The sun is shining brightly, and we just left a small-town diner some place in eastern Pennsylvania where they served us a wonderful breakfast. Now it’s time to get to work – if that’s what you call driving through the hills of the Keystone State. It’s a picture-perfect week for their color tour. That’s an East Coast and Midwest thing most folks do when our leaves turn from their summer foliage to the most brilliant arrangement of golds and reds that sparkle in the sun. This is the best time to mix in a little work with a day or two of vacation.
Who would have thought a trucker would look forward to sightseeing? It’s not really sightseeing, it’s more like an extended parts run, with some help and aid from my wife and business partner. Besides, she writes the checks, I just sign them. First rule of business: the owner should never run the money, because as long as they think they are broke, they will work that much harder. As soon as they see a little breathing room in their financial report they slack off and get behind. Now, I realize not all people will do that, but as a rule, most will coast when they reach their goals.
The purpose for our trip has been in the works for a number of months, we just didn’t know when opportunity was going to present itself. The old tag-along (my reefer trailer) has served a long and ambitious life, following me back and forth across this great nation’s highways. Along the way, we have racked up lots of run hours (that’s the hour meter for time the engine has run on the refrigeration unit). For the benefit of you who never pulled a reefer, the motor that powers the compressor isn’t much bigger than your riding mower’s engine and is between 20 and 30 horsepower.
My reefer unit currently has 35K hours on the clock. To put that number in perspective, if it ran 40 hours a week every week, it would take 16.8 years to reach this point. And, in case you are wondering, it runs much more than 40 hours a week. Sometimes I leave the house and don’t shut it off for 20 or more days, and most of that time it is running nonstop at -10 degrees or colder.
If you are guessing where I am going with this, it’s all about prevention, preparations, and continued service life. Or, as I like to refer to it as… my Fall Review. All of us have things we want fixed (or we plan on fixing) when there is time and/or money. I throw in the “or money” because some of the things on our to-do list are more wants than honest needs. I’m going to stick to the needs side of my list and leave the wants for a later date when there is ample time.
I have been experiencing some poor performance and a few operational issues with my refrigeration unit. This is one of those times when I need to decide between fixing a unit with most of its service life used up or replacing it with a new (or gently used) unit. With the availability of replacement parts still questionable and the cost of parts unpredictable, I don’t need to replace my trailer – it is in great shape. It’s the refrigeration unit that is questionable, so to keep my trailer serviceable, I want to upgrade to a newer low hours unit.
I like the old Thermo King SB-330 Whisper unit – it has been dependable and works well for my freight. In the name of simplicity, I want to stay with the same brand, series, and grade that will “bolt on” exactly like my old unit. Trouble is, I’m not the only one looking for a good deal on one of these units.
If you are anything like me, most problems only occur when you can least afford them. On my last trip to the coast, I experienced some engine troubles (the kind of troubles that keep a body from resting easy when they sleep). The darn thing would shut off at random and quit running during the night! That meant someone had to stay awake or check the satellite every hour to make sure it was still operational. I have been watching for a replacement unit for a few months now, but we haven’t found any close to our area. We had been watching one we liked and would meet our needs, but it was 600 miles away, with no guarantee it was actually as it was advertised. When buying used equipment, always beware. I make a habit of not buying anything over the phone or online when we are talking about items that cost more than I can afford (or want) to lose.
My old reefer unit had been in the shop a while back, and ever since then, it hasn’t worked as well as it should. I intended to go back and have it looked at. I have a good shop that works well at accommodating my schedule when I need maintenance, so I dropped it off for a little checkup. They couldn’t find anything wrong and rolled it out. Note to self: that’s not good enough. I can’t have a service failure and spoil a load due to temperature abuse or an engine shut down. So, we discussed actions that would keep my trailer available for dispatch in three days.
The options I was offered was to order new injectors and replace the old ones or send the old ones out to be tested and then reinstalled. My first question was, how much for new parts? Second, can you get them? Ten minutes later the answer is yes, but you ain’t gonna believe the price! They are pricey, but we found some. Let’s go back and look at option two – how long to have them bench tested and back in service? After another ten minutes, the answer is maybe this week if they can get them out and to the vendor by the end of that day. They reiterate that there is no guarantee they will be usable after the test. They may still have to order replacement injectors, and that will take some time.
None of us want to be in that hot seat, spending money like a drunken sailor, but having the ability to make the choice without hesitation is what sets some people apart from others. I checked with Henry, our parts guy, and confirmed there were four new injectors, sitting in Minneapolis, and ready to be shipped. “Get them on the phone pronto, and I want them sent overnight.” My thinking was, even if I don’t use them in this unit or they don’t fix my trouble, I will still have a new set for future use in my replacement unit.
