Monday, March 29, 2010

Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a (Louahvulle) convoy

When the halls clear at the Mid-America Trucking Show each year, it's a little sad it's over and almost a little anti-climactic.

That is until this year.

The Inagural Parade of Lights Convoy to benefit Special Olympics Kentucky was held following the close of the show Saturday, March 27. It not only was the perfect end to the 2010 edition of the Mid-America Trucking Show, it was also the perfect beginning for a new tradition.

Louisville's downtown was treated to an awe-inspiring convoy of 73 trucks that circled downtown. Horns blaring. Lights flashing. Smiles and waves from everyone -- participants and spectators alike.

It was an extra special event for me. I was asked by Cpl. Norm Schneiderhan and Cindy Stowe to be one of the two honorary Grand Marshals for the event. The other was Toby Young, president of Exhibit Management Associates and the man behind the Louisville truck show. Toby got hung up at the Expo Center with exhibitors making their mass exodus. But I know he rode along with us in spirit.

Norm auctioned off the lead truck and me as a passenger at the driver's meeting. I couldn't have been more happy to raise $250 for the Kentucky Special Olympics and to be so honored to ride in the lead truck with Vickie Youngs.

Vickie is a 23-year trucking veteran with 2 million safe miles behind her -- and it was just bonus that she is an OOIDA life member. Vickie and I swapped grins and stories all the way around the city.

It was a great time, made extra special by one of the neatest women I've met in a long time. Thanks for the ride Vickie.

Land Line's State Legislative Editor Keith Goble hitched a ride with OOIDA Life Member Lee Strebel and Managing Editor Sandi Soendker rode in a chase car taking videos and photos of the event. Check out this video of her in the back of the silver car. (The green sweater is easy to spot.)

After we returned, we announced that 73 trucks participated in the Convoy. Final numbers still hadn't been tallied because of all the extra donations and such, but I know they raised around $3,000 to benefit Special Olympics.

We finished off the night with good food, good friends and great music thanks to Leland Martin.

As we left the parking lot, I couldn't help but think to myself that there couldn't have been a better way to end a Mid-America Trucking Show.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

2010 MATS: it's a wrap ... well, almost

Day Three at MATS is coming to a close and I see the crowd thinning out and exhibitors getting read to tear down booths and pack up. We've said goodbyes to many trucking friends, ones we see only once a year.

In the press room, it's a 15-minute warning to pack up gear, finish stories. Most journalists are gone now. Dorothy Cox of The Trucker just finished pounding out a story, and I think she's calling it a week. Two guys from France are packing cameras and saying "au revoir." One editor from India is checking his flight schedule. One from Sweden is headed for a mini-vacation in the Carolinas for a day or two before returning to Europe.

Our OOIDA staffers are getting ready to strike all of our booths. We'll load up everything in our truck -- the Spirit -- and for most of the gang, the Louisville skyline will be in the rear view mirror by sunset.

Out on the floor, as booths are tearing down -- the Sirius XM radio journalists are still on the job pumping out MATS news over the airwaves. Our Land Line Now radio crew -- Mark Reddig, Terry Scruton and Barry Spillman --will be rolling up the wires and sound equipment. At the Pana Pacific booth, Evan Lockridge is broadcasting the Lockridge Report. Our senior editor Jami Jones is a guest today.

Our LL writers and super bloggers Bill Hudgins (Nashville) and Suzanne Stempinski (Chicago area) are on the road home. Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson tells me he is headed to Papa John's and will leave tomorrow.

Papa John's is where Jami and I will be going later this afternoon, along with our State Legislative Editor Keith Goble. Jami will be a Grand Marshal in a Parade of Lights tonight, along with Toby Young, president of Exhibit Management Associates (producers of MATS). A number of bobtails are convoying through downtown Louisville to benefit Special Olympics. This will be the last story we'll cover for 2010 MATS and that's why Jami, Keith and I aren't going home just quite yet.

For most, 2010 MATS is a wrap -- but HEY! This party ain't over yet. Papa John's parking lot is still rockin' and the smell of hot dogs on the grill is calling to us ...

Ferro to Women in Trucking: You go girls!

Women in Trucking members gathered in Louisville Saturday morning in numbers to celebrate the accomplishments of women in the trucking industry -- and to try to set a record, with a group photograph of the most women CDL holders together. Well, that world record was set in 2004 in The Netherlands as 416 women came together. While the WIT did not break the world record, they set a North American record. WIT President Ellen Voie announced this morning that 275 CDL-holding women were on hand for the event.

The event was held in a large conference room upstairs in the Kentucky Expo Center. With the women participating all wearing red T-shirts, the scene was a sea of red. As they lined up and entered a main door, they were greeted by Ellen, members of the WIT board, and special guest Anne Ferro, FMCSA Administrator (pictured above). Greeters cheered and applauded every single woman. I was reminded of a high school champion team coming home after winning state -- except this team of winners was all women. Many were accompanied by husbands, partners and family, even proud employers.

In Administrator Ferro's remarks, she congratulated the women for their safety records, for their tenacity, and for their contributions to the industry. She said women truckers compose 5 percent of the nation's truck drivers. Her comment "Let's DOUBLE IT!" drew thunderous cheering.

Ellen introduced 60 drivers with safety records of a million miles, 28 drivers with 2 million mile safety records and 14 women drivers with 3 million safe miles on the road. Each came to the front and was greeted by Anne, who gave them an envelope with a certificate. Together, these women represented 61 million safe miles driven.

Sometimes I amazed at how many acquaintances I have made in the 22 years I've covered the industry. Many of them are women, and many were here today.

The whole room emptied to an area downstairs to have the Salute photo taken. It's a photo we'll be sure to share. Watch for it.

