New trucks bring fleet out of Ice Age

Article December 28, 2000
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The Siskiyou County, Calif., road service fleet is now operating more efficiently thanks to a swing towards a growing number of trucks that are carefully tailored for their work.

The third largest California county, located so far north that it borders on Oregon, hasn’t always had it so good. There was a time when a few of the trucks did all of the county’s snowplowing in winter while others worked with crews doing road repair and construction work in the warmer months.

When Virgil Hardy, equipment superintendent, came to the Siskiyou fleet from Sonoma County seven years ago, his new employer had a mixed bag of vehicles, including 40-plus Class 8 trucks from several manufacturers. One truck in the fleet had a 210-hp engine and automatic transmission, hardly a versatile road truck.

Counties that piggyback on truck orders by state governments in hopes of getting a good price and ordering by people unfamiliar with truck specifications are given a share of the blame for the widespread problem of poor truck selection that goes far beyond Siskiyou County.

Rebuilding process

Correcting the problems, is a work in progress for Hardy’s office. When he arrived, he faced a fleet with many units 20 years old or older and not many of them could be replaced at once due to budget limits.

Hardy’s first big move came with the ordering of 13 new Kenworth T800s, which now go back to 1992 models, all of which are spec’d for year-round operation. The T800s have found a home in northern California since another five were delivered in June 1997 and another pair is currently on order.

Those T800s have proved to be big favorites with Siskiyou’s drivers. Hardy credits an effort to get drivers involved in picking out new truck features.

Hardy explained, “Our aim is to order trucks fitted out just right for the work to be done. Who better to advise us than those who operate the trucks on the job?

“And we have found that those who take part in truck selection feel something like a bond of ownership with the vehicles.”

One of the shortcomings of trucks that can be used only on a limited number of assignments is that they have to be in use for 20-plus years before they can be retired.

When Hardy arrived, older trucks in the Siskiyou fleet were a mix of Ford and International units. The first purchase of the Hardy regime resulted in the retirement of 22 of the older trucks and others are going as new T800s arrive.

Playing by the numbers

Hardy is a solid believer in managing by what figures show. He says that the older non-Kenworths cost him 32 to 36 cents a mile to operate while the comparable figure for the T800 is 14 to 17 cents per mile.

On fuel economy, the older trucks operate at a 3.2 mpg figure. The T800s average 5.8 to 6.2 mpg, while running with a 10- to 12-yd dump body and pulling an 8- to 10-yd pup trailer.

Smart spec’ing of the Kenworths allow for quick attachment of a snowplow and V-box on the rear for sanding. Upon return from a morning run, the crew can do a quick disconnect so the trucks can perform regular duties which might include getting construction and road work materials to handle other duties later in the day.

Hardy pointed out, “The old trade cycle at 300,000 to 350,000 miles over 20 years has been revised to 400,000 to 450,000 miles after what we expect to be 12 years for the Kenworth T800s.”
The equipment superintendent lives by the slogan, “the greatest efficiency at the lowest cost.”

Siskiyou’s 6x4 T800s are equipped with Caterpillar diesel engines rated at 350- to 410-hp and Eaton Super 13-speed manual transmissions and they were specified with double frames for added durability.

The crew performs engine oil analysis to make sure things are going smoothly inside the engines and the operation opts for the maximum warranty protection when it comes to extended protection on components.

In addition to 31 Class 8 trucks, the Siskiyou fleet has two lowboy trailers, 10 5-yd dump trucks, two water trucks and 11 pup trailers. Also, there are eight big Oshkosh snowplows, 18 graders, 16 loaders, eight backhoes and four dozers. The county fleet is responsible for maintaining 1,500 miles of road.

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