Friday, March 30, 2012

MATS reports all-time attendance record

Graphic via
More people attended the 2012 edition of the Mid-America Trucking Show than any other show in its 41-year history, organizers say.

The official tally from Toby Young, president of Exhibit Management Associates, is that 80,972 people attended this year’s affair from all 50 states and 77 countries, eclipsing the previous mark set in 2008 by just over 4,000.

By most accounts, including what we saw and heard for ourselves, the world of trucking is rebounding. Toby acknowledged in his post-show report that many exhibitors said the show exceeded their expectations.

The 2008 show may have had more exhibitors, but 2012 was no slouch with 1,070 companies on the grounds at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center.

A total of 211 registered media correspondents from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other countries around the globe covered the event for their publications.

And while we don’t know exactly how many pork chop sandwiches were consumed, we’d have to assume that the food vendors had a good show, too.

Planning for MATS is a yearlong event for the organizers and participants, who have already started the countdown to March 21-23, 2013.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kick Start for Coleman

Coleman Doverspike isn't quite tall enough to see over the hood of a full-sized Class 8 truck. He loves trucks, which is no surprise considering his Dad, Donnie, is the driving force behind the students at the Clarion County Career Center and their ongoing efforts to build road-worthy trucks from heaps and dreams.

The Doverspikes are building a scaled down version of a big truck. It's a work in progress that the two of them can learn on together. It's a little bit of this and some of that, but an education in every rivet and turn of the wrench. And it runs!

Young Coleman is both passionate and knowledgeable about every facet of the process. In fact, he so impressed PKY show director, Bud Farquhar, that Farquhar handed over the microphone at the awards ceremony. Coleman was honored with the "Kick Start" Award; recognizing the next generation of up and coming truck drivers and show truck aficionados.

When asked where he came up with the design for his truck, Coleman didn't hesitate. "I got the idea from watching Smokey & The Bandit," he explained. "I liked the paint scheme and wanted it on my truck."

Rock on, young man. We'll look forward to chronicling your trucking adventures for a long time to come.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Confessions of a shwag hag

I’ve admitted in a previous Pork Chop Diary blog that I am a “shwag” junkie. That’s the freebies, giveaways and gifts given out at the Mid-America Trucking Show each year.

That year, I vowed to go cold turkey. I was going to endure four grueling days (media are there a day before the show starts for media day or the press conference marathon as I call it) without picking up even a pen.

I broke my resolution that year when I grabbed a coffee mug courtesy of the Mobil Delvac folks outside the South Wing.

Well, if that was breaking a resolution, this year I fell completely off the wagon.

As the picture shows, the Land Line Magazine crew’s van was packed to the gills with shwag for the ride home. Now, it’s not all mine, but I will admit a lot of it is.

Detroit Diesel had duffel bags I couldn’t resist. Mac Trailers had a cooler – a for real hard-side cooler. Mack offered up hood ornament paper weights with the bulldog. (Mack CEO Denny Slagle said it’s real gold. I’m heading off to get it appraised right after I write this.)

Western Star had the cutest calendars. Daimler and Volvo offered up model trucks. Bendix and their video cameras. T-shirts, pens, yard sticks, notebooks, logbook rulers, coffee mugs, plastic cups, flags (U.S. and checkered) … I think you get the picture. I was shwag punch drunk when I got home.

I felt like the hunter who returned home to the hungry family the way my kids ransacked my bags looking for the good loot.

While it honestly bordered on excess to the extreme, I will say that as I collected each piece I grew more and more impressed.

Things haven’t been so good the past few years. Everyone was scaling back, and marketing budgets are usually the first to go.

So I’ve decided to turn my addiction into a socio-economic indicator. If the giveaways are great – things are economically improving. If we’re stuck with stickers and pens that write once – rough roads are ahead.

Heck, using the shwag at MATS as an economic indicator has got to be as reliable as anything else, right? At least that’s what I’m going to convince myself of by next year.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Brenny scores in message to Women in Trucking

Joyce Brenny with 4 million miler Heather Hogeland
and Linda Caffee with WIT -- all OOIDA members.
Guest speaker at this year's Women in Trucking Salute to Women was WIT member Joyce Brenny. If you haven’t met Joyce, she’s a surprise.  She’s a pretty, confident young woman whose success in what’s long been a man’s world can’t be denied. She started out as a driver and in 1996 opened her own trucking company in Minnesota. Turnover at Brenny Transportation is less than 10 percent, which says a lot about how she runs her business.

Brenny said she first thought "why am I up here speaking?" Then when she thought about it, she realized all she's done in her trucking career, and it made sense. Attendees liked her simple answer: "I'm up here because I have a lot to say."
She promised her speech would not be sophisticated and wouldn't be full of big words. She also promised Ellen she'd try not to drop any "four-letter words."
Brenny stilled the exuberant crowd when she told a story that she rarely tells. She was assaulted early in her trucking career by a man she worked with and trusted. Although traumatized, she turned the awful experience into one that pushed her to refuse to be a victim, but to choose instead to be powerful. She urged the women at the event to do the same and when life becomes negative, turn it into a positive force.
Joyce is the owner of Brenny Transportation, chairman of the Minnesota Trucking Association and OOIDA member. She was recently named Influential Woman of the Year.
This was Women in Trucking’s third year to celebrate professional women truck drivers behind the wheel. It drew more than 200 women to the MATS event to be honored for safe driving awards. 

