance to drive it anymore.”
Asked if it was a difficult decision to leave the road and give up the independence of being an owner/operator, Hook says “I did some serious thinking about it, but I thought why not try it? I could always go back to trucking. I thought, I had a lot of people help me over the years from showing me how to drive to how to grease a truck. I thought maybe it was my time to turn around and help other people.”
“I hadn’t learned how to do a lot of things in my life,” Hook continues humbly, “But I guess I had learned how to drive for fuel mileage.”
Cat engines had earned a reputation for being front-runners in terms of pulling power and longevity, but Hook says not everyone realized they could also be economical.
“The Cat field force all over the US and Canada would say ‘We need to do some training with this fleet, let’s get Phil Hook up here, have some driver meetings and see if we can’t help these folks,'” Hook explains.
Whenever possible, he’d get the drivers behind the wheel following a classroom training session. Before long, they would often be shifting like a pro and stretching their miles per gallon to unprecedented levels.
“I’ve met some really neat people over the years – some who can probably get better fuel mileage than I can,” Hook says.
Of course, the job wasn’t without its challenges. It’s no secret some truckers get set in their ways and don’t take kindly to strangers telling them how to drive. But that’s where Hook’s background as a professional driver came in handy, allowing him to win over most of his audiences.
“They do get set in their ways, but that’s why it makes so much sense to hire a person like myself who has been a truck driver to talk to other truck drivers,” says Hook. “If you put a guy up there who’s an engineer or a sales person, even though they said the same words I did, they wouldn’t believe them. ‘Well, how long have you been doing that?’ they’d ask. Well, they can’t fool me!”
One of the biggest challenges to face Hook over his career has been teaching drivers how to most effectively operate the new generation of low emissions engines which hit the market in 2002.
“You have to explain why they’re made the way they are and how using the torque of the engine rather than the high RPM is the best thing to do,” Hook says. “It takes less fuel to make horsepower by using the torque of the engine than it does by using high RPM.”
Hook says drivers should be pleased to know the 2007 engines won’t operate any differently than current models.
Hook says he’s enjoyed his countless trips north of the border and working with Canadian drivers.
“I think Canadians are a little bit more conscious of fuel mileage and that’s probably because fuel is typically a bit higher here in Canada than in the US,” he says.
One of the most rewarding aspects of his job has been the feedback he has received from drivers throughout the years.
“I’ve had guys come up to me at a show like this who I saw last year and they say ‘You taught me how to drive so the engine works the best and I brought my fuel mileage up a mile per gallon,’ and they shake my hand and thank me,” Hook says. “I say ‘It’s not me, it’s not a secret, it’s you that did it.’ That’s very rewarding.”
Hook, however, admits the years on the road have taken their toll and he looks forward to spending more time with his family.
“We’ve been separated a lot over the years because of the miles and she’s been cheated out of a lot of things in life,” he says of wife, Joyce.
“Now we’ll be able to spend time together and travel together and stop where we want to along the way.”