The parts supplier came through like a champ and the parts were installed the next day. I stopped off to check on their progress as we were heading to York, Pennsylvania, to purchase our potential new unit. They had my old unit up and running as if it was brand new. That’s my insurance plan in case we can’t make a deal. I’m still able to run next week, and now I don’t have to accept something I really don’t want just because it’s available.
I think we had a president who said, “The art of the deal is in knowing what you want and how much it is worth to you!” I had a price I was willing to pay if the unit was in good (if not great) condition. I know the market is tight right now and I don’t want a brand-new unit, and beggars can’t be choosers, so we loaded up the pickup and two-axle trailer with the three of us, Penny the pooch, Aunt Barb, and myself. We hit the open road like a couple of teenagers on spring break, with no real plans, except to find an out of the way drop yard for a trucking company, without any directions, or even the guy’s last name. What is it they often say, “It’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the experience along the way that counts.”
It was a wonderful day to ride the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes. I can’t recall the last time I passed so many construction barrels and switched sides of the highway to see what the oncoming traffic was doing. But the fall foliage was fantastic… and picture-perfect.
We had arranged to meet the seller late in the afternoon so he would have time to deliver his incoming load. That way I would have time to load and secure the new unit for transportation home. No real pressure on anybody, but I did need to be home the next day. No one showed up in an hour, so we finally reached the seller’s wife, who told us he was tied up at his delivery point and would not be available until the next morning. Well, that’s that, let’s go find a motel with a good steakhouse next door.
The next morning, we head back, but still no seller. Turns out he didn’t get much sleep either, as he spent most of the night getting unloaded and driving three hours back. Victor, the guy I went to see, was a treasure trove of information. Wait a little longer, get a little more. Tip of the month – the railroad companies are currently updating their train cars with new CARB-compliant units and selling off the old out of date ones. I was able to purchase one with under 7K hours on it that looked like brand-new. According to my sources, they can be purchased in most major cities. If you do a little research, you can find them, and they are not as pricey as you might think. The one we got already had solar power to charge the batteries and a satellite system from the factory, plus a few other options we don’t normally see on road units. I was like a kid in a candy store.
The trip home was much less stressful knowing I now have two units that should keep me in the money. My old unit runs like never before, and I’m not going to have to change it anytime soon. The new unit can be sent to my dealer for a checkup at my discretion, and then placed in storage until necessity calls. I know some of you wonder why I would spend the money for a second unit when they fixed my old one. It’s simple. The old reefer unit is still 80% into its usefulness schedule. It will break at some point, and when it does, I’m now prepared. Not to mention, at that point, I will still have a parts unit to salvage from. I’m in this truckin’ thing for the long haul, so I always keep spare parts and components on hand.
Before I made the trip out East to get the new unit, I had already inquired with my accounting people to look at my year-end expenses. This purchase should go a long way toward my write offs against last year. If you haven’t been watching the calendar, 2022 is winding down, and about this time every year, cold weather finds its way into our lives. That means snow and inclement weather. Are you prepared? I don’t know which I hate worse – the fuel issues or moisture problems. Frozen trailer brakes can also add time to your day. When I was storing the new refrigeration unit, I found my winter iron (tire chains) and drug them out for inspection and repair. Normally I don’t need them until Christmastime or later, but I can guarantee the weather is far more agreeable now than it will be in two months to look them over.
Earlier today I spent a few hours with a soap bottle, checking hoses for air leaks, and checking for leaking air bags. Don’t roll your eyes! It’s a driver issue when your broken down on the side of the road waiting for the repair truck. You may not care if the load doesn’t get delivered on time, but when you can’t make the next pick up and there you sit for the weekend, with no work and no pay, that makes it a driver problem – and more specifically, your problem.
I like to go over my list of things to fix at this time of the season so I can eliminate as many potential problems as possible. I never get them all done or eliminate all my problems, but with a little effort, I can no doubt save myself some troubles in the future. I call my list the Fall Review. Each year I go from the front to the back of my “Just Steppin” truck, looking and touching as much as possible – from wheel bearings and seals, to rebuilding the air dryer, and topping off fluids. Note to self: replace the windshield washer pump and wiper blades every year. One last thing this month: if you are tired of paying too much at the pump and a dinner out has broken the bank, don’t forget to vote on or before November 8th, 10-4!