On Saturday, President and CEO Ellen Voie told the crowd that of the 205 women honored, 81 had logged fewer than a million safe miles, 67 were million milers, 35 had logged 2 million miles, and 15 had trucked 3 million miles. Seven women proudly claimed 4 million safe miles on the road.

It's a bird, it's a plane ... it's a truck??

After four days at MATS (we get here a day early for press conferences) – our senior technical editor Paul Abelson says he normally feels like he’s seen it all
Paul Abelson interviews Bob Sliwa
“By Saturday," says Paul, “we, the collective press corps, have sat through everything from product announcements to full-blown new truck introductions."

But today, going through the show one more time, he saw something really new and different. Maybe not so new, he says, but really different from what we normally see running down the road.

Associate Editor David Tanner heard Paul start to describe the site in the North Wing and decided to tag along.

Paul was talking about the Airflow bullet truck.

The concept truck is a sight to behold with its smooth lines and almost jumbo jet appearance.

Paul and Dave proved to be the perfect pair to get the scoop on the truck parked at the Dynasys booth (the trailer was parked at Papa John’s parking lot) – and on the people who dreamed up the concept and made it reality.

Bob Sliwa talks with Paul Abelson
Back in 1985, a truck driver named Bob Sliwa built an aerodynamic truck. That’s not unusual today, but back before Kenworth introduced the T600 (1986) – trucks were the least aerodynamic vehicles on the road.

Bob ran his truck for a while, then retired to pursue other interests. But he never forgot his dream. In 2008, he began work on his current project, the AirFlow Bullet Truck, the most aerodynamic truck ever pull freight down the highways.

Professor Paul dug into the technical details with Bob while Dave got the scoop on what makes Bob tick and so driven to bring this concept truck into reality.

We won’t spoil the surprise here… but be sure to watch for their reports in the June issue of Land Line Magazine.

Humor and hope, a MATS tradition

While comparing notes and photos from this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show, a co-worker suggested I was somehow like Forrest Gump because no matter where I go, I always seem to be in the middle of the action. I haven't ever really thought of it like that; I simply subscribe to the fact that everyone has a story to tell.

At MATS, the action is everywhere, and so are the stories. Strolling out of the press room on Saturday morning, I didn’t have to look very far to find the first group of people I wanted to know more about. The icebreaker was that this group of two adults and two teens were all sporting OOIDA hats. Some truck talk and a quick photo and I set out to get their names. Looking at the first nametag, I began to write the first name, “Robert” … “Redford.”

MATS hatters, L-R, Michael Nahodyl, Mike Smith, Jennifer Shupe and Daniel Miller
I sensed that they were starting to crack up, and only then I realized I had been had. “Robert” is actually Mike Smith, a company driver and new OOIDA member from West Jefferson, Ohio. The boys, Daniel Miller and Michael Nahodyl, were also playing the nametag game, and they were getting a kick out of it. Rounding out this group of show goers was Jennifer Shupe, who used her real name.

They showed me some photos of their favorite trucks, and I had to ask about the hats.

“I hear a lot of people talking, but somebody’s got to do something about it,” Mike said.

Rolling along, I needed to make a stop to see Marcia Campbell in the West Wing. If you don’t know Marcia or her overnight radio show on WSM 650 AM, she is a friend to all truckers.

OOIDA Member Shawn Compher, WSM's Marcia Campbell and OOIDA Life Member Dale Compher
While at the booth, I met OOIDA Life Member Dale Compher, his wife Pat and their son, OOIDA Member Shawn Compher, who were there to get a photo with “America’s Trucking Sweetheart.”

The Comphers are from Henryville, IN, the site of a devastating EF-4 tornado back on March 2. That particularly nasty tornado killed three people in Henryville and took out countless homes and buildings. They got out their digital camera to show me images of the aftermath.

“There used to be a barn there,” Pat said, showing me a photo of nothing but open field and debris. “That was a brand-new house,” Dale said of a photo that showed more of the same. They said a woman they knew lost both of her legs when her house collapsed and she was trapped under a beam. At the closest point, the Comphers say they were probably 150 to 200 yards from the funnel.

“They tell you that you hear a freight train,” said Shawn, “And you do hear a freight train.”

They said the whole town has rallied and is in the process of rebuilding. It's hard to keep good people down.

Walking the floor at MATS is sort of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The people we've met and interacted with at this show have been generous with their stories, their senses of humor and hope, and will always keep us coming back for more.

And The Winners Are...

With 87 registered entries in the Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship, there was lots of recognition for excellence, creativity, design and detail. While not every truck brought a trophy home, each and every truck entered had a huge crowd of supporters -- and every truck was someone's favorite. Working trucks, limited mileage trucks, antiques and trucks made to inspire awe -- they all reflected their owners' and drivers' commitment to bringing out the best in their equipment.

At the top of the heap with a trailer load of trophies including People's Choice, Best of Show Limited Mileage Combo and Best Peterbilt was Randy Stroup - First Class Services, Lewisport, KY and his incredibly detailed 2005 Peterbilt 379 and 2012 Mac Tanker named "First Gear."

Best of Show Working Combo and five first place trophies for class, engine, interior OEM sleeper, paint and lights was John O'Keefe, driver for Clean Slate in Hebron, CT. This 2007 Peterbilt 379 and 2011 Mac Dump trailer was designed and executed by company owner Todd Roccopriore. Late nights, long days, and unrelenting passion for detail transformed this hazardous waste hauler into a brilliantly faceted gem.

