Tried and True

How to keep trucks soldiering on for thirty years.


"Just keep up with maintenance, with oil changes and filters and everything," he says. "As soon as there's something wrong with them, I have the driver fill out a slip—I get a copy, the mechanic gets a copy—and sometimes I'll switch around what the mechanic is doing because this is more of a priority. I'll tell him, 'This needs to be done NOW.'

Even the PM program is simple and straightforward, according to Wohlfeil. "The mechanic was keeping track of the hours, and doing PMs every 2,000 hours," he explains. "Now, I think that with the bigger trucks that are plowing, you're not going to get 2,000 hours in a year. So now with the little trucks—the pickups and dumps—we'll do PM every three months, because there's constant idling. The bigger trucks, like the ones we've got out plowing now, we did PMs on those in October, and I'll have them back in again—if they don't get the hours on them—in April.

"We'll try to get them every six months, if they don't have the hours on them," he goes on. "To me, even though the oil hasn't been used that much with the low hours, all that sitting and going from hot to cold, I have a feeling that all that condensation has gotten in there, and that's not good either.

"Now, our seven-yard dumps, they were out all weekend with the snowstorm, and a couple of them are out hauling snow today," he explains. "As soon as they get a break we pressure wash them completely: underneath the frame, everything, to keep them clean and get that salt off of them."

The plow trucks had actually been pressure washed just before the snowstorm hit, but to Wohlfeil it wasn't a wasted effort. "The guys were saying, 'What did we even clean it for?' It's a chance you're taking, but you have to get that salt off, so it's not eating away at the frame."

MIX AND MATCH

It also helps that the fleet is big enough to allow Wohlfeil some flexibility in duty assignments.

"Since we have gotten the one-ton dumps, we don't use the bigger dumps much in the summertime," he says, "so during the summer I had five of the seven-yarders in another building in storage, and I would pull them out as needed."

Another way to be flexible is to repurpose trucks as they age, as Wohlfeil plans to do with the water wagon that will soon be up for sale.

He and his mechanic will take the water tank off the old Ford, sell the cab and chassis to the highest bidder, then install the tank on a 1981 Ford L8000 diesel with an automatic transmission. So, in one swap, two trucks that may otherwise have been at the end of their service lives will be reborn to work again.

That doesn't mean that Wohlfeil won't dispose of a truck when it's outlived its usefulness. "Just this summer we sold a 1978 Ford with a gas engine and stick shift," he says. "We sold it because it was the oldest of the plows, but it only had 40,000 miles on it. So, the mileage is very low on it, and that helps too."

TEN MORE YEARS

The night before this interview, Wohlfeil had just gotten good news from the City Council. They had approved the purchase of a new vehicle, a move that will enable Wohlfeil to retire another old veteran.

"There's a new Elgin street sweeper we're getting, but that's in next year's budget," he explains. "But we have it all okayed so there won't be a 2007 engine in it. It will be the 2007 model with the 2006 engine in it, because they bought a mess of them ahead of time. Even the other companies that we got bids from, they have 2007 Sterling and Freightliner cab and chassis in stock with '06 Mercedes-Benz engines in them. By ordering it now, we're going to save around $8,000, because of the price increase from the engine alone."

What's amazing about this purchase is that it was supposed to have happened ten years ago, in 1996!

The vacuum sweeper that's being replaced was purchased 20 years ago. At that time, Wohlfeil says, the City Council told the Public Works Department to keep the truck for only 10 years, "then get rid of it, because it's going to nickel and dime you to death."

It seems the maintenance department has taken such good care of the truck over the years, however, that the "nickel and dime" fear never materialized. "Well," Wohlfeil continues, "for the last five years that I have known, they've thrown the new sweeper out of the budget. It was in the budget, but then at final approval of the budget they've thrown it out, because it wasn't needed, because (the old one is) still going!"

We Recommend