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Mark learns the SmartWay


Mark was on the last of three round-trips he’d made between Vancouver and Calgary, moving stock into a new warehouse that was opening up in Alberta to supply the ever-growing oil and gas industry. With a day’s drive to Calgary, followed by a layover, it was time to find out where he’d be headed next. He grabbed his phone and called Bud.

“Hello?”

Mark checked the number. It was Bud’s number, but it didn’t sound much like Bud. “Is Bud there?”

“No he’s not,” the voice said. “Who’s this?”

“Mark.”

“Mark who?”

“Mark Dalton.”

“Oh,” the voice said in mixture of surprise and revelation. “So you’re Mark Dalton. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“All good I hope,” Mark said.

“Both good and bad, but I got to tell you…some of the bad stuff’s pretty cool.” He ended off with a laugh. “My name’s Bernie. My wife sometimes calls me Bernard, but never in a good way.”

“So you’re filling in for Bud?”

“Couple of days, yeah. He’ll be back next Monday. What can I do for you?”

“How ’bout another load?”

“You’re on your way to Calgary?”

“That’s right.”

“And how old is your truck?”

Mark was taken aback. Asking Mother Load’s age was like asking a lady how old she was. He thought about saying, “None of your damn business,” but decided on answering just to see where this was going. “Ten years old.”

“Are you running on low rolling resistance tires, or the everyday kind?”

Back in 2010 when various states in the US began developing guidelines to help long-haul drivers to become more fuel-efficient it only made sense to begin converting the tires on Mother Load to LRR tires. In the four years since, all 10 tires had been replaced, and the front tires had been changed twice. The cost per tire was only something like $10 or $30 more, so it made sense in the long run with the number of miles Mark drove each year. In fact, the tires had done a lot to help Mark shave a few percentage points off his annual fuel bill.

“LRR,” said Mark.

“That’s great,” Bernie said. “I’ve got a great load of cowhide to go to a fashion supply house outside San Francisco.”

Mark sighed. “They wear a lot of leather there, do they?”

“Apparently.”

Mark shook his head. “I’ve heard there’s all kinds of problems driving through California for Canadian carriers.”

“That’s got around, has it?”

“A lot of guys aren’t happy.”

“Yeah, well…if your tractor’s compliant, there shouldn’t be any problem. The California Air Resources Board’s SmartWay requirements are in
effect, but this shipper is on top of it.”

“He told you that, did he?”

“Yeah. See, this guy is operating a large fleet of trailers – California considers over 21 trailers a large fleet – so he only needs 75% of his trailers to be compliant to be able to ship into California.”

“Why are you even telling me this? If he’s shipping to California then shouldn’t every one of his trailers be compliant?”

“Next year they’ll all have to meet the standards. If he’s got a few stragglers he can always sell them off next year and meet that 100%. Anyway, the bottom line is that his trailer fleet is good and you shouldn’t have any problems.”

Mark laughed under his breath. He’d heard assurances like that enough times before to know that whenever anyone said, “Don’t worry,” or “It’s all been taken care of,” that was the time to run away and never look back. Still, a long haul into California with a layover in between was pretty tempting. “Is there a return load into Canada?”

“Of course. Auto parts to Edmonton.”

“Alright,” Mark said, hoping it was the right choice.

“Great. I’ll get back to you with the details.

Early the next morning, Mark pulled into a busy truck yard with all manner of trailers lined up against the back fence. In addition to the usual line-up of box trailers there were two drop-frame trailers, a bunch of chassis trailers, a single curtain-side trailer, and three odd-shaped box-trailers all less than 53 feet in length that carried light cargo like potato chips or foam padding.

All those types of trailers were exempt from California’s SmartWay regulations so Mark concentrated on the 53-foot or longer box trailers. If this guy’s fleet was 75% compliant, then three out of four
trailers would have fairings and skirting, but a quick count put the number at less than half the box trailers in the yard.

Mark parked Mother Load by the office door and went in. There was a man in his 40s behind a desk looking fit and tanned…like he made runs into California himself all the time.

“I’m Mark Dalton,” he said. “You’ve got a load for me going to San Francisco.”

The man jumped up and shook Mark’s hand. “Pleased to meet you. I’m so glad you can take the load. It’s not always easy finding owner/operators who can drive into
California on such short notice.”

“It sounds like a good run,” Mark said.

“It is, it is.” He lead Mark over to an open loading bay door and pointed to a trailer across the yard. “That’s the one there,” he said pointing. “With the red Calway writing on the side.”

Mark studied the trailer and guessed it to be about 10 years old. It had a fairing up front but no skirts under its belly. That was important since you didn’t have to look too hard at the trailer to know it wasn’t SmartWay compliant.

And even though it didn’t have to meet the standard yet, it was never a good thing to draw unwanted attention.

“So, this trailer’s not SmartWay
approved.”

They climbed down from the loading dock and began walking across the yard to the trailer.

“That’s right,” he said, “it doesn’t meet the SmartWay requirements, but it doesn’t need to. Sure, it’s got no fairings on it, but it’s one of just three in my fleet of 46 trailers that doesn’t have them, so I’m still within their compliance schedule.”

It all made sense, especially when outfitting a fleet of 46 trailers would cost something in the neighborhood of $300,000. You couldn’t blame someone for having a few trailers out of compliance. Still, “Can’t you just give me a trailer with the fairings on it?” Mark asked. “There are plenty in the yard.”

“They’re not all mine, and all the ones I do have are in use. This load is time-sensitive, so it’s got to go on this trailer.”

Mark said nothing.

The man must have sensed Mark’s apprehension because he said, “Don’t worry. This particular
trailer has been down into California and back a
dozen times since the SmartWay regulations came into effect.”

As they reached the trailer, he pointed to a ‘SmartWay’ sticker at the front of the trailer and knocked
on it twice with his knuckles. “See, it’s part of the
program.”

Mark nodded, his concerns satisfied.

This was going to be one fantastic trip.

Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of Mark learns the SmartWay.


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