Best Working Bobtail was earned by the "Legend of the Black Pearl," Bob and Shelley Brinker's infamous 2000 black muralled Freightliner Classic XL. Weaving tales of hijinks on the high seas around frame rails, fenders interior and exterior earned the Brinkers five additional trophies for their efforts.

Best Limited Mileage Bobtail was the undisputed domain of longtime show truck participants and supporters Bill and Marie Sandvik from Valley Centre, CA, with their blue, green and white 1988 Peterbilt 379 featuring scrolling tribal flames and a portrait of Bill on the back of the sleeper. "I didn't expect this at all," said Bill at the conclusion of the awards ceremony. "This was a really nice surprise."

Hot off the press is a spectacular First Annual Program Recap, featuring the winners of the 23rd Annual Paul K Young Memorial Truck Beauty Championship Awards, fondly known as "The Trophy Dash." The limited run of 5,000 inaugural copies is sure to become a collectors edition as still-stunned winners reached for the 114 page commemorative book.

This show is history

One of the things you notice about the Mid-America Trucking Show is the sense of history -- in the show itself, in the people who attend, in the exhibitors. History is everywhere.

Navistar has vehicles on display dating back to the early 1900s. Freightliner went with a retro look on some of its trucks. Old school trucks are everywhere you look, from the show truck parking lot to the show floor.

But history is in the people, too. Many people here have been coming to this show for years, some of them probably since it began. Even the people who cover the show are deeply connected with the history of the trucking business.

When Rolf Lockwood, vice president of editorial at Newcom Business Media and founding editor of Today's Trucking, was handed the lifetime achievement award at the Truck Writers of North America banquet, he talked about how his mother would tell stories of him as a 3 year old kissing the fender of a truck. The trucking industry isn't just something he writes about. It's in his blood.

I have been working with Land Line for almost seven years, so you can imagine that, even though I'm 40, I still feel like a little kid next to some of the people here who have been entrenched in this business for their entire lives.

So it was somewhat of a surprise to me, then, to come across a bit of my own history while walking the show floor. It came in the form of Amalie Motor Oil when I stumbled across the booth on the show floor. It may sound strange to hear someone waxing nostalgic about a motor oil, but that particular brand was a significant part of my childhood.

My father worked for Witco, the company that owned Amalie once upon a time, for about 20 years. He sold Amalie Motor Oil for most of that time. As such, that red logo adorned hats, shirts, jackets and who knows how many articles of clothing I wore as a child. I probably even had some Amalie underwear.

I have three siblings and we all share the same memories of Amalie, so I snapped a photo of the booth and sent it off to them. I'm sure they will be flooded with memories, as I was, of our fourth grade teacher, Mr. Hammond, who asked for a new Amalie hat each time one of the Scruton children passed through his class.

So, yeah, I may not have been around as long as some of the people in the trucking industry. Not by a long shot. But it's nice to know I have my own little piece of history right here in Louisville.

Walkin' the walk

Too bad mainstream media didn't punch into an event held at the Mid-America Trucking Show Friday morning. It would have a gone a long way toward destroying the stereotypical image of truckers they continue to perpetuate in every trucking related story they write.

I'm talking about the MATS Health Awareness Walk sponsored by the Trucking Solutions Group. The event celebrated its third year as the first of its kind fitness event for the trucking industry.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer, Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz, Board Member Bill Rode and Director of Public Relations Norita Taylor were among the participants in the walk -- which was loaded with OOIDA members to boot.

Everyone met in the West Wing of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center for some refreshments and then took off at 9 a.m. for their 1.5-mile walk.

The walk was co-sponsored by TA-Petro with special thanks to the Mid-America Trucking Show management.

Old Home Week …

I’ve written just about every year about seeing old friends every time I go to Louisville. And some of those folks I see every single time.

But this year, I’m seeing people who haven’t been in years, some I’ve talked with on the phone and never met, some who are coming the first time.

Jerry Novak is an OOIDA Life Member and an Iraq veteran. I had the privilege of interviewing him about his experiences there. And today, I saw Jerry face to face for the first time. He’s just as cool in person as I thought he would be after talking with him on the phone.

Jerry has a good rig and a good arrangement running under a friend’s authority, but he runs like an independent. And he says business is good.

That seems to be a common theme this year. I’ve waited to hear it for a long time.

It’s always good to see friends, but it’s even better to see them when life is treating them well. And this year more than any time since 2008, it seems like that’s the case.

The Magic Buff

Tutorial on how to go from stained to stainless

Friday, March 23, 2012

Listen Online: DC Report - Big issues at the big show

Mark Reddig with "Land Line Now" talks with Laura O'Neill of OOIDA's Washington, DC, office about the issues truckers are discussing with her at the Mid America Trucking Show -- including a big FMCSA presence at the annual event. To listen to the interview, click below:

Land Line Now Podcast

Deserving family’s second chance in trucking

Billy Basenberg can talk about it a little easier now. But there was a time he was forced to give up a trucking career that he loved and deal with life-changing events and circumstances.

Billy Basenberg and his wife Tammie
"I was at the edge of a cliff and just about to go over," he said.

But despite their setbacks, the Basenberg family – wife Tammie and four sons – have a new outlook on life, on trucking and about the future.

During an emotional celebration on Thursday at the Mid-America Trucking Show, Arrow Truck Sales named Billy as their Back on the Road recipient for 2012.

“We are blessed,” he said as even the strangers in the audience at the Arrow Truck Sales booth were holding back tears. He said that when Dave Nemo of the "Dave Nemo Show" on Sirius XM announced him as the winner, it was a shock to the system.

