Line One
Downshift
The winter of trucking’s discontent

By Bill Hudgins
columnist

 

With tough anti-idling laws spreading across the U.S. faster than swine flu, America’s truckers face a long, cold winter if they don’t have auxiliary power units or other alternatives to idling. 

The pileup of anti-idling laws has coincided with the sliding economy, putting a double whammy on truckers. If diesel heads north of $3 per gallon, we may have a perfect winter storm.

While some states are helping with APU weight allowances and incentives to buy an APU or similar device, the proponents pushing idling laws seem to have little regard for truckers’ razor-thin operating margins or for their personal comfort, nay, safety.

As my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe put it recently, “People shouldn’t expect truckers to freeze stiffer than a load of Lean Cuisines, while we’re delivering their clothes, groceries, TVs and furniture.”

Rufus believes truckers are kind of like deer that are displaced by sprawling towns and suburbs, and not welcome back in them. It seems like every issue of Land Line reports on yet another community that has banned truck parking, even if it’s your rig and your house. With the idling regulation boom, even truck stops are becoming threatened habitat for drivers.

Rufus thinks if Americans expect truckers to keep on working, we need to think outside the sleeper box to get through this winter.

If you can’t afford an APU and your engine doesn’t meet the latest emissions limits, here are some things you might consider:

  • A nationwide Adopt-a-Trucker program. Promoted by ads showing sad-eyed, shivering truckers, this program would tap the generosity of Americans toward those less fortunate, by asking folks who live near truck stops to provide a warm place for out-of-hours drivers to snooze. The program could be formalized with fleets or the government issuing vouchers to the hosts, redeemable at truck stops for meals, showers, Western-style shirts, etc. Hey, we could call them “green stamps” – get it?
  • A total revamp of pets-on-board policies. Remember the rock group Three Dog Night? The name referred to native Australians sleeping with three dogs on a really cold night. With all the abandoned cats and dogs flooding shelters, it would be easy to provide nearly every driver with several warm, fuzzy cab critters. Food and such for these pavement pets would be a fraction of the cost of idling for a couple nights. A couple of sheep dogs and maybe a Himalayan cat should get a driver through all but the worst of a Minnesota winter night.
  • If the pet idea won’t fly, how about pet beds stuffed with Styrofoam pellets? My old dogs love them, and let me tell you, all that plastic foam will keep you warm. You could even make your own from spilled packing material and three or four old winter fronts.
  • The Hood Hootch (patent pending). This idea came from Rufus’s bubble-off-true brother-in-law. It’s basically an insulated pup tent that sits on the top of a long-nose tractor like a KW W900 or a Pete 379. Like a cat curling up on a car hood, the driver would secure the tent as soon as possible after shutting down and crawl in for his rest. The sides would drop down over the hood and grille to capture as much heat as possible. The warmth should last long enough for a comfy snooze – if you can sleep with the noise, fumes and aggressive midnight visitors trying to stick their noses under your tent flap.
  • Rufus’ best idea was, of course, the most obvious: Ask the White House for a sleeping bag subsidy – kind of a stimulus package, in that it stimulates your circulation. Though with the array of foes facing truckers today, we’d be lucky to get cardboard appliance cartons and old newspapers.

Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. (And stay warm!) LL

 

Bill Hudgins can be reached at billhudgins@earthlink.net.

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