Tried and True

How to keep trucks soldiering on for thirty years.


If Wohlfeil has one worry, it's the bodies of his trucks. Despite all the washing, you can never keep them clean enough.

"Even though we do keep them clean, they're still going to start rusting out," he says. "I was supposed to replace two of the older ones this year, and put new boxes on them. But with one, everything was good, except that inside the box had holes in it, so I had it relined it for a lot cheaper (than replacing it). The other one is really bad; that's the one I'm going to turn into my water truck, so I can get rid of my '72. And as much as the water wagon is used in the summer, I ought to be able to get 10 more years out of that truck. And we'll do all that work here."

OLD VS. NEW

It probably won't happen, but if the City Council budgeted a million or two for vehicle replacement next year, Wohlfeil would have no problem spending the money.

"I would replace quite a few of the trucks," he says after some thought. "I'd get rid of all my '70s that I've got left. I'd probably upgrade everything up to '95 or '96, because they just don't have many miles or hours on them. Seems like some of the older trucks hold out better than the newer trucks… there are just fewer problems with them.

"I'm kind of leery of the Mercedes engines," he goes on. "Last year's truck was the first with the new Mercedes engine, and we have to see how that's going. We have three of them now: the 2005 Freightliner, and the 2006 & 2007 Sterlings. Until we get some hours on it, we won't really see how it holds up. The warranty time period runs out before the mileage, because we never hit that."

Which brings Wohlfeil full circle, back to the old trucks... Given the choice, he would rather work on an older, simpler vehicle. "For me, I loved it when you could work on an engine by yourself," he says, "without all these electronics, where you have to take it to the dealership."

The shop does have a scan tool for the newer trucks, and Wohlfeil says they will be replacing that with a newer tool this year. Still, he says, "The mechanic, I would guess, would rather work on the old stuff. It's more of a challenge."

Of course, the mechanic can't answer the question himself, because he's on the road fetching that scratch-built power steering hose... That's what you live with when you've got a 20-year trade-in cycle.

But you won't hear Gary Wohlfeil grumbling about it. When the next snowstorm hits, his trucks will be ready to work.

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