"I didn't know what to think; I was in shock," he said.

With all of the prizes donated by sponsors, including a one-year lease for a Mack Pinnacle truck, Billy will now be able to get back to being an owner-operator, a dream he gave up years ago to be a company driver, and a dream that all but came to a halt due to circumstances beyond his control.

His wife, Tammie, was in a serious car accident that left her with back problems. Billy's love for his family meant caring for his oldest brother, Rick, who was suffering from diabetes. As Rick’s condition worsened, Billy took more time off the road, eventually giving up his truck. Rick's passing hit Billy pretty hard.

Billy’s son Jason served his country in Iraq, and when he returned, "he was not the same man," Billy said. Jason suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But Billy's love for his family got them through the worst.

“My father gave me the motivation and courage to get through that difficult time,” Jason said.

When hard economic times hit and jobs were scarce, the Basenbergs faced losing their home to foreclosure. They said being the Arrow Back on the Road recipient has literally saved them from that fate.

"He is a really good man," Tammie said.

As the recipient, Billy receives a lot of great prizes. Take time to read the prize list and give thanks to those who made Billy’s second chance possible.

He receives: a one year lease for a 2008 Mack Pinnacle with high-rise sleeper from Mack Trucks; a one-year work agreement with Heartland Express; insurance from OOIDA; XZA3 tires from Michelin; TriPac auxiliary power unit from Thermo King; $500 monthly fuel cards from Pilot Flying J; business consulting tools from ATBS; a three-year warranty from National Truck Protection; one year’s worth of filters from Mack Genuine Parts; one year’s worth of oil changes from Mobil Delvac; accessories and $5,000 in cash from Minimizer Products; a memory foam mattress from SleepDog Mattress; an IntelliRoute TND 710 GPS device from Rand McNally; a Cubby Buddy toolbox from 16 Ton Industries; health assessments, checkups and gym memberships from Rolling Strong/Bob Perry; and custom truck graphics from Image Works.

Cabs, heroes and feds, oh my

Whoever said getting there was half the fun has never sat in the back seat of a cab driver who doesn't seem to know where he's going. Land Line Magazine executive editor Sandi Soendker and I caught a cab early this morning to meet up with the Goodyear Highway Heroes at the Louisville Slugger Museum.

We had the misfortune of getting the only cabbie in Louisville who not only didn't know where the museum was (hint: it's the only building with a giant bat out front; it's kind of hard to miss) but refused to take the highway in getting there. But we survived the trip and Sandi will tell you more about it in another post.

After we made it safely back to the Expo Center, I had time to grab a quick bite to eat before Land Line Magazine Managing Editor Jami Jones and Associate Editor Dave Tanner and I triple-teamed FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro for an interview. She talked candidly about CSA, driver training and a number of other issues. Once I get it put together, we'll get it onto the radio show as soon as possible.

Anne also made an appearance Thursday night at the Truck Writers of North America awards banquet. A lot of people seem puzzled as to why we spend so much time with her. I've heard several cries of "she's the enemy" echoing through the Expo Center today. The thing is, that's not entirely true.

Yes, there are plenty of regulations that come out of the FMCSA that are bad for truck drivers. No one is disputing that. And OOIDA has stood up to fight against every single one that could potentially hurt your business. Make no mistake about that.

But in spite of those regulations, Anne Ferro herself seems to be genuinely interested in how the rules her administration makes affect truck drivers. When she wasn't talking to reporters, she spent her entire day talking to truck drivers. How many government officials do you know who would do that? Did you see Ray LaHood anywhere in Louisville this week? Or President Obama?

Think about it this way: If someone spends all day screaming at you or all day patiently and thoughtfully explaining something to you, which message is more likely to get through? There's an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. The reason it's an old saying is because it is absolutely true.

Listening session draws an earful

A listening session held by federal regulators probably wasn’t on a lot of people’s “must do” list at MATS. But for those who did attend a forum Friday on the issue of electronic on-board recorders and driver harassment, it was a golden opportunity to communicate directly with FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro.

FMCSA's Anne Ferro, OOIDA Member Greg Petit
Long-time truckers and OOIDA members were among the most vocal in the steady stream of truckers who made trips to the microphone to address Ferro and the rest of the panel from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

It took a while for the topic to get to driver harassment and EOBRs, as the first few speakers launched directly into the lack of accountability on the part of shippers for the time drivers are forced to wait at the docks and about what many view as a lack of flexibility by FMCSA in the hours-of-service rules.

For the bevy of truckers who spoke during the morning session of the two-part forum, solving the detention issue and holding shippers accountable would resolve many other problems in the industry related to duty and times.

The panel wanted to hear specifically how EOBRs could be used to harass drivers as the FMCSA continues to work on an industry-wide mandate in the regulatory pipeline.

OOIDA raised the harassment issue in court action against FMCSA last year. A Seventh Circuit ruling in favor of OOIDA forced FMCSA to vacate its initial EOBR rule and go back to the drawing board to prove that EOBRs cannot be used to harass drivers.

Experienced truckers Ray Hanna, Jim Freeland and Kim Llewellyn were among those addressing the panel during the morning part of the listening session.

Leased owner-operator and OOIDA Member Greg Petit lit into the officials about what he feels is an over-regulation of truck drivers. I caught up with Greg a bit later and asked him about it.

Yardstick Nation

A member of #MATS Yardstick Nation inspects an International.