Ice road truckers George and Alex are a hit

The roads of the far north are nothing but solid bumps, ridges and cracks during warmer months ... and all gravel. "They are so bad that if you want to get any speed goin', you gotta take your wallet out of your pocket and put it between your teeth."

That was the kind of frank fact and humor that truckers and others were treated to Saturday morning at the Paul K. Young Memorial truck beauty contest at MATS in Louisville. George Spears and Alex Debogorski of Ice Road Truckers fame were special guests at the trophy ceremony, compliments of Firestone. By the way, Alex is an OOIDA member.

In the first hour of the awards event, a ceremony that awards the winners of the PKY, competitors were thoroughly entertained by a superbly personalized slide show from George and Alex. The two spoofed, narrated, spoofed, chuckled and confessed (in some cases) their way through a collection of spectacular scenes of ice road trucking. Afterward, questions from the crowd ranged from maintenance queries to questions about the film crew.

Following George and Alex was hard, but the trophy presentations did not disappoint. Especially the rockin' fabulous trophies made by Carl Carstens and Rockwood. Watch this blog for details on the PKY winners -- happening soon.

OOIDA media takes top honors in TWNA awards

The media arms of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association received numerous awards in the Seventh Annual Communications Awards sponsored by the Truck Writers of North America.

The competition recognizes excellence in trucking industry journalism in both the trade and the mainstream press, as well as excellence in communication with the industry by public relations professionals. These included TWNA members and non-members.

Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now received a combined 20 awards, including the Best of 2009 award presented to Land Line Magazine State Legislative Editor Keith Goble.

Best of 2009 award:
• Magazine Writing - The Power of One - Land Line Magazine - Best of 2009 to Keith Goble

Best of Division awards:
• Magazine Writing - The Power of One - Land Line Magazine - Best of Magazine Writing to Keith Goble
• Radio - Technology Helps Recover Stolen Truck - Land Line Now - Best of Radio to Reed Black - Barry Spillman

Gold awards:
• Magazine Writing - Column - Dashboard Confidential - Land Line Magazine - to David Sweetman
• Magazine Writing - Public Service - The Power of One - Land Line Magazine - to Keith Goble
• Magazine Writing - Feature - The Future Of Spec'ing - Land Line Magazine - to Paul Abelson
• Magazine Writing - Best Single Issue - May 2009 Issue - Land Line Magazine - to The Land Line Staff
• Radio - Technical: General - Technology Helps Recover Stolen Truck - Land Line Now - to Reed Black & Barry Spillman
• Radio - Public Service - The Truckers For Troops Telethon - Land Line Now - to Land Line Now’s Staff

Silver awards:
• Magazine Writing - Entertainment - Cracked Carols - Land Line Magazine - to Bill Hudgins
• Magazine Writing - Truck Show - A Class Act - Land Line Magazine - to Suzanne Stempinski
• Magazine Writing - Environmental - American Idle - Land Line Magazine - to Jami Jones & Land Line’s Staff
• Radio - Environmental - Going Green: A Concern Over Regulation In California – Land Line Now - to Mark Reddig & Barry Spillman
• Radio - Truck Show - The Sounds Of Mid-America - Land Line Now – to Reed Black & Barry Spillman
• Radio - Driver Lifestyle - Prom Dress Hero - Land Line Now - to Terry Scruton & Barry Spillman

Bronze awards:
• Magazine Writing - Investigative - Grand Theft Cargo - Land Line Magazine - to Charlie Morasch
• Magazine Writing - Feature - Deadly Consequences - Land Line Magazine - to Clarissa Kell-Holland
• Magazine Writing - Feature - Jump seat Journal - Land Line Magazine - to David Tanner
• Magazine Writing - Editorial - Ontario's Way - Land Line Magazine - to David Tanner
• Radio - Interview - Aaron Tippin & Arrow Back on the Road - Land Line Now - to Terry Scruton & Barry Spillman

Bright, shiny objects fascinate MATS goers

More than 80 vehicles entered the Paul K. Young Truck Beauty Championship at the Mid-America Truck Show. Rigs ranged from a beautifully restored and maintained 1949 Kenworth cabover (which is in a LOT better shape than this writer, who shares a birthday with it), to virtually brand-new vehicles entered in low-mileage classes. There were extreme vehicles, such as an homage to all things John Deere, and the chopped-and-lowered look was popular.

After a stormy Thursday night that saw temps drop from the 60s to the low-30s, bringing with it snow flurries and scattered icing on the just judged trucks, Friday dawned cold but clear. Saturday promised milder weather - perfect for the anticipated crush of visitors on the show's last day.

Blinded by the light

Well, the third and final day of MATS is upon us, and the morning sun is beaming down upon the Land Line Now booth in the north wing lobby like a beacon of hope, summoning all truckers to come and join us in our mighty quest to ... ahem, sorry. I got carried away for a minute there. That's what this place will do to you.

It's been a fun and informative ride so far, and it's not over yet. Late yesterday afternoon I tagged along with Jami Jones and Suzanne Stempinski to the lot where the show trucks are. That was an education unto itself. Those two, I think, knew just about everybody out there. I made the following statement to someone earlier this week and it still holds true: Between Jami, Suzanne and Sandi Soendker, if you can't find who you are looking for at this show, they probably don't exist.

Today, Leland Martin will join us at the Land Line Now booth for a few hours before heading out to the parking lot at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium to put on a show later tonight. Mark, Barry and I and some of the magazine crew will be headed out there. Should be a fun evening and a great way to cap off what has, for me anyway, been a great show.

In the meantime, I've still got a few more stories to chase down and possibly a few more I haven't even discovered yet. That's one of the great things about being a journalist at this show: There is never a shortage of stories just waiting to be told.

