Run for the hills – Part 2

by James Menzies

CASTLEGAR, B.C. – For the second day of my mountain driving experience with Mountain Transport Institute (MTI), I was paired with another Earning Your Wheels student – Carl Selzer.

Selzer’s Class 1 driving test was the next day, so with nearly 320 hours of classroom, driving and observation time under his belt, he was pretty confident behind the wheel. Again, we were under the tutelage of instructor Patrick Peters.

Like many professional truck drivers across North America, we were caught off-guard by the surprise air brake inspection blitz carried out by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) May 1.

Everyone who drives truck is familiar with the CVSA’s well-publicized Operation Air Brake in the fall, but this was a surprise blitz aimed at determining the industry’s true safety practices. A full contingent of CVSA-trained inspectors was at the Castlegar scales when we pulled in with Selzer behind the wheel.

Mo Barry, commercial transport inspector with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, took a moment to explain the unexpected blitz.

“This is a surprise Level 4 inspection and we want to see the difference between advertising and not advertising,” said Barry.

Another CVSA inspector later told me the goal was to get a more accurate picture of the number of trucks running improper brakes.

“The blitz in September is like a statutory holiday (for unruly truckers),” he said, so it’s not possible to gauge an accurate reading of how many truckers are properly maintaining their brakes.

Trucks that had other visible defects would then undergo a Level 1 inspection.

Halfway through the 12-hour blitz, numerous trucks – mostly from the U.S. – had already been taken out of service at the Castlegar scales.

While inspectors verified that our Peterbilt’s brakes were in order, I asked Peters for a more detailed explanation of why we are taught to alter shifting patterns on hills.

“On flat ground, our speed remains relatively consistent while shifting, but when you’re shifting going uphill or downhill, there’s going to be a dramatic change in speed whether you’re slowing down or speeding up,” he explained.

Because trucks carry a non-synchronized transmission, “The driver becomes the synchronizer. We have to change the way we shift (on hills) whether it be the speed of shifting or the amount of RPMs we use, to synchronize the input shafts and the output shafts of the transmission,” Peters said.

Once the inspectors determined the brakes on our tractor-trailer were properly set-up, we were once again on our way.

Other truckers weren’t so lucky, however. One U.S. trucker grimaced as he was handed more than $1,000 in fines and forced to undergo a costly impromptu brake job on the spot before being permitted to get back behind the wheel.

After Selzer maneuvered us through a variety of hills and tight city corners, it was once again my turn to take the hot seat. There was definitely a noticeable difference between an 18,000-lb. tractor and an 80,000-lb tractor-trailer combo, but by ensuring I was in the proper gear before cresting a large hill, I was able to get us safely back to the shop while practicing my uphill and downhill shifting along the way.

With most of MTI owner, Andy Roberts’ trucks already tied up for my third and final day in Castlegar, he began placing phone calls to find another unit for me to drive.

Roberts knows essentially everyone in the region who owns a truck and/or trailer, so it wasn’t long before he had a tractor-trailer for me.

“Guess who’s going logging?” he said with a mischievous grin.

– Catch the third and final segment of Truck News’ mountain driving experience next month.

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