Highway Heroes: four super cool guys

John Neumeier, Mike Schiotis, John Crozman, Mel Farnell
Founded by Goodyear in 1983, the Highway Hero program honors professional truck drivers for the “often unnoticed rescues and roadside assistance they provide as their jobs take them across the United States and Canada.”

Elsewhere on this blog, you can read about Goodyear Highway Hero Mike Schiotis (a driver for Panther and an OOIDA member) and his extraordinary story. The judges really had a job with the 2011 final four, because the other three truckers are also such courageous individuals.

So how about the other three? They are John Crozman of Black Hawk, SD (also an OOIDA member); Mel Farnell of Shelburne, ON; and John Neumeier of Russia, OH.

John Crozman is driver for Long Haul Trucking in Albertville, MN. While driving down a rest stop access road near Summit, SD, on Feb. 3, 2011, in the middle of a severe ground blizzard, John saw a van parked on the side of the highway. At first, he thought the vehicle was abandoned, but then he saw a light inside. Fighting subzero weather and 50 mph winds, John put on his snowmobiling suit and two ski masks and made his way to the van and tapped on the frozen windshield. He found a couple inside who were trying to keep warm with a candle lit inside a can. They had been trapped in the car for more than four hours.

Now THAT's a cool office!

Wish the desk I drive looked a tenth this nice! At Dynaflex booth 65072.

Goodyear Highway Hero is OOIDA member Mike Schiotis

“I was wondering how bad it hurts to get shot,” says 2011 Goodyear Highway Hero winner Mike Schiotis, telling us what was going through his mind last fall when he put himself in between a man with a .357 handgun and the woman the gunman intended to murder.

Mike Schiotis (right) and brother Pete ( left)
Mike, an OOIDA member from Spring Hill, TN, accepted the award last night during an industry awards dinner at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville. It was an emotional event and a tearful one.

This morning, Goodyear took the hero finalists and their guests to the Louisville Slugger bat factory and museum. I got to tag along, as did ‘LL Now’ Senior Correspondent Terry Scruton, for an exclusive interview in a more casual setting. We knew that Mike and each of the other three finalists have told their stories a number of times. In fact, Mike was no stranger to us as his story was first written by LL Staff Writer Clarissa Kell-Holland.

But still, we were hoping to press for more detail … Boy, did we get an earful.

Schiotis, who works for Seville, Ohio-based Panther Expedited Services Inc., was driving to his destination in Pennsylvania on Nov. 1, 2011, when he saw a woman walking with a man close behind her. Mike slowed down and noticed that the man was pointing a gun at the woman. Most people would instinctively see a gun and get the heck out of there. Mike says for an instant, his shifting arm twitched, ready to do just that. But in a split second, the decision was made. He just could not leave her.

A prayer raced through his mind as the woman screamed for help, erasing any doubt and any fear from his thoughts. He stopped his truck. She ran up to his truck’s door, pounding on it and begging Mike to help her.

“I knew I could get shot, I mean here’s this guy with a .357 and he was gonna use it. … I thought ‘I could be with my Lord tonight …’ and I was suddenly at some kind of peace. I knew whatever happened, it was OK, I had to do what I could. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s how I processed it. It came to me clear as a bell and I could never do it like that again if I tried.”

Mike jumped out of his truck and positioned himself between the woman and the man. She was bleeding from the head, having been badly beaten by her attacker. Mike helped the woman into his rig and described to us how she clawed her way desperately into the seat, seeking shelter from the would-be killer.

Celebrity sighting: Richard Petty

Signing autographs at MATS

Zanders Are 2011 NAST Truck-Lite Trophy Champions

The results are in. In a hard-fought battle that brought qualifiers from five NAST competitions in 2011 to the championship playing field at MATS, Harvey and Karen Zander and their truck, Icy Blu 2, emerged victorious. They won a check for $5,000 and a custom trophy, along with bragging rights.

Second place and a check for $2,000 was awarded to Jeremy Trout of Bogies Express.

Two new OOIDA members

Joe Cossel (l) and Vance Henkel of Fairbury, Neb., are two of OOIDA's newest members.

Kenworth T680 Test Drive

My eyes light up at new product introductions. The reveal for the Kenworth T680 was no exception.

A little smoke, some fanfare and tada ... a new truck, going into production in May. Better yet, I had the opportunity to take it for a test drive. It was hooked to a lightly loaded 53-foot trailer. I walked around and gave it a quick once-over. Aerodynamic and sleek, sculptured lines, twisted fairings. There's obviously a lot of thoughtful design in an elegant package.

The door clicked open and I stepped up. Spacious on the inside, lots of room between the seats, a visually appealing dash, strategically placed gauges and switches. Cowl-mounted mirrors mean I can turn my eyes instead of my head to scan my surroundings.

A CumminsISX15 under the hood, and an Eaton Utra-Shift transmission.

Fired up, buckled in; the new seats have a deep cushion and a wide base. I eased out of the drive and down to the highway. Plenty of power to get up to speed, great visibility through the huge expanse of windshield. Spent too much time talking and listening to the truck and missed our turn. Rolled down a few city streets and ended up where we needed to be without any muss, fuss or curbed tires.

Stopped for the mandatory photo op, switched drivers and headed back to our starting gate. There was plenty of leg room from the second seat. I took a little time in the bunk to check out the lights, switches, gauges and gadgets. Love the door lock from the bunk mechanism. Rotating table, swiveling passenger seat (although not in my test drive model).

Kenworth is designing trucks with today's drivers in mind. And for a quick peek, I liked it.

