Friday, May 2, 2008

Greensburg still ‘Ridin’ the storm out’

To be sure, Greensburg has taken tremendous strides since a nearly 2-mile-wide tornado dismantled 95 percent of the small town’s buildings one year ago, May 3.

More than 100 housing permits have been issues, and many environmentally friendly and energy efficient structures are going up every day, as highlighted this week by dozens of publications, documentary makers and the CBS morning show.

But there’s another side to this story.

Many former Greensburg residents have disagreed with how money has been spent and other decisions made since the tornado.

OOIDA members Larry Wingfield and Michael Terryn recently told me they’ve moved their families outside of town, citing Greensburg’s pricey construction expenses, which many blame on the town’s emphasis on green building.

Larry Wingfield, who’s in his 50s, told me he doesn’t want to start over.

“We’re not going to move back for the simple reason that it would be outrageously expensive for us to move back,” Larry told me. “I can understand saving energy, but not when it comes to hurting me in my pocketbook.”

(Commercial – be sure to check out our Greensburg coverage in the June edition of Land Line!)

Photographer Gregory Holmes is on the ground in Greensburg today, waking early enough to see “half the town” present at a 6 a.m. concert by REO Speedwagon.

News crews and trucks loaded with construction materials have clogged the city’s streets, most of which still lack street signs, Greg told me. President Bush’s Saturday arrival brought additional visitors.

“The town is crawling with black Ford Explorers,” he said.

While Greensburg residents are friendly, many have said they’ve grown a little tiresome of being repeatedly asked the same questions, and many aren’t as excited about being a test lab for America’s greenest city as you’d think after watching the above CBS clips.

A rectangular art museum is being constructed, and some new homes feature high-density Styrofoam energy-efficient walls.

The difference between what I’m hearing from residents and what I’m seeing televised brought to mind the “reality” of ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition, where television personalities are whisked between multiple building sites and contractors are asked to redo certain construction so cameras can film a new angle.

I’m curious to see how this works out, and to see what a small town once famous for its ties to farming and trucking will look like in five to 10 years, and whether it’s still “Ridin’ the storm out.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An answer to trucker bombs?

Pee bottles have hit the mainstream, no pun intended. At least for children: If you want to relive the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat from toilet-training your own brood, just cruise over to this site, which will likely make anyone cringe.

Capitalizing on the growing national phobia of the bacteria and viruses our kind have lived with for eons, the creators of My Pee Pee Bottle make a trip to a public restroom sound like a week in a cholera ward. Although truth to tell, I’ve been in some public johns where I felt dirtier after washing my hands than before – and a disproportionate number of these have been in a gigantic international fast-food chain.

They don’t really offer any proof of this – they cite a study that found people don’t like using public restrooms, and then imply that death awaits those who can’t wait to get home.

Their revolutionary solution is not toilet seat covers, portable child-size seats or dousing the place with a bleach bomb. It’s to get the kid to whiz in a plastic bottle that you, Mr. or Mrs. Parent, have to kneel down and hold while encouraging your child to go. This, they say, is far more sanitary and safe for your little one. And you can rest easy, knowing that the paint contains no lead!

Think about that for a bit. While you are thinking, go to the site and read the directions for use.

Full disclosure – I don’t have children and have never had to deal with one’s toilet needs. But I’ve seen and heard a lot of fathers who do.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was in a men’s restroom when I heard a father behind me cajoling his little girl to come in and use the facilities. She was resisting: “I don’t like the boys!” she protested, as he tried to explain that he couldn’t very well take her into the ladies restroom. I could really imagine her cheerfully agreeing to use a bottle out in public.

As for little boys, let’s just say that one of the great things about being a guy is being able to aim. Or not. It’s a free country.

This may be the solution to the eternal “I gotta go now!” quandary; I don’t know. But somehow this strikes me as a money-making solution to a need that has long been solved.

A friend of mine used to regale us with stories about how he and his family went on long station wagon vacations, and Dad stowed a Sam’s Club-size mayonnaise jar in the car for just such emergencies. Except, of course, Dad was intent on making good time so the children had to use the jar on the move. None of them grew up to be truckers, but they all had acquired a valuable skill they don’t teach you at the Three-Week Wonder Academies.

Instead of kids, this product ought to be aimed at truckers. It’s easy to toss a “free” plastic jug, but if you’ve paid $9.99 for just the bottle, you’d be less likely to leave it in a rest stop. Maybe this is something the fleets should logo and hand out to their drivers as incentives not to linger at truck stops? I bet they would get a lot of use then.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Speed limiters put ‘cart before the pony’

I wish I could have attended Truck World 2008 during the festivities on April 19.

I would have enjoyed witnessing Ontario Transportation Minister Jim Bradley and Ontario Trucking Association President David Bradley posing for the cameras while “activating a speed limiter” on a Kenworth. We can guess it was a real dog and pony show.

Both Bradleys – one lobbying the other – continue to push for a mandated top speed of 105 km/h, or 65 mph, for all heavy trucks doing business in Ontario.

Although setting a road speed limit on the ECM isn’t difficult, it involves a cost to the trucker and most likely requires a visit to a qualified technician. Even the Bradleys had help from a Cummins engineer for the Truck World demonstration.

We’ve been told that runs you about $250 on a Cummins engine. What that doesn’t include are the other reconfigurations needed or the downtime.

The debate is not about how to turn it on and off; it’s bigger than that, and you’ve read those arguments in Land Line and heard them on “Land Line Now.”

Under such a mandate, truckers will be forced to make choices when entering a jurisdiction that requires speed limiters – activate the speed limiter on individual trips or parts of trips, leave the setting activated full time, or take a chance with enforcement. Remember that the proposed Ontario law includes fines for tampering.

Until a realistic and fair method of enforcement is sorted out – particularly in regard to the tampering provision – owner-operators will and should resist mandatory speed limiters.

Until then, the Bradley dog and pony show still has a cart before the pony.

What happened to good old enforcement of the posted speed limit?