I have to go now. The beacon of the booth is beckoning me home.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The 2009 Goodyear Highway Hero is ...

An owner-operator from Gladstone, Oregon, is the 27th Goodyear North American Highway Hero. Junichi Shimizu helped save the lives of three people involved in a fiery traffic accident, including one driver who was trapped in his burning vehicle. The announcement was made last night at the Truck Writers of North America's industry awards.

Land Line Now Senior Correspondent Terry Scruton and I joined Junichi, his wife Sam, and the other three finalists as they relaxed today with kind of a MATS side trip. As one of the finalists -- Jesse Lee Seal of Alma, AR -- told us, it was the first "paid vacation" he'd had in a long time.

Jim Davis of Goodyear and Doug Siefkes of SiefkesPetit Communications co-hosted a fun trip to the Louisville Slugger factory and museum in downtown Louisville. We were invited to tag along.
We also met George Lantzy of Turtle Creek, PA, and Stephen Page, a Massachusetts trucker who coached us on how to pronounce Gloucester with just the right new England accent.

It was a fun tour for us, too, and a chance to get to know some extraordinary people.

Doing the Day Two Shuffle

You can tell it is Day 2 of the Mid America Trucking Show. It's getting harder to move around as more and more people crowd the show floor. And the traffic moves at a shuffling pace as people stop and stare all of the goodies on display. The Land Line Now booth in the North wing lobby has seen a steady stream of traffic. Sadly, I have not been part of that stream today.

You'll have to trust me, though, when I say my time away from the booth has been worth it. Sandi Soendker and I met up with the Goodyear Highway Hero nominees (and the winner) this morning at the Louisville Slugger museum and factory. It's a neat place to see if you get the time to check it out while you're in town.

But we weren't there to learn about bats; we were there to learn about the Goodyear Highway Heroes and what kind of a person you have to be to run into the fire (in some cases literally) while others are running away. The answer is surprisingly ordinary. These guys are just ordinary truck drivers who saw folks in need of help and jumped in without giving it a second thought. To a man, each one of them said they did not hesitate in the slightest when they were presented with a life-threatening situation. And to a man, they each said they would do it again in a heartbeat.

Later on in the day, I stopped by the Trucker Buddy press conference to learn about a new program Trucker Buddy is kicking off to educate kids about what truckers do to stay green and help the environment.

I also heard some great stories from those who were named 2009 Trucker Buddies of the Month, including OOIDA member Candy Bass, who has a rather unique Trucker Buddy class. Candy has the honor of being the only trucker whose buddy class is made up of athletes from a Special Olympic swim team.

I'll be following up with Candy after the show to get the scoop on that story for Land Line Now. It should be a lot of fun to listen to.

Trucker Buddies and Highway Heroes are just a few of the wonderful people you meet at this show. And that's just on one single day that isn't even over yet.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Crawl, Walk, Zoom

Holy cow - it's already Friday and my good intentions have disappeared like exhaust from pre-emission regulation stacks. We're being inundated with the latest information. EGR vs SCR. New trucks and refurbished ones. HOS regulations. Ergonomics and aerodynamics. MATS is a veritable smorgasbord.

2009 is being benchmarked as the bottom of the pit, and cautious optimism about 2010 and beyond is on everyone's lips. It's a lot like the weather. Yesterday it rained and was gloomy. Today is sunny, and hope sparkles like the freshly shined aluminum, chrome and paint on show trucks in the lot.

I've walked, strolled, zoomed, dashed and maneuvered my way from the farthest-most points of the show to the extreme opposite end. My thinking is linear, my path not so much. The fun is in the journey. I'm traveling on the 10-foot rule. Walk 10 feet and hug an old friend. It used to be the 20-foot rule, and by the time the show ends on Saturday, it may be down to 5 feet. Drivers and exhibitors; equipment manufacturers and engineers; service providers and other writers and editors.

Somewhere in the country people are playing basketball and checking their brackets. Here, we're playing with trucks and checking our wallets.

Top press award goes to Land Line editor

As State Legislator Editor, Keith Goble's everyday job consists of sending out OOIDA's constant messages of "be involved in the election process" and "know the issues" and "call your lawmaker with your input." In October 2008, with the nation at a crossroads and on the verge of the presidential election, Keith wrote "The Power of One," an article reminding voters that one vote could go a long way in determining the course. With fascinating historical documentation of actual cases, Keith's article debunks the excuse of "one vote can't do anything."

For this powerful article, Keith was honored last night in Louisville by the Truck Writers of North America. "The Power of One" earned him a gold award in the Public Service category, the Best of Magazine Writing division and -- over all other entries in this year's contest -- Keith's article was deemed the "Best of the Best." It's TWNA's top award.

In February 2000, Keith joined the Land Line staff as "staff support," which meant he did everything. A Mizzou grad with an English major, in no time Keith was writing some stories. In November of that year, he was promoted to staff writer. It was clear from the git-go that two areas hit the hot button for Keith: sports and legislative news. We don't have a sports desk but legislative news? Oh yeah! At first we split up the legislative watch between three writers, but eventually it all fell to Keith. In February 2004, he took over the state legislative desk.

As state legislative editor, he plans and writes the State Legislative Watch in each issue of Land Line, along with his analysis of state trends. Each week, he does a radio version of his state watch with Land Line Now's Reed Black on Sirius XM. Every day without fail, you can find at least two state legislative reports on the daily news that's posted on, and The Association's main Web site,, presents an excellent and always up-to-date state watch authored by Keith. He also works closely with OOIDA Executive VP Todd Spencer to monitor state legislative issues of utmost importance to truckers and to write and deliver Call to Action e-blasts to truckers in those states.