Renewing at MATS

Don Miller of Douglas, Ga., renews his membership. He and wife Mary have been members since 2004.

Best of 2011

OOIDA's official publication Land Line Magazine was recognized by the Truck Writers of North America with the Best of 2011 award. The winning entry was the March-April 2011 issue of Land Line Magazine, which also won gold in the Best Single Issue division award and a gold at the category level.

Many members of the Land Line team were also recognized for their individual work as well.

And perhaps it should also be noted that you are now officially reading the "award winning" Pork Chop Diaries. Last year's blog picked up a gold, too.

Here are the awards received by Land Line Magazine and its staff:

Best of 2011 Award
Single Issue – Magazine – Over 100K – March / April 2011 – Land Line Magazine – Best of 2011 Award to the Land Line Staff

$25 for new or to renew OOIDA membership

Bob and Shelley Brinker take advantage of MATS special show membership rate.

Celebrity sighting

Megatron from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." In reality a Mack Granite under all that makeup.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Clarion County Kids Honor Roll

With 35 students, three trucks (a Marmon, a Peterbilt and a fully drivable scaled down mini-Pete), the Clarion County Kids are conquering Louisville again.

For the past several years students of the Clarion County Career Center have learned to do much more than oil changes and change tires.

Their first build from the frame rails up was a salvage truck named "The Educator." It took 10 years and two instructors, along with a truckload of students, to build.

Success and enthusiasm made for a speedier process, and their second efforts,"Certified Pride" and "Class Act," took only a couple of years.

This year, we welcome them back with "Honor Roll," a 2002 Peterbilt 379 with a 270-inch wheelbase, and 3796NZ Caterpillar engine turning out 600 horsepower. This truck came to CCCC with 1 million miles on the frame.

In a learning experience that included demolition, construction and rebuild -- along with upholstery, fit and finish -- this truck has inspired students, educators, drivers, service writers, mechanics and anyone who has an interest in our trucking community. They've earned high marks!

Trucker Buddy launches 'Trucking Mentors'

Trucker Buddy's Randy Schwartzenburg
Here at MATS this week, Trucker Buddy International is launching a new program called Trucking Mentors. If you don't know what the Trucker Buddy organization is -- it's an independent, nonprofit group that helps educate school kids about truckers via a pen pal relationship. The kids learn about the role professional drivers play in our U.S. economy, where drivers travel, what kinds of goods they haul, and much much more.

Trucking Mentors is a program that's brand new at Trucker Buddy and long overdue to my way of thinking. It's directed at educating high school students on how to drive safely around commercial trucks. And let's face it, our teens need this in the worst way. Drivers signed up for this program visit their Trucker Buddy high school every 6-12 months to help young motorists learn about sharing the road with big trucks.

I talked to TBI Executive Director Randy Schwartzenburg on Thursday in the West Wing at MATS. He told me about the new program and asked me to spread the word. I could NOT be happier to do this. It's a no-brainer how much our teens who are out there just learning to drive can benefit from this program. It's one that can not only improve the image of truckers with our kids, but also save lives.

No ice roads here

When Alex Debogorski left Fairbanks, Alaska, earlier this week, the temperature was minus-20 degrees. The "minus" is not a typo. Needless to say, Alex was impressed when he got to Louisville where the high today was expected to be 82 degrees. For those keeping score, that's a 102-degree difference.

I guess that's part of what you have to endure when you're an Ice Road Trucker.

I ran into Alex, who is a life member of OOIDA, at the Maxwell Technologies exhibit in the South Wing here at the truck show. I got a surprising answer when I asked him how the ice roads were this past season.

Alex Debogorski at MATS
"Alaska had the fifth coldest winter," he said, adding that the northern territories of Canada also experienced a healthy amount of thick ice. But to the south and into the middle of the continent, Manitoba for example, many routes became impassable due to an early thaw and unseasonably warm temps.

Alex certainly doesn't mind the cold, as long as he's able to start his truck. And he is in Louisville to endorse the Engine Start Module from Maxwell

"The colder it gets, the stronger it gets," Alex said.

While we aren't going to break any cold records this week in Louisville, there's plenty of winter left up north.

Louisville by Candlelight

Well, today started off with something I've never seen before at MATS - a power outage. We were in the midst of listening to the folks at Daimler talk about the new Detroit transmission when "click." Everything went pitch black. A few seconds later, the emergency lights kicked in and a murmur spread through the crowd as everybody wondered what was going on.

A few minutes later, someone came in and said the power was out in the entire Expo Center. That could make for an interesting opening day. Or it would have, if the good folks here hadn't gotten the power back on about 20 minutes later. Kudos to them for the good work.

Power blips aside, a few themes are beginning to emerge as the big companies talk about what's ahead for them. The first theme I noticed is not so much in what the companies were saying, but how they were saying it. The major truck manufacturers are back in a big way. Booths are bigger, new trucks are rolling onto the show floor, and the presentations are as over the top as ever.

No one had a bigger presentation, however, than Navistar, which pulled out all the stops on Wednesday evening to unveil its LoadStar vocational truck. But more than that, Jim Hebe, senior vice president of North American Sales for Navistar, spent a good deal of his time talking about natural gas, which is the second theme I've noticed.

Navistar is working with Pilot Flying J and T. Boone Pickens himself to establish natural gas as a major source of fuel in the coming years, and they are not alone. On Thursday, Volvo spent a good deal of time talking about its natural gas trucks, which thus far are limited to short-haul delivery vehicles, though it seems to me that's just the first step.

