Friday, July 10, 2015

‘11’ is the new 10 mpg, and one Wisconsin trucker thinks he can get there

By his own admission, OOIDA member Michael Niss puts the “hyper” in hyper-miler.

“Just hyper,” he says with a laugh when asked if he embraces the label. “Or crazy? There’s other words for it.”

Michael Niss
You could add “bold” to the list of descriptors as well. The 53-year-old from Wausau, Wis., is putting the finishing touches on his own super-truck, one that he hopes will surpass not just the “Holy Grail” of 10 mpg, but go even further. All the way past 11.

“Two years ago, I sat with one of my advisers, and I’d taken my truck that was getting 6.1 mpg and with the change to a better rolling-resistance Michelin tire, I’d gotten it up to somewhere in the 7s, and I asked him for an unrealistic goal and he said 11.”

When combining those fuel savings with reduced downtime from a “more reliable, pre-EGR” Detroit Diesel engine, Niss said he believes he’ll see a huge increase in his bottom line a year from now.

“I’m convinced that everything I’m doing, compared to the last rig I owned and operated, I’m going to save over $30,000 per year between the fuel savings, maintenance savings, and increased productivity,” he said.

As of Aug. 4, he’s going to be “up and down highways, pulling 40,000-pound loads through the Rocky Mountains.”

“I started out this whole pursuit looking at profitability primarily through fuel efficiency, because my first truck I was spending $70,000 per year on fuel.”

Turns out, Niss came up with four areas that he can have an impact on to maximize his profitability. Those four areas are:

  1. Fuel efficiency
  2. Maintenance costs
  3. Downtime (from being in the shop)
  4. Emissions and environmental impact

 “As I started looking at the maintenance costs and what it was costing me, I had a two-year-old truck that I was spending many, many thousands of dollars on … and I shouldn’t have spent that much money maintaining a two-year-old truck.”

There’s plenty more information about the specs and modifications Niss is making to his truck on his website,, but he’s taking a 2015 Kenworth T660 glider, with an 86-inch AeroCab Aerodyne sleeper. Under the hood, he’s got a remanufactured Detroit Diesel 12.7-liter 60 Series engine with an Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmission. He pulls a 2015 MAC aluminum low-ride flatbed covered with a custom-made contoured Quick Draw Tarp system.

The custom-tarp system is one of the most critical components to achieving the remarkable mileage goal. Niss said the contoured tarp will create an arched profile around his tractor and trailer, helping to maximize the aerodynamics.

Niss says he did a lot of experimenting on his first tractor-trailer with “off-the-shelf” items and homemade prototypes to maximize his fuel economy. Now, he’s taking some of the lessons he’s learned and designing his own custom rig to help him achieve a seemingly impossible goal.

“The science tells us the air will travel better over that arched surface,” he said. “The whole thing is based on trying to maximize an aerodynamic contour between the truck and trailer.”

Niss admits he’s only been in trucking for a relatively short time, (driving school and one year with Roehl Transport of out Marshfield, Wis., and now three years with Long Haul Trucking as a company driver, hauling flatbed loads). He said he hopes his website and social media presence will become a forum for interaction with other drivers who are experimenting with ways of maximizing their profitability and efficiency.

“I’m not trying to keep anything proprietary. “A lot of the stuff I’m doing, whether it’s Michelin tires or Chevron lubricants, I have no personal proprietary angle on any of this,” he said. “So I don’t mind sharing with hundreds of people what some of my successes are. I want to put this out there; I want to share information with as many people as possible. I’m looking for feedback.”

Up until one week ago, Niss said the project was completely self-funded. Since then, he’s received product funding from Truck Systems Technology for their tire-monitoring equipment; Centramatic, for their wheel balancers (which will be installed on the steer, drive and trailer tires); and Bergstrom Climate Control Systems, which is providing him with a battery-powered NITE Phoenix heating and air-conditioning system.

“Not everything I’m doing is applicable across the board to every trucker, but there are many of the things (I’m doing) that they can use as a resource,” he said.

While on the road, Niss said he typically stays in the 65 mph range.

“Anything over 55 and your aerodynamic curve is really going up,” he said. “In a truly scientific ideal world, I might be dropping down to 61 or 60, but I believe that since I’ve added so many aerodynamic features to help me overcome a little bit of the drag, that I can drive 65.”

He also keeps his trailer profile low, to reduce drag.

“I run down the road at 44 inches,” he said. “If a dock requires it, I have an over-inflation valve that gets me up to a 48-inch dock. … I’ve really tried to look at different ways to let the air to start to come over that truck, and then carefully address how it leaves the trailer.”

What he’s got under the hood may be even more impressive. A pre-EGR, Detroit Diesel Series 60, with a horizontal “weed-burner” exhaust.

Niss said the track record of the Detroit Diesel engine, for its durability and longevity, made it the ideal choice for this experiment.