Keith's hefty workload is narrowly focused on the status of the state issues critical to professional truckers. His reports are not shocking, revealing or sexy. What we call "wow" reports rarely get assigned to Keith. But his steady stream of articles contain an underlying purpose that place them high on the must-read list. His impeccably researched information, his interviews with lawmakers, and his reliable interpretation of what these bills mean are enabling to our readers. They give truckers the knowledge needed to confidently contact lawmakers and to help shape the future of trucking.

Congratulations, Keith, on this prestigious achievement.

Back on the Road winner revealed

We're not quite to halftime of the 2010 Mid-America Trucking Show, but I think I may have seen the highlight for this year. It will be difficult to top Arrow Truck Sales' reveal of the 2010 Back on the Road winner.

Owner-operator Robert Snyder of Dunnellon, FL, was announced Friday morning as this year's recipient. Robert was joined by his wife and daughter, who nominated her dad for Back on the Road.

As you could imagine, it was an emotional moment for the family and many others gathered to watch. Robert's story is a familiar tale during these tough economic times. During the past couple of years he has struggled to continue driving his 14-year old truck, which has nearly 1.5 million miles, while keeping up the family home and paying bills on time.

After the announcement, with an eye-catching 2007 Volvo VNL 670 to their backs, the Snyders watched arm-in-arm a video of their story. The promise of better days ahead was present on their joyful faces. An opportunity to remove much of the stresses experienced during the past couple of years is now a reality.

I cannot think of a better moment at this year's show.

Darth Innovator

Daimler-Freightliner's Innovation Truck, which debuted at the 2009 MATS show, returned for 2010. The matte-black fiberglass body and tinted windows inspired comparisons to Darth Vader's helmet, and the colored gels of the spotlights enhanced the slightly eerie image.

However, concepts tested on the Innovation Truck have already appeared on the road, such as Predictive Cruise Control.

The force is indeed strong with this one (and not all dark).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Land Line Staff wins TWNA's 1st Extra Mile Award for helping Arrow Trucking drivers

The Land Line staff - print, Web and radio - were recognized Thursday night for their efforts to assist Arrow Trucking drivers with the first-ever "Extra Mile" award from the Truck Writers of North America. In making the presentation, TWNA noted that:

"The first full day of winter 2009 was a cold one for more than 1,400 Arrow Trucking drivers and their families. Three days before Christmas, the financially tottering fleet shut down with no warning. Drivers were left scattered across the country, their fuel cards turned off, their loads suddenly unimportant compared with worries about how they would get home, and what lay in the future. The coldheartedness of Arrow’s management rivaled that of Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch. But this wasn’t TV or the movies – there would be no spirits and no Whoville carols to inspire heart-melting repentance by Arrow."

But it turned out there were good spirits – and a whole lotta Whos – that came to the aid of those stunned and stranded drivers. It started in a little town off Interstate 70 called Grain Valley, Missouri, in the offices of OOIDA’s Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now Sirius-XM radio show. Within minutes after word arrived about Arrow’s collapse, the Land Line staff was spreading the word via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. There was soon a Facebook page dedicated to helping the victims of this calamity.

As Land Line’s senior editor Jami Jones described it in her February column, “Sure, we launched it here from OOIDA and babied it through its infancy, but that’s just a minute piece of the miracle that unfolded. Volunteers first came by the hundreds. Overnight, more than 1,000 had signed on. Ten days later, more than 7,000 people were rooting for these Arrow drivers. A well-organized group of volunteers emerged – some former Arrow employees, truckers, affiliates to the industry, and simply Good Samaritans who had no direct connect to trucking – who labored over the calls for need and matched them with offers to help.

"The success stories of drivers making it home, the tearful messages of thanks made it worth the exhaustion and frustration that many felt in accomplishing what Arrow chose not to do – take care of the truckers. We knew the goodwill of the trucking industry would rise to the need and were not proven wrong. It makes us proud to work for the men and women of the highways.”

The Land Line staff didn’t just launch that page and go home to wrap presents. They stayed online, through Christmas and into the New Year, helping to coordinate efforts to get truckers home and, in at least one instance, to locate a driver who hadn’t checked in with his family.

To recognize this extraordinary effort, the Truck Writers of North America Board of Directors voted to create an “Extra Mile” award to honor Land Line’s commitment to looking after truckers and their families.

Confessions of a shwag junkie

As much as I want to deny it, I can't. I like the shwag at MATS.

It is easy to make fun of the little kids scrambling for the treasures. It's fun to watch them smile from ear to ear when they score a light-up bouncy ball.

But a grown woman? It really is almost embarrassing.

I hide it as best I can. I blame some of my finds on needing to bring home stuff for my kids, for my colleagues holding down the fort back at the office.

I even keep a box of the stuff hidden so I can empty my bag and it looks like I only have a thing or two.

So this year I decided to go cold turkey. Not gonna pick up a pen, a lanyard, a notebook, nothing. If I didn't bring it, I don't need it.

Now here it is, less than half a day into the official first day of the show.

How am I doing?

It was a rough morning and when they taunted me with the offer of a free travel mug full of steaming hot coffee, I leapt off the wagon.

Oh well, while I’m there, I saw some ink pens in the West Wing I have to have.

Now it feels like show time!

The first official day of MATS is now under way. Most of the major press conferences are over and the real stars of the show - the truck drivers - have been pouring in all day.

I just spent the last hour at the Land Line Now booth in the North Wing lobby, meeting and greeting all kinds of great people. For starters, I met Lee and Jazzy Jordan for the first time face to face. I had interviewed both of them over the phone, but had never met them in person until a short while ago.