Make no mistake about it, natural gas is on the way. As to what that means for the future of diesel, I think it's too soon to say. But there is definitely a new sheriff in town and we will wait and see how the townsfolk take to this new brand of law and order.

The third theme I've noticed in this year's presentations is a sense of history. Navistar has a virtual museum of trucking in its enormous booth, with old-school trucks, buses and other vehicles all there for the viewing. Freightliner is celebrating its 70th birthday and has several retro-themed trucks at its booth, with paint schemes throwing back to the 1970s.

So whether it's the past, present or future you're looking for, you won't have too far to find it here in Louisville.

'Where it makes sense'

“What the hell are we doing here, with five times the space of anyone else at MATS?”

These were the opening remarks of Jim Hebe, senior vice president of North American sales for Navistar, the parent company of International Trucks.

It soon became clear to the 700 Navistar customers and press gathered Wednesday evening in the company’s 78,000-square-foot area at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

“Because we have a lot to say … Because there really is an honest-to-God technology being developed right here in North America,” Hebe continued. “It’s not in Europe or Asia; it’s happening right here in North America – and it has to do with transitioning from diesel to natural gas, where it makes sense.”

For Hebe and others who joined him on stage for a panel discussion, including T. Boone Pickens and Pilot Flying J CEO Jim Haslam, natural gas is viable. And it’s coming.

In fact, Pilot Flying J is investing $300 million to add infrastructure to the fledgling natural gas fueling network in the next few years.

Jim Hebe, James Harger, Dan Ustian,
T. Boone Pickens, Jim Haslam and Tom Price Jr.
Rounding out the panel discussion moderated by Hebe were Navistar President and CEO Dan Ustian; Chesapeake Energy Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Government Relations Tom Price Jr.; and Clean Energy Fuels Chief Marketing Officer James Harger.

Hebe said the group held a significant meeting last November.
“It was perhaps the turning point for natural gas in North America,” he said.

Vowing not to rely on Washington, DC, for answers, the businessmen formed a coalition and set out to solve what Hebe said have been the five biggest obstacles for natural gas.

“We brought the right group together,” Hebe said.

Pickens, the oft-quoted Texas billionaire and entrepreneur, says the U.S. can no longer wait to reduce dependence on imported oil. Pickens says the companies are taking their own initiative and not waiting on Washington, DC.

“You can’t have a five-minute conversation on energy in Washington,” Pickens said, “You’ll run out of what they know in less than five minutes.”

The group had five major issues to solve before the businessmen could commit to a partnership: The technology hasn’t been right; the cost to move to natural gas is way too high; there’s no infrastructure for the fuel; the move lacks a good business model; and there is no support for the vehicles.

All Hands on Deckplates

You should see all these shiny trucks. There are more than 90 trucks in competition between the contenders for the NAST Truck-Lite Trophy and the Paul K Young Memorial Truck Championships. It is a movable feast of epic proportions from across the United States & Canada. All gathered in one place to celebrate another year of opportunity.

Freight volumes are up, OEMs are painting rosy pictures of projected truck sales, and out in the parking lots, owners, drivers, friends, family, cleaners and polishers are diligently scrubbing the last bits of road grime from trucks that were hauling freights just a short time ago.

They're so clean you'd think they had been shrink-wrapped.
Judging for the NAST Truck-Lite Trophy is finished. Judging for the PKY starts at 9 a.m. And in between there will be blood, sweat, lights and fine tuning.

I'm stoked.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Anything but your grandaddy's truck ...

For a few years now, Freightliner has been trotting out its truck-of-the-future prototypes. The big black truck was impressive to say the least. There hasn't been a show that it's been here that I haven't made at least one trip by it.

Today, Mid-America Trucking Show Press Day 2012, we saw the finished product. Sure, it's still a prototype, but it's a working prototype. It rolled up on the stage under its own power.

 Obviously aerodynamic, the truck is certainly an eye-catcher. Check out these photos.

There's something about a concept truck that they say is part daycab and part sleeper that made me mentally raise an eyebrow. How?

Pretty simple -- the truck is designed for one person. For starters, there's not even a passenger seat. Better than that, there's not even a passenger door.

The truck is optimized for the one-driver operations. The "work" area behind the driver's seat converts into a bunk area in case a driver is out of hours, or just wanting to grab a quick nap during the day.

To add to its futuristic appeal, the truck's in-dash controls feature an iPad dock that can run all of the handy apps made just for drivers -- log book, route optimization, you name it.

Freightliner didn't announce a launch date for the truck, and I bet you have more questions. Maybe we should post them in the comments below and let Freightliner folks answer them.

As for me, tomorrow I'm climbing in that sucker and having a good long look around.

Big reveals from Kenworth and Peterbilt

We know we're at a truck show and not the Kentucky Derby, but we've already witnessed two industry thoroughbreds fly out of the gate here in Louisville.

Kenworth and Peterbilt demonstrated quickly that they are here to compete and they mean business. Both truck manufacturers, even though they are related through parent company Paccar, unveiled separate but equally awe-inspiring new truck models on Wednesday.

And even though we're among the lucky ones who got the first look at these stylish machines during Press Day at the Mid-America Trucking Show, we can't help but wonder what you'll think of them when you see them for yourself.

If you simply cannot wait to run your hands along the sweet fender lines, gaze upon the Paccar MX engines, and gaze upon the high-tech dash in the cockpit, here are a couple of videos to get the heart rate up.

