As John Drake strolls among the display vehicles at the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association's annual expo, it doesn't take long to notice that everyone in the whole place knows him by name. Perhaps it's the years of industry experience—beginning as a driver and now, 29 years later, a fleet manager—or maybe it's simply his endearing personality that they appreciate: you won't meet a nicer guy.
When he makes his way back to the Caterpillar booth to rendezvous with Todd Sondag, a regional on-highway sales rep. for CAT, the two talk like old friends—likely because for the past year and a half, Drake and Sondag have been involved in a business relationship that began with "multi-daily phone calls" and four Peterbilt trucks equipped with '07-spec' Caterpillar test engines. And now that 2007 is ominously bearing down—breathing its clean exhaust gas down the backs of our necks—these two gentlemen sit down to explain to tremulous fleets everywhere that, maybe, 'DPF,' 'regen,' and 'ULSD' are not such dirty words after all.
Setting the Stage
Drake's fleet is Duplainville Transport, a division of Quad/Graphics, a large US-based commercial printing operation. Based in Sussex, WI (a rural suburb of Milwaukee), Quad runs 90 company trucks and nearly as many owner-operators. In the early winter of '04, with trucks on order from Peterbilt of Wisconsin, Drake was first confronted with the idea of a potential test run of Caterpillar engines. For Quad it was an experiment; for CAT, it was more of a lucky break to come across a fleet that was so willing and available.
"Knowing their specific operation, I sat down with John and we discussed: could he dedicate those trucks?" CAT's Sondag says. "And to our surprise, they in fact took four of them, and we were able to dedicate all four of those trucks. With their application in the printing business, the facilities that they ran to on a daily or weekly basis made them the best candidate."
According to Drake, "Aside from the six plants in Wisconsin, we have a plant in Oklahoma City, The Rock, Georgia, Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Saratoga Springs, New York." This meant the trucks would be subject to varying temperatures and terrains, and both long and short hauls, making the routes ideal for a comprehensive test.
"We chose the routes between our plants knowing we'd have consistent freight back and forth," he says. "The route to Saratoga Springs worked well in the winter months for obvious reasons—lots of snow and cold as we traveled through upstate New York. The Rock, Georgia, worked very well from a pulling power standpoint, as we have some mountains to go over heading South—Jellico and Mt. Eagle are the two largest—as well as warmer weather, which is actually hot and humid in the summer months. The Oklahoma route is probably the easy route, with rolling hills; the weather is not as bad as out East, but it's hot and dry in the summer." The test engines, then, got to experience nearly every variation in temperature, moisture, landscape, air pressure, and geography.
The Fuel Rule
In order to make this testing program as realistic and dedicated as possible, it was imperative that the trucks be run on the new mandated ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD). This would prove to be, perhaps, the most difficult element to the overall program.
"I think the biggest challenge was finding fuel in the lane that these trucks were going to run," Drake says.
"It was a larger challenge than making and bringing an engine to market that even met emissions compliance," adds Sondag. "We did not allow their fleet to run 500 ppm fuel (on '07-spec trucks), regardless. We found lanes for these guys, and a fuel network to support these four engines. Then we actually had jobbers that would drop the fuel off, so they, in fact, had fuel every time they would stop. When we dedicated these trucks, we made sure they could make a turn out to New York and come back and fuel."
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