Jazzy is adorable, with a sweet disposition and a thousand-watt smile. She's very soft-spoken, which is just the opposite of most of the folks who stopped by our booth - not to mention most of the folks working there. It's a nice counterbalance.

Speaking of folks stopping by the booth, I just met OOIDA member and longtime Land Line Now caller Floyd Miller. Floyd is instantly recognizable by his distinctive Arkansas drawl and deep voice. Once I saw the name on the badge and confirmed it, I knew Mark would want to meet him.

Mark was in the midst of doing a segment with Rod Nofziger, so when it was over I had Floyd turn his badge around so Mark couldn't see the name. I was wondering if Mark would recognize the voice right away. He knew it sounded familiar, but couldn't quite place it. When I told him who it was, Mark gave the man a big bear hug and the two were still chatting away when I left to come back to the press room.

This is what the show is all about. Now it truly does feel like show time.

ThermoKing Blowing Cold and Hot

Minneapolis' ThermoKing today announced a battery-based APU system to power heating and cooling for truckers. The TriPacE Electric APU cooling phase is powered by four batteries. The truck's own batteries provide backup, and there is a shore-power hookup capability as well. Two Smart Charger control modules monitor two batteries each, oveseeing the charging, discharging and shutdown modes; in-cab controls allow the driver to dial in desired temp and warns when battery charge is almost exhausted. Heating is fuel fired, as it is in the company's established TriPac APU.

Cost is $8,500 and weight with battery pack is more than 300 pounds; By cutting the cost of idling for creature comfort to virtually nothing, the system can pay for itself in a couple of years or less, according to the company.

ThermoKing also introduced its T-1000 Spectrum multi-temp refrigeration unit for straight truck customers who need different temperature zones. The engine is designed to reduce particulates by 38 percent and CO by 54 percent over previous engines. A redesigned grille deflects noise upward and away from the cab for quieter operation - a boon to sleeping reefer haulers and their neighbors at trucks stops. The T-1000 has an electric standby option as well, dubbed SmartPower, which is available in both 230V and 460V configurations.

Freightliner: Light at the end of tunnel

At the Freightliner -- Daimler Trucks North America -- press conference this a.m. in Louisville, Andreas Renschler began his comments to the media by talking about the weather. Renschler, head of Daimler trucks and buses, said he felt like 2009 was one major blizzard. "By now, with the fog lifting, we can finally get a clearer view of the state of our industry."

Renschler reported that Daimler came out of 2009 with its share of bumps and bruises and results reflected what happens when virtually "all markets collapse" worldwide, simultaneously. He sees market recovery "moderate" in the U.S., about 10 to 15 percent. He says it will be years before the truck markets have fully recovered, but there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Martin Daum, President and CEO of DTNA, is ten months into his new job at the helm of DTNA but he's been 23 years with the commercial vehicles. Daum says the industry won't see truck sales like those the industry experienced in 2005 and 2006 anytime in the foreseeable future. His tea leaves say truck sales will increase 13 percent over 2009 with an additional "year-over-year" increase of 33 percent in 2011.

Renschler was optimistic that DTNA's countermeasures would be effective. In fact, he announced that coming out of the worst economic crisis in post-war era, DTNA would be launching the biggest "product offense" in the company's history. New vehicles, new components are rolling out, including the new Coronado ST with EPA 10 compliant engine.

Senior Vice-President Sales and Marketing Mark Lampert asked the rhetorical question: where do our ideas come from? The answer, he said, lies in recognizing the truckers "who brought us to the dance" in the first place -- "a very important group of buyers in the North American trucking industry, the owner-operators."

Lampert said DNTA's commitment to "best in class" vehicles begins with the owner-operator. "We know their truck is often their home and their business." He said the new Coronado is custom-made for the owner-operator.

Lampert had some good news for Western Star lovers. Lampert announced that "while remaining true to its purpose-built roots," Western Star will be expanded. Plans call for the introduction of more fuel efficient models as well as interior enhancements that will all the Western Star to "seriously compete" in both over-the-road and severe duty segments. And Lampert said those plans led DNTA to the Freightliner Allison Optimized Western Star with DD16 engines and BlueTec emissions system.

Just smoke, no mirrors

Media day at the Mid-America Trucking Show is a ton of fun. We get a preview of all the cool new products and trucks that attendees will experience over the next three days.

The only group that might be a bit harder to impress than truckers is the trucking media. But, we have to give a nod to Kenworth for giving it a shot with its rollout of the T700.

Check out this video Keith Goble shot during the introduction.

Now while the smoke and fanfare was pretty neat, I have to tell you once the smoke cleared and the curtain was out of the way, that's when it was easy to be impressed.

As cool as it was on the show floor, I can guarantee that the slick-looking aerodynamic T700 will certainly turn heads going down the road.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rise and shine

The wake-up call came a tad early this morning for Media Day in Louisville. In town for the Mid-America Trucking show, the Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now staffs got a "bright" and early start on the day. Waking up in an area with a time zone an hour ahead of my body clock didn’t hit me until I drew open the curtains and noticed the sun still hadn't popped up over the horizon. Then the realization hits: I’m missing out on some good sleep.

When I made it down to the lobby for the head count, I soon came across truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Bill Rode. I was recounting the trials of the night. There was the occasional airplane heard flying nearby, as well as a repetitive sound outside that I can only liken to someone dropping the lid on a large trash bin. Land Line Now's Barry Spillman says it's a monster. Nobody is certain what it is, but Barry is convincing.

I commented to Bill that he likely had some very interesting stories about staying in hotels/motels through the years. He recounted one temporary stay in a room with a collection of yellowjackets stationed under the sink. Another stop had him rooming with a scorpion. He let me know he was certain I got much more sleep overnight than he did on that occasion.