First, check out Kenworth, which rolled out the T-680 today. They pulled out all the stops in their big reveal, as you'll see in the video. Don't worry about the fine print for now, as Land Line Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski will bring you the nitty-gritty when she test drives this bad boy on Thursday. We can't wait to hear how this thing rides.

After the Kenworth reveal, we moved off-site to a luncheon held by Peterbilt. We suspected from the company's recent ad campaign that something big was coming at MATS, but we didn't know exactly what it would be.

The Peterbilt representative at our table said it was going to be awesome. And without further adieu, there it was, the brand new Peterbilt 579.

If the demonstrations from Kenworth and Peterbilt are any indication of how the rest of the 2012 show will go, we're all in for a treat. We'll bring you more reveals as they are revealed to us.

A peek behind the Pork Chop curtain

When the doors to the Mid-America Trucking Show open tomorrow, it will be a million square feet of polished paint, shiny chrome, freebies and such. It is always a sight to behold.

Thing is, that doesn't happen overnight. But it does happen fast.

One of the perks to being in the press pool at MATS is the floor access it gets you before the doors ever open. Although you better keep your eyes open and pay attention to where you are going.

Wednesday this show will transform from this photo that I took early this morning:

To this in a matter of mere hours, taken shortly after lunch:

My favorite time of the day will be about 9 p.m. tonight when the work is done. The floor will be quiet. The trucks will gleam under the night lights, and somewhere off in the distance I will be able to hear the whirr of a vacuum cleaner putting the final touches on a booth for Day One.

Looks like it's going to be a great show.

Feelin’ HOT HOT HOT …

They say the first step of any 12-step program is to admit you have a problem. So here’s my admission.

I an a heat wimp. I do not like hot and I’m not fond of humidity. My body type is more of a Arctic model, designed for cold to temperate climes.

Worse yet is when you’re wearing a long-sleeve shirt during a hot day in the South. You know - where the humidity lives before visiting other parts of the country. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Outside is one thing; We all know how unseasonable this year has been, so that is at least somewhat expected. However, as I walked in the pre-MATS Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, from the South Wing lobby into the North Wing lobby, I discovered that until all of YOU arrive, the North Wing, lobby included, has no A/C. It was like a wall: One moment, a cool 68; five steps later, a nasty 88.

At least I can give you fair warning. If you are planning to spend a chunk of time at this year’s Mid America outside, either at the show trucks or at the satellite parking at Papa John’s, be prepared.

Sun block is a necessity. In fact, our own Jami Jones added this: You should apply sun block to the bottom of your chin and to your throat.
Sound silly? Not so. Jami says the reflection off the chrome is intense enough that it can give you a southern-end sunburn.

So like the good Boy Scout, be prepared. But don’t be a heat wimp. No one wants to hear that. Believe me, I know.

We have liftoff!

Press day at the Mid-America Trucking Show is only halfway over as I write this, and already the Expo Center is buzzing with activity. This morning we had a nice breakfast and a look at new driver assistance technology, courtesy of the folks at Bendix. And we saw the reveal of the Kenworth T680, a new aerodynamic truck that seems to have been built with driver comfort in mind. It's got larger doors, a larger cab, plenty of storage space and places for a fridge, a small flat-screen TV and even a microwave. And it looks pretty cool, too.

We also saw a presentation from Continental (yes the same outfit that sells tires) about their new EOBR device. The device was kind of neat, with touch screen and a built-in printer.

There's been some talk around here about the EOBR mandate and many seem to think that it's a foregone conclusion. I know it was their press conference, but OOIDA has some news for them: That fight isn't over yet.

We are at the midway point of Press Day here in Louisville. Mark Reddig is off-site with Jami Jones, Dave Tanner and Suzanne Stempinski to see what the folks from Peterbilt have to say this year. I'm sure you'll hear more from them later on.

Meanwhile, In the North Lobby, "Land Line Now" Sound Engineer Barry Spillman is busy setting up at the booth so he and Mark will be able to record from the show this week. I just ran into OOIDA member Lee Strebel, and he says things are gearing up out at the parking lot at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Show trucks are being shined, booths are being assembled, and everything is coming together for tomorrow's grand opening.

The forecast is calling for rain later on the week, but for right now the sun is shining in Louisville!

Monday, March 19, 2012

On the Road to Louahville

Though I'm based in TN and thus won't have the opportunity to throw fingers for shotgun in the Land Line-mobile, I can pretty well envision the hard-working crew from Grain Valley as they hit the road to MATS.

Not quite sure how they're going to fill out their logs, but I am sure it will be compliant.

My friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe is putting the finishing strips of aluminum duct tape on his vintage Cornbinder, and he's eager to be first in line at the pork chop stand. He says he plans to "Occupy" Mid-America this year on behalf of the 1 percent or so of Americans who drive truck!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Flash mob, MATS style

A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform some unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time – then disperse. The word gets out via social media, text messages or email that goes viral.

Flash mobs are not to be confused with smart mobs. A smart mob is one that has a definite planned purpose. Although a flash mob is mostly done for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression, there is normally a good reason for a smart mob.

For instance, truck drivers gather in Louisville, KY, for a couple of days to shuffle relentlessly through a million square feet of exhibits. These mobs are a hybrid between a classic flash mob and a smart mob. It’s far from pointless to be eyeballing the new truck models and snapping up the incredible show trucks. And who can argue that there’s total purpose in madly scavenging for stickers, free caps, copies of the U.S. Constitution, yard sticks, cups and basically anything free?