“We chose it for fuel efficiency, less downtime, and an easier engine to maintain,” he said. “Now with that choice, the first arrow that’s slung my way is ‘What are you going to do about emissions?’ If I have a truck that is absolutely running its best, with the best internal lubricants, the best airflow, and every advantage that I’ve given that truck – the least restriction for the exhaust – my baseline is pretty good. I’m not saying that baseline is going to meet the EPA requirements, but for my grams of emissions per horsepower hour, I’m at a good starting point.”

From that baseline, Niss said he plans to experiment with after-market technologies to help address the emissions issues, including spherical crankshaft filtrations and muffler systems. He said in the meantime, if he has to “miss out on the opportunity” to haul loads in California, he will.

“California’s not a big part of my freight routes,” he said. “I get maybe one or two loads there per year.”

As he gets rolling next month, Niss said he plans to spend more time “carefully scrutinizing” cost versus payback. He also said he plans to post his “monthly fuel averages, only” on the website each month.

He said he hopes his project will inspire other drivers who are looking for a “realistic approach” to getting the most out of their equipment and their business.

“This is a truck that’s spec’ed by a truck driver, for a truck driver,” he said. “I don’t have any low-hanging components that are going to get ripped off on railroad tracks or anything that’s going to get in the way of me delivering freight.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#TBT: We STILL agree with Pearl P. Baker!

Editor’s note: It’s “Throwback Thursday” so we’re once again reaching into Land Line’s digital vault for one of our all-time favorite letters from Pearl P. Baker, which inspired a catchphrase we still toss around the newsroom (“Hold on, Pearl!”). We’ll take any and every opportunity we can to share it with you. Today’s remembrance comes from a January 2008 post by contributing writer Charlie Morasch.

From time to time, a topic or news story will send some of us in the office here looking through old editions of Land Line Magazine.
Besides enjoying old pictures of the Land Line editors and OOIDA leaders, you find stories about many of the same topics, albeit with a few slight changes.

Recently a hospital in New York made headlines after a lawsuit revealed that the hospital allegedly forced a man with a head injury to endure a digital rectal exam.

That’s right.

According to The New York Times, construction worker Brian Persaud, 38, from Brooklyn, N.Y., hurt his head at work in May 2003.

Hospital employees held Persaud down so a doctor could perform the rectal exam as Persaud said, “Please don’t do that,” the Times reported. Persaud hit the doctor and was sedated so the exam could be performed.

New York hasn’t begun photographing rear ends that we know of, but obviously Mr. Persaud felt his treatment was invasive.

Persaud’s story has a serious edge, as it may indicate a trend in how the general public is treated. Several states and cities have recently begun allowing law enforcement officers to forcibly remove blood samples from motorists.

The rectal exam story reminded Land Line Managing Editor Sandi Soendker of a letter to the editor that came in nearly 20 years ago.

In 1989, Land Line had reported on the planned use of retinal exams by state troopers for drug and DUI testing.

Senior Editor Jami Jones dug up the issue of Land Line that had a letter by Pearl P. Baker of Freeview, Wis., who wrote about her objections to such invasive techniques in the December 1989 issue under the heading, “The Last Straw.”

I think the letter speaks for itself.

“In the past, the state and federal governments have come up with some wild ideas to keep a firm grip on the truck driver,” Pearl wrote. “Senator Danforth is now doing his best to see that we all ‘drop our drawers’ for any official who has the slightest reason for wanting us to take a drug test. But the most outrageous idea I have heard of so far is the rectinal scan!! Imagine having a picture of your rear-end on an identification card and having an officer compare it to the real thing to prove you are who you say you are???

Just think of the possible uses: check cashing, passports, IDs. … One further observation – you won’t have to worry about your smile anymore, just proudly display your vertical one! The End”

Pearl P. Baker, Freeview, Wis.

Land Line Publisher Todd Spencer responded in the 1989 magazine:

“Editor’s Note: Hold on, Pearl. That’s retinal imaging, not rectal. They’re both invasive to a part of your body, but different parts.”

We now know what Pearl knew 20 years ago: Sadly, we’ve truly entered the digital age.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Randy Rebillard remembered

The celebration of OOIDA Member Randy Rebillard’s life was held June 27, 2015, at the Farmers Hall in Gimli, Manitoba which is about 45 min north of Winnipeg. Attendance was estimated at more than 350 people, with friends from across the United States and Canada in attendance.  It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of love and friendship as Randy’s families (both trucking and the one he was born to) came together to share stories and memories. For Randy, family always came first.

With a kind heart and a wicked sense of humor, Randy was always in the middle of the action. Whether it was hauling freight, cleaning and polishing his truck, hanging with his grandkids, Jakob and Jerika, or pointing out some dirt that remained on someone else’s “spotless” truck, Randy was a friend to many and tireless with his attention to detail. A vigorous advocate for the trucking industry, Rebillard exemplified the successful one-truck owner-operator.