Ya gotta love it. The tales of the road that folks like me don’t get to hear very often make each trip to Louisville its own lasting memory.

Bill and I parted ways for the day as the Land Line staff made their way to the Exposition Center for the media events. Many hours later, I can tell you it was a very long day going from one press event to another. I’m dog-tired at this point. But I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.

Thursday is Day 1 of MATS with the trucking community filling the halls and wings of the Exposition Center. I look forward to chatting with a whole lotta good people during the next few days. Talking face to face with people who love the trucking industry is the highlight of the trip for me. People share stories about anything and everything affecting the industry. Good or bad, it's insight that stays with you for the long haul.

Well, it’s time to hit the shutdown button on this computer. There’s a big day ahead that starts before the sun peeks over the Kentucky sky. I just hope I don’t hear any yellowjackets under the sink tonight.

Gaining efficiency, inch by inch.

Early Wednesday morning, Kenworth unveiled a couple of major new products - the PACCAR MX engine, which will begin appearing in KWs later this year, and the company's new T700, an aero-styled road tractor that is the heir to the now-venerable T2000 and the much older "Anteater" - the 660 - which started the aero revolution.

In announcing these products, the builder stressed the various percentage gains in efficiency - fuel economy - being wrung from design, materials and software programming. Much the same kind of tune was sung by other suppliers. A few percent here and there add up to a reduction in how much diesel a rig would drink if it were outfitted with some or all of these innovations.

Barring some unforeseen breakthrough in materials or a fundamental change in the way trucks are powered and operate, the best we can hope for is a series of innovations that provide incremental, but real, improvements in efficiency. For instance, PACCAR's MX engine is made with a graphite-iron alloy that will mean a lighter yet stronger engine. Careful spec'ing of other components for weight and their own inherent efficiencies can yield higher mpgs for you.

The promised reductions can be pretty impressive. For instance, if a tractor were outfitted with all the energy saving items introduced today, fuel efficiency could be improved as much as 8 percent, maybe more.

As with anything that rides in a truck, weight is a factor - as is cost, of course. Will the dollar outlay and any additional tare weight, if any, be more than the incremental gain in efficiency can pay off? What about maintenance? Service availability? These are the first questions out of the trucking journos' mouths when the Q&A starts. Stay tuned to Land Line for the answers.

New NAST Web Site Debuts

Just in time for Mid-America, the National Association of Show Trucks has relaunched its Web page, outfitting the site with social media capabilities and greater interactivity for viewers.

In years past, NAST has held its final competition at MATS, with finalists in the previous year's contests gunning for major prizes and the organization's truck of the year award. Longtime sponsor TruckLite did not sponsor the award this year, so NAST is an exhibitor this year. However, the group has new shows planned for 2010 as well as old standbys such as the 7th Annual Great Lakes Truck Show in Dundee, Mich., the Meca South Florida Truck Show in Medley, Fla., and the 15th annual Richard Crane Memorial Truck Show in St. Ignace, Mich.

Cabela's will sponsor a show for the second year at the outdoor outfitter's Fort Worth, TX, location in October.

Check out the new Web site and if you have pictures or stories from a NAST event in the past, share them.

MATS Countdown

With the 2010 MATS VIP tour set to kick off at 10 a.m. on Thursday, the Kentucky Expo Center was a beehive of activity on Wednesday afternoon as booth setup continued at a frenzied pace. Packing crates stood in aisles, plastic covered pristine carpeting in the booth areas, and the beepbeep of front-end loaders, trash carts and hoists jarred the senses repeatedly.

At the Ford display, booth staffers rehearsed their performance, which will be repeated numerous times over the next three days. Some booths - Peterbilt and International among them - were enclosed by black curtains to screen the view of their new vehicles (Peterbilt let the press look today, and International had a reception-press conference scheduled for Wednesday evening).

Despite the seeming chaos, order will prevail by opening time Thursday. Look for updates from Land Line!

Webasto’s John Thomas? Cool guy.

Webasto? The BlueCool people? They introduced an interesting hybrid in Louisville in March – bringing shore power to their BlueCool Thermal Storage APU. Webasto introduced the original BlueCool APU in 2006 as an alternative to diesel-powered APUs. It produces cool air using thermal energy stored in a frozen graphite/water matrix – like a giant ice cube. Then fans circulate the air.

With IdleAire extinct (for now at least) this hybrid is a timely product. It provides long-duration cooling and hotel-load capabilities of a diesel-powered APU without engine idling, diesel particulate filters, or dedicated deep-cycle batteries.

At MATS, Land Line Now Senior Correspondent Terry Scruton and I had a chance to talk to John Thomas, general manager of Webasto’s Commercial Vehicle Division. That’s John and Terry in the above photo.

John is our kind of guy. His company doesn't just make a much-needed product; they believe lawmakers need to give truckers a break on buying and using this technology. When he says he spends time on in DC and in statehouses across the country educating lawmakers on the in-cab needs of professional truckers – he isn’t just talking the talk. He's been out there wearing out some shoe leather.

Webasto products are eligible for the federal excise tax exemption under the U.S. EPA SmartWay Transport Partnership. And they were among the first idle-reduction devices to get OKed for CARB's ULEV II (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) idling emission-reduction requirements.

Ready, willing and Abelson

It's Media Day at the big show, and that means a long day of press conferences as the companies line up to unveil their latest and greatest products for the trucking media. There is plenty being unveiled this year, and an air of cautious optimism from most of the companies involved.

I had the good fortune to spend much of the day with Land Line Magazine's own Paul Abelson. You always learn something when you're with Paul. They don't call him Professor Paul for nothing.

The day started at the Bendix press conference, where the brake manufacturer was jazzed about some of its new products, including a new warning system that alerts drivers to the presence of stationary objects in the road.

