Paul’s picks

by Paul Abelson Technical editor

While many of the major suppliers to our industry stayed away from this year’s Great American Trucking Show, the attendees were there in steady numbers. Saturday, Sept. 8, the second day of the three-day show, the aisles were almost as jammed as at Mid-America. Most exhibitors I spoke with were pleased with the traffic at their booths, both for quantity and quality. A large number of attendees were owner-operators or fleet operators. Exhibitors like Ten-Four Stairs (see Paul’s Picks, Aug./Sept. 2001) reported getting significant orders at the show. Here are my favorites from the 2001 GATS, products I believe offer quality and functionality.

  • Splash and spray is a problem for our industry. They affect both safety and image. About 15 years ago, Congress directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to do something about the problem. Fleets experimented with Astroturf mud flaps and whiskers at wheel wells, but the advent of aerodynamic trucks reduced the problem by about 50 percent. Congress and NHTSA were satisfied, but the problem wasn’t solved. It may be now. Vortex Splash Guards (1-888-848-7141, www.vortexsplashguards.com) are louvered mud flaps. The slots are angled to direct air and water through and down behind the flaps, minimizing any side spray. Using sound aerodynamic principles, the flaps should go a long way toward eliminating much of the remaining spray, improving both your rearward vision and other motorists’ forward vision. 
  • If you run expedited freight or hotshot loads, you’ll like Ford’s new E-550 short-nosed cutaway chassis and cab. It has a unique three-piece frame allowing a variety of accessory- and body-mounting options. Wheelbases from 150.5 inches to 233.5 inches are available, with weight ratings to 19,000 pounds. Turning circle is under 50 feet. The E-550 can handle payloads to 12,000 pounds. 
  • Cat Scales held a press conference to announce improvements in their scale configurations and to remind us of the accuracy available only from full-length platform scales. Cat Scales are up and running 99.7 percent of the time. If something does go wrong, the new self-diagnostic system contacts Cat Scales headquarters immediately. In most cases, repairs are on their way even before the truckstop realizes there’s a problem. The new system from Fairbanks Scales is up and running at more than 100 locations already, and all Cat Scales will be converted within two years. With the new system, the weigh ticket won’t print until the driver is at the desk to pick it up. That eliminates any possibility of getting tickets mixed up. Cat Scales are accurate within 80 pounds, or 0.1 percent with an 80,000 pound GCW. Unlike other types of scales, platform scales are “legal for trade,” meaning weights can be used for billing purposes, not just for legal compliance. 
  • My son was a steel hauler for a while, so I’m always interested in anything to make a flatbedder’s life easier.Wonder Winch Bars, ratcheting winch bars from J.A.B. Enterprises (1-800-807-0087, www.wonderwinchbar.com), promise to do just that. These 2 pound, 18-inch long aluminum bars have a ratcheting mechanism that plugs into the end of any standard strap winch. They are available anodized in a choice of six colors, and are capable of handling more than 300 pounds of force. 
  • The Hartline Portable Shower (1-877-464-3424, www.hartlineportableshower.com) was developed by 38-year veteran OTR driver George Hartline. It can keep you clean while saving hours waiting for showers at truckstops. Packaged inside a 30-inch diameter container, the shower contains a head assembly with curtain hangers for a Velcro-closeable six-foot high shower curtain and a shower head, a bottom assembly with a sump pump for drainage, a six-gallon tank with a pump and a heating element to supply warm, fresh water, and another six-gallon tank for “gray water.” All 12-volt plugs and hoses are included. The portable shower comes in black with a white curtain, desert sand with a light blue curtain, and Army green with a camouflage curtain. Just attach a permanent top hook in the sleeper roof, hook up the top, fill the supply tank with up to 6 gallons (48 pounds) of water, and you’ll be ready to shower anytime you’ll want to or need to.
  • There’s no room for a recliner chair in a sleeper, but your bunk can serve as one with the Recline-A-Bed adjustable sleep lounger from Sleep Concepts (1-866-886-BEDS). Unlike motorized units, Recline-A-Bed has a ratcheting frame that allows a driver to simply pull a strap to raise the head and back to any of six positions up to 30 inches. There are no motors to wear out, no gears to break. A separate strap raises the feet to five positions up to 20 inches high. The accompanying Travel King mattress has individually wrapped coil springs, a urethane foam layer and a one-inch quilted cover. The frame (without a mattress) weighs 70 pounds in the largest size, 49 X 74 inches. The unit is also available in 42, 39 and 32-inch widths. 
  • Rand McNally (1-877-204-1020, www.randmcnally.com) is known primarily for their route atlases and MileMaker routing software for fleets. They’ve put their skills and talents to creating a lower priced version of the software, more suited to the professional truckdriver. Route Tools Professional Driver Edition allows route planning using either the quickest or HHG mileages. It also generates truck-compliant routing, avoiding restrictions and thus saving fines. Route miles can be broken down by state. With a bit of easy programming, little more than entering your truckstop preferences, you can create your own fuel network plan, helping you plan stops more effectively. Limited-use samples are available at truck shows. They are full programs with a time limit that can be reactivated after the trial period expires by purchasing an annual license. Using the Internet, RouteTools can even give you updates on construction sites on your way. 
  • Keith “KW” Huntington is a driver who is fed up with motorists failing to signal lane changes and turns. He decided to do something about it. “KW” started a business, We Three Enterprises (1-877-874-4625), to produce signs for the rear of trucks and trailers. They read “Please Use Signals. Improve Highway Courtesy and Safety.” The adhesive-backed signs come in four sizes: 13 X 9 inch for van trailers, 8.5 X 11 inch for delivery trucks, 6.5 X 13.5 oval for tankers, and 6 X 8 inch for cars. There’s also a static-cling sign, 8 X 5 inch for cars that reads “Signals work. Use them.”
  • Splash and spray is difficult to see through. When it gets on your mirrors, it can obscure or destroy your rearward vision. Total Mirror Control (727-896-9600) has a west coast mirror that washes and wipes the flat surface. It is heated for winter use, and operates at high, low and intermittent wiper speeds. The heater is electric, while the wiper can be either air or electrically powered.
  • Draining oil can be one of the messiest jobs around, but Femco No-Spill Systems (1-888-4-NO-SPILL, www.drainplug.com) can let you do it wearing your finest clothes. Their plug replaces a standard drain plug, but that’s where the similarity ends. The Femco plug is protected by a threaded cap, which is removed before use. It has a pop-up valve that prevents flow until a quick-release fitting is pushed over the plug. The connection must be tight before drain oil will flow through the valve and into the hose. Femco drain systems are made of solid brass with stainless steel springs. The o-ring is solid copper, so it can be re-torqued repeatedly.