LL Managing Editor Jami Jones, Randy Rebillard,
Gailand Johnston and LL Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski
(Photo by Cheri Kimball)
Licensed to drive truck from the age of 18 (although he began driving earlier), Rebillard hauled general freight from Winnipeg to Gimli until he bought his first cabover – a 1979 Peterbilt – at age 21 and started hauling meat from Canada to California and produce back. 

Married to his best friend, partner and the love of his life, Jona, they raised two children, Dustin and Jennifer. According to Jennifer, she spent the first four months of her life in that double bunk cabover and learned to walk in the truck. “I climbed up and over that doghouse and was walking at six months,” she said.

An antique tractor enthusiast, he became a Licensed Steam Engineer. This passion combined with his love of all things trucking contributed to the name of his instantly recognizable truck – Tired Iron. Painted to give the illusion of rust dripping from edges and popping through in places, his blue 2002 Peterbilt 379 rolled into the truck show community in 2003 and immediately found a home among friends. They won nothing – not one trophy –on that first trip to Louisville, but made great friends. And by August 2004, he earned the first of three Best of Show awards at TruckerFest/Hot August Nights in Reno, Nev.

Rebillard continued to excel on the show circuit, earning high-profile sponsorships that landed him on billboards for Mobil Delvac and in videos for Lincoln Chrome and gave him a platform to help other show truck enthusiasts achieve success. Quick to volunteer and find ways to help others, Rebillard displayed his truck at fund-raisers, in addition to using it as a wedding chariot and a training tool for judges at other competitions. One of his favorite phrases was, “Work smarter, not harder.”

The Rebillards became key figures at the Paul K. Young Truck Beauty Championships at MATS, at the Tower Tree Truck Show (Greensburg, Ind.) and the Guilty By Association Truck Shows in Joplin, Mo., to name a few.

In 2012 Rebillard’s efforts within the truck show community were recognized by the State of Kentucky where he was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel. That was a huge honor for him.

When OOIDA held its Heart of America Truck Beauty competition as part of the Association’s 40 year anniversary event at the Kansas Speedway in 2013, Randy and Jona were asked to be part of the contest committee – a job they gladly accepted.

Randy Rebillard lost his battle with cancer on May 19, 2015, at the age of 53. He will be remembered by all who knew him as a gentle giant, a valiant warrior and a great human being. His truck will be on display in the Lincoln Chrome booth at GATS. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by to share memories with Jona.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Employee drivers trend up at Port of Los Angeles

At the largest combined port complex in the United States, owner-operators are losing market share to company drivers.

And it may be a good thing.

According to the Wall Street Journal, some motor carriers are hiring port drivers as employees, buying trucks and creating driver shifts to run round the clock to move freight between ports, rail yards and warehouses.

The arrangement helps fill a critical gap in the retail goods supply chain, and allows companies to avoid labor issues.

Congestion at the ports has cost the economy billions. Labor problems only resolved this spring were partly to blame, though clogged ports seem to habitually carry the blame of catch-all smoke monsters that can’t quite be defined individually. Port congestion is usually blamed on driver shortage, chassis problems, and long lines for drayage haulers.

New companies backed by private equity firms are popping up and hiring truck drivers to work full-time hauling containers between ports, warehouses, and shipping yards.

“While all-employee drayage companies account for less than 5 percent of the more than 10,000 drivers at Southern California ports, that’s double their share a year ago, according to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is working to organize employee drivers,” the Journal reported. “Some trucking experts see the domestic drayage market, estimated by research firm FTR Transportation Intelligence as generating $12 billion in annual revenue, as ripe for a shakeup.”

Companies that can offer reliable labor and trucks that comply with strict emissions rules will help freight movement be more efficient, the argument goes.

Drivers in California have won several recent court victories, including an independent driver misclassification lawsuit that cost FedEx $228 million and a California state labor commission ruling that Uber car drivers are employees and not independent contractors.

Owner-operators nationally often build their businesses by finding a niche and offering competitive advantages over large, bureaucratic companies. At ports, some owner-operators seem like victims.

OOIDA members typically are not port regulars. In fact, members who worked the ports in Southern California are mostly long gone.  Some of them have described owner-operators at ports as typically running the oldest trucks and often being forced to comply with the most difficult conditions.

Port drayage haulers are often an entryway into trucking for some, and the capitalist economy has both allowed them job opportunities and kept some rates lower than they would be without independent drivers in the mix.

But some companies have made a lot of money off the backs of these drivers, even while forcing them to wear company logos, drive what appear to be company trucks and meet other conditions that should be accompanied by a salary and other employee benefits.

If more employee drivers means more drayage haulers are less likely to be abused and working conditions will improve, here’s hoping the trend continues.