As key members of the staff were introduced, I dutifully applauded each one until Paul, sitting at the table beside me, leaned over and, with a wink in his eye, said "Real journalists don't applaud." It was just the first of many lessons of the day from Professor Paul.

When Kenworth unveiled its new T-700 model truck - a pretty good-looking truck, if I do say so - the curtain around the thing had barely fallen when I looked up through the cab window and saw Paul crawling around inside, giving it a good once-over. He was, of course, the first in line.

At the Peterbilt lunch we had to take a bus away from the Expo Center to a hotel downtown. On the way back, our bus was late as it waited for some stragglers (including, I must admit, me), and I picked Paul's brain about the new MX engine from Paccar. He seems to like it, by the way.

By the time we got back to the Expo Center, a rumor had spread around that our bus had broken down. Paul was quick to dispel it. "It wasn't the bus that broke down," he joked. "It was the driver."

Ah, but Professor Paul's lessons weren't just limited to trucking knowledge and bad jokes. On our way to the Carrier Transicold press conference, Paul asked me a question. "Since it is NCAA tournament time, do you know what Syracuse (University) and Carrier Transicold have in common?"

"No," I said, bracing myself for a cringe-worthy punchline.

"Syracuse plays in the Carrier Dome, which is named for the company we are about to visit," he said.

I did not know that.

On Friday, we will engage in what has become a tradition for the Radio Show here at MATS - eating barbecue with Paul. Oh, sure, it's not as good as the stuff we get back in Kansas City, but it ain't bad. Besides, the meal is only part of the fun.

The dessert will be more lessons from Professor Paul.

The family reunion has yet to begin

Day 1 for me at Louisville has already been an eventful one.

Bendix had a lot to say at their press conference, and Kenworth had a good follow-up. Terry Scruton and Jami Jones are out at Peterbilt seeing what new things they have to offer while the rest of us do some preparation work for the other press conferences and get ready for what's coming this afternoon.

But while the big event for me started today, for the rest of the world, the real Mid America starts tomorrow.

That's because this is a family reunion. I have seen some of my old friends already. Suzanne Stempinski, Paul Abelson, Bill Hudgins and others who work with us at Land Line, but who live elsewhere. This is one of the few, great occasions all year where we see them personally.

And while I was sitting here in the press room, I saw Yoda - OOIDA Life Member Rusty Wade - wander briefly in the front door here, asking a quick question of the folks who run the show.

And tomorrow, I'll start seeing all of you. Old friends I've known and looked forward to seeing for years, new friends I have yet to meet.

It's really at Mid America that you learn that trucking is more than an industry. It's a community - a community not defined by geography, like a city or neighborhood, but a community defined by a trade held in common.

People have always found ways to get together in this community, talking on the CB and the AM radio as those got big, adopting cell phones and large conference calls when they came along, moving into chat rooms as the Internet started and now into the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the so-called "photosphere" (God how I hate that pretentious word!)

But nothing replaces face to face. And no place offers so many chances to do that as Mid America does.

We hope you're coming. If you get here, we'll welcome you. If you can't - we'll catch you whenever we can. 

Highway Hero still a secret ... until Thursday night

Goodyear announced the four finalists for its Highway hero award of 2009, but the winner is still a secret. A double-dog secret. That secret will see the light of day this week at the Mid-America Trucking Show here in Louisville -- on Thursday evening, in fact.

Goodyear will introduce the final four nominees tomorrow night at the Truck Writers of North America industry awards banquet. As everyone holds their breath -- we will hear their stories and there's likely gonna be tears. Then one will be named the winner. Land Line will bring you that news.

The finalists are George Lantzy of Turtle Creek, PA, a driver for Fubar Trucking; Stephen Page, Gloucester, MA, a driver for Pit Bull Trucking; Jesse Lee Seal, Alma, AR, a driver for PDP Unlimited; and Junichi Shimizu, Gladstone, OR, a driver for Chipman Relocations. Later this week, I will tell you more of their admirable and quick-thinking stories of heroism on the highway.

The judges for this contest are the journalists from the trucking industry. I am not a judge this year and glad I am not. Choosing a winner from these four finalists would be a rock-you-back-on-your-heels tough choice and, well, they are all winners in my view.

Not only do these drivers earn the deserved recognition from the industry, but the winner also gets a $10,000 U.S. Savings bond, a plaque and a specially designed ring. The other three finalists get a $5,000 savings bond and plaque.

Watch this post for the announcement of the winning 2009 Goodyear North America Highway Hero.

Truckers' wish list

It's Media Day in Louisville. Shortly after Sandi Soendker and I wrapped up our morning run of press events for Bendix and Kenworth, we both came away with similar reactions. We couldn't help but think about how many truckers will soon be adding products and a new truck from the companies to their wish lists during the next few days.

Bendix touted their stationary object alert system to warn drivers of objects in the road 3 seconds ahead of time. There was also the pneumatic booster system to improve fuel economy while reducing engine emissions.

The wish list grew during the Kenworth press event with talk about the PACCAR MX engine and the NavPlus system. Man oh man! The NavPlus really perked up my ears. It includes Garmin truck-specific navigation, Internet access, satellite radio, Bluetooth, camera inputs, and diagnostics and virtual gauges. I don't think I left anything out.

But the BIG moment came a few minutes later on the show floor. There, ready for first-time viewing, were a couple of T700s. The folks at KW tout their newest model as being the highest-quality and most fuel-efficient truck on the road.

Well, the morning press tour has concluded and the truckers' wish list is already growing quite long.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are We There Yet?

