By Bill Hudgins
It’s October and another cycle has begun. I’m not talking about the seasons; I’m talking about the glut-and-lack of truck drivers. If you have been trucking for a while, you know that fleets are either so overrun with job applicants that they can afford to be choosy, or so overloaded with freight they don’t even check for a pulse before hiring.
You may remember the go-go ’90s when truck builders put a lot of emphasis on improving creature comforts to make those long days on the road (and low rates) more palatable.
At the end of the 20th century, as both truck markets and freight collapsed like a punctured air-ride bag, the emphasis shifted to fuel economy, safety and that elusive quantity, driver productivity. Not to mention that pesky little emissions problem.
Will the promise of recovery and the rapidly shrinking driver supply swing the pendulum back to more posh living quarters? It’s too soon to tell or for builders to commit. But the recent demise of Double Eagle, the Indiana custom sleeper people who served mainly owner-operators, indicates that most will be sticking with factory bunks for some time to come.
All the more reason for OEMs to step up their interiors, says my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe. And of course Rufus has some thoughts on what the next round of pamper-the-driver should include:
In-sleeper toilet. “Trucking ain’t camping,” Rufus grumps. “For as long as I’ve been out here, I’ve had to tramp through rain, snow, hail, fog and clouds of skeeters to visit the toilet – or carry a milk jug and that’s only useful some of the time. It’s even worse on women – as every one of my wives has told me.”
In-sleeper shower. Over the years, I’ve met some enterprising truck owners who figured out how to squeeze a shower into a factory-issue sleeper. If they can do it, why can’t the OEMs offer it as, say, a premium modification for O/Os whose runs limit time to wait for a scrub at a truck stop.
Better lighting. “I’ve got an old coal cellar that’s lit better with a naked 60-watt bulb than a lot of sleepers,” Rufus said. Interior lighting has improved considerably, but there’s room for improvement to drive away shadowy corners.
Built-in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and a panic button in the sleeper. “When I put that addition on the house to hold all my old Land Line Magazines, the codes guy said we had to put in smoke and CO alarms. They require them for new houses, too,” Rufus said. “A trucker’s sleeper is his house, and it oughta have ’em, too.”
I suggested the panic button – thinking not only of evildoers, but also of truckers having medical emergencies alone in their rigs.
“All these things are pretty serious,” I told Rufus.
“What about some fun stuff?” My pal came through, of course:
Automatic jerky dispenser. “You know how hard it is to get the wrapper off at 65 mph?” he asked. A driver would simply load the dash-mounted, airtight dispenser with opened sticks of jerky before heading out. Tap a button, and your teriyaki treats pop out, ready to chew. A chewing gum version could also be on the option list.
CPAP device. For drivers with sleep apnea, Rufus wondered if it would be possible to hook up a breathing mask to the air tank. When I looked horrified at the idea, he shrugged. “Not many things that can’t be made better with more power!” he said.
Rookie restrainer. For drivers with motor-mouth trainees, the passenger seat headrest would deploy a reusable plastic foam baffle – not long enough to asphyxiate the tyros, just long enough to get their attention. Works on spouses, too, my oft-married friend noted.
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL