Taking The Lead

Behind every great man is a great woman, but in front of (or behind) every great big load is a great pilot car. A pilot car’s first priority when escorting an oversized load is to protect the motoring public. Their second, and also important priority, is to protect the load while helping the driver to avoid all of the obstacles that occur when hauling a large or heavy load. Pilot cars help truckers negotiate tight corners and get around signs, help them to avoid low-hanging trees, but most importantly, they make sure that they do not hit low overpasses. These are some big responsibilities, so choosing the right pilot car service is crucial to your success (and survival).

I am still amazed at what people will do when they see a pilot car coming at them, trying to warn them of an oversized load – they will do whatever it takes, even driving in the grass to go around the pilot car sometimes, until they finally see the load coming. That will usually make a difference, but not always. Some people just don’t have time to be inconvenienced with an oversized load being on their route!

Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several great pilot car drivers and I would like to thank all of them for helping me to learn about this interesting segment of our industry. Even though I’ve driven a truck for over 30 years, there is still a lot to learn about escorting oversize loads. There is a network between pilot cars that work together that is beneficial for all of the truckers who need the important services they provide. Some provide more than just cars – some offer route surveys, and some can even order your permits for the load. This month, I’m going to write about people that I have worked with personally, and they all have the same attitude when it comes to the quality of the job they do and the reputation that they work to maintain – they are some of the best in the business.

High Wide & Heavy Oversize Escorts LLC is based in Staten Island, NY (whom I’ve mentioned before in my October 2009 article). If you need to get into NYC, these are the people you want to talk to. They can order your permits, do necessary route surveys, and the escorts they have working for them really know the city! It’s a one-stop shop for escorts. John and Paul, two of their pilot car drivers, are truck drivers themselves who deliver oversize loads into the city when they are not escorting other trucks, so they know what they are doing. You can check out their website at www.highwidenheavy.com or call them at (718) 966-7255. Even if you don’t need a pilot car, their website has some great pictures and information.

Paulette Jordan owns Jordan Pilot Car Enterprises Inc. Some of you may remember when her daughter Jazzy ran across America for the St. Christopher Fund. I wrote about Jazzy’s run in the September 2010 issue of 10-4. While talking to Paulette for this article, she told me that Jazzy is now learning to drive a pilot car and she helps with the paperwork. After being a driver with her husband Lee, pulling step-decks, flatbeds, RGN’s and reefers, Paulette got out of the truck twelve years ago to start her pilot car business. She got a signed contract with a company and went from one car to four cars in just one weekend. Later, when she lost the contract, she was worried about what she was going to do with four cars, but as it turned out, she didn’t need to worry – her phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Paulette prides herself in being a tillerman, which
involves steering the back of the big blade trailers, as well as all of the other “steerable” trailers. Over the years, she has taught many other drivers how to do this difficult job, too. Today, she brokers over 60 cars. You can contact Paulette at (218) 205-1558 or visit her website at www.pilotcarjordan.com.

This business has changed a lot since Chris Lewis started out some 24 years ago. When she started, she just borrowed a pickup truck, a light and a sign and was the rear escort for a load that was 19’ wide and 19’ high. Today, Chris Lewis Escorts LLC can provide escorts nationwide, and she also does route surveys for PA, MD and IN. You can call Chris at (412) 751-1326.

I found Terry Young on the internet one day when I was desperate for an escort at the Kentucky border – and she got us one. She has been my go-to girl ever since, and she always gets us a good driver when and where we need it. Terry has an amazing network of drivers that she works with, and she does it all by referral. If she is referring someone she hasn’t worked with, she will tell you that and then, after the job is done, will ask you how that person did. If for some reason a driver wasn’t happy with this person, she will not refer them again. It was 18 years ago when Terry got into this business not knowing anything, but she learned from John Baine, who was one of the best at the time. Hard work has earned her a reputation that she is proud of, and she works hard to maintain it. If you need an escort or a route survey for her local area of IL, IN, KY or VA, call Terry at (618) 292-0770 or visit her website at www.oversizeescorts.com.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Jeff O’Brien face-to-face, but talking to him on the telephone for this article was really interesting. Jeff started out as an MP in Vietnam, and then when he came home he went into law enforcement in his local town. After that, he became an investigator for the state. Later, when he owned a repo company, he got into trucking. After picking up a repo truck, he took it down to the DMV the very next day and got his Chauffeurs License (that is what they were called before the CDL) – and as they say, the rest is history.

Driving a truck, Jeff worked his way up to heavy haul, and he is willing to tell you that he is still learning. Back in 2008, due to his health, he decided to get into escorting, and even though he had been a driver for several years, escorting was completely different. Jeff became a Washington State Certified Instructor, and now not only has a pilot car business, but he is also starting a pilot car school. It will be more than just a simple 8-hour class – it will be class work plus riding with an instructor, and then escorting a load with the instructor along. Jeff has three websites to get information about pilot car training, or you can call him at (630) 258-4901. The first is www.oversizepilotcar.com; the second is www.pilotcartraining.com; and the third is www.pilotcarschool.com.

To become an escort, there is a lot more to do than some drivers may think. First, you have to get $1,000,000 of insurance liability coverage, and then you will also need the proper signs, lights, communication devices, flags, a hand-held stop sign, a fire extinguisher, and cones, just to name a few. And, if you are going to use a height pole, you just made yourself responsible for that load to get under any bridge or overhead obstruction along the route (all of these requirements can differ from state to state). Most states require some sort of certification, but not all of them (many of the ones that don’t are currently working to change their laws to require training and certification).

The pay for a pilot car is usually by the mile, and if you have a load going 2,000 miles, you may or may not get a load coming back. Drivers usually pay the pilot car service a set price for motels the nights they are out with the load, and if the miles are short, there are “day rates” to accommodate. There are also special set rates if there is a “no-go” (meaning that you are there and for some reason the load doesn’t go), or if the truck breaks down and you have to sit and wait. The rates vary from company to company and can get complicated, so be sure to do your homework before hiring an escort service.

The differences in laws from state to state are just as bad for the pilot car drivers as they are for truck drivers. If your vehicle has a 10,000-lb. GVW on the door, you are required to have a CDL, a medical card, and to keep a logbook. Each state requires permits when loads reach a certain height, width, length and weight. Depending on the dimensions, the permit or provision sheet will let the driver know how many escorts will be required and if they will need only a front, only a rear or both. Some states require one escort on four-lane highways and two escorts on two-lane highways. And when the load reaches a certain size, police escorts, along with the “civilian” escorts, may be required.

Most states have provision sheets that tell a driver all of their escort requirements and curfew times in the major cities around the country. And, of course, like any other regulations, they aren’t all the same and it’s the driver’s job to know the times and to make sure they are within the boundaries set by the individual city they happen to be in. The states also have different times when a driver can start and when they have to stop with an oversize load – it might be a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour before sunset, sunrise to sunset, or a half-hour after sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Planning for these loads doesn’t happen overnight – in some states it can take a month or longer just to obtain the permit, and in California, the wait to get police escorts can be weeks.

If you are planning on getting into the pilot car business, do your homework and find out everything you are going to need to get started – and be sure to learn what each state you plan on working in requires (pilot cars can get tickets and fines at a scale just like the trucks). And if you are out driving, look out for the oversize loads that share the road with you – they are doing a BIG job, and any way that you can help will be greatly appreciated by all involved.

About Kim Grimm

Kim Grimm has had a license to drive a truck since April of 1978 and has driven millions and millions of miles ever since. Living in Wisconsin with her beloved cocker spaniels, Kim, who is a long-haul owner operator, has been a regular contributor to 10-4 Magazine since 2003.