Are we at Louisville yet? You bet: Land Line staffers and contributors began rolling in Tuesday from all points of the compass prepared to hit the first event of the day on Wednesday - a press briefing by Bendix starting at 8 a.m. EDT.

In its invitation to the briefing, Bendix described the objectives of the meeting as follows: "As signs of an economic recovery begin to show in the commercial vehicle industry and leaders anticipate the future, what technologies and programs should they consider to protect their investments? Aside from the recently announced National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stopping distance regulations, there are also active safety technologies, energy management systems, an eventual ruling on stability technology, and the importance of buying genuine products. Where to begin?"

Look for answers to this question to start popping up in tweets and other communications from Land Line staff shortly after the meeting begins.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Packing for MATS

This will be something like the 15th time in 16 years that I have been to MATS, and every year has been a guessing game as to the weather and what to pack.

Louisville weather in mid-March is harder to call than the winner of the Sweet 16. MATS veterans can tell you that they've seen sleet, snow, thunderstorms, and heat and humidity - sometimes at the same show. I started tracking the weather forecasts about 10 days ago, and - so far - the predictions have been improving. This despite a huge Midwestern snowstorm. This worries me.

So I'm going to stuff a couple of those dry cleaner bag-style emergency ponchos in my backpack and also some sunblock. After all, if it snows, the sun reflecting off the snow and those shiny trucks in the show lot can give you a real burn.

What the well-dressed MATS visitor should wear is ... whatever is comfortable. Think about your feet. Ladies: Heels are definitely a no-no, since you'll be on concrete or gravel all day. Guys: Are your cowboy boots really more comfortable than sneakers?

I can't stress comfort enough. Even the journalist types have mostly abandoned suits and ties, skirts and jackets for more comfortable apparel (and hiking shoes or other sturdy footwear instead of wingtips). Just make sure your shirt or jacket is stout enough to hold all the pins and badges you'll clip onto it.

When I first started going to MATS, cell phones were still expensive and relatively rare. Finding a friend who had wandered off, or keeping herd on your family, could be a challenge. A couple years I took some handheld radios, though all the steel and concrete pretty much killed their effectiveness. Today's phones pretty much solve all those problems, but please - don't stand in the middle of an aisle while you tell Uncle Eddie back home all about the show. Pretend that the aisles are interstates and pull to the right out of the way if you need to talk or text.

Fully charge all your gizmos, and make sure your camera has lots of room for photos - maybe buy another chip just in case.

Pack some patience, too. Crowds will be heavy and the going slow at times. Parking - well, let's just say the back of the lot at a Montana truck stop will seem like next to the door compared with the parking lots at MATS. They are huge. Fortunately, the show runs a shuttle service that's really handy if you had to park in the next ZIP code. You may appreciate it even more at the end of a day of walking across a million-some square feet of exhibit space.

Got all that? OK, it's almost show time. See you there!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This is Spring?

Well, it's the first day of spring, I'm about to go to Louisville, and it's snowing.

As I look outside, I'm seeing that at least 6 inches of snow have fallen here in Independence, MO. You can see it on this picture of my garage, looking out the kitchen window.

And more is falling every single minute.

Oh, and it's not that nice, dry kind of snow. It's that get-your-feet-wet, soak-your-coat, and mess-up-your-day-in-general kind of snow.

I know I sound like I'm whining. But I kind of look at Louisville as my personal marker for when spring starts. And this is NOT spring weather. At least not any spring I want to experience.

Yeah, yeah, I know it's been a bad year. And yes, I'm well aware that snow can fall as late as April. Blah, blah, blah.

I'm tired of winter. I looked forward to it. I put up Christmas lights. I marveled at the beauty of the snow, and was wowed when just enough ice clung to the trees to make them pretty - without damaging them.

But I want to pull across the Ohio River, drive up to the beautiful downtown of theirs, and not see snow on that big baseball bat at the Louisville Slugger factory. I want forsythias (I'm not going all wuss on you; I just know that forsythias come out in the spring. So no giving me crap about knowing what a forsythia is. I helped my mother plant some. So what.).

The upside? I understand that Tuesday it'll be near 60 here. The snow will melt, and we'll hit the highways, heading down early to catch the press conferences and see what sorts of cool things the manufacturers have in store for all of you.

And with any luck, it'll be nice in Louisville - and I will get that first sign of spring once again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why do we go to MATS?

In the days leading up to the Mid-America Trucking Show, something starts to stir inside you.

With all of the prep work and scheduling, it can be overwhelming. This is one place every year that you will find darn near everything imaginable you need to make, build or continue a successful trucking business.

With the wide array there of equipment, products, services and professional organizations like OOIDA – which has your back year round – it makes good sense that you should go if at all possible.

But there are still other emotions – excitement and a longing that stirs, too. Thoughts rush through your brain millions at a time.

There are so many you can’t get a grasp on any one in particular.

Yet, you know you need to go. It’s almost an involuntary, unconscious force that pulls you to the three-day trucking mecca.

It’s a lot like the way James Earl Jones’ character Terence Mann described the “Field of Dreams.”

You go for reasons you can’t even fathom. You turn into the Exposition Center driveway not knowing for sure what this year will bring. You arrive at the door as excited as children. Of course we won’t mind if you look around, they say.

You walk into the crowds of people, drawn by that same unknown force. You’ll find they have aisle after aisle of everything great about trucking. And you’ll soak it all in, and it’ll be as if you dipped yourself in magic waters. The memories will be so thick you’ll have to brush them away from your face – months after you leave.

People will come. One constant through all the years, has been trucking. It has rolled by and through America, providing a pulse for the lives we live. It has carried with it a mystique and fascination of both those who live it and those who watch it roll by.

But it has marked the times. This industry, this life: It’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. Oh ... people will come. People will most definitely come.